This will make no sense because I am currently high. Best of luck.
Some people you like to have in your life because you feel like you are walking down the same path through the world, through life. It’s companionship and warmth and while it might not give happiness all the time, it does give comfort. People underestimate comfort.
Some people you like to have in your life because you can stand in their lee. The world or life rains down against them and you stand in the shelter, for a while. Time to breathe, maybe some solace too when times are tough.
Some people you like to have in your life because the path is boring and even the storm above you is not enough and you want to be engulfed and let yourself be the very rage and despair. They are the storm itself.
I started meditating in June using the Headspace app on my phone. I signed up and did the free meditations for the first few (four? ten?) days and then bought a subscription.
Meditating has made an astonishing difference to my depersonalization. It is literally the only technique that has made a significant difference though, to be fair, I have felt so hopeless about finding anything that helped that I don’t think I made a serious and sustained attempt at any technique. This wee app made a difference right from the early days. Never in a way that was too much of a shocking, painful change (snapping into hyper-reality from being very dissociated is profoundly fucking terrifying) but a feeling of control like if I push that particular part of my mind that the app targets and calls mindfulness, that particular part of my awareness, then the depersonalization recedes back. If I lift off that particular part of my mind then the depersonalization will drift back in. It might sound mind-boggling for it to be important to me that I can get the depersonalization back if I want it but it is important as it has helped me get through things that I don’t think I could have survived another way. Well, maybe. Maybe not. It’s mine though and I want to be able to send it away and call it back as I chose. That might not be possible and might require far too high a price but it’s what I want just now. The depersonalization is not my master these days, well, not all the time, and I am grateful to the meditation for that.
The Headspace app has has a huge library of meditations on topics from grief to sleep to productivity. There is a thirty episode course on self-esteem. Here is the introduction to episode 4 of the first ‘Learn’ ten episodes:
Now after a lifetime of thinking that we are not good enough: maybe we don’t like the way we look or the way we are or the way we feel or the way we think. Maybe we don’t like the way we think other people think we are. Low self-esteem can affect us in so many different ways. But it’s always looking for more fuel because all of these internal storylines that we have, it doesn’t matter if it’s low self-esteem or something else, they all require fuel and that fuel is thinking. So it’s quite normal when we come to an exercise, to learning something new, that we fuel it with whatever is most common in the mind. So for someone who gets very anxious when they’re learning a new exercise like this they might be very anxious about the exercise. Someone with low self-esteem learning a new exercise will probably think that they’re no good at it or that they wish that they could do it better or they wish that things were changing faster. And that’s just the nature of that storyline playing out. Again we don’t need to give it more attention and more credence than it deserves. It’s simply recognising that’s the habitual pattern of thought that has built up over time. It’s not who we are. The less we identify with it the less important, believable almost, it becomes in our life. So just something to bear in mind as you’re doing this each day. Coming to the exercise completely fresh, leaving behind any preconceived ideas as to whether you are good at it or bad at it, whether it’s going to work quickly or not. Simply watching the process. Being present with it as it unfolds.
Introduction to a Headspace self-esteem meditation episode 4
I think that is a fascinating way to think about self-esteem. I was expecting some nonsense about self-compassion (which isn’t nonsense; I just can’t get it to work for me) being the better way to consider or judge the self. But this idea of thinking just being fuel in an unwanted fire undercuts this and made me pause and really look at my assumptions. I don’t fully understand it yet but I will keep thinking about it and finish the course. Things that I thought were self-evident, obvious, solid premises might actually not be true or even just actually not that useful. It’s so lovely to come across something new that gives me some hope that things might be different. Of course, I am a psychiatric patient of twenty-five years standing so I know that hope is heady stuff except heads aren’t often involved (to paraphrase Terry Pratchett) and I’m not going to call myself cured quite just yet. Put a button in front of me and say “press this and you’ll never have existed” and the only delay to me pressing it is my formerly middle class upbringing that will make me pause to say “thank you”. I’m almost entirely convinced that I don’t deserve good self-esteem. That things are bad because that is they way they should be. I really don’t know what makes me keep trying things like meditation. It’s certainly not logical. Well, that tangent went a bit dark. Aren’t you glad you are wasting your life reading this blog?
