Week 32//Feeling Feelings

 

On Monday, May 22nd 2017, I will have completed 32 weeks of eating disorder treatment.

**Content note: Eating disorders, Anorexia, restriction, mental illness.**

 

I’m having trouble writing because each line fills my eyes with tears. My brain’s reaction to crying is still, “ew, stop that” but now I cry, instead of engaging in behaviours that are y’know, deadly.

 

My struggle with Anorexia is no secret, but I have felt more protective of my time in this treatment program. I still say that I am in ‘recovery’ with an air of hesitancy; it feels new and fragile. Like a small, sometimes angry, baby. I reluctantly went to a psychologist last summer after “episode” that made the non-disordered part of me wonder if I should do something. I told the psychologist that I “didn’t really eat but was fine. Really.” I honestly believed this. I believed this at Week 13, I believed this at Christmas when I sat in my Grandmother’s kitchen while everyone else ate breakfast, feeling the same terror that I did 14 years ago. I stared at my black coffee, I talked to my Grandma about her life in Trinidad. I did not have some sort of epiphany that here I was, with so many of the people that I love, who were all eating and laughing and growing and healing, I did not think, “Maybe I should eat something.” Families, partners and friends often try to love the sufferer out of their eating disorder. Maybe, it works for some people, but I needed to make the choice myself. Love and concern is no match for an eating disorder. I wish I could tell you that’s what pushed me. I wish I could say that I wanted to get better for a specific reason. I don’t know. I’m only on Week 32. I just know that I know I now make choices that lead to recovery, instead of choices that keep me on the endless and terrible loop of anorexia.

 

It takes an average of 7 years to recover from an eating disorder. I first dabbled in recovery in 2012 and did well for about a year. A breakup, the loss of a dear friend and poor coping skills, lead me back to my eating disorder. Going back to anorexia is like that feeling of relief you get when you take off your pants after work and put on your comfies. It feels comfortable and safe. Except instead of being on your couch watching netflix, you’re in a toxic waste dump, drinking a cocktail of poison. I was not safe, I was killing myself, all the while, smiling and saying I’m fine™ (Code word for “I’m actually dying, but have been socially conditioned to see my needs as unimportant and my emotions as inherently irrational.”)

 

My discomfort with the label of recovery has held me back from blogging my way through treatment as I did the last time. I was eager to recover in 2012. I saw my future: bright, shiny, full of promise. I have had an eating disorder for just under half my life. Living without it sounds great, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s better to not have an eating disorder. I just don’t know what that feels or looks like, and for someone with anorexia (see related attributes: perfectionism, obsessiveness, anxiety), that is terrifying. The clinic I attend has a list “non-negotiables” that you have to have in place by Week 20 if you want to continue in the program. I did not meet them by Week 20. I had just decided I kind of wanted to be there like 6 weeks before, so in my mind, I was just starting. I was given a 2 weeks to meet the goals, an ultimatum, put gently. Long story short, I work well with a deadline. When I was told that I was allowed to stay in the program, I realized I had been holding my breath for 2 weeks/the last decade. I wanted to try. I wasn’t ready to fully let go, but I was willing to work towards something that was better than the eating disorder that I had been controlling my life for so long.

 

If you’re still reading, thank you. I don’t know if you will get anything out of this, but I already feel lighter. I wish I could tell you that at Week 32, I am fully recovered and feel Great™ (a totally subjective term). Unfortunately, recovery takes time, a lot of time and hardwork. Unlearning takes time. Healing is a winding path, and I’m learning that it’s ok to not know the destination.

Back to my baby analogy, I feel like I am learning things for the first time, like how expensive groceries are (despite having all the data for this, it’s still shocking irl), or that crying about something does not make you weak or a failure. Or that it’s ok to be happy. Even over something small. I wake up and my first thought isn’t dread. Coffee tastes a lot better with milk in it. I have enough energy to hang out with friends for more than 1 hour. Little good things are beginning to replace the pull of my eating disorder. I am slowly building a life that does not focus on my eating disorder. I don’t know if I will ever be fully rid of it, and at this point, I am ok with that. 32 weeks ago, I never would have thought that I would be able to complete this program. I planned to quit and run back to the relative safety of my eating disorder. I don’t want to think where I would be if I did quit and continue in my eating disorder. I am not sure what I will be like in another 32 weeks and for the first time, that’s ok. I am no longer standing still. I am healing, growing, creating, blooming.

