Tag Archives: mental health

In bed with Dr Google (and ok with it)


Triggering for mentions of miscarriage, stillbirth and fertility difficulties

I’ve tried a few times lately to blog about this fertility rollercoaster but with little success. There’s so much to write about, and knowing where to start or finish is a problem. Disclaimer: everything I’m about to write about is subjective, and this is a sensitive topic, so if you think reading about someone else’s fertility “journey” or whatever is going to upset you in some way, stop reading now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the feminism of how we think of and talk about women who are experiencing fertility “issues”. Here I include everything from difficulties falling pregnant to finding out you are categorically infertile for some reason through to pregnancy loss, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth/the death of babies shortly before birth. I also include women who have fraught pregnancies due to complications and disability.

I was finishing up reading J.J Keith’s book “Stop Reading Baby Books” yesterday on the bus while doing that “crying strategically behind sunglasses” thing as I read how she described what it felt like after she’d had three miscarriages before carrying her first babe to term. She talked about how she began to think about doing other things with her life; and about how deeply awful it felt to think that her urge for the motherhood of a living baby might never come to fruition.

I’ve now had two miscarriages, and still no baby has come home with me. It does something to you, that. Everyone responds differently of course, but in my case it has fundamentally changed how I approach life events – that capacity to relax and take good things for granted is completely gone. My counsellor said that something many parents grieve as a result of recurrent pregnancy loss is “the death of the carefree conception and pregnancy.” No truer words were spoken.

Yes, I’ve become the stereotypical hyper-vigilant woman who obsessively checks forums and web.md and knows everything you could possibly know about cervical mucus. I’ve watched youtube videos that demonstrate what egg-white mucus looks like, and I know all about how to thin it (Robitussin, but only in the original variety), how long sperm last in it (3-5 days in fertile mucus; 1-2 hours in dry mucus), what an open and tilted cervix looks like, and I’ve pissed on sticks twice a day for a week to pinpoint exactly when I’m ovulating. The things I could tell you about sperm motility and lubricants! About implantation cramps and spotting! About how HCG works, when you start producing it, how quickly it doubles, what a low or high reading means, and how to calculate your expected implantation date, your luteal phase or the best apps to track symptoms. And let’s not even get started on blood thinners and vitamins and iodine and spinach or the impact of the acid in saliva on sperm.

When I think back to the light hearted young lass who got pregnant all those years ago, in 2009, I mourn the death of that bright and breezy sureness that “things will work out.” I sometimes look at my browser history and it takes a good few minutes of scrolling before I get to any links that aren’t pregnancy or fertility related.

I’m sure some friends and maybe even my partner are quietly critical of this now rather intimate relationship with Dr Google, but I am interested in how images and ideas of the “good suffering woman” are constructed when it comes to fertility troubles.

I think our culture is set up to judge and condemn whatever women do, and fertility is one area in which women are often told they are feeling ‘incorrectly’. Firstly, if you have a miscarriage and you’re not that emotionally effected, this is seen as unforgivably pragmatic – as though you’re a cold individual who is incapable of feeling anything at all towards children or the events of your life. And then, when taken to the other extreme, women who are deeply emotionally impacted are seen as taking it too seriously.

If you fall into the camp of someone planning a pregnancy when you’re having trouble getting or staying pregnant, you may find yourself obsessively reading forums, articles, blog posts, and musing constantly in your own head and aloud with interested (and maybe not so interested) others. Let me tell you now: this is normal. Of course you bloody are. Needing to understand and find some answers among the inscrutable mysteries fertility difficulties throw at you is NORMAL AND OKAY. Doctors give scant support at best; hell, even fertility specialists shuffle you in and out speedily. Needing some control and grabbing for it via information addiction? Yep, taxing. But a part of life. You’re not alone, or strange, and if the plethora of users of online forums discussing recurrent pregnancy loss is anything to go by, you’re far from in a minority.

What I find interesting is that when you express exhaustion or emotional disturbance as a result of the massive head-trip this constitutes, you invariably get a lot of judgement from people about how you’re handling things. You aren’t suffering right. You need to just let it happen and just put it out of your mind and you’re just putting pressure on yourself and you want it too much are some of the tidbits of “advice” people offer.

