Self-destructive behaviours

[brief descriptions of self-harming behaviours]

I have a whole menu of self-destructive behaviours to call from when times are bad. I rarely do them nowadays and I think to the outside it looks like they are in my past and done with but they feel very much available to me whenever I need them. I find that a comfort and it makes me feel safe.

The Art of Self Destruction at NCH Collection, website currently bugged so can’t find out the artist.

I self-harmed a lot as a teenager. I drank problematically and took recreational drugs too much in my early twenties. I binge ate for two periods in my late twenties and late thirties though a large part of that was down to the physiological effects of dieting. I have comfort eaten/emotionally eaten (eating when not hungry but instead to relieve emotions; not binging) my whole life. Neglected my sleep despite knowing it was key to managing my mood. Not exercising at all for most of my adult life then over-exercising to the extent of injuries in my late thirties. Deliberately and accidentally socially isolating myself despite being the type of person that really needs social contact. Deliberately being horrible to people to push them away because I don’t deserve people being nice to me (it feels wrong). Fucking with my prescription medication (it’s going great). Deliberately not doing things I enjoy to punish myself. Oh, the list just keeps going on.

How I haven’t ended up with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis is a miracle and I think basically is because I am naturally a very personable person and was brought up middle class. I did four years of medical school and am pretty well read and get called “articulate” (I smile and try not to tell them to fuck off) so know the pitfalls of what healthcare professionals find difficult. I get on well with them and make an effort to do so. I wonder if that sounds manipulative. I bet it could be interpreted as manipulative. I see it as self-defence. They can literally decide where I sleep that night and whether I am dragged out in a cage of nurses unable to move properly. I think they are less likely to do that if they think I am an ‘easy’ patient. I never tell them if I have suicidal thoughts and answer only vaguely when directly asked which they don’t do very often. Healthcare professionals are a potential threat even when they are being nice to me. I would rather keep away from them, or at least keep them at arm’s length, and be safe even if I am alone. Does that could as a self-destructive behaviour? Not really engaging with psychiatric services? Or only engaging superficially. I don’t think they could do anything anyway. All I see is disappointment from my real life and online friends. Obviously this strategy is working out tremendously as you can see from how well my life is going.

In the post linked above, I was bragging that I hadn’t self-harmed in a very long time. Whoosh, gone. Have self-harmed several times in the last week. I don’t know if self-harm is generally seen as a kind of addiction anymore but to me it feels addictive. I feel like I want to do more and I have to exert effort to stop myself. My mood is fucking horrendous just now (bet you can’t tell from how articulate I am) and the self-harm was the most beautiful relief from the agitation. Better than any medication or ‘healthy coping strategy’. There’s the secret: it’s so addictive because it just goddamn works. But but but… It always escalates and always spirals out of control eventually. It isolates me from real people as it’s a barrier that they can’t understand and I can’t overcome. And it damages my poor, abused body that has really had enough. I can see that it is innocent and doesn’t deserve this. I do but it doesn’t.

Your body is not an object, not a sculpture based on some universal and enduring Platonic ideal of beauty — it is a living creature, an animal in your care that needs care and compassion, that suffers and dies if neglected.— Michelle Allison (@fatnutritionist) December 20, 2017

So going to have to knock this self-harm on the head again. I read this thoroughly compassionate article about self-destructive behaviours in Psychology Today. Cried but the soft tears when you feel like an awful, tight pain is unclenching and releasing. Then I read the follow up article by the same writer about how unhelpful shame is when trying to deal with self-destructive behaviours. And I sobbed for a while because I can’t deal with my shame. It’s too huge and overwhelming. I’ve self-harmed pretty severely (until it doesn’t hurt anymore; you either know what that means or you don’t and I’m not going to spell it out because I worry more about triggering the people who do understand than I worry about educating you) and shame hurts order of magnitude more than any physical pain I’ve experienced. The second article made so much sense to me. This is the key quote: “[D]o not shame yourself as an attempt to make yourself overcome the behavior. At best it will leave you feeling worse about yourself. At worst it will increase your dysregulated behavior.” I’ve heard that so many times before but the writer actually laid out her thinking here. It was like she levered some space in my head.

Of course, I feel like I very much deserve my shame and deserve to be punished. Still have that strong push to punish myself and like that would be doing the right thing. But it’s nice to get that little unclenching and space for a while at least.

The difference between discipline and punishment


In the latest episode of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast, 120. Helping Children Regulate Their Emotions, there is a very interesting discussion starting at 35:50 about the difference between discipline and punishment. As you can guess from the podcast title, the discussion is specifically about parenting children.