 

Thank you to all those who have supported me in these last few months, particularly to those of you who have been there for the whole 32 weeks.

On Yoga, Resistance and Letting Go

Content Note: Eating disorders, racism, harassment, objectification 

I don’t want to write this post. I have been turning the words over in my mind for two months, I have been holding these message deep in my body. I Sharing my struggles with anorexia, sharing my anger and frustration at social oppressions and whatever else I feel a pull to write about has helped me explore my own thoughts and reduce the self-imposed isolation that my eating disorder brings. I am writing a workshop on yoga and decolonial healing for a conference by and for women of colour, I’m also facilitating this workshop in a week at another event, so I should probably finish it, but before I can do that, I need to need to write these words.

 

I started casually practicing yoga midway through my undergrad, mostly through home practice and the occasional free class. As someone living with chronic pain, yoga was the go-to suggestion of health practitioners, and as annoying as that is, it has been a great coping mechanism for me. Yoga hasn’t taken away my chronic pain, but offers arguably more significant healing.

 

I was trying to remember a time where my body felt like it was consistently mine. Sure, I have had moments: making the decision to move out east, and 1,421km away from toxic relationships, the first time I went more than a month without purging or restricting, breaking up with a long-term love. My body has been exoticfied, objectified, controlled, shamed for being, but when has it been mine? My experiences are unique to me, but in no way unusual. Countless women will tell you how their first experience of a man objectifying and harassing them was when they were around 11 or 12. Thousands of people, of all genders, struggle with eating disorders, and pretty much every person of colour has felt othered and often exotified.

 

I recently realized how tired I am of explaining the colonial histories and diasporas that allow for my existence. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me in those moments. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me when men stand too close on the bus or a professional meeting ends when a hand on my lower back. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me because we live in a world that has consistently confirms this.

 

Since I was 13 years old, I have attempted to take control of my body back by destroying it, by trying to become invisible enough to fend off unwanted words and touch, to erase myself into whiteness. My eating disorder became a safe haven. My mother wanted me to eat pasta during the same time I was being told my anger was unwarranted (and unattractive), refusing dinner became my resistance. I destroyed myself as a form of misguided resistance. Women refusing to eat dates back centuries and is often connected religious sacrifice – the woman who is free from needs and wants is the most holy. My resistance was just what our patriarchal and white supremacist society demands of women. I detach from my body as a mode of survival. I stopped having desires because my desires to be heard were too much ™ I am still figuring out how to accept that being too much ™ is exactly what I should be.

 

Almost a decade after my eating disorder began, I started doing yoga. However, it wasn’t until my roommate invited me to try hot yoga with her that I truly began to connect with yoga, my inner self and finally my body. I lay on my mat after my first class feeling sweaty and giddy. I survived an hour long class in a hot room surrounded by strangers while wearing half the amount of clothes I normally do. I was thrilled, I was proud. I felt a little high. I joined the studio the next day and began a journey towards my body.

 

Eventually, as my body got stronger, I could move through asanas with ease and have fun trying (and falling out of) new poses. I lie on my mat before class and wait as the anxieties of my day slip away. I take a few cleansing breaths and take back my body and mind. I am not thinking of the dissatisfaction with my body (ok,sometimes I still am, but that’s why I’m doing all of this), I’m not thinking of body as the exoctic other, or as on inconvience,I am not thinking of my career or debt or anything but keeping my breath and settling into my body – as a whole, as mine.

 

Some of my teachers read a quote or tell a story at the end of the class, as their words float through the now quiet room, I lay on my mat and let them wash over me. I chose to come to my mat, I made choices in my body that felt right, I let myself breathe, and began to connect my body and mind. I have found the concept of decolonization confusing; I understand it on a political level, but when I would hear activists talk about decolonizing the self, I felt lost. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself to my practice that I began to understand. As I write this workshop, I realize that my work to decolonize my self will be ongoing, because the act of colonization is ongoing.
We speak of colonization, racism, and even sexism as things of the past. We’re colourblind now. The Canadian government pretends that their colonization of Indigenous peoples has ended. Women have jobs or something so we don’t need feminism. We speak of our body and mind in similarly disconnected terms. We were asked to write a letter to our body as part of my treatment program, I was viscerally uncomfortable for many reasons, but when I moved from “You” (my body) and “I” (my mind) to “We” (body/mind/soul), I felt as if I could breathe again, the lump in my throat grew smaller and I began to write. This is what we do when we practice yoga, this is what happens when we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. This is where the healing begins.

