Saturday, 8 December 2012

Catch up...

It’s been a while…it’s been a long while, actually. I have been writing and writing, sheaves of paper collecting in drifts like the bronze October leaves on my lawn; I just haven’t been posting.

Sometimes I get anxious about writing for an ‘audience’. Usually when I’m experiencing a blue mood, the beginnings of a dip or depression. I get fretful about my writing being seen (for someone who wants, very desperately, to be a writer, this is obviously an obstacle I need to surmount at some point). I tell myself that my prose is shabby and self-indulgent, my thoughts dull…and who do I think I am, anyway, thinking that anyone would even be interested in what I have to say?

I think all writers experience an element of this dread and self-doubt. Sometimes I am able to deal with it quite capably, and write through my fear and misgivings. Other times, my lack of faith is crippling – these last few weeks have been a prime example of the latter.

It didn’t help that I was unsure of my employment situation (I had to re-apply for own job due to an internal restructure) and for a time, it looked likely that I would be made redundant right around Christmas (thankfully, I was offered the job, so that’s one less thing to worry about). It also didn’t help that I was super-stressed about my trip to Paris with The Sister – I was worried about spending a prolonged period of time, just the two of us, in close proximity, as she tends to be spiky and snappy, and I am hypersensitive at the best of times. (Thankfully, that worked out okay, too – god bless Paris in December for being so beautiful that it’s impossible to be negative). It’s just felt like an ever-accumulating mountain of stresses, and my writing reflected that – I felt like I’d be inflicting my whining on people if I shared my writing, so I simply kept it to myself.

Now I’m coming out of the other side of the dip, I can see that that was the very time I should have been frequently posting – working my issues through and receiving feedback and support from this lovely little community. Will someone please remind me of this if I disappear again at some future juncture? I sometimes need a little nudge J

One good thing – the book I have been trying to write this last year, and which until now has been little more than a gradual amassing of scribblings, musings and turns of phrase, has finally begun to assume a real shape. I’m still a long way from being finished, but to have a coherent thread is such an amazing feeling. And I’m not riding the wave of some temporary momentum, either – it’s been slow but consistent for the last few months, and for the first time, I can actually envision it as complete at some point rather than a forever-ongoing pet project. Which makes me very, very, very happy.

On a related note: I know there are a lot of other writers out there in this blog community…do any of you have any experience with publishers? Or the publishing process? What about self-publishing? I know that the latter used to be seen as a sort of vanity thing, but I’m wondering whether that’s changing now with the huge successes of initially self-published fiction like the Fifty Shades series, and the Amanda Hocking books. Thoughts?

Looking forward to writing in the coffee-house tomorrow, followed by Christmas films and mulled wine in the evening with my friend Sarah, and then lunch with an old friend I don’t see very often on Sunday. It also hit me this morning that it’s Christmas in a little over two weeks, so I shall be festooning the house with glitter and fairylights at some point, too!.

How about you? xxx

Monday, 24 September 2012

A Change in the Weather

I can’t believe it’s September 24th already…where has the year gone? It’s true that the years pass faster as you grow older. Each one goes by more quickly than the last. Soon it will be Halloween, then Bonfire Night, then Christmas…and then the carousel of months begins its spin all over again, the calliope music a little more hectic, the view from the horses a little more blurred. 

It’s cold this morning and raining, the sky a heavy, sulky grey. The rain is persistent – it’s like it’s arguing with the pavement, it wants the last word – and I’m chilled right down to my bones. And yet it’s still my favourite time of year - this cold, wet creep towards Christmas with its fairylights and hot spiced cider, its glittering trees and turkeys, its presents wrapped in paper the colour of stars.  

I know it’s not for another couple of months (ninety-one days if you want to be exact!) but just the thought of Christmas makes me feel warm and giddy. Not least because this is the first time since I was fifteen that I haven’t started panicking weeks in advance about the surfeit of calories – the cakes! The wine! The cream! – and am simply looking forward to the season itself.  

I’ve said this before: sometimes it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come. Taking the time to think about where (and how) you were this time last week, last month, last year has a way of putting things into perspective. This time last year, for example, I was in a job I hated, under intense pressure to perform. I was barely eating or sleeping, caught every cold or virus doing the rounds and felt ill and exhausted all the time. Pretty much all I wrote about in my diary was my eating disorder, and how miserable I was, and how I didn’t think I could ever get better. 

I’d have argued otherwise at the time, but looking back…how small my life was then, how dull.

What a difference a year makes.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: YOU

I found some wonderful quotes on Monday, all concerning the Self. They talked about what makes you You, and the importance of being true to the person you are. I pasted them all neatly into a Word Document and brimmed with inspiration the whole day. But I couldn’t think of how to fit the quotes I’d found into a blog post. I couldn’t think of - excuse the slightly clinical term – an ‘angle’.

This morning on the train to work, I was reading a book called ‘Risk’ by Dan Gardner. It’s all about the psychology of fear, and the development of the brain, and why we perceive things the way we do. The chapter I was reading went right back to the basics of evolution, and the author made some comment about the probability of human life existing at all. In short, the probability of our existence is infinitesimal. It’s almost laughable.  But we exist despite that.  

 Sometimes you know things in a sort of abstract way – you know they’re true but they haven’t socked you in the face with their sheer force. This morning I felt like I’d been well and truly socked. I got goosebumps. I thought to myself with something like wonder, We ARE miracles.

And if the existence of the human race in itself is a miracle, the existence of you as an individual is even more so.   

For you to exist as YOU is beyond miraculous. A whole host of events had to be exactly right, both in the grand scheme of things and at the microscopic level.

First of all, everything had to happen exactly the way it has. The Universe had to happen. Conditions on Earth had to be exactly as they are to be able to sustain life. Millions of years of evolution had to happen so that humans existed at all.