According to the guest psychologist, Dr Ann-Louise Lockhart, punishment is about making the parent feel better by discharging their anger and annoyance at the child. The child feels the parent’s negative emotions and that makes them not want to repeat the behaviour. Discipline, on the other hand, is about teaching the child something specific that the child can apply to their own life later and so not repeat the behaviour again.

My experience as a child was of being punished not disciplined, using these definitions. I think that was pretty typical of the time I was a child. I wasn’t punished often because I was, mostly, a ‘good girl’. I am pretty severely mentally ill and don’t cope well with it but I don’t know if there is any link with those childhood experiences and my present mental state. Don’t know, not really interested as nothing I can do about it now.

What does strike me now is that even as a child and teenager, while I wasn’t being punished often by my parents, I was definitely punishing myself a lot. A fuck of a lot. For all kinds of minor things that I blew out of proportion and thought were horrendous. For example, I have three thick hypertrophic scars over my sternum between my breasts from not being able to answer a question in my maths Higher prelim. I was so intensely frustrated sitting there not being able to answer the question that I was overwhelmed and the only way I could keep myself intact, keep my composure and pretend I was normal, was to promise myself that that night before bed I would punish myself by cutting as deep as I could over that bone. I visualised the cutting and imaged the pain and felt so much better. I felt calm and clear headed. And so I finished my exam. Can’t even remember if I ever did attempt an answer for that question. Can’t remember my result for that prelim. But I know that I kept my promise that evening and cut as deep as I could over that bone.

I have kept punishing myself out of my teens and throughout my adulthood. I’ve never really questioned it. It’s self-evidently necessary that I need to be punished and obviously I need to take responsibility and do so to at least attempt to try to make myself a better person. I weaponise my rage and frustration and aim it at myself. Then I listened to this podcast and thought about this psychologist’s definitions of punishment and discipline. I am telling myself that I am discipling myself and shaping myself into a better person. But I’m not; this is about beating myself down to make myself feel better. Does that sentence even make sense outside of my head? Lots of things die when they come out of my head into the world. That’s usually a good thing. Try again: I punish myself to make myself feel better; so I can tell myself I am doing a good thing. I know that’s true because I can remember feeling satisfied if I’d really managed to hurt myself. I felt safer, I think. I feel like I’m doing right, like the world is going right.

I have reduced hugely the amount I am punishing myself with food and restriction. Haven’t self-harmed in a very long time. Don’t drink. Don’t take drugs. Cut down the over-exercise a lot. Still isolate myself and don’t get enough social contact. Still sabotage important things in my life. Still fuck with my prescription medication (it’s going really well as I’m sure you can tell from my recent posts). Over the years my need to punish myself has morphed and adapted. I’ve tried so many things. I am so very tired. I am tired of punishing myself and getting worse. I’m tired of hating myself and just seeing that I am an endless pit of hate. I’m not a better person for it. I am just… less. Broken down.

Pale skinned feet standing on dark sand with chains round the ankles (Pixcove)

I could try to disarm the punishment but I don’t feel very hopeful that I could make much difference. But then I took up running which is just the most laughable thing for me to think I could ever do. Made an attempt at intuitive eating though don’t know how well it’s going (obviously the scales are the only arbiter of progress). Started mindfulness and found my own way to help the depersonalisation. <off to google “how to stop self-punishment”>

Oh, I’m sorry. Were you expecting an inspirational concluding paragraph. Wrong blog.

Fifteen year assumption

I left home at 18 years old to move to a city and go to medical school. I loved it then fucked it all up.

I did the first two years fine, even got distinctions in both the first and second year end of year exams, but then had a psychotic depression that completely derailed me. Dropped out of third year part way through and repeated and completed it. Completed fourth year though had some classes to make up. Started final year three times and couldn’t complete it and dropped out.

It was so long ago (I am in my forties now) but goddamn, it’s still so painful to think about. I never tell new people I meet about it and never bring the subject up with people who already know. Is it really fucking relevant to anything?! I suppose if it’s still so painful then it’s relevant to something.

I have a new friend who has a somewhat similar experience, except he actually made it and graduated and worked as a doctor for a while before his mental illness made him quit, and he keeps talking about it. Oh my fucking god, it kills me. He was talking about what happened to him and he casually said he had to leave medicine because he didn’t get enough support. It wasn’t some pained justification just said matter of factly like it was self-evident. He then implied that that was what had happened to me. I was absolutely astounded.

A green seedling growing in dry, cracked wood. Can’t find a credit.

It had literally never occured to me that there was any other possible reason for me dropping out other than I just wasn’t good enough. Obviously I was pathetic and useless. I was given all these chances and I fucked them all up. Self-evident. That may well actually all be true (I bet it is) but there is a small part of my brain saying maybe there is more to it than that and I hear that and I am astounded again. This conversation happened a few days ago and I am still a bit dazed.