Unpredictable Fulfillment

“Between now and April 15, I will be imaginative and ingenious in getting my needs met. I will have fun calling on every trick necessary to ensure that my deepest requirements are playfully addressed. I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.”

-Rob Brenszy

These words entered my consciousness and buried themselves deep within my desires. I am feeling stuck. I have begun at least three separate blog posts and I can’t even think of the words to describe writer’s block to y’all right now.

Over the next two weeks, I need to make some drastic changes for the benefit of my health. I am struggling with divergent emotions: fear and motivation, apathy and hope, insecurity and channeling my true bad bitch self.

As I struggle to make these changes, to take back control and to trust this process, regardless of how hard it may be, I think of the words above. I read my horoscope in our local free paper each week, mostly for fun, partially because I believe we can find wisdom in many things. “I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.” The word unpredictable is the antithesis of everything I have created myself to be. I have had a five (and ten) year plan since I was a child and I like my life to be organized; there is not much room for mistakes and unpredictability. This aspect of my personality has allowed me to excel is work and school but I have also missed out on a lot of things. This horoscope coincided with the changes I need to make and caused me to take a step back and wonder would happen if I became a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment rather than forcing myself into these rigid boxes I created many years ago?

Fear can be a motivation, it serves to warn us against danger or let us take a moment to notice we are embarking on something unfamiliar. Fear becomes detrimental when we let it take over. We wrap ourselves in fear as a form of protection, yet instead of keeping us safe, the fear weighs us down and we cannot move beyond it.

A few nights ago, my yoga teacher teacher suggested our intention for the class be patience and to trust the process – whatever that may look like for each of us. I am striving to trust that I will move through this fear, towards some kind of fulfillment and wholeness. Fear is not everlasting. Fear serves a purpose the same way feeling too cold or hot, it tells us something about our selves and our surrounding but is only useful if we listen to it. We need to check in with ourselves and ask: What do I need right now? Asking ourselves this, and then fulfilling those needs, is not selfish. It is an act of self-preservation and it may one day become an act of self-love.

Be patient with your impatience. We can’t change overnight, but we can begin to become sweet seekers of unpredictable fulfillment when we let go of the fear that holds us down and embrace the fear that motivates and moves us.

Existence as Resistance: A Three Part Series on Race and Eating Disorders

CW: discussion of eating disorders, ed-related thoughts, mild mention of behaviours.

I am writing this series of posts on race and eating disorders for a few of reasons:

  1. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada) just put on Eating Disorder Awareness week and the National Eating Disorder Association’s (USA) ED awareness week is at the end of the month; this year’s theme is “It’s Time to Talk About It”.
  2. I’m the only person of colour in my treatment program (to my knowledge) and have been noticing that the medical system is lacking in critical analysis of eating disorders.
  3. I hope women of colour who are reading this and may be struggling feel less alone.

 

Part I: Compare and despair

I watched all the thin, white women lined up in rows, partially covered in spandex, sweating, breathing – with each other, with me. I long to be like them. I am at the point where I know I can never starve myself to be 5’9”, blonde and an entirely different race. I know this, but it doesn’t stop the compulsive jealousy. I study them, I envy them. I stop breathing. What does my envy and my hunger accomplish? I shrink, literally, but more importantly, I shrink on the inside. My ex-boyfriend used to tell me he was watching my soul fade away. I often think of a summer day in 2012, I was just waking up from a nap and he told me I’d become bones and nothing else. I took it as a compliment in my fucked up state of mind. I had never seen anyone look so sad as he did at that moment. He told me I was fading in a way that he knew he couldn’t stop it and I didn’t want to. I remember losing myself that year, in search of something that I will never be. I am still searching, but I am finding direction. I move toward something nourish me, something that will create a live worth living.