And then history had to unfold, precisely as it did. Here’s a weird thought: Hitler had to be defeated so that you could live.

Think about it. If World War II had had a different outcome, the structure of the world would be radically altered today. Your parents probably wouldn’t have met, they might not even live in the same country or speak the same language. It’s such a complicated chain – things had to happen exactly as you did so that your great great great grandparents could meet and produce your great great grandparents, so that they could go on and produce your great grandparents so that they could in turn produce your grandparents who could produce your parents who could subsequently produce you. And that’s a chain that goes right the way back to the first humans. If even one link in that chain was broken…you would not exist.

And even then, after all that going your way, you might not have existed. Your parents had to meet, for one. And of all the people in all the world, what are the chances of those two particular people finding each other? And even if the time and the location were right for them to meet, it doesn’t mean that the circumstances  were. What if your mother had been running late, for instance, and had never met that handsome fellow at the bar? What if your father missed the bus and was late for work, and so never saw that pretty young girl waiting in reception? What if they did meet but a chance remark made your mother think that your father was a stuck up fool and politely extricate herself from the situation? What if your father was in a bit of a grump that night because his football team had just lost, and so didn’t acknowledge the girl smiling at him from across the room? What if a different girl had caught his eye the night, the hour, the minute before?

And even if their first meeting went beautifully, and they liked each other enough to carry on a relationship, maybe get married etc - they still had to have sex at the exact moment in time they did to have created You.

(Even more mind-boggling: your parents’ parents had to have met and married and conceived at the exact time they did, too, to produce the exact people they did so that you could exist. Sort of like Cosmic Russian Dolls, isn’t it?)

Biologically speaking, you exist as You because one particular sperm out of about  XXX other sperm met one specific egg, and fertilised it. If another little swimmer had been a fraction of a second quicker, or yours a little slower, You as you are now would not exist. Your parents would still have a child, but that child wouldn’t be You, wouldn’t have that one-off package of singular and unique genes and chromosomes that make you You. This Other Child would not only look different, they’d have an entirely different personality. ‘You’ might have been a he instead of a she (or vice versa). ‘You’ might be short instead of tall, excellent at Science instead of English. ‘You’ might have had freckles, been deaf, a twin or a triplet. ‘You’ might have had a genetic condition which meant you died young, or weren’t born at all.   

The fact that You exist – you, with all your talents and opinions and abilities and hopes, your perceived imperfections and flaws, your likes and dislikes - is an honest-to-goodness MIRACLE. Remember that when you don’t feel special. When you feel inferior or unworthy, hopeless, unpretty, undeserving. YOU ARE A MIRACLE. The fact that I am alive to write these words and you are alive to read them IS A MIRACLE.

There are millions and millions and millions of things that say You shouldn’t exist, a trillion coincidences and synchronicities and circumstances that needed to happen so that you could, stretching all the way back to the beginning of time. The odds of you existing are off-the-scale impossible.

And yet here you are. And here am I.

A little help for someone who is Technologically Impaired...?

I am a Luddite when it comes to technology. Once I'm shown how to do something, I can follow the process of clicking a mouse and pressing buttons, but it's a little like a monkey mimicking behaviour, or a parrot repeating learned words - it doesn't actually mean anything in my technology-impervious brain.

My hotmail account was hacked last week, and despite repeated attempts to retrieve it, Microsoft are apparently unable to verify that I am me, so I've had to set up a whole new account. 

It's annoying - I had tons of work saved in my email folders, not all of which I have hard copies of (note to self: make hard copies!) but I've come to terms with the inconvenience.

I've amended all the websites and accounts I have - ebay, Amazon, iTunes etc - with my new email address, but I cannot figure out how to do it for my blog. Currently all my blog emails and comment notifications are being sent to the now-invalid account, so I can't access them, which is something of a pest when it comes to tracking comments and responding to people who have been nice enough to stop by.

In the grand scheme of things, it's a minor inconvenience...but if anyone could tell me how I change the email address my blog is registered to, I would be SUPER grateful.

(And apologies for the boring blog content! I have actually been writing up a storm today, so I will be posting an ACTUAL blog later tonight).

Hope you're all well, and technologically-competent xxx

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Challenges, Upheavals, Growth

There is a sort of wobbling that happens when I don't write for a while. An unbalancing of self. Things begin to feel off-kilter and strange. I start to meander. I worry more and get easily stressed because I'm not taking the time I need to process and connect.

This last fortnight has been hectic and unpleasant, and as a result, I'v barely written a thing, which has only contributed to my stress. But in a way, it's been a good thing: it's highlighted how crucial it is that I make the time to analyse and reflect and explore my feelings, no matter how crazy things might be around me.

We have moved house. It took ten days from finding out there was a house available to actually moving in. Almost two weeks of constant tension. Packing and sorting and shifting. Sweating. Not sleeping. Mum and sister snapping, stressed, curt.I have cycled from upset to acceptance and back again. I have cried, sighed and determined to remain positive. I have moved between the extremes like a pendulum.

I live with my Mum and sister. It was meant to be a temporary arrangement - or at least, that was what I told myself when I moved back home almost two years ago. A chance to pay off my debts, save some money and get healthy.

I think I've mentioned before that my Mum and I don't have the easiest relationship. I will do anything I can to avoid conflict, whereas she thrives on it, and is quick to lose her temper. It makes for a prickly environment. Luckily, she works nights, so the arrangement has worked thus far as we weren't living in each other's pockets and didn't spend a lot of time together. But now my sister has moved back in with us (hence the need for more space and a bigger house). And she is very like my Mum in terms of temperament, meaning that I'm back to treading on eggshells. (Funnily enough, the two of them get along beautifully).

I didn't want to move. The new house is further away from my place of work, my friends, everything familiar. But due to financial constraints, and the sudden snowballing of events, I didn't have much choice.