Women who are embroiled in fertility woes are often painted in the media we consume as the pained obsessives who track every basal body temperature in a spreadsheet (pfft, we have apps now) and stand alone staring at a pregnancy test/ovulation test in despair and emptiness. We are supposed to feel sorry for this figure; to pity her and quietly pass judgement on her for “wanting it too much”. Often these women are painted as shrill, partner-organising/bossing harpies who poke and prod and chart and are somehow deeply insecure. Because you couldn’t just be having mundane, fair enough feelings about difficult circumstances, am I right? It is the same sexist, hetero-normative trope of the nag and the high maintenance, highly strung wife delivered through the lens of reproductive issues. It works effectively to erase the legitimacy of women’s experiences.

What winds up happening I’ve found is that many women flock to online forums because here, at last, they can somewhat lay down their burdens and be with their people – other women who are also struggling. Because of the endless judgement and platitudes, stigma and discomfort of others, they address their isolation by finding a  flock online to share information and feel understood – and this is kind of beautiful (while also being kind of problematic and filled with flaws).

While I’ve gotten quite a bit of support from within my immediate friends and family, I’ve still been judged by some I considered close friends. When it happens – when you are told you are suffering wrong – you shut off, go inward, and wind up reading 15 articles on egg quality before crying yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever have a baby and then wake feeling guilty for the reading and the tears. You start to buy in to the idea that you are doing this wrong. Cue more worry and anxiety you don’t need.

As I grow more and more aware of how “struggling correctly” with fertility issues is a fundamentally misogynist way of viewing this experience, it is helping me to let go of some of my apologist feelings and encouraging me to keep toxic people away. I’m getting better at just feeling my feelings, obsessing about what I need to, and being ok with my resting smartphone scroll reflex.

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Snarling #12wbt: and here comes emotional eating


It’s no secret I’m having a truly crap time personally. I can’t imagine how much more crap it would be if I wasn’t eating balanced meals full of fruit, veg and enough protein. (Thanks, 12wbt!)

Having been given two days off work because I’m literally cracking up under the pressure of grief/stress, and having cried in front of colleagues yesterday (best ever), emotional eating is back in force. Yesterday it was cheesecake, chips and pide.

Emotional eating is HARD. The thinking for me that is hard to circumvent is when I’m already doing all the stuff to defuse it – talking about my feelings, being supported. But yesterday, I frogmarched myself into the staffroom and ate a bigass plate of cake, because I was like “you know what, FUCK not having cake right now.”

But in the end, that sugar didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t do anything towards my wellness. It didn’t heal anything. I didn’t get anything from it, except a petulant satisfaction that I CAN DO WHAT I WANT and LOOK I DESERVE CAKE RIGHT NOW.

One thing I’d like to move towards with slowly processing emotional eating is continuing to find new coping strategies (and I’m already doing that, hence continuing). I’m thinking of getting a snap band and a boxing bag for home to replace my more destructive angry feelings. I’ve started crocheting and hooking my way through feelings is good. It keeps my head calm and my hands busy.

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Crochet keeps me calm. I'm new to it, but already am finding it a useful tool for debugging my brain.

But I’m yet to find something that consistently and effectively scratches the itch that emotional eating does.
I guess I just want to find ways to cope that I don’t regret 10 minutes later, you know?


Snarling #12wbt roundup week 3


Week 3 of the #12wbt was yet another mixed week of great eating, crap health, and finding my groove with exercise. I’m starting to find my own kind of routine with it, which is  different to the one marked out by the plans, but is nonetheless supported by the plans.

On Sunday my husband and I embarked on an epic hike around the stunning Sydney Harbour we are privileged to live in close proximity to. Despite the gross built up flats and metal – everywhere, metal and glass – of the city, Sydney is remarkable in that a retreat to nature is possible quite quickly when you know where to go. We disembarked at Manly wharf, beating our way through crowds swarming for a surf festival, stopped off for a burrito at Guzman and then pointed ourselves towards one of our favourite walks – Manly to Spit.