 

For the majority of my life, I have attempted to shrink, to tone myself down, to fit into the image of femininity that is deeply rooted in misogyny. I aimed to be quiet, docile, weak, small, chill. The perfect woman is free from want. Therefore, I stopped wanting. I turned off my desire. I gave everything in myself, and whenI ran empty, I scooped out every bit of myself and offered it to anyone and anything that I thought may fill the void.

 

Part II: Not so black and white

The world is not made for us. When I say world, I do not mean the natural world, I don’t mean our human bodies. Those do belong to us, we are the stars and earth and water. We are also fire. Birth and death and rebirth. The world that doesn’t belong to us has been created with our destruction in mind. My ancestral roots and deep and vast; the span the globe and exist in ancient texts and slave trade routes, in agrarian societies and plantations, The society we live in – from its economic structures, to academia and institutions, has been created to serve certain groups at the detriment to the rest. These systems are also detrimental to the majority of those they are supposed to serve. Toxic masculinity, capitalism, and white supremacy also hurt those that they appear to benefit.

 

There is radical sense of relief that comes from realizing, accepting and possibly embracing this truth. Yes, the world is not made for me, but here I am. I exist in spite of it. I may even be able to thrive in spite of it.

 

Indulge my slightly bitter nostalgia for a moment: I was 15 and with a new group of classmates. The topic of mixed race people came up but I had not not mentioned that I was mixed. A girl in my class stated that she found interracial relationships “disgusting” because you “never know what you’re going to get” and “black (men) are gross.” Obviously, this girl was a budding young racist and I felt terrified to speak up. One of the other white kids in the class made some comment about how people can do what they want and the conversation moved on. This was one of the instances that lead to years of me wanting to change my last name, dye my hair, bleach my skin and deny my heritage. Up until recently, this memory along with countless others of white folks either condemning PoC or exoticfying us  would cause my stomach to drop and my chest to tighten. However, I have recently turned a corner. It could be slowly entering recovery again after a relapse into anorexia, it could be that I have dated one too many white dudes who found my horror at the rise in racism and xenophobia inconvenient, or maybe it’s part of growing older and learning. Whatever it is, I am quietly learning to celebrate myself and my browness. I will never be a white girl. I will never fall neatly into any racial category. A mixed race pal in high school used to say, “We’ll never be white enough and we’ll never be brown enough”, she had insight that I am only just learning. She was amazing and mature for 16 and refused to “pick a side”. She would call out our dance teacher for her eurocentric (and frankly, racist) style of teaching, she refused to identify as one race and she proudly embrace her multi-ethnic identity. These are the women I hold in my heart long after we lose touch. These are the women I carry with me every time someone asks “what are you?” These are the women I allow to lift me up when I want to starve myself into whiteness. I am thousands of years of women – strong and vulnerable, hard and soft. I cannot erase or shrink that unless I am willing to dishonour them.

The Cult of Busy

If you ask me what I have been up to, I will tell you that I have been busy, same answer for what I will be doing. I – like many other people – am always busy. I am always on my way to an appointment, work or a meeting, coffee with a friend, or just running errands. When I’m not physically doing something, I’m thinking about it. Time for rest is rare and fleeting and I’m usually weighed down with a sense of guilt and anxiety of what I should be doing.

I am not alone in feeling like this, most of us feel like we must always be busy and occupied. Anything less must mean we are lazy.

I recently had a week off and for the first three days I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt bad for taking time off. I haven’t taken time off for anything other than a family emergency or medical reasons in years. I felt a bit lost at different times during the week – when I tried to think of what I should be doing or where I had to be, I realized I didn’t have to rush anywhere. The projects I’m working on are well underway, I would have plans to see a friend later, but there was no rush. It felt weird to not be stressed.

We equate being busy with being successful. If we are always busy, we must always being working and if we are always working, we are then viewed as successful. It may sound trite, but I blame capitalism for our obsession with busyness.

Under capitalism nothing is ever given. We trade labour for money; we trade money for things we need to live – food, shelter, coffee to keep us awake so we can keep working. Capitalism teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes for free. We must give something to get anything, but at the same time, we can’t expect anything in return. We often work – or stay busy – just for the sake of it. We have become so accustomed to working towards something – an education, a 15-minute break, money, or whatever else drives you – that we do not take the time to just be.