The silver lining is that I'm atthis particular point in my recovery process. I wouldn't have coped well with the change even a couple of months ago. I think I'd have scuttled right back into my tried and tested coping methods and made myself sick again. I think I'd have been a mess.

As it stands, I'm coping. It's difficult, but as I keep reminding myself, it's not impossible. It's hard being in a potentially harsh and negative environment, feeling like the outsider, the third wheel. It's hard feeling so suddenly uprooted and out of control. And I'll admit that initially, my thoughts did return to their old, practiced groove like a cuckoo obediently following its prescribed circuit, out of the clock and back in again: You know what would make this better? You know what would make you feel stronger? If you lost a couple of pounds. Or twenty. If you stopped eating breakfast. If you walked and walked until your bones showed and your feet bled.

It's a marked sign of progress, I suppose, that I have yet to succumb to the siren-song of that voice. Instead, I swat at it, irritated, impatient. I determinedly look for the brightnesses, the beautifuls, however small they may be. Yesterday, as I stood at the bus-stop, it was the cloud-coloured water rushing over the reservoir, the thousand points of light the rain left in the trees. On Sunday it was the flock of silver-white birds that kept wheeling and returning overhead, the sun flickering off their wingtips so that they looked like a shoal of fish glittering in water.

There is growth here. There is. Even if I feel hesitant and uncertain sometimes. Even if I worry I've regressed.

Things will be better once I'm a little more settled. Once I've painted my bedroom and unpacked my many boxes and returned my books to their shelves, once I feel that I've claimed the space as my own. I need a place of peace and retreat, and that place has always been my bedroom, which I've always made pretty, filled with light and beautiful things, and at the moment it is utter chaos. But I'm making progress. I bought paint for the walls at the weekend, a gentle sort of colour I fell in love with even before I saw the name: 'pearl-grey'.

When I saw the label, it felt like a lovely little synchronicity. A gift.

I love pearls. I love what they represent. They have always held a special meaning for me, so I loved that the paint for my new room had 'pearl' in the title.

Pearl as in something beautiful that results from injury and difficulty. Pearl as in grit and endurance, transformation, treasure. Pearl as in strange; as in little.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Beauty: Post One

People are like stained - glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

Standards of beauty are arbitrary. Body shame exists only to the extent that our physiques don't match our own beliefs about how we should look.
Martha Beck

I have one friend in particular who is absolutely beautiful (she’s an utterly beautiful person on the inside, too, but for the purposes of this post, I’m referring to her physical beauty). She had her first baby recently, a little girl, and sent me a photo of the new arrival. It was taken right after the birth, and Mama had been in brutal labour for something like forty hours. I opened the attachment expecting her to look happy, of course, but also suitably pale and exhausted – you know, like she had just been through something traumatic. Like childbirth. Instead, she looked radiant. Clear-eyed, glowing, beautiful. Ridiculously so.

This same friend struggles with her weight. She was a chubby child (her words, not mine) and an overweight teenager (ditto). As an adult, she is very vigilant about what she eats and how much she exercises. She puts on weight easily and will never be naturally skinny.  And yet I’d LOVE to look like her. It never fails to astonish me when she bewails her height (or lack thereof) and tells me that she’s jealous of my long legs. Or when she wishes aloud that she could swap her short, dark hair for my long, red braid. Or when she says that she would love to have pale, clear skin like mine.

Physical beauty is arbitrary. Our concept of physical beauty is also entirely unique and personal. Beauty is in deed in the eye of the beholder. My friend Steven, for example, thinks Angelina Jolie is ‘actually quite plain, when you really look at her.’ I suspect that most of the world’s population would disagree with him there, but that is his honest opinion.  Previously I’ve said things like, ‘He has such a beautiful face’ and people have looked at me as if I were bonkers, because it wasn’t someone who would typically be considered ‘beautiful’. Not Brad-Pitt beautiful or George-Clooney-beautiful. And yet…I think they’re beautiful anyway.   

I read something online where the writer called Tilda Swinton a ‘handsome woman’. I hate that as a compliment; it’s so backhanded. It always seems to me like what the writer is actually saying is, ‘Well, we can’t get away with calling her pretty, she’s not girly enough for that…let’s call her handsome, so that we’re implying she’s not unattractive, she’s just not attractive in a womanly way’. I happen to think Tilda Swinton is spookily beautiful.

I also think Cate Blanchett is stunning (that bone structure!) but hardly any of my male friends agree. (‘Yeah, she’s ok looking’, one of my male friends said recently in response to a comment I’d made, ‘but she’s not the kind of actress men want to sleep with, is she?’).

I think certain men look beautiful wearing eyeliner. I think certain women look beautiful with buzzcuts (Natalie Portman, anyone?). My sister thinks both of those things look ‘weird’.
I think the ridiculously elaborate photo shoots in Vogue are beautiful, with the models dressed in complicated lace and gold and feather eyelashes, their lips covered with diamonds. I also like looking at the ‘beauty shots’ (which interestingly enough, are the freshfaced ones, where people are scrubbed clean and plain, free of make up or accoutrements) which are about as simple as it gets.

There is beauty everywhere, in everyone, if we only look for it.

A million magazines might say that Angelina Jolie is the most beautiful woman in the world. It doesn’t matter, because there will always be people who disagree, like my friend Steven. People who think she’s plain. Or unattractive. And that’s a personal preference - each of us will find different people beautiful and be attracted to different things. Our differences are part of what make us interesting. If we were all attracted to the same kind of person, the majority of the world would be a very lonely place.