I always thought everyone agreed with me that it was self-evident that my failure was because I wasn’t good enough. Why would they question that? And my new friend just waltzes in and goes nope nope nope and my brain just stops. I realized later that night that my other friends don’t act like they agree with me (they are probably hiding their real beliefs in order to be kind to me though) which actually explains a few weird things I’ve noticed over the years. That small part of my brain then says what if they really, genuinely don’t agree with me and don’t think that and now I can’t stop crying. Hope is heady stuff but heads are seldom involved, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett. What if new people I meet don’t all assume that? God, what if my unquestioned assumption has been wrong for fifteen years. I actually don’t think I can withstand this line of thinking.

It doesn’t matter anyway as maybe I am not a terrible person for this but I am a terrible person for other reasons and I know for a fucking fact that I am right there. Absolutely right. I am irredeemably ruined and there is no hope for me. Heady hope meets hard, cold reality.

I am out of control

I am saying the most crazy things. My thoughts are relentless and flying. I keep not being able to tell what should stay in my head and what is okay to say. What have I done. I think I have irredeemably ruined everything. I can’t undo what I’ve done. I can’t believe I’m going to have to live with this for the rest of my life. I can’t even begin to approach trying to understand what I have done to other people. What will they think if/when they find out. I think I would be so hurt. What have I done. I don’t know how to be honest. I don’t understand the truth. I genuinely can’t believe I am doing these things. And why. For what. There isn’t even any benefit. Not to me and not to anyone else. It is just so destructive. I have this profound, overwhelming urge to beat myself down and punish myself and make everything right. I can make everything right again. I can stop polluting the air by breathing it out and I can stop contaminating the ground by walking on it. It won’t redeem me but it will make things better. I can’t do right like a proper person but I can make this tiny attempt at it and that’s better than nothing, surely. I have to stay away from people as I am just hurting them. That is such a simple and obvious solution. Try harder and do better controlling my thoughts. Not get lost in them and let myself be swept away and end up saying pure craziness. I don’t have muscle and bone and blood under my skin; I just have guilt. There is a guilt monster under my skin animating me. I have to feed it. Sometimes it wants me to do ‘right’ and ‘good’ and lets me feel a bit better. Sometimes it wants ‘bad’ as it thrashes about under my skin making sure I am punished. What have I done. I will regret this for the rest of my life. This will dog me for the rest of my life. Will add it to the list.

Rodin’s Eve after the Fall from Wikipedia

The truce

[self-harm, mention of sexual assault, suicidal thoughts]

I don’t really know why but I grew up hating my body. I hated how it looked and I hated how other people treated me because of how they thought it looked. I read somewhere when I was a young teenager that your body is just there to carry your mind around and that framing stayed with me. I never considered how it felt.

Black Truce by James Gleeson

I started self-harming when I was 14 years old. I mostly cut my abdomen with a razor blade. I also cut the tops of my thighs, my inner thighs, my hips, my left shoulder, my chest and my breasts; anywhere that was covered by my PE kit. I think I self-harmed because I didn’t know the words how to express my pain, frustration and anxiety from my untreated depression. I had also been extensively bullied at school for years. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and plans too.

After eighteen months or so of self-harming, I finally went to my GP, was honest about my symptoms and I was given fluoxetine (Prozac) and weekly counselling (changed days to what people get today) which helped a lot. My GP was very matter of fact about my self-harm and focused on what I now know is called harm minimisation. I never felt even a flicker of shaming. I had been self-harming every day: every night in the bathroom before I had a shower. I always had wounds in various stages of healing. This is actually kind of horrifying me now to look at these memories from my current relationship with my body but it was so normal then. It felt like a logical and sensible response to my life. It fucking was a logical and sensible response to my life. But the self-harm just melted away as the depression melted away. I don’t remember any kind of fight to stop. It just naturally camed to an end. From the time I was 17 years old to now in my early forties, I have self-harmed less than a dozen times. When my mood is bad, thoughts of self-harm do come into my head but they feel miles away. It’s only in the worst of situations that I actually do go past thoughts and act on my body.

Can you only self-harm if you hate your body first? I don’t think that’s true. Sometimes things are just very desperate. There are no good choices available in some situations. But I did hate my body; almost as much as I hated myself. Those hatreds and despairs felt separate from very early on and remained separate until this year. Note that I’m not saying the hatred and despair has melted away but it feels like a frayed, stretched apart cloth between me and my body rather than a solid, impenetrable wall.

When I look down at my hands, there is still a tiny pause while I recognise them as mine. They don’t feel like mine but intellectually I know they must be. There is a much bigger pause when I look at body parts that I dislike more like my abdomen or my breasts (it still feels weird typing “my” there; my habit is to say “the abdomen” or “the breasts”).

