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.