It’s supposedly 9km but my Gearfit clocked it at more like 10.5km, and you carve your way through stunning semi-rainforest which jars beautifully against sudden screes of baked salmon pink and butter yellow cliffs, jangled with wrens that follow your path. There are places to descend from the path onto white sand beaches to momentarily shed your walking shoes and cool your toes and the water is this unbelievable pale green with blooms of dark weed and rock. We saw bearded dragons sunning themselves on several occasions and I knew how they felt, basking in the surroundings. The day was hot in just the right measure, and the views of the Heads around the harbour were deeply satisfying. I feel completely sainted to live in a place like this.

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There was a great feeling of achievement and also giddy tiredness when the walk was done. My friend Ange of The Feminist Locker Room said that sometimes you’ve got to “find your thing” and not be held hostage to other people’s thing. Walking is absolutely my thing. I love big treks, and I’ve never regretted a hike. I think because there’s zero “hamster wheel” feel to tramping through bush, and it’s mostly something that fills up your eyes and heart while moving your body. It’s a really integrating way of moving. All my parts connect and I feel more “me” when I’m on a big walk.

I knew Monday was going to bring specific health challenges which I’d have to include in my plan for the week. I had a sonohystogram, which for those not in the know is a special kind of ultrasound where a catheter needle is inserted through the cervix and the uterus is inflated with saline so clear pictures can be taken. It was unexpectedctedly painful, traumatic and emotionally rough, and it sent the rest of my week into a tailspin of depression and upset as I came to terms with feeling yet again pretty alienated from my body. That coupled with some tough relationship times, and it was a crap week emotionally.

I managed to get to the gym on Tuesday which was in part cathartic and in part something I was excited for – I’m increasingly pleased and cheerful to hop on the machines and have a go at stuff. My workout was fun and it was good to get some natural endorphins given how mixed up I was feeling. But as I left the gym, I was still feeling pretty low – and that day, I lost my nerve in my bid to not weigh myself.

I’ve reflected a lot on why I weighed myself that day and what that meant, and I’ve decided that it’s not a huge deal. I was feeling like shit, and compulsion took over. “Maybe I’ll have lost weight and that will make me feel better,” said my old friend, scale addiction. And just like that, I was on, and yes I’d lost weight, and yes on some level that cheered me up. This is not a good thing. That my emotions are still tied to my weight is inevitable, because one can’t simply turn off socialization and compulsion to measure one’s worth in numbers with a click of the fingers (or a blog post resolution). These things take time. Perhaps, my friend Cassie suggested gently, a better goal would be to make the spaces between weighing longer and further apart. Moderation in all things, including resolutions, because otherwise I’m just building a new prison for myself.

Lots of friends and good food this week was a saving grace. I’m happy to say that despite feeling like crap, I neither overate or restricted. I ate mostly to plan, with a bit of improvisation, and kept it pretty real. I had a small choccie. I enjoyed my morning coffees. I let my body’s rhythms happen without too many extremes despite how extreme my emotions felt at times. Not all my coping mechanisms were super, but they were mine and middling. So that’s a pretty good week, I reckon, given how much pressure I’ve been under.

We’ve decided, going into week 4, to finally take Mish Bridges advice and cook on weekends a fair bit for the week because it’s pretty hard to fit everything in. That will make my week less stressful. Here’s to the coming week and hopefully getting to the gym a bit more 🙂 and I plan on hopefully visiting my friend Sarah next weekend for some kayaking hijinks!


Snarling #12wbt roundup week 3


Week 3 of the #12wbt was yet another mixed week of great eating, crap health, and finding my groove with exercise. I’m starting to find my own kind of routine with it, which is  different to the one marked out by the plans, but is nonetheless supported by the plans.

On Sunday my husband and I embarked on an epic hike around the stunning Sydney Harbour we are privileged to live in close proximity to. Despite the gross built up flats and metal – everywhere, metal and glass – of the city, Sydney is remarkable in that a retreat to nature is possible quite quickly when you know where to go. We disembarked at Manly wharf, beating our way through crowds swarming for a surf festival, stopped off for a burrito at Guzman and then pointed ourselves towards one of our favourite walks – Manly to Spit.