Halfway through writing this blog post, I came down with a cold. What I thought would be one or two days of sniffles and a headache turned into a full week of being sick and being sent home from work twice (thanks Nicole!) In my feverish state, I just went to work because that is what I always do. Taking a sick day, even though I was sick, felt like I was being lazy. Luckily, I have people in my life who are more sensible than me and made me go home.

During my forced time off, I had a lot of time to think, and since every time I moved I felt like I was going to fall over, I had to sit with my thoughts and let myself rest. It was uncomfortable, and needed.

Having a full life is not the same as always being busy. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one we will probably continue to forget. There is nothing wrong with having a lot going on in your life, but learning to focus more of what adds value to your life rather than being busy for the sake of being busy can lead to lessened anxiety, better sleep, and generally more enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life; we don’t have to punish ourselves to deserve a break or a self-care Saturday. Capitalism teaches us that our only value is our productivity – we are so much more than our ability to work. It is a lesson we must continually learn in a society that teaches us the opposite. Be gentle and patient, doing nothing takes time.

Insta-no

I was scrolling through Instagram this afternoon and Ambertheactivist’s account came up under ‘Explore’, I follow her Creatingconsentculture account and have great respect for the activism she does around sexual assault and rape culture. Amber is a survivour of sexual violence and uses her experience to create important dialogue and support other survivours. All rad things. However, I was upset to see her post on Ambertheactivist featured below:

I was so disappointed to see this kind of image and accompanying caption on an activists account that I have such respect for. Not only is it triggering for survivours of sexual assault, but for those who struggle with eating disorders.

Shaming people for their food choice is fucked up in any situation, but comparing the act of consuming cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, and milk to supporting sexual violence is disgusting, misleading and belittles rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Sexualized violence is a huge problem in our society and in recent years, we have finally begun confronting the effects of rape culture. There are many amazing activists and organizations that work tirelessly to make our culture safer for everyone. However, when activists use something as serious and traumatic as rape to further their cause (veganism), they are not only hurting survivors, but making it harder for those who are working towards ending rape culture to be taken seriously by the boarder population.

I have been a vegetarian for most of my life and have dabbled in veganism, but it was directly related to my ED and much too restrictive for me to be able to in recovery. Not everyone, even those who have/had eating disorders have this experience. I have a few friends who are recovered or in recovery and are vegan. They are healthy and happy, and I’m happy for them. I have other friends who were vegetarian or vegan pre-recovery and now happily eat meat. Both of these things are perfectly fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is trying to push a diet or shame anyone’s food choices. Food and body shaming are still big problems in activist communities – as much as they are in other communities. From shaming folks for not buying local or organic, to mocking the foods of a particular culture, to shaming veganism posts – it’s all fucked up.

I have seen a lot of shame-y vegan posts on Instagram and after a pang of guilt, I usually select “See fewer like this” and move on, but this one got to me. I am angry, really angry at this. I am all for animal welfare and ethical farming. I try to buy free range eggs and if a pal asks for suggestions of local meat, I’ll suggest a butcher who I know treats their animals well. I may not eat meat, but I would much rather support a local farmer who cares for their livestock over a factory farm. However, comparing dairy production to rape is SO WRONG. I wish I could put this more eloquently, but I can’t. Not right now. I am so disappointed to see an advocate of consent, feminism and ending sexualized violence post something so insensitive. Women are often compared to animals – cows, pigs, kittens – various kinds of non-human animals. It’s a way of dehumanizing and delegitimizes women and their experiences. Women/femme folks are disproportionately vicitimized through sexualized violence, so to call dairy production “Rape” is beyond ignorant; it is a deplorable, triggering, and false statement. It is ok to disagree with how dairy is produced, it is ok to choose not to eat it. Support vegan business, cook for your pals, do what makes you happy, but there is never a reason to shame another person for their food choice.

