The Magician, The Enemy & The Warrior

My mind is a magician, a wizard if you will. But not the kind like Harry Potter, if that were the case then perhaps I would enjoy the curses I have been afflicted with. My mind is well versed in tricks and spells alike, it has no problem keeping me up at night. 

My thoughts are my enemies, they pit me against myself and seem to enjoy watching the chaos that ensues. My thoughts are not always my choosing, sometimes I wish I could just turn them off. 

My body is a warrior, and sometimes it feels like I am fighting a losing battle. I take up proverbial swords and weapons, trying to ward off the thoughts that my mind conjures up; but to what avail? Because, even when I successfully fight off these thoughts, they always manage to come back again. 

I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of fifteen, generalized anxiety at seventeen and developed an eating disorder at nineteen. This is what my life has felt like since then. I feel that I am constantly afraid of the things my mind can do to me, the thoughts it can produce and the horrors it can wreak on my body and my life. Living with multiple mental illnesses is a daily struggle, and I wish I could say that I’ve come up with all the answers, but I have not. I am learning things about myself day by day, and I am hoping that these sometimes small lessons are enough to continue fighting my battle.

My mind is skilled at casting spells and controlling the thoughts that flood it. There are days when my mind is the scariest place on earth, so I sleep to avoid confronting it. I am never sure of what version of myself is going to wake up; this is a fear that is so paralyzing that staying in bed all day out of fear has at times become the easier option.

My body tries to fight against my mind and thoughts. There are days where this fight seems totally doable; like I am Harry Potter, I am the chosen one and I can take on anything life throws my way. But there are also days where the fight seems like I am a single feather in the direct path of a tornado; a fight that is over before it starts. On these days my body feels like a shell of which the contents are completely detached.

Everything is impossible to explain, so I don’t even try to understand. Nothing seems reparable, so my toolbox collects dust.
On these days, I feel like a stranger to myself.
On the good days, I know and understand every last bit of myself.
On the good days, I am Harry Potter. On the good days, I win.
On the good days, I fight hard enough to accept the bad days where
even the idea of 
fighting is too much.
I have accept that my life is about give, and take.
I have accepted that there are times that the hand I have
been dealt seems like it is the worst possible hand.
But I have learned to make daring plays,
I have learned to cast counter spells,
I have learned to combat my enemies,
and I have learned that this battle is mine to win. 

 

You Can’t Love Yourself Until You Like Yourself

Over the past four months, I have been on a journey to self love. I am sort of considering this to be an extension/the next chapter of my eating disorder recovery, and let me tell you it has been anything but easy. I’ve engaged in some wonderful communities through social media and I have found such positivity, I have challenged myself to look at my body in ways I hadn’t previously, I have examined the thought processes I engage in and challenged them, and I have been working to see positivity in all things about me.

But recently I have had a thought. When you’re starting to date someone, you almost never truly love them right away, you like them first. Perhaps a journey to self love is not so different from the journey of engaging in a romantic relationship. I can pinpoint a few specific parts of myself that I love: I love my legs, my sense of humour, my ability to empathize with people, and my smile. But when I look back on my life, I didn’t wake up one day and immediately love these things. I remember when I discovered that I was funny. I had always like to joke around in school, I enjoyed it and I liked it. I was never the smartest kid in the class, but I knew I could tell jokes and be funny. I liked this about myself. I was in the second grade and there was a girl in my class named Gabrielle. We weren’t great friends by any means, but we did happen to be the two tallest people in our class. It was our school picture day and our class was being organized by height to take a class picture. We were waiting for our class’s turn to go up for the picture and Gabrielle and I were joking around, something I did regularly, and she told me she thought I was funny. She said this while laughing and with a smile on her face. I realized that my humour had the ability to make people happy, and I liked that. I realized that this was something positive about myself. I may not have been very smart, but this was something I was good at, and I realized then that I loved that. This whole scenario led to me loving my sense of humour.