It’s supposedly 9km but my Gearfit clocked it at more like 10.5km, and you carve your way through stunning semi-rainforest which jars beautifully against sudden screes of baked salmon pink and butter yellow cliffs, jangled with wrens that follow your path. There are places to descend from the path onto white sand beaches to momentarily shed your walking shoes and cool your toes and the water is this unbelievable pale green with blooms of dark weed and rock. We saw bearded dragons sunning themselves on several occasions and I knew how they felt, basking in the surroundings. The day was hot in just the right measure, and the views of the Heads around the harbour were deeply satisfying. I feel completely sainted to live in a place like this.

image

image

There was a great feeling of achievement and also giddy tiredness when the walk was done. My friend Ange of The Feminist Locker Room said that sometimes you’ve got to “find your thing” and not be held hostage to other people’s thing. Walking is absolutely my thing. I love big treks, and I’ve never regretted a hike. I think because there’s zero “hamster wheel” feel to tramping through bush, and it’s mostly something that fills up your eyes and heart while moving your body. It’s a really integrating way of moving. All my parts connect and I feel more “me” when I’m on a big walk.

I knew Monday was going to bring specific health challenges which I’d have to include in my plan for the week. I had a sonohystogram, which for those not in the know is a special kind of ultrasound where a catheter needle is inserted through the cervix and the uterus is inflated with saline so clear pictures can be taken. It was unexpectedctedly painful, traumatic and emotionally rough, and it sent the rest of my week into a tailspin of depression and upset as I came to terms with feeling yet again pretty alienated from my body. That coupled with some tough relationship times, and it was a crap week emotionally.

I managed to get to the gym on Tuesday which was in part cathartic and in part something I was excited for – I’m increasingly pleased and cheerful to hop on the machines and have a go at stuff. My workout was fun and it was good to get some natural endorphins given how mixed up I was feeling. But as I left the gym, I was still feeling pretty low – and that day, I lost my nerve in my bid to not weigh myself.

I’ve reflected a lot on why I weighed myself that day and what that meant, and I’ve decided that it’s not a huge deal. I was feeling like shit, and compulsion took over. “Maybe I’ll have lost weight and that will make me feel better,” said my old friend, scale addiction. And just like that, I was on, and yes I’d lost weight, and yes on some level that cheered me up. This is not a good thing. That my emotions are still tied to my weight is inevitable, because one can’t simply turn off socialization and compulsion to measure one’s worth in numbers with a click of the fingers (or a blog post resolution). These things take time. Perhaps, my friend Cassie suggested gently, a better goal would be to make the spaces between weighing longer and further apart. Moderation in all things, including resolutions, because otherwise I’m just building a new prison for myself.

Lots of friends and good food this week was a saving grace. I’m happy to say that despite feeling like crap, I neither overate or restricted. I ate mostly to plan, with a bit of improvisation, and kept it pretty real. I had a small choccie. I enjoyed my morning coffees. I let my body’s rhythms happen without too many extremes despite how extreme my emotions felt at times. Not all my coping mechanisms were super, but they were mine and middling. So that’s a pretty good week, I reckon, given how much pressure I’ve been under.

We’ve decided, going into week 4, to finally take Mish Bridges advice and cook on weekends a fair bit for the week because it’s pretty hard to fit everything in. That will make my week less stressful. Here’s to the coming week and hopefully getting to the gym a bit more 🙂 and I plan on hopefully visiting my friend Sarah next weekend for some kayaking hijinks!


How I know me: A jubilee year of personhood over numbers


TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses eating disorders, body image and exercise and eating habits. Whilst it is positive and hopefully affirming, I acknowledge it may trigger aspects of the eating disorder cycle and difficult feelings. Please read it in a safe space at a time when you feel able (or not at all). ❤

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This year I refuse to be weighed or measured. I refuse to count one single calorie.

The Judeo-Christian idea of a Jubilee period is something I learned about a child from the Bible I no longer believe in, but it remains interesting to me – the idea that at a certain time in a calendar cycle, there was a time when slaves were freed and their lands returned to them and “liberty” was proclaimed. I remember reading the following in Leviticus:

“Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

I’m not keen to co-opt concepts of Roman slavery in antiquity as a white woman with privilege, because I have zero experience or history of this in my community, yet the Biblical idea of a time when liberty and amnesty was granted is something I found interesting when I was little. It seemed a bit mysteriously wonderful to my young mind (even though as an adult it seems not at all equal to liberty or freedom or social justice. Abolishing all systems of slavery would have been a lot more effective than a Jubilee.)