The meme is terrible (it was not made by ambertheactivist, just reposted), but it is the caption that really upset me. Amber writes: “…that delicious vanilla creamer you put in your coffee this morning? A cow was raped for that milk.” My stomach dropped and I felt like I might choke when I read that. I had just finished a coffee after running some errands and enjoying the beautiful day. It took me 3 years to put cream in my coffee and not having a breakdown. I don’t always put in my coffee and I still feel guilty, but a little cream in coffee won’t cause my to cry or engage in behaviours anymore. I have the day off and really enjoyed my coffee, and as soon as I saw that post, guilt crashed down on me. I felt sick thinking of the comparison between dairy and a violent crime. I closed instagram and put my phone down. My mind was racing, but then it hit me: why should I let a stranger who posted this (probably without thinking) to control my choices? Through my involvement in  food activism, feminism and recovery advocacy, I have been slowly learning that my body is my own. It doesn’t belong to any man, to my eating disorder, to shame or guilt. I have been blessed with being able to access treatment a few years ago, to be surrounded by loving, supportive, rad people who validate my experiences, I have the educational background to understand  rape culture, feminist theory, food production and environmental issues. I am incredibly privilege to have the tools and support system that I do, but not everyone does. This post triggered me, but I can blog about it. I can rant to a friend about later if I want. Thousands of people will see that post, they may currently be in a violent situation, be a recent victim/survivour of assault, they could have an eating disorder, or a combination. They may not have the tools to deal with triggering and shaming posts like that. I am writing this less-than-stellar blog post to deal with it, I’ll probably call my Mum later, but it will still affect me. If we want to fully support survivours and anyone who is effected by sexualized violence, we have to be conscious is all of our actions and words. We all fuck up sometimes, and I hope the original poster/creator of that meme, Amber and others who repost, can take a step back and rethink their actions. There are many way to positively support animal welfare that do not capitalize on the trauma of those who have experience rape and sexual assault. I do not think this was the creator of the meme or Amber’s intention. I honestly think they are passionate about animal welfare and it was a terrible choice of words and way of writing. We need to be ok with calling-in our fellow activists. We need to acknowledge our mistakes and realize that we can reinforce aspects of rape culture without even realizing it. I hold great respect for animals and their welfare, but comparing dairy production a violent act that is predominately perpetrated against women is harmful to survivours and to our goal of ending sexualized violence.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, Same Shame

 

Content Warning: diet-talk, weight-loss, eating disorders

 

The New Year should be a celebration of new beginnings, to remember our accomplishments and to drink enough Champagne so we forget that it is January and absolutely freezing. Unfortunately, there is so much focus on our cultural obsession with perfection that it makes this time of year challenging for many. Each year, the same tired tropes about creating a “New Year, New You!” are recycled through unhealthy diets, shaming tactics and other aspects of diet culture. Diet culture can be seen in shaming of those who are viewed as overweight, encouraging unhealthy weight loss, the 20 billion dollar (USD) weight-loss industry, prioritization of certain body types, and fad diets.

 

Most people who diet regularly (often called yo-yo dieting) will not lose weight, and if they do, they will most likely gain it back. Yo-yo dieting is also extremely dangerous, but is often overlooked. Yo-yo dieters may be suffering from low self esteem, be overwhelmed with cultural messages about dieting or may in fact be suffering from an eating disorder. The majority of those suffering with eating disorders fall under the category of “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” or EDNOS, which can include those who practice yo-yo dieting. Regardless of an official diagnoses, engaging in unhealthy dieting habits (such as pills, over exercising or depravation) is dangerous, both mentally and physically.

 

One of the challenges at this time of year is that if you are dealing with an ED, either in recovery or currently engaging in behaviours, or you are close to someone who has an ED, you will probably be hyper-aware of how triggering this time of year is. However, I find the majority of people are entirely unaware. Our culture is steeped in really fucked up ideas about bodies, health and food, so unhealthy messages about diets and bodies seem normal.

 

I dread conversations, advertisements and media about New Year resolutions. Most resolutions rely on shaming tactics and unrealistic expectations. Four months ago, I was trying to figure out how to deal with this, because each year is different. The messages are basically the same, but of course, we as people change. We might be in a very positive mental space or may be experiencing a relapse. Each year has new challenges and new accomplishments. However, New Year’s resolutions that focus on changing our bodies and engaging in damaging behaviours don’t recognize how unique, fascinating, strong and beautiful each person is. They rely on shame and guilt, not empowerment and self-care.