When I look back on my life with regards to the things I love about myself, each of these loves has their own origin story. My legs, smile and ability to empathize with people each started out as something about myself that I liked, and then they each had their own defining moment and grew into something I loved about myself.

So I’ve been thinking about all of this lately. There is a lot of talk on social media these days about self love. There are amazing social media campaigns encouraging people to embrace the parts of their minds and bodies that have been deemed by society to be unworthy; and I think that’s great. But the thing that people don’t seem to talk about as much, is the fact achieving self love is not something easy.

We live in a world that is constantly telling us that so many parts of us aren’t worthy of love, and that is harmful and it is detrimental to our mental and physical health. But what if we looked at self love from a simpler lens, what if we changes the way we looked at it? What if we started out with liking things about ourselves? If you go out on a first date, and you like the person by the end of it then there is much more of a chance that you could one day grow to love this person. In my opinion, the relationship we have with ourselves is the exact same.

Let me give you an example. Throughout my life (this was heightened during and after my eating disorder), I have really hated my stomach. I remember being maybe 10 years old and thinking to myself that if my t-shirts were tight that I had to suck my stomach in all day because it was too big. This has followed me throughout my life and when I developed my eating disorder my stomach was the part of me I hated the most. I would search Youtube endlessly for videos of ab workouts and I would work out until I could not stand. Now that I am in recovery I have gained a fair bit of weight, and (lucky for me) most of it went to my stomach. Despite this new weight being a symbol of my recovery and a symbol of being healthier, I still could not embrace it. I couldn’t even fathom loving this part of myself that I viewed as disgusting. I decided recently that I did not want to live a life where I am constantly hating myself and constantly putting myself down. I thought that self love was something I could just jump head first into. I saw all of these beautiful women on social media of all different body types and they were embracing every part of their bodies- even their stomachs. I thought that I could be like that too. So I sat in the bath tub and I just stared at my stomach, waiting for that light to go off that would make me love this part of me. Spoiler alert: The light never went off. I felt so discouraged, I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t love myself. Then a little over a month ago, I was shopping and as is normal when clothes shopping, some items I tried on didn’t fit right or didn’t fit at all. The thing that surprised me, was that I was okay with this. If this had been even a couple months earlier, I would have immediately engaged in extremely negative thoughts about myself, but I just shrugged it off. It was that moment when I started to like my stomach.

I don’t love my stomach yet, but we’re still in the dating phase. We’re getting to know each other, and we like each other right now. Things are going well, and I think one day we’ll fall in love. I know that that day won’t happen right away, we’ll have to court each other for a while, wine and dine each other. But one day in the future, I will fall madly in love with my stomach, and I can’t wait for that day.

The Self Care Paradigm

Have you heard the term self care? What does it mean to you? Do you think of face masks, shopping, pedicures, and bubble baths? Do you think of seemingly simple things, like brushing your hair, eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, going to the doctor, or doing laundry? Chances are, when you hear the term self care you think of the former as opposed to the latter, but what if I were to tell you that the latter is in fact sometimes more important than the former?

When I was in school for my undergrad in social service work, I had many professors talk to us about the concept of self care, and usually to them it included things like watching a movie, eating their favourite snack, or having a glass of wine. Now don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things, but hearing this from so many people caused me to buy into the notion that self care is glamorous and fun. I love a bubble bath and a face mask as much (probably more) than the next person, but what I have learned in recent months is that sometimes self care is so much more than that.

In recent months, my definition of self care has drastically changed. I now consider my self care to be things that are bettering me and my life, and that truly benefit me. I used to think that self care had to be fun and a treat, but I’ve learned recently that the stuff that really matters for my self care usually is not fun. For me now, self care is things like trying to wash my hair more than once a week, brushing my teeth twice a day, keeping my room clean(ish), doing laundry on a regular basis, going to therapy, going to doctor’s appointments, and yes… even the occasional bubble bath.