Imagine that there are twenty six kinds of people in the world. A people, B people, C people and so on. Everyone is attracted to A people, but A people are only attracted to B people. This is great for all the A people and B people out there who can happily pair up and have lots of l little lower-case babies together, but it leaves a lot of lovesick and lonely C’s, D’s, E’s, F’s, G’s, H’s, I’s, J’s, K’s…

We might initially be attracted to someone because of how they look, but that’s not how we decide that we want to build a relationship with them. It’s not why we want to see them again, or spend time with them. We love the people we love because of who they are, not because they’re super-pretty or take a great photograph.

I’ve met some people who I’ve thought were absolutely beautiful to begin with. But sometimes, as you get to know a person, that beauty dims and fades. Maybe they have a mean streak, or a brash sense of humour.  Maybe I think they’re rude or unpleasant. Maybe we just don’t connect as people.

On the flip side of that are the people you meet whose looks don’t really register at all at first, but the more you get to know them, the lovelier they become. Their personality, the way they make you laugh, their ability to always say just the right thing at just the right time, their kindness, their sense of humour, their open mindedness. When I see a photo of a friend, I will smile because I love that face. It doesn’t matter what the face looks like. It’s not the slightest bit relevant.

I think we’d all change things about ourselves if we could - and don’t get me wrong, if a fairy godmother offered to wave her magic wand and make me fairytale beautiful, I wouldn’t say no. But physical beauty isn’t important in any real sense. Not the way health is important, or the way love is. Not the way self-development is important, or freedom, or family, or friends.

I think of beauty as a sort of added bonus: it’s nice for those who have it, but for the vast majority of us who aren’t picture-perfect, it doesn’t actually matter one bit. We are all beautiful in our own special ways. And physical beauty, anyway, is temporary and fleeting. It’s the person we are that counts. That’s where our real beauty is. Everything else is just surface-stuff.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Notes on Change

I took a Reiki course on Friday. I’m still not sure how it all works, or even whether it does work. I was totally enthused in the actual class, and then afterwards, that little nagging voice entered my head. You know it’s just the power of suggestion, don’t you? You know that it’s a placebo, that it can’t really work.

The funny thing is, when I started questioning why I always do that, why I choose to discard things that could actually be helpful, I realised that it’s because I believe there is nothing inherently talented or special about me. Reiki? Of course, other people could learn to practice it, of course other people could benefit from it…but me? Nope. Not special enough. Not open enough. Who did I think I was kidding?

I’m actually getting a lot better at challenging my thoughts. I even like myself most of the time these days. So why does this belief persist, deep-down, that I am in fact not worthy, deficient, a cheap imitation of a person?

I used to think terrible things about myself. I would stand in front of the mirror and list my (many, many) flaws, being utterly cutting and cruel about each feature. My hair (too red, too fluffy, too thin). My nose (too big). My hips (too wide). My skin (too pale). And all of those thoughts built up and built up, and under the pressure they solidified into a sort of certainty, the way sediment compacts over millions of years of pressure to produce fossils holding leafprints and snailshells in detailed permanence.

I used to think that I would never be able to think positively about myself. But I’m getting better at it. It takes time and it takes effort, but it does get easier, and I do tend to be able to acknowledge things I’ve done positively or well.  When I realised that, deep-down, I still felt essentially unworthy, I was shaken. I thought, It’s never going to go away. There’s nothing I can do to unbelieve what I believe.

But when I look back through my diaries, or blog entries, when I think of how my mentality and self-perceptions have altered in just these last few months…the proof is there. I can change my thinking; I can change my thoughts. And, by extension, I can change my life.

We all can.

And sometimes it feels like an insurmountable task - like chipping away at a huge old mountain with a bit of flint. But it’s important to remember that even the smallest action counts. Small changes become big changes over time. Big changes become even bigger ones.

Change may be difficult, it may be gradual…but it is possible.

Sometimes we just need a little reminder of that.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: Homage to the Human Body

I’ve been sick the last couple of weeks, as per yesterday’s post explaining my prolonged absence. Nothing serious, in the grand scheme of things, just a nasty virus. But knowing that it was just a temporary thing, and wasn’t serious didn’t make me feel any less sick or wretched.

It’s a humbling experience, sickness. It makes you realise that your body is not a machine. That it has limitations and requirements. That it needs taking care of. That, although we are miraculous and amazing and strong, our bodies also have a fragility which is part and parcel of being human. Our skin can bruise, our bones can break, our bodies can get sick and tired.

Sickness, however fleeting, however slight on the scale of real suffering, casts things in a different light. I know being ill this last fortnight made me realise how precious health is. How we take it for granted until it falters or fails.

When I was eating-disordered, I would get dizzy all the time, have horrible headaches, frequent colds. My nails would break, my hair came out in clumps and my lips were permanently blue. I almost always felt unwell, but in my head, this was different to being genuinely sick, and I didn’t class myself as ill. I pushed it aside, reasoning that my body was simply responding to the care it was getting. Not feeling good was a side effect of being thin. Not the most desirable side effect, but if it meant that my bones showed and I felt suitably calm and in control, then I would accept it as a necessary evil.

Looking back on this from a healthy vantage point makes me so, so sad.

I’d like to say that my idea of the perfect body has changed. That I think the perfect body is a healthy body, regardless of how it looks. And I do believe this to an extent. And certainly when it comes to other people.

But then it comes to my own body. And in truth, I still grapple with the way I look. I’m too tall, my nose is too long, my hips are too wide, I have breasts like a teenaged boy. I’m not pretty. I don’t have perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth.

Intellectually, I know that most women, eating-disordered or not, are dissatisfied with their bodies. I’ve had conversations with my friends that sound like we’re at a pick-and-mix – If I could choose, I’’d have J-Lo’s face, Jennifer Aniston’s arms and Gisele’s body. At the same time, we ignore our own attributes. People have told me that they would love to have my long legs, which I hate because it’s almost impossible to find skirts and trousers long enough. My sister has glorious, glossy red hair that people would stop her in the street to comment on, but she strips it with bleach, colours it blonde.