I wonder in a much more general sense how often we grant liberty and amnesty to ourselves. Specifically, imagine having the state of ignorance of the statistics we all know about our bodies returned to you. Imagine giving yourself permission to say no to this way of knowing about bodies.

Imagine if you didn’t know how much you weighed, and had never known. Imagine your life if scales with the intention of weighing human bodies had never been invented, or used in that way. This may not matter to you, but for those to whom it does matter: just imagine having no concept of your body in numbers. Dwell for a moment on what that must feel like.

We are all weighed and measured at various times in our life, and we often consent to this practice without much thought, or in many cases, with eagerness. The practice of (particularly women’s) bodies being analysed through a numerical lens is something that is so culturally acceptable and preferable that we don’t stop to question it. In fact, we are told that it is part of sound medical science and a keystone to being healthy. But is it?

There’s probably a handful of times when being weighed is vitally medically necessary, but there’s very little reason the vast majority of people need to own bathroom scales. My friend Sarah gave the example of being weighed when she gives plasma (something to do with calculating how much plasma is in her blood, or how much to take, or something!). But do you need this number disclosed to you? What do you profit from knowing it?

Where does our thirst to know our body weight come from? Obviously it’s socially constructed; nobody is born with a burning thirst to know their body weight (except for the little scientists among us who may yearn to know all the things!). I personally think that the urge to see a number and keep track of it over time is much more developed among women (in this I include all women, not just cis-gendered women). In most cases, the urge to weigh oneself and the blithe acceptance that doing so is a good thing is not something seen in childhood often – I work with young children and have also worked with primary schoolers, and in my experience the majority of “weight talk” sets in with almost exclusively girls towards the end of primary school – around 12. By high-school, the process of weighing and measuring oneself and it’s cousin – calorie counting – has become entwined with social success and status, personal knowledge, and self esteem.

I don’t remember when I first began twisting a tape measure around my waist and thighs, or when I first stepped on a scale. I was probably 14 at an outside guess. I grew up in a house where my mother was not very happy with her body, and nor were my female friends, but it was never mentioned by my male relatives or peers. My mother talked a lot about food, nutrition, and the shape of her body – she hated her knees and arms and would go to great lengths to buy clothes that didn’t exhibit them to the world. Later in life she lost a significant amount of weight, and that was somewhat of an extension of the same set of feelings – except once she’d lost the weight she had many emotional processes around feeling free and unburdened of worry, yet still a fixation on numbers (and worry wasn’t far away – it could come back as soon as a few kilos were gained back). My female friends talked a lot about their bodies – mostly from the point of view of dissatisfaction and resentment. Knowing numbers was a very real agent of that – it both acted as a catalyst for bad feelings about the self, and as evidence of complicated disturbances in our psyches in which we could look at a number and see our worth, see it going up and down, betrayed or edified by what the swinging indicator pointed to on the scale.

I’ve reflected a lot on my disordered eating and struggles with body image over the years. In 2012 I engaged in probably the most marked restriction episode of my life. I live with EDNOS or OSFED (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) that involves components of restriction and compulsive overeating, which present themselves in a cycle that has distinct characteristics that I now understand a lot more than I did as a younger woman. Golda Poretsky outlines this in her brief piece (ignore the sell at the end) ‘Why Portion Control Doesn’t Work and What to Do Instead” with a graphic that sums up how the EDNOS cycle generally works (with variations of course for most people). And there’s a mostly very good piece on Oh She Glows about binge eating (what I’d probably say is the “best fit” for behaviours I have – it’s a misconception that binge eating lacks a restrictive phase. Oh yes it does!).