That pause and the detachment were put there deliberately to protect my body from me. I can’t remember exactly what I read or what I heard that made me decide to pursue this detachment but I remember pushing it in my mind until feeling like I was quite separate from my body was a very natural state. It tied in well with my depersonalisation.

The next stage was a calling of a sort of truce between my body and myself. I think this happened in my early twenties. I had been sexually assaulted a few times by then though had convinced myself that it wasn’t affecting me. I was dealing with a lot of psychiatric medication side-effects. I was fat and finding that unacceptable to myself. My body didn’t feel like mine and I still hated it. I was reading about fat acceptance and I longed for the peace that the people I was reading about had found. It wasn’t this but I read something like this tweet from Michelle Allison (the Fat Nutritionist):

Your body is not an object, not a sculpture based on some universal and enduring Platonic ideal of beauty — it is a living creature, an animal in your care that needs care and compassion, that suffers and dies if neglected.— Michelle Allison (@fatnutritionist) December 20, 2017

It lead to a sort of ‘truce’ or ‘deal’ in my head: I won’t hurt you anymore and you will leave me alone. That was the basis of my relationship with my body for the great majority of my adult life. I did the basics to look after it, to some extent anyway, and the rest of the time I was free to ignore it. The best that can be said for this ‘truce’ or ‘deal’ is that it eased my relentless drive to kill myself which had been powered by my hatred of my body. The thoughts were still there but there was a distance too. I self-harmed very rarely. I gave up drinking alcohol entirely and I didn’t take drugs (I was very lucky in that I hadn’t developed addictions to either). I didn’t exercise and didn’t eat very nutritiously but I don’t think I had any disordered eating behaviours either. But it was a miserable, joyless way to live, I see now. Not taking any pleasure in my body, whether that was eating or sex or physical activity, etc, meant missing out on a lot of the experiences that make life worth living and make a human, human.

What changed was I read two books this year that profoundly challenged my thinking. The first was Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski about female sexuality which explained a lot of my past experiences to me, not just about sex but also about emotions and the stress responses. The second was Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch which explained a lot about eating, hunger and fullness. Both of these books talked matter of factly about taking pleasure in your body and of being connected to your body. It probably sounds ridiculous but I’d never considered that was possible. I kind of knew that some people had strong, solid relationships with their bodies but I didn’t think that applied to any of the people in my life and certainly not to me. But these books were arguing that yes, it was possible for me too.

So I stepped inside my body. Quite terrifying at times and very unsettling. These books made my thoughts safe enough and the meditation released my depersonalisation enough to make it possible. My medication and all the endless self-care I do controls my mood enough, at the moment at least. I still feel some detachment but I think that is fading as my new thoughts bed in. In some ways, I am convinced being connected to my body is a much better way to run things rather than my old detachment and ‘truce’ but in other ways, it feels riskier and more unstable.

I’m still afraid of my body and I still don’t like parts of it but the old hatred and despair has faded away mostly to nothing. I’ve seen it flare up a bit at times but not for long. Is this a new truce? Not really. This is very soppy but I feel like my body and me might be on the same side now. There is something very peaceful and lovely with that.

Weighing myself caught up with me

[weight numbers, suicide, brief mention of calorie numbers, eating disorder behaviours]

I continued with the intuitive eating in July but knew I wasn’t making a very good job of it. I was eating emotionally a lot and not stopping eating when full instead eating ‘to completion’, i.e. cleaning my plate. I had a rough plan of weighing myself every month after my period when my weight is at its lowest. This was to assuage my need for cold, hard data about the size of my body, because I find it very hard to tell what size it is, and in an attempt to prevent me regaining the weight I lost.

I weighed myself this week and was 4.8lbs up. I could feel that my abdomen and breasts were bigger but had been hoping that it was in my imagination like last time. I was horrified and felt very out of control. This is what I wrote in my diary at the time:

Weighed myself. 10st 7.6lbs so put on 5lbs in a month. Horrified and devastated. Didn’t think it would be this bad. How have I managed to fuck up so badly? Is it the binging? Had two moderate binges and one large binge plus started to binge but stopped a fourth time. That’s a lot. Is it the reduction in thyroxine? Body was bigger even before I went to visit my family. I hate this. I don’t know what to do. I want to diet. I want to shrink my stomach. I can’t stand this. If I diet then I’ll binge but I am binging anyway. Am I binging because I had the stress of going to visit family and of seeing the psychiatrist? Both of those were intensely stressful, before, during and after. I have to lose weight. I can’t have people see me like this. I’m going to have to diet but I really don’t want to. It’s so unpleasant and uncomfortable. Really the most sensible thing to do would be to kill myself and then I’d be free of all of this. Wouldn’t that be nice. I can’t do this anymore. I am so tired and stretched out.