 

We all know most resolutions fail, yet many people continue to make unsustainable and sometimes dangerous resolutions. Mass media – from advertisements on Instagram, to magazines articles and programming on news media – presents the New Year as a chance to find all your supposed flaws and force yourself to change. Most of the content is aimed at women/femme folks and is based on physical appearance. Each year, media outlets, acquaintances, and family members talk endlessly about how much weight should be lost, how to eat “Healthier” and how to “get fit.” All this makes the week after Christmas and January hell for many people, especially if they struggle with an eating disorder/disordered eating.

 

The semester I returned to university after treatment, I was sitting in a class and a few women were chatting a couple of chairs over from me. I wasn’t really paying attention, but then the conversation turned to how much weight they had apparently gained over Christmas break and how their New Years resolutions were all about weight-loss and diets. I felt trapped. Class was about to start and I didn’t want to miss it. My coping skills were better than they were before treatment, but I was still at the beginning stages and didn’t know how to handle this. Over the last few years, I have found some ways to cope and want to share in hopes that it will make this time of year slightly more bearable.

 

  1. If you use Tumblr, download the Tumblr Saviour extension. You can block triggering words and topics. It’s a lifesaver.
  2. Word Blocker and other similar extensions are available for Chrome (I find the ones I have tried don’t work very well, but it might be worth a try)
  3. Un-follow (even temporarily) certain lifestyle blogs and accounts. Many cooking, vegan and fitness blogs will be overrun with triggering content these days. If you like what they post at other times, you can always re-follow them later.
  4. Be ok with walking away from conversations. If someone begins talking about diets or weight-loss, it is ok to walk away. Self-care is always important, but at this time of year it is imperative to care for your mental well-being and that sometimes means walking away.
  5. If you are comfortable, ask friends and family to avoid diet talk. This can be challenging, especially if they do not know about your ED/disordered eating. You are not obligated to tell anyone who you are not comfortable with, but saying something along the lines of “I’m not comfortable talking about diets, etc. could we change the subject?” Many people who are not personally affected by EDs do not want to talk about diets or weight-loss.
  6. Accept support. If you have a friend who wants to listen to you vent or an option to see a therapist, take it! You may not think you need it, especially if you have been doing well in recovery, but a little support goes a long way. We all need support; it doesn’t make you weak to ask for some extra help.
  7. If you have no one in your immediate circle to confide in, look up support groups in your community and check if your insurance or schools offers support for counseling.
  8. Do something that makes you happy each day. Sometimes we can’t avoid being triggered, and some days are just harder than others. Take a nice bath or create some art. Do something that is positive for you.

 

If you are reading this, and are not personally affected by disordered eating/eating disorder, I hope you will take into consideration how damaging diet talk can be and how important it is to support a culture that accepts all bodies. Shame and guilt have no place in our relationships with food and our bodies. Food does not hold moral value and dieting/not dieting does not make you a better or worse person. Our bodies are magical, resilient and unique. We should celebrate diversity of bodies, “flaws” included. While there is more diversity of bodies seen in media, it is still dreadfully insufficient. Representation in media will not eliminate eating disorders and related issues, but it could help create a more positive, and realistic, culture.

 

I will end this post on a thought that has been crossing my mind lately had a therapist tell me once, “Imagine if losing weight was the only thing you ever accomplished, how would you feel?” At the time, weight loss was the only thing I cared about, but as I went through treatment, and accomplished other things that we not related to my body, I started to come around to the idea that my body is not my only worth. My body is not the sole indicator of who I am as a person. I hope we, as individuals and as a society, can begin to focus more on each others accomplishments and strength, instead focusing on a very specific, and unattainable, image of perfection.

Body betrayal

What do you do when your body betrays you? It happens to all of us at one point. It might be something minor, but embarrassing like tripping in front of a room of people after your leg falls asleep, or it might happen as you grow older, your eyesight worsens or your blood pressure rises. But what do you do when your body betrays you in considerable ways at a young age? I have been trying to figure this out for the past few years, and I’ve found some answers, as imperfect as they are.