In that year, that restrictive episode saw me losing a very very large amount of weight in just four months by starving myself and practicing exercise bulimia. I received massive social rewards for this, which were not very critical – nobody except one or two close friends saw through the good game I talked (oh, this is a feminist action, I feel so empowered…by my constant gnawing sense of hunger and fatigue? Hmmm.) And they were afraid to speak to me about it because they knew I would viciously reject their worry, and they were right – I would have. Because the numbers on the scale were going down, and this meant my worth as a person was increasing in the complicated dance most of us, but particularly those of us with eating disorders do. I didn’t want to hear opposing views. I was winning. I wrote an elated post on this blog about how incredible I felt and the restrictions my therapist had encouraged, and how I would never go back. Since then, I’ve gained all of that weight back and more. The cycle continued.

By radically reducing my body mass, I was winning. Unfortunately, this aspect of disordered eating and exercising is almost always met with social acclaim except in the most physically obvious cases of malnourishment, hospitalisation, and a reduction of body weight that is so observably intense that people suddenly go “oh! That’s not good…” But the processes of extreme behaviours are similarly pre-occupying, regardless of how observable your body in the process is, and the defence mechanisms to protect restrictive behaviour from critique are strong. Basically, fat people with restrictive components of disordered eating are mostly rewarded for their restrictions, regardless of the thought processes behind it and their indicators of poor mental health. In my case, that bout of restriction was linked to trauma from violent assault and feelings of being alone when my partner left the country mere weeks after that assault. My mental health took a dive, and with it went my ability to self regulate my emotions and so I went down a path of starving and power walking for hours a day. I was not a well woman.

What part did numbers play in prolonging and encouraging this restrictive episode?

The emotional hullabaloo in me each time I weighed myself on bathroom scales, or was measured by scale and tape at the doctors office was intense. You wouldn’t know from looking, but I felt huge anxiety and fear each time I stepped on the scales – and as the kilos dropped away, that began to mix with excitement and eager anticipation. Weigh in day became a craving for more and more loss. At the doctors office, the receptionist and doctor would beam, congratulating me loudly in front of the full waiting room for my “successes”. My doctor did not once stop and ask me how I was doing it, how I was feeling, and what my thought processes were. There is very little attention paid to mental health when people are clocking up the numbers (or clocking down, rather). I shouted my numbers from the rooftops with pride – on facebook, to friends, and became avoidant of people who didn’t react exactly as I wanted. My partner was bemused at my weight loss and didn’t express approval even once – he was very cautious to comment, and I think didn’t know what to make of it. He certainly didn’t affirm me. I was disappointed, and so sought out the approval of my instagram community and facebook friends – some of the most hearty approval came from other women who themselves had “struggled” to reduce their own body mass. The fixation on numbers is a self sustaining aspect of EDNOS – you will seek out whatever community you can find to feed your habit. EDNOS is a disease and it is a part of you that wants to survive. I think of it like a cockroach living inside me – it will do whatever it needs to in order to remain the last critter standing and it is very hard to root out and crush effectively.

I would like to say that the numbers didn’t matter, but they mattered hugely. Knowing at all times what I weighed was very addictive, and I would often step on the scales every day. I wanted digital scales, I wanted something more and more accurate. I wanted to see even a gram drop away. Perhaps for people who do not have disordered eating this is less intense, but it is still there. The numbers on scales and on tape measures, and the calories you count will, at the end of the day, make you Feel Stuff. And sometimes that Stuff feels good. Critiquing the good feelings, not just the bad feelings, is not something encouraged by most people around us.

A huge realisation I had was that by knowing numbers, I was engaging in not only EDNOS thinking, but in one of the fundamentally most destructive aspects of late stage capitalism – the idea that people are only worth their productivity. As a teacher, I fundamentally reject the idea that my children are only as good as their results, or the pretty things they make. What is beautiful is their learning and that’s all in their process. Their art, their music, their physicality, their cognition – all of their beauty is in their doing and being, not in the sum of their production.

So why is this different for me? In focussing on my body as a product, I separate from processes of wellbeing which can be found in eating well and moving to the best of your ability, and being in these things for their own sake – for enjoyment and vitality and loving one’s place as an alive thriving animal. EDNOS and capitalist thinking fractures my mind from my body and this divide distracts from the beauty of existing as a whole person. Beauty, as they say, moves. Why is it ok that beauty is a trophy with a number on it?