Compared to what I wrote in my diary at the start of the month:

Weighed myself (yes, again): 10st 2.8lbs. Very good conditions: period finished, gut cooperating, nothing salty to eat yesterday (though not restricting salt either) and haven’t binged for over two weeks. Glycogen stores will be full though. Feel relieved, very happy, lightened. Stood in kitchen and said “I could live like this” and burst into tears. I would be okay living eating like this and at this weight I think. Not overjoyed at the size of my abdomen but I think I could come to terms with it. I think I might be okay.

Very histrionic response to weighing myself and getting a higher number than I wanted! As I’ve said here before, when I was fat I felt fundamentally unsafe due to the way people, strangers and family and friends, treated me. I felt profoundly unacceptable. Going back to that, which is statistically by far the most likely thing to happen to me, frightens me and makes me feel very desperate. Suicidal thoughts, even with some sarcasm, is an extreme reaction.

I was surprised at how unpleasant I found the thought of going back to dieting. I really, genuinely don’t want to. As recommended by the Intuitive Eating book that I am following, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t ever restrict/diet again. But I felt like I had no choice now. My body was just too big and unacceptable. Writing this down makes the situation seem so small and bizarre. How could I believe all these thoughts and just mindlessly follow them? How did a 5lb weight gain become so big? When did I become so dependant on other people’s opinion of my body’s appearance?

I weighed myself again today and was down to 10st 6.2lbs. Somehow that seems more acceptable. It’s more under my threshold of ten and a half stone and 3.4lbs gained in a month doesn’t seem so horrifying. But, and this is the key point: my actual body is exactly the same. This is just laughably ridiculous that I am so affected by these numbers. The bad binge (3000+ calories) I had on Monday evening when I got home from my trip seriously fucked with my mood but these are long-standing patterns of thinking with me. I get overwhelmed so easily by these thoughts. Swept away and lost in them

So what I have decided to do, mulling it over for a few days, is to continue the intuitive eating but to aim to finish eating when feeling just full (6 on the hunger fullness scale), with occasional comfortably full (7), and to really focus on stopping the binge eating. I have been avoiding doing the chapter on emotional eating in the Intuitive Eating Workbook for weeks but will get that done. Would be a good idea to review earlier chapters too. Also, will make more of an effort with being consistent with exercise as have missed a lot in the last few weeks.

Hunger fullness discovery scale from The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Tribole and Resch

I am a little proud of myself that I didn’t slip back into dieting in response (to my overreaction) to my upsetting weigh-in. I had all these extreme thoughts, which, to be fair, I let swirl out of control around my head, but I didn’t actually take any action on them. I think I have been quite measured. I will see what effect my adjustment to intuitive eating has on my weight and whether this is sustainable. Fuck me, is this growth? Maturity? I just feel quiet and calm. Dieting was very emotive for me, which motivated me and drove me onwards, but god, did it hurt when it didn’t go to plan. This intuitive eating is much more about finding peace and just being okay. Sounds boring. It’s actually so lovely I could cry in relief.

Massage and the need to be touched

I remember as a child, maybe late primary school and early secondary school ages, having this desperate wanting to be hugged. Like something was physically missing from my body. It never even occurred to me to ask anyone in my life to hug me. My parents weren’t physically demonstrative and neither was anyone else so I just wasn’t touched for years until I started having romantic relationships.

I’ve had “low maternal warmth” written on my psychology notes now (see how they blame the mothers; not the fathers) and I’ve learnt how most (almost all?) people need a certain amount of physical touch and physical affection in their lives. The two times I’ve had long term romantic partners have been the times that I’ve had consistent touch and probably the main reason why I (mostly) remember those times fondly. I’ve not had a partner for a long time and that’s what I miss the most by far. But even just briefly imagining it there, I get strong thoughts that I don’t deserve it and that that will never happen again for me. Probably fair to say that I am too fucked up psychologically to be inflicted on another person. Anyway, the touch I am describing here is very different from sexual touch. I think it’s possible to meet all my needs for physical touch without any kind of sex.

I am a child of the MDMA (ecstasy) days, before ‘legal highs’/novel psychoactive substances, and one of the effects of that drug is that my friends and I got into the habit of hugging a lot. I remember that time fondly too. I still hug my friends to say goodbye and most of my family too. But these are quick hugs that don’t soothe my brain the way a long hug does. When my relatives’ children were small, I would hug them a lot. Partly because of my absolute fucking horror at the thought of them feeling like I did when I was a child and partly because it made me happy. I’ve had two long hugs in recent months. One from one of my oldest university friends and one from my sister and both because I was upset. They helped, and I am grateful for them, but they weren’t enough. I feel like I am this empty, insatiable pit of need when it comes to wanting to be touched.