Even supermodels talk about their insecurities, their real or imagined flaws. If someone who makes a living being photographed for her supposed perfection is insecure about her appearance, what hope do the rest of us have?

Well, we can start by realising that we are NOT our bodies.

Why do you love your friends? Because they have pretty eyes, a wasp-like waist, legs that go on for days? No. You love them because they get you. Because they are funny, intelligent, kind. Because they make you laugh. Because they are there when you cry. Nothing at all to do with how beautifully shaped their eyebrows are, or how toned their tummies might be.

And I know that realising this isn’t the same thing as owning it. I understand the truth of I am more than my body at the same time as I secretly long to look like the models in Vogue or the Hollywood actresses with teeth like pearls and flawless skin. I think the important thing is not letting it define you, or prevent you from doing things. Not getting so caught up in your appearance that you get sick, or compromise your happiness. Because everyone has something beautiful about them. And everyone has flaws.

And, when it comes down to the wire, I’d rather be happy and healthy than beautiful and/or thin.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Apologies for my extended absence...

...I have had a terrible virus I just could not seem to shake. I don't get sick very often, so when I do, it tends to blindside me a little. For the last fortnight, I have been all quakes and quivers, fevers, chills and sandpaper-throat, shivers and dizziness and sickness...but at last, I am feeling (tentatively) human again. And so I say hello, and apologies for my extended absence.

I have been checking in, if a bit listlessly, and will get around to commenting soon on the posts I have missed.

It's actually been quite lovely realising how much I have come to appreciate this blog-community in such a short time. And I missed it (and you all) very much.

I will do a proper catch-up post tomorrow - my Blogging for Wellbeing post is overdue, and I have a BEAUTIFUL god-daughter to introduce (the first of my very close friends had a baby girl last Wednesday, Evangeline Grace....and I am SMITTEN).

Hope you are all well, and I look forward to catching up super-soon xxx

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I haven't posted here in what feels like forever. I have been sick, sick, sick this last week (nothing serious, I shouldn't be so dramatic. But when you're not sick very often...whoosh, it knocks you for six).

Just wanted to say that I'm still here. Still reading. Just haven't done much posting of late.

I will catch up. Pinky promise.

Hope you're all doing well xxx

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: Self Empowerment, Week 3 Day 3

There is the famous quote that ‘Knowledge is Power’. When I used to hear that, I used to find it a frightening, almost threatening statement – someone knowing something about you made you vulnerable; telling people things made you weak. (As with most other negative thoughts I had, this only ever applied to me. I didn’t think anyone else was weak, or use my knowledge of others to control or manipulate them).

Now I think of that phrase entirely differently: the words haven’t changed a bit, but my perspective has shifted completely. I hear the words ‘Knowledge is Power’ and it reminds me of my own strength and my responsibility to learn how best to take care of myself. 

The more you know about your eating disorder (or anxiety disorder, or depression, etc etc), the better equipped you will be to handle it. It can be complicated at first. I remember my therapist asking me every week how I felt about this or that, what I thought my triggers might be, how I could avoid repeating mistakes, and I would always reply, disconsolately, I don’t know – not to be deliberately awkward, but because I genuinely had no clue. I didn’t know what my problem was, I didn’t know why my issues had started and I definitely didn’t know how to fix them.

You might need to try different therapies or therapists until you find the one that works for you, but in my opinion, therapy is the best thing you can do in terms of arming yourself with the knowledge you need to be able to truly recover.  Good therapists know how to work with you to help you uncover the answers you need. They also know that this may take a lot of time and a lot of patience and can reassure you of this when you feel like you’re not making progress or backpedalling.  Good therapists know when to push and when to back off. What questions to ask and when to ask them. They can make suggestions you’d never have thought of, lead you to conclusions you may never have otherwise found.

I tried Interpersonal Therapy, and twice went through a 20 session Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course. Both types of therapy helped, but ultimately, after each, I relapsed. This last time, I worked with a therapist who specialised in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, so we focused largely on that, with sprinklings of CBT and interpersonal therapies as and when needed.

DBT isn’t the kind of therapy where you talk a lot about your past. It’s about finding effective ways to cope with your present. How to challenge thoughts, how to nurture and self-soothe, how to tolerate distress, how to create a life that you want to live. Which sounds like every self-help book ever written, I know, but it’s actually very practical – and it works. For the first time, I felt like I could actually learn to live with myself: I wasn’t doing homework exercises just because my therapist had asked me to. I actually looked forward to doing them, and learning from them, and their lessons have been lasting.

DBT also introduced me to the concept of Mindfulness. I’d heard the word before but only had the vaguest notion of what it was – something to do with meditation, I thought; sitting cross-legged on a purple cushion, chanting OM. It isn’t. It’s about learning to be in the moment rather than worrying about the past or fretting about the future. And that sounds incredibly broad, and when my therapist first explained it to me, I thought, oh it’s one of those blanket-statements they use to make you feel better – ‘live in the moment’, that kind of thing. It’s not like it’s something that will ever be of any practical use; it doesn’t really MEAN anything.

I couldn’t have been more wrong…hence the mention in practically every blog post I’ve ever written about some aspect of Mindfulness. I’ve become a Mindfulness bore. But it’s astounding how, when you are making the conscious effort to be conscious, you realise how preoccupied and blinkered and consumed you are most of the time.

As well as learning as much as you can from your therapist, I think it helps to help yourself as much as possible, too. Read around the things that interest you. It might be your particular kind of therapy, it might be about eating disorders or depression in general. You might find that something comes up that just seems immediately right for you, as Mindfulness did for me, and read as much as you can about that. You might just like learning and decide to use it as a distraction technique in itself. Learning a new language, for example, gives you something to do, something to achieve, and something to occupy your time with that doesn’t involve food.