So let’s do it. Let’s ask those questions.

Why do you need to know how much you weigh? Does it make you a better partner, a better professional, a better parent, or a better person? What can you possibly get from knowing these statistics? Outside of some very small cases of medical necessity, why do you need to know?

And what happens when you know? What happens in your heart? What do you think and feel? If it is intensely gratifying for you, why is that?

What parts of yourself do you damage by knowing? What parts of you shrivel a little and change with this gratification or devastation? What happens when the number drops into the pool of your selfhood and creates ripples? What do you stop doing, and stop enjoying, and stop engaging with because you know these things?

My challenge for myself is to return to a state of not knowing how much I weigh, what my waistline is in inches, or how broad my hips are. I will not allow a doctor or a personal trainer to wrap a measuring tape around my thighs, and I refuse to do it myself. I won’t step on a set of scales, and I’m throwing the ones I own in the bin. I won’t count calories, and I will avoid reading nutritional panels that indicate them.

I won’t engage in conversations in the staffroom or with friends about kilograms and calories. I will eat my lunch away from them if I have to. And if I have the strength to insert some critique into those conversations, gently and lovingly, I will.

Does this mean I have to stop caring about my health? Actually, I have big plans for my health this year.

I plan on finding a personal trainer who can help me get into routines of moving and eating that don’t injure my personhood, but instead heal the fractures I’ve experienced and help me reintegrate body and mind. There will be goals, sure, but they will be around process and how I feel – for example “look at my thighs and enjoy how they feel in my hands and write down three positive things I do with my thighs” or “see if I walk for a while today and be thrilled for trying!”. “Make a BIG delicious salad and eat it slowly and RELISH IT.” These statements may not be perfect and I will develop others, but I am making a start on moving away from conventional ways of framing successes regarding my health. There will be times I will struggle with EDNOS and I will talk to my PT about those times and involve them – critiquing my urge to restrict or overeat and sticking to moderation and generative self-talk that encourages a disruption of the EDNOS cycle.

Basically, I’m no longer willing to be a product. I see that processes are what create states of emotional wellbeing along a spectrum – some processes need active pushback to resolve their energetically destructive influence, and others that help me and make me feel more whole need a little bit of tending to so they grow and thrive. I wholeheartedly agree with Oh She Glows who has this to say about the importance of changing processes:

I honestly do not think that I could have beat binge eating if I didn’t stop restricting my intake. This took me a long, long time to realize and I hope to be able to save some of you some time too. When I finally stopped restricting my intake, I allowed myself to eat when hungry and I stopped counting calories and weighing myself.

If you leave this article thinking that you couldn’t possibly stop measuring yourself, please think again. I actually think we can stop, as individuals, and we can resist it as a culture and move towards wellness. And I wonder this:

If for a whole calendar year you didn’t once know a measurement of your body mass or size, and asked medical and health professionals to withhold it from you too – or to not measure you in the first place – what would happen? If you simply moved and ate with enthusiasm for moving and eating, with no number known, what would happen?

What in you would grow and expand to fill that place? What could you feel and what could you stop feeling?

It’s an interesting question to ponder. Give yourself a year off – heck, maybe more! – from knowing your body through numbers, if you can.

I’d love to hear about how you’re going and maybe we can support each other.


PTSD: a biased survival guide


Life goes on with valleys and peaks after trauma. You don’t completely stop, nor do you completely continue. Your timeline is not what it would have been, though, and your day is not what it would have been.

If you’re lucky enough to have good weeks, or days, or maybe even months (though I do not), you can be almost lulled into believing you are ok. Not fine, but ok.

And then there is the flare. The flare happens because PTSD has a steady pilot light. It waits, and then seemingly randomly, it is the all consuming bed of heat and light and terror it was in the start. The severity is the same, and you go back to square one. So it feels. Therapists assure you it diminishes over time but in your bones you know that’s bullshit.

The helplessness in the face of this apparent permanence is deeply felt. Will my life always be this waiting between painful, clamouring, fear filled eruptions?