So if you read the self-help articles and books then you are advised to try ‘therapeutic touch’ when you feel you don’t have enough touch in your life. I was given a voucher for a massage as a birthday present and I’ve had two and going to have a third today. They are very expensive. It feels intensely relaxing physically and my muscles feel liquid and released. But it’s for the psychological benefits that I am doing it. When my massage therapist moves round the couch to a different area she keeps a hand on my back or my shoulder. I am sure there is some what I’d disparagingly call hippy or spiritual (because it’s outside of my knowledge and experience) reason for this but what actually happens in my brain is that it suddenly starts thinking “I am normal” because she hasn’t taken her hands off me the second that she could. My brain starts thinking I might be okay and not entirely repulsive and repellent. Just a normal human body. A bit of detangling of my thoughts.

I grates with me that I have to pay someone to touch me and can’t find it naturally in my life. But, as previously mentioned, I am not in a position to have a romantic relationship and that seems to be the way that my society is organised to meet people’s needs for touch. I am lucky that I have this massage therapist that I feel safe with, and can occasionally afford to pay, and that I have my friends and family to hug. Maybe one day I will have more, and I would like that, but it’s okay just now.

The number

[eating disorder, body image, clothes size]

I’m struggling again with my weight increasing and my body getting bigger. I look in the bathroom mirror and my face is much fuller. I look in the full length mirror and my stomach is much bigger. I put on my sports bra and the band is too tight. I sit down and my stomach spills forward. Again and again, my mind is filled with self-hating thoughts.

I tried on winter clothes yesterday. Clothes that were loose the last time I wore them are now definitely tighter. The dress I wore in March is too tight round the waist. The size 14 trousers don’t fall down anymore.

I desperately want to weigh myself and know for sure how bad it is. I have a little hope that I will have the same experience as last time and I will get a lower number than I fear. I said in that post, “I have to make the most of this reprieve and make progress on my thoughts and feelings about my body, my weight and my eating. I can’t go back to dieting/restricting and binging”. How will knowing the number on the scales change things? I know from my two years of daily weighing that there are a lot more factors involved in that number than just the amount of fat on my body. It’s not an objective assessment on the health of my body, the attractiveness of my body or the acceptability of my body. But I treat that number like it is the last word on all three. I relied on that number to make me feel okay about myself. I never learnt how to do that in any other way.

If I get a higher number than what I think is acceptable then what will happen? I will be devastated, I think. Probably will entirely over-react and take it as proof that I am going to regain all the weight I lost. Go back to being treated very badly because I am fat. Not be able to run or go to the gym anymore. People will look down on me. Hating myself. Catastrophizing much? It’s all so painful. What if I am above the next stone bracket? Will I go back to dieting/restricting? That means going back to binging. I should be very proud that I only binged once in the entirety of June. If I go back to dieting/restricting then the binging will escalate again. It will be much more frequent and they will be bigger binges too. I will gain weight from that as I did every month from January this year. The options are not 1. continue intuitive eating and gain weight and 2. go back to dieting and lose weight. Rather it’s 1. continue intuitive eating and gain some weight in the short term with some hope of losing weight in the long term and 2. go back to dieting, start binging again and gain weight anyway.

Even if this number on the scales is acceptable what does this really prove? When I got a much better number than expected the last time, I cried in the shower repeating to myself “I’m okay, I’m still okay, I’m okay” as if suddenly I was safe again. I think it is all about safety for me: looking acceptable means I am not a target anymore. I sometimes get thoughts that losing weight will make me ‘healthy’ but I know full well that weight doesn’t indicate health status. It would be nice to have a partner but I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to be with me even if I had a conventionally attractive body so I don’t think it is about aesthetics, much at least. I just want to be able to walk down the street and not worry that people will shout “fat cunt” from their cars at me. Or the glares and pointed comments. People’s automatic reaction to me being dislike. Have people pity me or be frustrated with me or laugh at me because I couldn’t keep the weight off. Catastrophizing again… except all these things really happen to fat people and I am not strong enough to endure it again.

This is all a lot of feelings and thoughts to put on one number. Going back to a previous thought experiment: it I was on the planet with no other humans but everything that I needed, would I care what the number on the scales was? No, it would make no difference to anything. So my problem is not the number, it’s me basing my assessment of how other people will react to my body on that number. I have a lot of justification for my expectations of being treated badly if I regain the weight but it doesn’t mean every single person, or even most people, will treat me badly. There are a lot of people that genuinely don’t care or notice.

I need to find other ways to make myself feel safe that don’t involve false reassurance from a number on the scales. I have no idea how to do that or where to start.