To sum it up, my definition of self care has now grown to mean that I do things that I need to do but that my depression/anxiety/body image issues make it hard for me to do. I push myself to do the things that my mind tries to tell me aren’t worth it or are too hard to get done. I still like to treat myself to things every once in a while, but I now feel that for me, self care goes a bit deeper than that.

Self care isn’t glamorous. To put it simply, it is taking care of yourself, and if that means doing the bare minimum when it comes to some things (like cleaning, or exercising or hygiene) but pushing myself to do that bare minimum, then you bet your ass I’m going to be proud of myself for pushing to get there.

Self care looks different to everyone, but I urge you to not get caught up in the notion that you have to treat yourself like a movie star in order to achieve it. Sometimes you just need to make sure you treat yourself like a human; and not only is that good enough, it’s pretty damn great.

When Did “Fat” Become the Real F Word?

Why do we force words to live exclusively from one another?
Why can fat not mean beautiful?

I recently remembered something from when I was in the sixth grade. There was a girl in my class who was a bit bigger than most of the other students in our class. I remember hearing the way that the other students spoke about her, the mean jokes they would make behind her back, and the almost as cruel things they would say to her face. I remember noticing that she was being treated differently and in a negative way because of her size.

I decided then that I would never let myself look a way that would give other people an opportunity to treat me poorly. I wish I had taken this experience in a different way, as an example of people I never wanted to be like. I never would want to be treated like this classmate, but the lesson I learned was not to be kind to people, it was to never become fat enough to allow people be cruel to me.

I used to be so scared of the word fat because we live in a society that equates fat to ugly, or less than. I was scared of the idea of gaining weight because I thought that if I did then I would also become ugly or less than. We live in a society that puts limits on what words can be. I was more scared of being fat than I was of being a bad person, of being considered rude or mean, and I was scared of being fat more than I was worried about getting bad grades.

I was eleven when I learned that our world says that being fat is bad. I was eleven when I became afraid of gaining weight. I remember it like it was yesterday, and one day I hope to not be afraid. But for now, I will remember to be kind, and to stand up for those who are mistreated. I do not view gaining weight as the end all and be all of my life, and there are now many things I consider to worse things than ganging weight, but I am still somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of it. So until the day I am not afraid, I will choose to be kind and to reject cruelness.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

I used to think that the parts of me that I hated, were hated universally by anyone and everyone I met. I assumed that because I hated my stomach and the excess fat I thought I had, that everyone around me hated it too.  I remember thinking that no one would ever fully love me. Because if I didn’t fully love me, how could I ever expect anyone else to?

So I would hide the things I didn’t like about myself from most people. There were times when I was completely ashamed of the fact that I live with multiple mental illnesses, so I would only disclose it to a select few people. I remember even after I had stopped self-harming I was completely petrified of the idea of anyone seeing my scars that I would wear long sleeved shirts and sweaters on even the hottest summer days.

This caused me to keep secrets from people close to me; parents, friends, partners, you name it and I probably kept secrets from them. I’m not talking life threatening secrets, but secrets nonetheless.

The thing is that I should never have felt like I had to hide any parts of me. Sometimes letting people in and showing them these parts of me helped me to see how they could be lovable.

I remember when I started taking medication for my anxiety I was tentative to tell people. I was worried that the stigma surrounding taking medication for mental illnesses would be too much for me to handle. Then I talked to a close friend about it and she told me that she viewed it as a sign of strength. She felt that by me making the step to take medication that I was being self aware enough to admit that my life needed more help than I had been giving it. Now I try to talk to people about the fact that there is no shame in taking medication for a mental illness, the same way there would be no shame in taking medicine for a cold.

Since being in recovery from my eating disorder, I have gained a substantial amount of weight. It’s been a huge adjustment for me, going from thinking that gaining weight was the worst possible thing that could happen to me, to trying to understand that gaining this weight was healthy. If I had never worked up the courage to be intimate with my fiance even after gaining weight, I never would have been able to fully appreciate my new body. I am still learning to love myself, but seeing that someone else loved me despite something that I perceived as a flaw was a huge catalyst for my journey of self love beginning.