To survive you need an emergency kit. What is difficult is that a lot of people with PTSD often lack the elements of a good emergency kit because their symptoms make them seem far away, prickly, acutely unwell. Humans by nature seem to fear the panic and discord of others, so even though you most need them, they go away. PTSD often stops you from working, so having access to therapy and access to medication, meditation, alternative therapies, yoga, whatever will help and heal you becomes more difficult and sometimes impossible to afford.

So I acknowledge that I have some privilege in what I can access, and that privilege underscores what appears on my PTSD survival kit list. Forgive that. This is what I use or try to use, or need when I am not well. These are the things I use, and I also acknowledge that not all of them are healthy.

I want to write this down for friends and family so they know what they can provide, for times when I can’t really say what I need:

– one safe place (usually my bedroom, sometimes the whole house)
– being hugged after being asked “can I hug you?”
– text communication in preference of phone calls
– at least one person outside of my partner I can call almost anytime and I know they’ll pick up their phone
– having meals cooked for me or brought over
– a quiet beer
– non judgement when I blather on about feeeeeelings
– saying things like “that sounds so hard” and “how awful” but avoiding telling me how I feel
– avoiding trivialising statements saying how I should be coping like “you just need to get on with it”
– avoiding reminding me of the consequences of my illness (“you can’t really afford more time off” “the house is messy” etc) but instead saying supportive stuff like “we’ll find a way” “we can always find a solution” even if you don’t believe it
– understanding when I don’t have energy to clean/go out to dinner/see you/be happy and animated in your presence
– helping get to and from places I need to go with lifts, cabs, walking escorts
-non judgement of temporary negative behaviours like drinking or self harm, but keeping an eye on them if they persist.
– surprises that make me feel loved even in times that I feel unloveable

This is what helps me.

What helps you?


That liminal feeling: the grey of a bad day.


 

Metaphor: if I tapped a vein and bled into a cup, it’d be mostly chemicals and strategies and positive self talk. Questions, prescriptions: and so…how does that make you feel?

The blood would clatter down for glass, my labour tumbling and turning about in a petite jolie danse. And all you would hear is the work that pulses in me; continual, the thrash of arms to stay afloat.

Much of me beats unaware of the heaviness of that but sometimes it feels smacking and pinning – a soaked sheet laid down across shoulder blades, the work as buckling of my knees as the sickness itself.

A grey day feels even more like so much gravity, because it is normal-people mundane. Ordinary fuckin’ people, as they say. Stress, hormones, over-tiredness intertwine like oleander in my guts – rankling, and then I’m down for the count a lot harder than a non-crazy.

I think part of that is because I can’t yet distinguish the finite difference between the start of an episode and just a few bad days. Am I running into a field of dying corn, or am I strolling idly through a courtyard of greying irises who need only a little water? The secondary anxiety of managing this liminal pause is heady.

It is times like these that I retreat, I shrink, like an unsure startled hen. My self confidence is knocked clean away and though I continue to bubble, emote and attach healthily, inside is a rash of dark chatter. I think jealously, hatefully, I seethe and punch out at those close to me. I keep it behind the eyes but for a few days of worry and pitched-down esteem for self and others, I am a secret monster. Comfort me/don’t/comfort me/fuck off/comfort me/you disgust me/help. It’s adolescence rebooted.

A struggle for compassion and positivity over bitterness and self-indulgent vanities is at the core of my ambitions for inhabiting my social and emotional space. So many times I hear myself aloud denouncing my own positions, patting down vitriol and cleaning these insides as I go. I wish I could walk into the river and wash it all clean like the most naive of believers – but of course, I can’t.

I just hope each time that the vacancy of my stare, the burnt-down match I feel I am in these days, passes quickly. I like it, my Susy Sunshine mentality. I like her, when she tries her best to care for you and bring kindness and silliness and a share of her arms and kisses and cooking.

I know I can’t reasonably expect to be her all the time, because even ordinary fuckin’ people curl up and kick out some days. I just have to throw a chain to next week, when the curdling goes, and stop trembling at the thought of an episode – pull myself hard across the ravine of speculation.

Today I stand in the breach, though. Let me throw some sun and a good book at it and see out the efficiency of that.

From what I’m told, that works for ordinary fuckin’ people. I shall moonlight in their hopes.

 


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