My lips are a nice colour

It’s okay for a teenage girl to hate their body. Well, it’s not okay but it’s so common that it’s usually considered normal. (If you stop and think about that, it shouldn’t be.) But it’s just vanity and self-indulgence for a woman in her forties to still hate her body. Surely you should be over that by now? Don’t you know that no one cares what such an old body looks like anyway? Haven’t you built enough of a life where such trivialities don’t matter anymore?

Nope to all three. I made a lot of progress in my late twenties and early thirties with accepting my body as I was part of what was known then as the fatosphere which was a network of blogs and forums about fat acceptance. My weight then would have been classified as obese or morbidly obese so I felt like I fitted in. The arguments for fat acceptance made a lot of sense to me with their logic and their compassion. But while I fully supported the idea that fat people should be treated with dignity and respect and without discrimination, I couldn’t fully apply the ideas to my own body.

When I am manic, I have great body image. I look in the mirror and think I look fucking amazing and any woman or man would be lucky to have sex with me and that people glancing at me will think I look good. When my mood is normal, all I can see in the mirror are unacceptable flaws that make me look terrible and will make people looking at me dislike me. At its worst, I look in the mirror and feel deformed and like I want to harm my body to punish it for being so bad.

The part of my body that it bothering me the most right now is the roll of fat and protuberance of my upper abdomen. I hate it. Everyone seems to hate any kind of bulge in that area too. I never see that area celebrated. The only time it is mentioned is in terms of how risky storing ‘excess’ fat there is for cardiovascular health. My clothes are definitely tighter there since I started intuitive eating and I have had to let my belt out a notch. I am hyperaware of how that area feels against my clothes and that triggers self-critical and negative thoughts about eating, my weight and my body.

I try and be objective and think this is just adipocytes gathering fuel, like they are supposed to. It is just molecules of lipids bundled up in cells. It is just human tissue the same way there is connective tissue on the sole of my foot. But this particular fat means something to me. It means I am out of control and unruly (a word I will always now associate with Roxanne Gay) and that people will judge me harshly and I am not safe. That’s a lot for a small group of cells to carry. It feels very dangerous to risk going against the expectation that I should follow the convention of how to look there. I don’t want to be different. I am desperate to fit in and be normal but I can’t be normal in many areas of my life because of my mental illnesses and past experiences. But maybe I can change this. Maybe I can control this.

I try and be objective again and think that people judging me is just thoughts in their brains. Just biochemistry. But sometimes those thoughts affect real life and real concrete things happen to me because of those judgements. Unlikely to be a problem solely because my upper abdomen is a big bigger but these little judgements mount up and can be devastating.

One of the techniques therapists use to help you re-balance your body image is to list out the things you like about your body. When I was asked to do this, over a decade ago, I couldn’t do it. Not only could I genuinely not find anything positive to say about my body but I also had this overwhelming feeling that I would be doing something wrong to say positive things about it. The first positive thing I ever said to myself when I looked in the mirror was, “my lips are a nice colour”. I astonished myself as it was a spontaneous thought. I still remember the feeling. It was late at night, in the bathroom, and I still have the dressing gown that I was wearing. Another technique (which I always thought sounded like bullshit but it seemed harmless enough) is to smile at yourself in the mirror every time you go to the bathroom. I still do this now and I finally think I have a nice smile. I have also got habituated to my crooked face and can recognise myself in photos.

Full length mirror. Not mine as this would be too much effort to dust.

I looked in the full length mirror while naked yesterday and managed okay. Didn’t have overwhelming self-hatred. Didn’t gaze in disgust at my loose, wrinkled skin from my weight loss. Thought, “yes, my lips are still a nice colour”. Tried to be realistic that this is just a body and it doesn’t have to mean anything. I remembered another therapy technique: think if you were on a planet with everything you need but no other humans; would you be so desperate to change your body, and all that that costs, if no one else saw it? I have gone far enough with body acceptance now to say that if I was alone then I would be fine with my body. I am actually pretty lucky with all that it can do, other than my fucking brain. If I was alone, I don’t think I would give a second thought to how my body looked. It wouldn’t occur to me. So my problem is not my body: my problem is other people’s reactions to my body.

Maybe the technique I should be learning is how to tell other people to get to fuck.

Taking a swing back

[eating disorder, weight numbers]

Yesterday, I listed out all the negative thoughts about my binge on Tuesday. I am feeling a lot better today and want to record how that has happened because chances are that I will binge again at some point in the future. I don’t want to but it’s a very entrenched coping mechanism with me and I am very early on in my learning of intuitive eating. I also have pretty poorly controlled bipolar disorder which means I have some periods of intense, painful emotion that are difficult to deal with (ha, look at me being all reasonable… “difficult to deal with”? More like fucking impossible to deal with.)