It’s just so fluffy… meditation, mindfulness. How can you take such simple concepts seriously? Dissociation is so huge and complex. Abnormal mood is so huge and complex. How can something as beyond basic as focusing on your breath help such severe, profound, overwhelming symptoms? A huge and complex problem needs a huge and complex solution, right? Turns out that that assumption has done me a lot of harm over the years. Here’s an analogy: you spend six hours making a hugely complex and fantastic meal. It should have a rich interplay of exquisite tastes and textures. But it’s just bland and flat and sits in the mouth like stale bread. Less interesting than stale bread, even. You’re fucked, right? Nothing simple is going to save this meal, all this work, you’re going to have to start again. Wrong. Turns out the very simple addition of half a teaspoon of salt brings these flavours to life. Sometimes something simple is all that is needed. I’ll add to that though: sometimes a series of simple things is all that is needed.
The other reason I resisted mindfulness and meditation is that is so goddamn fashionable and pushed on us psychiatric patients. Another simple concept: what works for one person’s problem might or might not work for another person’s apparently similar problem. Don’t we get to chose where to spend our (very limited) energies? I came to meditation of my own volition. I kind of fell into it naturally, first through a real life friend and then by enjoying how well written the app was and then by being astonished by the results. It has just happened. Just happened because of lots of little choices that I made. So it feels like it is mine. I told my current psychiatrist recently that I had started meditating and he said “good on you” but didn’t push. I felt pleased. Going by twitter, a lot of people have bad experiences of psychiatric services almost insisting that they spend chunks of their time and using up chunks of their energy on techniques that were, at best, useless and, at worst, actively harmful. So that put me off too.
This feeling of being able to make choices and make good things happen in my life is valuable and precious to me. Not quite as much as the relief in my symptoms but it has been an unexpected bonus. That’s unexpectedly boosted my self-esteem as well. I can do something! I’m not 100% hopeless! (Just 95% replies my brain.) Did the people who wrote the app mean for that to happen? Who knows, but it’s good anyway.
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.
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.
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.
I have suffered (and I deliberately use that word rather than experienced) from chronic depersonalization since I was a teenager. Sometimes it is worse than others and I did have a time when I was completely free of it for a summer about fifteen years ago. It is currently abating as I do more and more mindfulness meditation. That has been a surprise to me.
Depersonalization isn’t often talked about and I think that’s not because it is rare but because it so difficult to put the experience into words. I feel it as a distance between what I consider to be me, my self, and what I am sensing of myself. It is a detachment of something that should be seamless. I feel happiness and it is far away. I look down at my hands and see I am touching something and I don’t connect to that sensation. I look at something beautiful and it is as if it is happening to someone else. Things that should be familiar instead feel strange and unreal, like they are not really happening.
According to Simeon and Abugel’s Feeling Unreal, about half of adults will have had a single brief experience of depersonalization usually following something severely stressful. About one third of people who experience a life-threatening danger will have a “transient episode of depersonalization”. Approximately 10% of people who are admitted to a psychiatric hospital will also experience depersonalization.
Depersonalization is closely related to and is most likely on the same spectrum as derealization which is a detachment and distance from the outside world, i.e. other people and objects don’t look real. I used to have a lot more derealization as a teenager with only a little depersonalization but the proportions gradually swapped over as I got older.
In both depersonalization and derealization (I bet another reason these experiences aren’t talked about that much is because these are such fucking clumsy names) reality testing is intact meaning that you know that while your feelings or interactions with the outside world don’t feel entirely real, they actually are real. You know that your experience is entirely subjective. You can tell the difference. If you didn’t know that then this would be called psychosis. So it’s a pretty fundamental point, in the world of psychiatry at least.
Like all mental health symptoms or experiences, if they are intense, frequent or upsetting enough then they ‘count’ as an illness. My god, that sentence is doing a lot of heavy lifting! In the case of depersonalization, the ICD-10 uses the diagnosis depersonalization-derealization syndrome and categorises it in “mental and behavioural disorders: other neurotic disorders” and the DSM-5 uses the diagnosis depersonalization/derealization disorder and categorizes it as a type of dissociative disorder alongside dissociative identity disorder (previously called multiple personality disorder). There is some consensus and overlap about what ‘counts’ as an illness but there is a lot of unknown, grey area between the core diagnositic criteria and normal experience. This isn’t just academic. There will be people out in the world denied treatment or having their treatment changed because of these diagnostic criteria. Hopefully, clinicians are flexible enough to adapt things to suit their patients/clients but I guarantee that not all are.
