It’s hard to be honest. Even to yourself.
For the past few months I’ve been thinking of myself, determinedly, as ‘better.’ I’d divided the 2016 incarnation of me that was exercising for hours daily, that cried over white bread, that turned down invitations in case necessity dictated I ate something I was not ‘allowed’, and the present me – eating when I feel like it, not doing hours of running – into two separate entities, two different people. I look back at pictures, noting the protracted collar bones, the smile that never reached my eyes, the quietly manic aura. I can sense the anxiety that bubbled insidiously just below the surface masked by a forced smile, a carefully constructed facade. I was not well.
In this last week, however, I have been forced to acknowledge an unpalatable truth. I am better, undoubtedly, but I am still not ‘well.’ The anxiety attacks that seemed to have abated around November time came back with a vengeance, knocking me off kilter and sending me into a spin.
Almost subconsciously, perhaps as an attempt to find an outlet for my negative emotions, I have begun to cut out more food groups. I did not even realise this fully until my mother raised her concern.
Thoughts of food and weight still dominate my brain. I thought I’d gained a bit of weight – I wrote in November that I was physically ‘stronger and softer.’ I stepped on the scale for the first time in months a couple of days ago. My weight is the same as it was on my last doctors appointment. The mind is a powerful beast. What we see and feel is not always a true reflection of reality.
I find it difficult to separate decisions I make for ethical reasons, decisions coming from my ‘authentic’ self, and ‘things-I-absolutely-must-do-or-some-insidious-terrifying-unnamable-thing-will-happen.’ I cannot deny that a good percentage of actions I take on a daily basis are performed to satisfy and pander to my anxieties surrounding food and my weight.
I tentatively broach a thorny and emotive topic: veganism. I have eaten animal products sparingly for a long time – I ate solely white meat first, then I moved to pescatarianism. I transitioned to full, clean-cut vegetarianism before Christmas. I then axed dairy.
I truly believe that Veganism is the most ethical choice. It’s better for the Earth, and of course, for the animals. However, this latest dietary endeavour, the shunning of products that ‘may contain traces of egg,’ the avoidance of full-fat dairy yoghurt…is this something I do because I want to? Was this a choice I made, or another ‘rule’ I must adhere to, another bid for that illusive will-o-the-wisp; ‘perfection.’ Is Veganism something I feel I can define myself with, a label to grant me some identity, to give me a tribe? Is it to help me feel that I belong, that I stand for something? Is it a sound choice I made for the right reasons or is it so I can put #vegan in my Instagram bio? Am I being ethical or is my attempt at Veganism just a socially acceptable way to admit that I’m scared of losing control when faced with a block of Brie? Is it wrong that I feel comforted when I see that saintly ‘Ve?’ In my heart of hearts, I know that it is. What I consume doesn’t make me any more or less worthy than the next person.
I am still in need of that quiet voice in the back of my brain that tells me, ‘This is safe. You are allowed to eat this.’ Are my food choices disordered? Or is it a case of morality? In all honesty, I think it’s a tangled, hotchpotch mish-mash of both, and it frightens me that I cannot filter my ethics from ED.
I am recovering. I am not, unfortunately, recovered. I eat a hell of a lot more, ‘enough’, likely more than. But am I mentally ‘fixed’? I have to say no. I am not yet physically healthy, either, although mental and physical health are two separate beasts. I have gone back to the doctors where I will be undergoing tests and hopefully receive guidance from a dietician. I am embarrassed by this, slightly. I do not feel ‘sick enough.’ I don’t look ill. The truth is, however, that I need support. I am still not menstruating. I still feel anxious if I don’t ‘do my steps.’ I am still not at a healthy weight – though I truly thought I had gained. As my mother pointed out, I need help to break out of this cycle. I do not want to be stuck in this ‘functioning-fine-but-not-fully-better’, this fog of ‘doing-kind-of-okay-but-only-if-i-do-10000 steps-and-can-eat-from-a-list-of-my-prescribed-foods.’ I want to reach a point where food and weight do not dominate my life. I want to stop taking comfort in being thin. I want to be proud of myself for more than fitting into the smallest size in the shop. I want to build an identity that isn’t tied with my body. I can only do this by letting go. Letting go of the BS that tells me people will only like me at XS. Quite simply, I want to stop being so afraid.
In all honestly, I am afraid. I’m afraid of the future. I’m scared of being nothing, of never achieving anything palpable. I am haunted by the feeling that I am wasting my life. But I am trying not to panic. As my dad wisely tells me, ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint.’ A journey, not a destination. I may never reach a firm, defined finish line at which I feel ‘BETTER.’ But I can start by getting to a healthy weight. I can accept more spontaneous invitations. I can keep putting myself out there, keep trying, although at times it feels embarrassingly hard.
I am loved. I love others. I have friends. An amazing, supportive family that care. A puppy that wags his tail whenever he sees me. I’ll be happy. I’m mending, not mended. I’m trying to enjoy the process of unfucking myself. I just need to try.
The more I think about it, that seems to be a lot of what life is – ‘unfucking’ yourself, and shedding what ever shackles you. We are all art works in progress. We deserve to love ourselves at every stage. We might be a bit messy at some points, our lines are a little smudged. But we’ve sure as hell got to believe that there’s something of a masterpiece in each of us, imperfections and all. The most important thing is taking steps to improve our lives, to keep going, and simply to release what does not serve us.