As with everything in your recovery, it’s your own personal path, your own personal choice. Everyone’s path will be different. The important thing is to keep building on what you know. Keep educating yourself. Keep learning. The more knowledge you have, the more power you have to help yourself, and the more power you have, the less likely you are to feel helpless and lapse back into old, unhelpful behaviours to give you a false sense of control. 

Blogging for Wellbeing: Self Empowerment - Week 3 Day 2

I think it’s crucial to have some kind of outlet, not just for personal enjoyment (which contributes to creating that ‘life-worth-living’ I keep coming back to) but so that you have some evidence of your abilities. Something to show that you can do something other than starve your body into brittleness, that you can achieve something other than drastic and life-threatening weight-loss.

My passion has always been writing, and I particularly love writing poetry, but for a while, when I was sick, I stopped. I would read through the poems I’d already written and feel disgusted with myself: I was obviously a terrible writer, my poems were clumsy, pathetic things and I was clearly worthless, hopeless, incapable of anything.

The sad thing is that the time I’d spent writing was the only time I’d felt happy. It gave me a sense of purpose – even if that purpose was just to write a haiku in the next hour, or to pin down how I felt about something in a few short lines. It gave me a sense of achievement, even if that sometimes deflated when I reviewed the end result  - I did have self-discipline, I was able to sit myself down and produce something.

When I started writing again, I had to learn not to judge myself on every last word. Sometimes I would be exhilarated about finishing something but instead of reading it right back as I’d done before, I would force myself to put it aside for a while. Giving myself that little bit of distance and space let the glow of achievement I felt last a bit longer. And usually – not always, but usually – when I did let myself go back to re-read or re-draft something, I wasn’t as downhearted or self-critical as I’d have previously been.

Finding something that takes you out of yourself, that makes you feel good, that distracts you and maybe gives you something visible or tangible in the end, is amazingly beneficial in building your self-esteem and giving you a voice, a means of self-expression. I have always been drawn to creative, artistic things – writing, making cards and jewellery, collaging,  photography – but it’s all about finding things that work for you. My best friend loves to go running, claiming that it clears his head and leaves him feeling fit and energised (personally I would rather stick pins in my eyes). I have other friends who love different physical activities: horseriding, walking, yoga, dance.

There are an umlimited amount of possibilities. It’s all about finding the one that works for you. The one that makes you feel like you’ve expressed or achieved something. It could be mental (learning a language, solving a crossword puzzle, writing a poem) as well as physical or artistic. Whatever makes you feel capable or proud.

It might sound silly, or such a small thing that it won’t make any difference in the long-term (how will solving a crossword realistically improve my self esteem?) but that’s how self-image and self-confidence is built. You build a house brick by brick, and that’s how you have to build yourself up, too: in small parts, commitment, repeated effort.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Blogging For Wellbeing: Self Empowerment - Week 3 Day 1

My personal definition of empowerment is feeling in control. This is not to be confused with the punishing kind of control that we achieve through eating disordered behaviours (which for me resulted in a vicious satisfaction alternated with crippling despair at the fact that I wasn’t achieving enough, wasn’t thin enough). The control that empowerment brings is the joyful sort – the sort in which you are able to exercise moderation and restraint in a healthy way, to avoid under-eating as well as over-eating. The sort in which you are able to push yourself to do things which may be outside your comfort zone in order to determine what your limits are, what you want, how to create a life worth living.  The sort that brings with it a sense of emotional freedom.

Even though freedom and control sound like conflicting states, when balanced correctly they actually support each other. We need that sense of control to identity when we are doing too much, and take some time out to nurture or restore ourselves – to recreate our sense of freedom.  On the flip side, we also need to be able to manage our freedom so that we don’t find ourselves running too wild – taking risks, behaving in a way that could maybe trigger us or undermine or recovery.

I remember when I finally decided that I wanted to recover from my eating disorder – not to please my doctor or therapist, not so I could escape the regular weigh-ins and go back to smug and absolute stringency, and not because I thought I should...but for me. Because I wanted to be happy. I didn’t want to continue to live in the rigid grid of rules and numbers I had created for myself. I wanted to be able to be impulsive on occasion. To just decide to go somewhere or do something without having to plan every last excruciating detail. I wanted to say yes to invites because I wanted to go rather than feeling that I had to go because declining meant saying no, which terrified me. I wanted to write because I loved to write and not because I had no-one to talk to, or needed to figure out weight loss or diet plans for the next day, week, month. I wanted to laugh instead of being brutally cruel to myself, I wanted to share with and be kind to others instead of being numb, needy and painfully shy.

That was probably the first time I’ve ever felt truly empowered. When I looked hard at myself and my life and decided that both needed changing for the better, and the only person who could do that was me.

Empowerment is an amazing feeling. You realise that you are capable. That you can achieve your goals even if you struggle along the way, even if they seem insurmountable at times. But it’s important to remember that empowerment is also a process.

It’s a little like happiness. Sometimes we feel happy for no reason, which is wonderful, but usually it’s because we’ve put ourselves in a situation which has allowed us to be happy. Maybe we are socialising with friends, maybe we are reading a new book with a cup of tea or taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine. And it’s the same with empowerment – we need to not feel defeated if we don’t feel that rushing sense of empowerment every minute (sort of like, ‘If I’m not happy, I must be sad’ – ‘If I’m not feeling empowered, I must be helpless’) but instead focus on the things that do make us feel powerful and capable and strong. The people we spend time with. The activities that energise us. The books we read, the TV shows we watch.

Jumping out of a plane might make you feel empowered, but the little things are just as important. Defining a boundary. Eating something your eating-disordered brain may be telling you is too rich, too sticky, too high in calories. Sometimes just getting out of bed when all you want to do is hide under the covers –that is empowerment.