It’s all very good talking about challenging thoughts but the thing that really started to even out my mood was going a run yesterday morning. I ran four miles with some one minute walking intervals as per my physio’s instructions as I am recovering from an injury. I felt such relief after I had finished running that I had managed to go. I didn’t really enjoy the run (I don’t think I’ve ever 100% enjoyed a run other than when I was hypomanic and that’s how I got injured) but the sense of achievement afterwards was very soothing to my self-hating thoughts.

I also had a good friend round for lunch and confided a little in her. That made something inside my head unclench and feel relief too. I find it very hard to confide in people. I think I am afraid of being judged and shamed. I feel such overwhelming shame so easily with my own thoughts and I just can’t bear to have that happen in front of someone else. I cry very easily when the shame is triggered and I don’t think I could bear that either.

Going back to the binge: I really thought the intuitive eating was going to stop me binging. I was looking at absolutes: I used to binge and now I don’t. It’s a poor way of trying to deal with the uncertainties of life. It isn’t accurate and it doesn’t work. I don’t have to keep doing things the same way. It was dichotomous thinking (otherwise known as all-or-nothing or black-or-white thinking) and it piled the pressure on myself to be ‘perfect’ and not use this coping technique that has actually given me a lot of benefits over the years as well as the obvious harms.

While I was binging and cruising my kitchen cupboards I kept thinking “oh I can have this now, wasn’t allowed it before”. I have been turning intuitive eating into the hunger and fullness diet. I would only ‘allow’ myself to eat when I was the appropriate level of hungry. That sounds sensible: eat when you’re hungry. But how hungry and for how long? Normal eaters eat for other reasons sometimes too, e.g. celebration, to be socialable, occasional comfort. Whatever new rules I had created in my head, I wasn’t meeting my needs and was triggering feelings of deprivation. Along the same lines, I repeatedly thought I was finished binging only to eat more because I felt like I had to get my fill while I could. I haven’t given myself unconditional permission to eat like the book says is essential. I think I have to really feel like I can eat what I want whenever I want without plunging myself into overwhelming guilt or negative thoughts or any kind of emotional sanction. I let myself eat but then I let my self-hating thoughts punish me for it. No clue how you’re supposed to fix that.

I promised myself that I would not weigh myself in June. I weighed myself almost daily for the almost two years I was dieting. I got very adept at interpreting the fluctuations in my weight caused by my cycle, time of day, my food intake, my salt intake, changes in exercise, etc, and not to mention unexplainable normal variations, but I put much too much value on that number. An unexpectedly low number always cheered me up and a high number would upset me and make me feel hopeless. When I started intuitive eating, I had been dieting so my glycogen stores were low meaning that my weight would naturally bounce up when eating a normal amount of calories. I also thought I would gain some weight as I would be overshooting my eating while trying to discover what comfortably full felt like. So it would be a terrible idea to see that higher number and feel compelled to go back on a diet. It would be another battle in my head that I’d almost certainly lose.

I was feeling better after going a run but still felt like my body was utterly unacceptable and deformed and ugly and had expanded disproportionately in some places. I have had these feelings all throughout my time dieting and they have been significantly worse since I stopped weighing myself daily and having that objective, but imperfect, measure to backup the thought of “your judgement is off again, like it often is, just look at the fucking number”. I told myself that if I was under X+1 stone then I would keep on with the intuitive eating and if I was under X st 7 then I would be delighted. I looked in the mirror and told myself it was a bad idea and then went and weighed myself anyway. I have gained 1.4lbs. Even my relentless thoughts were speechless in shock. I really did expect to be well over X+1 stone going from how my body felt and what it looks like in the mirror. My judgement isn’t worth shit when it comes to assessing the size of my body.

I cried in the shower in overwhelming relief saying “I’m still okay, I’m okay, I’m still okay”. My mood improved considerably, I was almost dazed by how my thoughts lightened and I suddenly had the ability to shut the fuck down the negative thoughts about my body. Talk about overvaluing the number on the scales! I was incredibly lucky to have got that number and to have responded in the typical way to intuitive eating. This could easily have gone the other way and I would have had the opposite, equally extreme, response of self-hatred and plunging back into dieting. Then the inevitable binge-restrict cycle would have started back up.

I have to make the most of this reprieve and make progress on my thoughts and feelings about my body, my weight and my eating. I can’t go back to dieting/restricting and binging. I am working through The Intuitive Eating Workbook which is helpful but I don’t know if it will be enough as these thoughts and feelings are so strong. I think I have learnt from this last binge and my reaction to it though. Blogging about it has made my thoughts more concrete too. I will keep trying.