I’ve asked several psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and psychologists over the last twenty plus years about their opinions on depersonalization. I find it very hard to describe so never felt like I gave a good account of myself. My favourite psychiatrist said she thought what I was describing was a “remnant” of my psychosis. I don’t think she was right. Nurses were more likely to say the depersonalization was a manifestation of my anxiety. I think every nurse I asked said that, but I’m not sure. Other professionals talked about it as a distinct symptom that they basically didn’t know what to do with because so little is known about it. I think this is the position of my current psychiatrist. I have never been offered specific treatment for my depersonalization by any of the professionals that I’ve asked.
Many people find depersonalization and derealization hard to talk about as our language doesn’t really accommodate these experiences. You end up talking in metaphors and seeing confused expressions on the other person’s face. So my apologies if you have a confused expression on your face just now. I am still trying to organise my thoughts. Perhaps things will become more clear in the future.
One of the principles of intuitive eating is to try and get as much satisfaction and pleasure from your food as possible. It not only makes you feel better and improves the quality of your life but helps regulate your eating to the quantities that your body needs.
That last part will sound totally ridiculous to a dieter. Surely, if you eat what you really want and what gives you the most pleasure then you will just continuously binge on high calorie, high fat, high sugar, bad bad bad, etc, food? That’s just common sense: we got fat because we couldn’t stop eating and now you are telling us to eat the foods that we can’t stop eating.
Turns out that’s all bullshit when you actually get down to it. When you give yourself true unconditional permission to eat anything then food loses its power over you and furthermore, when you eat what you really want, and eat it mindfully, your brain gives you fullness signals/cues to stop and then a profound sense of satisfaction afterwards. And a beautiful, quiet, calm moment of peace if you are really lucky. So you just stop eating the food after a moderate or even small amount, whatever satisfies you. That’s the dream anyway. Intuitive eaters have that experience consistently though not all the time of course as practicalities sometimes get in the way.
When I was dieting/restricing, I wouldn’t have believed a word of that description of eating as it was so alien to my lifetime of experience. There are several skills you need to be able to get there: identifying when you are hungry, identifying what you would really like to eat and recognising when you are full. From what I’ve read, most naturally and lifelong straight sized people do all of the above almost effortlessly and intuitively. I have had to learn.
I am getting better at identifying what I really want to eat. It’s usually a notion that jumps into my head and suddenly sounds or looks very appealing in my mind. My relentless thoughts stop and go “oh!” and focus on that food like a flood light. “I want carrots. Something very carroty. Orange carrots.” Yes, those were my very sophisticated, adult thoughts when I was trying to work out what I wanted for lunch at the weekend. I’ve been having cold soups for lunch as it has been warm and I prefer cold soup to hot soup. So I searched for cold carrot soup recipes and found this one. As is my way, I did not really follow the recipe but instead used 1kg of carrots, 2 pints of vegetable stock (from a stock cube) and no ginger (I forgot; it’s still sitting in my fridge).
My version of the carrot and honey soup was just delicious to my taste buds. You’d think that carrots were sweet enough but pushing it a little further with the honey was perfect. It was what my body wanted and it rewarded me with intense feelings of satisfaction for providing it for myself. Not like a high rush but a solid, calm, quiet peace. I also felt a sturdy confidence that I was full and properly fed. I can imagine that this is very routine and everyday to lifelong normal eaters but it’s been astonishing to me. I rarely felt satisfied and rarely felt full (other than binges) and never felt peace.
I want to say that all these positive feelings are worth some weight gain (I am almost a stone up from my lowest weight six months ago though that was when I was manic; I still have a normal BMI, not that that counts for anything) and I mostly believe that, most of the time. But the overwhelming, out of proportion value I have placed on weight loss means that my thoughts are still skewed and I still have thoughts that it is absolutely unacceptable to be my current weight. That I am not safe.
So I need to remember this soup and the satisfaction and peace that I felt from eating it. I don’t have to condemn myself to the pain I felt when I was dieting/restricing with the inevitable binging. I actually have a choice here.