And like anything else, there will be slips and stumbles along the way. Empowerment isn’t about living a life in which you are suddenly and miraculously unable to do no wrong. Empowerment lies not just in making the right decisions, but in learning from our mistakes – in getting back up from those slips and stumbles and trying again. And again. As many times as it’s necessary.

Empowerment is yours, whatever stage of recovery you might be at. It doesn’t have a timeline. It doesn’t have criteria. You create it. And then you nourish it.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: Week Two, Day Two

You are the only you will ever be. This is the only life you will ever have. And it’s a blink, in the grand scheme of things. You are a firefly. An eyelash. The briefest moment in a great span of time.

This is both terrifying and absolutely liberating.

Believing that you are not as worthy as others, that your needs don’t count…it’s not only untrue, it’s incredibly damaging and destructive, and it tarnishes the time you do have to live, to love, to be, to enjoy. I have been in that place, I have believed that my ideas and opinions count for nothing, that I, essentially, count for nothing. If someone else needed something, I would give my time, my money, my heart. I would sacrifice whatever was necessary to make sure that person’s needs were met. And yet when it is was me who needed something, I felt a cold fury with myself: how dare I make demands, how dare I think I deserved, how dare I be so weak as to need.

It is heartbreaking to realise in the wake of an eating disorder just how much time and energy you wasted. How many times you said yes when you wanted to say no, and then took whatever resentment you felt afterwards out on yourself. How many times you said no when you wanted to say yes and then cried because you felt trapped and alone.

Even when you have begun to get your head around the fact that your own needs do matter, it can be difficult to work out what’s what. When is it a compromise and when is it unhealthy self-sacrifice? When should you say no instead of giving up your time automatically…and how do you say no without injuring someone else’s feelings, without feeling bad yourself?

I don’t have all the answers. I do know that achieving this balance comes with practice and commitment. If you have a gut-feeling that it would be better for you to say no in a particular instance, then go with that instinct. It’s not easy, especially when the request comes from someone you love who wants help with something, or for you to go with them somewhere. But in the long-run you will be contributing more to the relationship as a whole and healthy person in charge of her own life than you will as a doormat.

And don’t feel that you can’t be honest about your reasons for saying no. I used to be the world’s worst culprit for accepting invitations left, right and centre and then inventing an excuse last minute because I really didn’t want to go. This frustrated friends more than my initial refusal would have done and they started to think of me as unreliable and flaky when actually I was just nervous and afraid. Now, I will say that I’m not sure rather nodding and beaming when in fact I feel like doing the exact opposite. And I have spoken about the issue with my closest friends, so now they know that when I cancel last-minute (which I do much less frequently these days) there’s usually something bigger going on and it’s not just that I can’t be bothered.

So. In conclusion. You ARE deserving. And you CAN say no. And that DOESN’T make you ‘bad’ or ‘selfish’. Maintaining boundaries and parameters is just as important as opening up and letting people in. It’s learning what to do when that’s the tricky part…and the only way to learn is through trial and error and lots and lots of practice J

Monday, 16 July 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: Self Nurturing; Week Two, Day One

I’ve written about double standards before, particularly where eating disorders and low self-worth are concerned: understanding that distorted body image applies to other people but you really are that fat/ugly/worthless/terrible; realising that everyone is deserving of care, comfort and support, but that you are the exception to that rule because you are entirely worthless, etc etc.  

The very nature of an eating disorder revolves around denial. Denial of needs, denial of self, denial of the actual problem.  A lot of people feel guilty when they indulge themselves or allow a treat (‘I really shouldn’t…) but self-nurturing becomes a real issue when you don’t believe you deserve even the basics …when you truly believe that you don’t deserve even a slice of bread, it’s nigh-on impossible to persuade yourself that you do, however, deserve that hot, scented bath with candles, that new book, that precious you-time.

And this is exactly when we need to be nurturing ourselves – when we are feeling bruised and broken, used up, tired out, spent. 

It’s a vicious circle. Low self-esteem and no self-worth makes us despise ourselves (we are weak, we are worthless); despising ourselves further diminishes our self-esteem and self-worth, which makes us hate ourselves even more…and so on and so on, ad infinitum.

Imagine your best friend coming to you, weeping, telling you that she doesn’t deserve to live, that she is hateful, disgusting, a terrible person. And then imagine how you would respond.  Chances are, you wouldn’t nod along and agree: Yes, I see what you mean…you really are awful, aren’t you? And you’re right, you don’t deserve anything. You don’t deserve to eat. To love. To live.

But this is exactly the sort of thing we say to ourselves.

Self-nurturing isn’t about taking yourself off to a spa for a weekend, or treating yourself to something nice. In its simplest form, self-nurturing is just about showing yourself the same kindness, compassion and empathy you freely show to others. It’s about being accepting of yourself rather than condemning every perceived foible or flaw. It’s about continuing to make the right decisions for your health and wellbeing. It’s about acknowledging that even though you might not feel worthy, you are worthy – that you deserve the same rights and respect as anyone else.

I'll end with a quote I like (surprised? ;-)

You could search the tenfold universe and not find a single being more worthy of loving kindness than yourself.
                                            - Buddha

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: Self Soothing & Self Care; Mental Aspects

The next few posts are going to be dealing with four different aspects of self soothing and self-care – the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

With regards to the mental aspects of self-soothing and self-care, I mentioned yesterday that the first hurdle is getting over that idea that you don’t deserve self-care or self-nurturing. YOU DO. I know for certain that that was the argument that went round and round and round in my head when I decided to be good to myself, even with little things like getting my hair cut – you’re a terrible person – you don’t deserve a new haircut – what’s the point, you are so ugly anyway, it won’t make much difference – who do you think you are to be wasting money on yourself like that?