What I’ve learned over the years is that someone who truly loves you will never make you feel like you have to hide parts of you. Someone who cares about you and your best interests will want to know about every part of you, and yes, I mean even the dark and scary parts that you keep so hidden they’ve collected dust.  There’s nothing healthy about secrets. Sometimes they start out with the best of intentions, but rarely will they have positive end results. Letting those dark and dusty parts come out can be a really daunting task, and I get that. The thing is that when you find someone worth letting them out for, it will be one of the most liberating and full of potential experiences of your life; it has been for me.

If You’ve Never Tasted Peanut Butter

I really hate questions about “what I did today.” I understand that questions like this are a pretty standard part of life, but they make me uncomfortable.

Why, you ask? Well, because some days, I really do not do that much, and that can make people look at me differently. There are days when either my depression, anxiety, or body image (or any combination of the three) make it extremely difficult to do things. There are days where leaving the house is too much for me, and migrating from my bed to the couch is my greatest accomplishment. There are days when every sight of my body brings me to tears, so the thought of being naked even for the purpose of bathing is paralyzing. There are nights when I’ve slept for two hours because the thought just wouldn’t stop, so I spend the day following binge watching Netflix to keep my mind from wandering.

But I can’t just tell people these things. When they ask me “What did you do today?” it’s easier sometimes to come up with a lie than to deal with the looks of pity, confusion or disgust. I know they don’t mean any harm, but they just do not understand. If I were to be honest on those days and respond with something like “Well today my biggest accomplishment was moving to the couch from my bed,” I know that some people would look at me differently. That is the problem with stigma. People do not understand that things that may seem like “simple, everyday tasks” are quite the contrary.

I live with multiple chronic mental illnesses. I am still learning how to cope and how to deal with them in my day to day life. People try to do their best to understand, but it’s hard to understand something they haven’t experienced. If you’ve never tasted peanut butter, you can’t really imagine the taste. Sometimes the thought of explaining the taste of my mental illness is just too hard. So if I seem hesitant to tell you how I spent my day, take a beat, and ask yourself if you’re ready for any possible answer. Remember that my life taste different than your’s and unless you’ve tasted my problems, you may not ever fully understand them.

Can You Measure A Life in Boxes?

I saw my life
packed up in bins,
bags and boxes. My
whole life had been
condensed into assorted
cardboard and plastic.
I said goodbye to
nothing and no one.
I went silently,
too tired to fight. 
But the bins, bags
and boxes, said more
than my silence
ever could. 

How could five
years fit into 
such a cramped 
array of containers?
Where is everything I
spent time building
and creating?
Since when are adult
children the 
youngest of all?
Why will I always
be sick even when I 
become well?
When did they all
become blind to
logic and reasoning?
When will I
learn?
When will I stop
trying to change
and understand
them?

All of the questions I
could never say,
were spelled out in
packing tape and
Storage lockers. 
I couldn’t look back, 
the tears were coming, 
so I ran as fast as my
car could drive.

August

If I were a weather pattern, I would be one of those late August days. The days that look so good on paper, the ones that never look bad on the surface but if you look beneath it you’ll wish you hadn’t.

On the surface, late August is perfection. School is out for the kids, warm weather, long weekends, swimming… What’s not to love? But if you go deeper you’ll see the wandering minds of children and wandering minds are dangerous. You’ll see the sticky and humid feelings of discomfort that accompany warm weather. You’ll see routines interrupted and ensuing chaos and you’ll see the possibility of drowning.

When people saw my surface, they saw a helper. They saw someone who had it all together. But if those people took the time to peel back my layers, they would see that I needed more help that I could have ever given out. They would see the struggles I masked with humour. They would see the years of wounds I left unattended. They would see the discomfort I felt in my many sticky and humid situations. They would see the constant closeness I was to drowning.

They would look beneath my surface and see all of these things, but they would wish they hadn’t. The surface is always easier to stomach.