I have been experiencing chronic illness/pain for over five years and an eating disorder for about twelve years. I don’t have a clear diagnosis for my chronic pain, but right now I do know that it affects every aspect of my life. I have days where I can’t get out of bed or where I double over in pain, I have days where my body just seems to stop working. I don’t want this post to be me complaining about being chronically ill, but just to set the scene; I will say that my body often does not act in the way I would like it to. I was a pretty healthy kid/young person, besides the occasional cold, I was never sick. Even for the first few years of my ED, physically I was “ok”. Of course, my body (and mind) was being severely damaged; I just didn’t realize it yet. When I first started to experience chronic pain, it was something I could push through, but as the years went on, I had more trouble dealing with it. I am very blessed to have lots of people, professionals and loved ones, to support me. However, most of the time it’s just me dealing with my health problems.

On the bright side, I have found a few things that help: reality shows that are too embarrassing to list but great for distraction, breathing exercises (everyone hates it when professionals suggest this, but they work) and probably the most beneficial, making sure I really embrace every single moment I don’t feel like shit. I try appreciate everything my body can do. I may hate my body 99% of the time, but I am also fascinated by it. A friend of mine recently invited me to yoga, and I’m amazed, that after all the terrible things I have done to myself, and regardless of how much pain I am, my body can do amazing things.

I was a little frustrated leaving yoga class today. I felt ill and off balanced, but with some assistance from the teacher and modifying poses, I completed an hour-long class. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but each day I can get up and go to work, or have a conversation or go for a walk, it’s an accomplishment. Every day will not be a good day, and that is ok.

Another very important lesson I have learned from being ill is that it is ok to have shitty days. Whether it’s a bad day due to a physical or mental illness or you are just feeling “off”, it’s ok to have a rough day. I have learned that sometimes I should not try to push through, I have found that stopping and just sitting with whatever I am feeling can be the best solution. Yes, it is not fun to explain why I can’t do something or have to sit something out, but it helps me survive.

Maybe I will never know what is wrong with me. Maybe I will find some treatment that will help me get rid of the chronic pain. Maybe I will recover or maybe I won’t, but at least I know I can survive a bad day.

Being young and chronically ill has taught me a lot, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I often wonder how different of a person I would be if I didn’t have these illnesses. My GPA would be higher and I probably would have been overseas by this point. I like to think being ill has made me more self-aware, more compassionate and less selfish. I like to think that all of this has a deeper meaning. I know I appreciate my life more, little things bother me less and I am more driven to embrace all the seemingly inconsequential things in life. I don’t claim to have any special understanding, I still get frustrated and sad. I just know that I – my body and mind – can accomplish more than I thought I could, even if it takes me twice as long. The hardest things to learn is there is no time limit on healing or growing. I am still working to accept this, but at least I have time.

Lapses & Perfection

Each time I have attempted recovery I went into it with the idea that I would have the “perfect” recovery – whether that meant following my meal plan to the letter or exercising a certain way for a certain time, I wanted to be perfect. I spent over a decade trying to be perfect in my eating disorder, and failing.

 

Lapses are a normal part of recovery, there a shitty part, but completely normal. My first lapse, I came to my therapist almost in tears I was so ashamed. I told her how sorry I was for “ruining” my recovery. I thought I was all over because I engaged in eating disorder behaviours. I couldn’t have been more wrong! As I went through treatment and made more friends in recovery, I realized we all struggle, we all trip, we all fuck up. And that is ok.

 

This isn’t just for ED recovery, no matter what you are recovering from: PTSD, depression, OCD, etc. Slip-ups are normal, the main this is that we learn to cope with our struggles in a healthy way. After a lapse, it can be easy to beat ourselves up, feel like we have failed – we haven’t.

 

Often people with eating disorders, anxiety disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have perfectionistic tendencies anyway, so when we bravely attempt recovery and then slip up, it normal react strongly.

 

Lapses are terrible, confusing and scary. Lapses also give us the opportunity to reassess our needs, to practice self -care and to fight even harder for recovery. If you lapse, the best thing to do it is reach out to a friend who you can trust and remember that you are human and perfection is impossible.

 

We will never be perfect in our illness and we will never be perfect in our recovery. We find who we are through our imperfections, there is more to life than striving for perfection. Trying to be perfect through recovery will only hurt progress. Let yourself be human.