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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
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.
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. Reading
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 operationbeautiful.com 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 RothWasted Marya Hornbacher
Eat Pray Love Elizabeth GilbertA Writer's Workbook Caroline Sharp
Monday, 9 July 2012
There is only one barrier to care and self-soothing, and that is the self. Which is somewhat troublesome, because it’s also the self – and only the self - who supplies access to the care and self-soothing we so crave.
This seems a bit of a contradiction in terms (how can I care for my self if I don’t care about my self?) but then so many things relating to eating disorders are. We think we are too heavy, even when our bones poke out from our skin. We gorge on calories only to immediately purge ourselves of those same calories. We refuse ourselves food and think we are strong for resisting, when in fact we are making ourselves weaker and frailer and more vulnerable.
I used to think that once I was ‘fixed’, once I had changed everything I didn’t like about myself and subsequently become this dazzling new individual with a bright smile, indomitable spirit and infinite patience, then I would start taking care of myself, because then I would be a person worth taking care of. Only when I had reached this state of perfection would I deserve to eat like everyone else, to socialise, to laugh, to buy pretty dresses, to drink wine in a bath full of bubbles, paint my nails peppermint pink.
The hardest thing I had to get my head around was that all of that was conducive to my getting well in the first place, not a consequence of it. That I needed to take care of myself in order to be happy and not the other way round.
Interestingly – and I think we all do this – it’s the times when someone else is hurting that we treat them most gently. We literally handle them with care. But when we ourselves are feeling raw, bruised, sad, we despise ourselves for it. Are furious with ourselves for our ‘weakness’. It’s another example of that skewed logic which plays such a huge part in fostering an eating disorder: That only applies to others; I am different; I don't deserve what other people deserve.
Once you have realised that you DO deserve the same respect and the same nurturing that you freely give to others, the barriers to recovery give way. They stop being gates of steel and become veil-like and flimsy instead. You might find yourself getting tangled every once in a while - not making enough time for yourself, over or undereating, working too hard or too much - but that's fine, it's human. And it's a whole lot easier untangling yourself from something than it is to knock down that big old steel gate.
Self worth – self belief – self-confidence - self-doubt - self-harm - self-soothing - self-control - self-acceptance - self-hate.
You have the 'self' part down already - you have a self, you are a self. It's up to you to decide the rest. What is going to apply to you? How are you going to make this the best life you can have? How are you going to treat yourself? Are you going to meet your needs or deny them? Be gentle with yourself or cruel?
It's about working out what makes you feel happy. What makes you feel calm, capable, passionate, intense, intelligen, loved - however you want to feel. And then giving yourself every opportunity you can to feel that way. Because you deserve it. We all do.
No need to hurry.
No need to sparkle.
No need to be anybody but oneself.
- Virginia Woolf