I wake up and I am full of joy. Nothing has happened to justify it or explain it and my mother has just died so it’s probably not a genuine feeling. It’s just nonsense generated by my broken brain. So I push it away and I disregard it. I ignore this feeling of joy and try to not let it colour everything else in my mind. I’ll probably fail.
I walk to the park to run and my head is full of relentless negative thoughts. I can entirely understand why people used to, and some still do, talk about mad people being possessed by demons. These thoughts are so strong and overwhelming that they overwrite everything else. But they are just more nonsense generated by my broken brain. I disregard them. Try to remember the psychotherapy: how to dismiss thoughts without engaging with them; let them come as go like trains in a train station but don’t get on board.
I sit on my sofa staring at the wasps battering against the inside of the window. I know I’m stressed and when I’m stressed then my broken brain sometimes generates pictures, sounds, tastes, smells and sensations that aren’t based in the reality that other people have. So I tell myself that the wasps aren’t real, that they will go soon. Disregard. Ignore the feelings of panic that come with these pictures and ignore the thoughts of “sometimes they are actually real and these look really fucking real this time”. Disregard, disregard, disregard.
If so many of my feelings and so many of my thoughts and so many of my perceptions of the world are false, just generated by my illness, then what exactly is left that is me? How can I tell what is me now? Before my illness got so severe, this never really occurred to me. I just accepted that I had all my normal, genuine experiences and then these extra experiences of illness on top. I didn’t feel like I was missing out and I think I thought I was getting more than my fair share of experiences. But now, I spend so much time sorting through this junk. It’s a constant untangling and straightening out. A constant observation, assessment and interjection of (my attempt at) reasoning.
It reminds me of being a little girl coming in from playing outside in wind and my mother detangling my long hair. It hurts and takes so long. Should have worn a hat.
Sometimes I have genuine feelings, thoughts or experiences, whatever genuine or real means, that I initially automatically dump in the category of ‘illness’. I saw a vivid and splendid sunset on holiday and my first thought was “oh no, I didn’t realise I was getting high but these colours are just too beautiful to be real…” until other people starting commenting that they saw the same. How many real experiences am I disregarding and dismissing as nonsense generated by my broken brain? And how much nonsense am I accepting as true that is actually not? This dichotomy of real/unreal, genuine/fake and well/ill isn’t clear cut even if I could reliably tell the difference. This morning I woke up with a feeling of dread which I think it partly due to my low mood but is also partly due to the fact that I am going to have to talk about something very painful today. It’s both.
I disregard so much and maybe that way of thinking, of organising my thoughts about my life, is adaptive and functional most of the time but it certainly doesn’t make me happy. Maybe a broken brain with so much junk and nonsense can’t generate happiness; it’s too busy generating dread and wasps. Maybe that thought is self-pitying nonsense generated… Disregard, disregard, disregard.
This to me is one of the core differences between mad people and non-mad people. We have had to question and doubt things intrinsic to our very selves that non-mad people have the luxury of just assuming are real and genuine. I think it changes us. It’s definitely painful a lot of the time. Frustrating too. Am I supposed to now say that this greater awareness is all worth it? No fucking way, the pain from all these feelings, thoughts and hallucinations is definitely real even if their source is not.
I wrote last week, “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.” I’ve got nowhere with that. Instead, I weighed myself not one morning, not two but three mornings. I have been incredibly lucky once again.
I am 0.6lbs up in the five weeks I have been eating intuitively. That is nothing; a normal fluctuation. In other words, I am maintaining my weight. I stood in my kitchen and said out loud, “I could live like this” and burst into tears. It is an overwhelming relief to know that it is possible that I might have found a viable and sustainable way to eat and manage my weight after the years of desperate fighting. I don’t feel that confident that I can do it but it at least feels possible. Or maybe I do have some quiet confidence when I actually examine my thought. I certainly have some quiet hope. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, “Hope is heady stuff except heads aren’t often involved”.