I know that ‘acting as-if’ is a common instruction in therapy – it’s something I dismissed for a long time, thinking that of course, yes, it’s great for other people, I get that it’s effective…but that’s because these people are essentially worthy, even though they don’t think so. It doesn’t apply to me because I am worthless, disgusting, awful, blah blah blah. 

If you’re at this stage right now, where you’re wanting to treat yourself better and wanting to recover but not feeling that you deserve it, I can’t tell you how crucial this ‘act-as-if’ philosophy is. It works. Not straight away, and you probably will feel guilty and strange to start with, but like with anything, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Act as if you are worthy. Act as if you are loved. Act is if you’re deserving of gentleness, tenderness, comfort, pleasure. I promise that eventually it will start to feel real.

Everyone will find their own ways of managing because everyone is different. The things that make me happy or that I think of as ‘treats’ may make you want to run for the hills. I love spending time in libraries, for example – just sitting in the quiet with a stack of books, notepaper, pens and coffee. This horrifies my sister, whose perfect day would be spent shopping, shopping and shopping some more, which in turn horrifies me. (Unless it’s book-shopping. Which of course, is different).

I put together a list of suggestions to include here, all techniques or activities that I have found personally helpful, specifically with regards to mental self-soothing, with quieting that cruel voice that tells you that you are undeserving.  

1. Journaling – I’ve kept a regular journal for maybe eight or nine years, now, and it’s something I’ve found absolutely vital. Not just in terms of having a place where I can be absolutely and completely honest and open, but also in terms of self-monitoring, self-review and self-help. It’s so much easier to rationalise after the fact – when the emotions have settled down and you can read something back from a logical perspective. It allows you to chart your progress, and any dips. What works for you, what doesn’t. What triggers you. What distracts you. It’s also a good place to start writing about feelings when you’re still very protective of them – it’s sort of a practice-run for sharing with other people. Before keeping a journal, I thought diaries would be quite stilted, rigid things: Today I did a b and c and I felt like x y and z andthen I went to bed. But the more you write, the freer you get. My diaries now are full of all kinds of things - descriptions, poems, lists, streams of consciousness, dreams etc, as well as the day to day things. You can write in different ways to suit your personality, your mood, your preference and your needs.

2. Rationialising –you can do this however you feel works best for you. I like to use a couple of things I learned in therapy. If I’m thinking something negative, for example, I will maybe write a list of the evidence supporting the thought and the evidence against it. I will pretend that a friend is having the exact same thought and write a response to her (I find it easier to be gentle and reasonable with other people, which I’m sure is familiar to a lot of you). I know some people like to argue things out loud, either with themselves or someone else – other people are good in the sense that they have a little distance and perspective.

3. Writing  - a poem, a story, a letter, a blog. Not only does the writing itself act as a distraction technique, it can be actively therapeutic as well. You can create something. You can send a note or letter to someone else, which is a nice thing to do and should make you feel good. You can express freely the things you think people maybe wouldn’t understand – put them into a poem or a story (write a book, if you’re particularly ambitious!). It’s also interesting how many times I’ve only realised something after writing it down and circling the thought for a while. Your subconscious throws up all sorts of things given the chance.

4. Reading – again, this will depend on you. You might want to read as a distraction, a sort of escapism. I do find this helpful, but when I’m struggling with low mood or negative thoughts etc, I find non-fiction supports me  best – I tend to buy books on whatever my particular concern is at that moment, or things people have suggested may help. Mindfulness is a good example – when I first discussed this with my therapist, I was fascinated by the idea and bought a ton of books on the subject. You might want to read memoirs or biographies (just be aware of whether you are feeling triggered – if you are, find something else). You might want to focus on psychology, religion, self-help, other blogs - whatever helps. There are some amazingly helpful resources out there if  you treat them as actual tools to assist in your recovery rather than exercises to grudgingly undertake – I’ve listed some of the ones I’ve used and found helpful at the end of this post.

5. Affirmations – I read something recently (and I can’t remember where it was or who wrote it) about creating new neural pathways in the brain. The gist was that the more you think a particular thought, the more you believe it and the deeper the groove it wears in your brain. The example they gave was to think of a pristine ski slope, thick with snow. One skier goes down and leaves a trail. Another skier follows in their wake and the tracks go a little deeper. And so on and so on. It’s the same with thoughts. And instead of gouging out negative paths for ourselves – I’m fat, I’m a terrible person, I am worthless, I am ugly – we can choose to carve out positive ones instead. Affirmations can help with this – tell yourself that you are special, you are capable, you are intelligent, you are a kind person, a good friend – whatever means something to you personally (try if you're struggling for ideas). If you find this too hard, get a friend to write three or four one-word descriptions for you – reliable – sweet – thoughtful – compassionate. As simple as that. And then read them. And re-read them. Every chance you get. Tape them over a mirror, stick them by your pillow, your toothbrush mug, keep a copy in your make-up bag, your purse. It can be excruciating at first – you probably won’t believe the things you are telling yourself,  you might feel horribly uncomfortable. But give it a chance. Give you a chance.

6. Bliss List – I’ve already written about this in a previous post so I’ll link you straight there rather than rehash it all here:

I can honestly say this is something I try to refer back to every day, and it’s been absolutely invaluable.

And lastly – a few book recommendations! I’ve read lots more than this, but these are the ones I’ve gone back to again and again, books I’ve found particularly helpful, practical or inspiring. Hope they can help you too J

The Art of Extreme Self Care                         Cheryl Richardson                           
Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked    Lesley Garner
The Happiness Project                                    Gretchen Rubin
Mindful recovery                                              Thomas & Beverley Bien
The Happiness Trap                                        Russ Harris
Women, Food and God                                   Geneen Roth
Wasted                                                               Marya Hornbacher
Eat Pray Love                                                   Elizabeth Gilbert
A Writer's Workbook                                      Caroline Sharp