Of course, since this time two months ago I was in the depths of my eating disorder (I have been very lucky and have only had mild to moderate symptoms compared to many people), I have also had some thoughts like “if I can maintain my weight eating all this crap [value judgments on food are bullshit but one battle at a time] then I can lose weight if I cut it out” and start having little daydreams of losing weight. One of the essential tasks when learning how to eat intuitively is to “put losing weight on the back burner” which I have pretty much done, though fuck me, was it tough giving that up. If I am still aiming and working towards losing weight then I can’t eat whatever my body asks for because, at the beginning, when I’m healing the feelings of deprivation caused by dieting, I will most likely want my previously forbidden foods. When I ate those freely, while trying to let go of guilt, those foods stopped being so special and powerfully appealing. They became just food. I thought that sounded impossible but it has happened several times now. I discovered that I genuinely don’t much like most sponge cake or muffins, etc, when I ate them mindfully and as much as I want and that was a bit of a surprise considering how much I used to lust after them. Now their appeal and their power has gone. I still find other foods powerfully appealing sometimes (icing!) but I will work through healing those feelings of deprivation too and they will just be food that I like to eat sometimes. If I go back to deciding what to eat based on calories then these foods will regain their power and I will be launched back into the binge-restrict cycle. I will certainly not lose weight then. More importantly, my mood will be damaged by the disordered eating and I will feel like crap.
I felt safe this morning when I weighed myself and the number was ‘good’. Relieved. Happy. Lightened. What if the number had been ‘bad’? I’d be feeling despair and shame and probably very unsafe. I can’t seem to keep track of my body and what it looks and feels like. I am using these numbers as the ultimate arbiter because I know my own judgment when looking in the mirror or even just looking down at my body is rubbish. I can’t tell if my clothes are looser or tighter or I’m just imaging it. I can’t do objective or realistic. I don’t know why. Maybe since I lack these abilities and weighing myself reassures me then it’s okay to continue weighing? That reasoning is just me kidding myself. I have been lucky so far with the numbers I’ve got on the scales but that won’t last. There is so much potential damage to be done by ‘bad’ numbers: it could derail me entirely from intuitive eating and throw me back into the binge-restrict cycle and all the pain that would cause. It’s too risky. I will have to find another way to reassure myself.
How do normal people make themselves feel okay about their bodies? There are lots of people who hate their bodies and even more who are just dissatisfied and indifferent. Do they just put up with these feelings and go about their day? Are the feelings just not that strong so easy to ignore? I see so much disordered behaviour around me in my family and friends now I know approximately what ‘normal’ counts as. A big reassurance seems to be having a partner and the privileges that brings. But I don’t have a partner and don’t think I ever will again so that route isn’t available to me. There’s CBTing the thoughts but while that helps in the short term, it never seems to stick in my brain and my ‘distorted’ thoughts bounce right back. Affirmations or trying to overwrite the ‘distorted’ thoughts with new thoughts. Again, doesn’t seem to stick. I feel so hopeless that I will ever feel okay about myself outside of mania. Which is why I am drawn to the false reassurance of the scales. It is something to hold onto in the maelstom of my head.
Another post with me saying I don’t know what to do. I suppose at least I answered the question: weighing myself is false reassurance. It was nice to feel okay, to feel safe, for a little while this morning but it doesn’t last and is too risky. I’ve no idea what to do next.
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.
When I was dieting, I had a relentless drive to try to feel full and very often did not. My hunger signals were numbed though. I just felt stretched and under pressure. That’s because my body was stressed by the calorie restriction. The disappearance of that stretched feeling is lovely.
Food had a lot of power over me. If I broke the rules that I had made, the main one was going over my set number of calories which was logged in an app on my phone, then I felt completely out of control. I would think, “fuck it, I’ve ruined everything” and then I’d binge badly, usually thousands of calories. While I was binging, I couldn’t stop and would have overwhelming feelings that I had to eat while I could, while I was ‘allowed’. That would reinforce to me that I was out of control and that it definitely was imperative that I never went over my calories in the future. I would restart restricting my calories and that would cause that relentless drive to eat so round I’d go again.
The Tribole and Resch Intuitive Eating book and workbook talk in detail about this cycle happening to their patients. It’s a common experience. I’ve seen a lot of talk about it on weight loss and dieting/wellness/’healthy eating’ forums. There are a few things going on at the same time.
First of all, if you don’t satisfy your hunger drive then the “hunger increases and sets off a biological cascade, both physically and psychologically – ‘primal hunger’, an urgent and intense desire to eat – which often results in overeating”. If you are in a state of chronic undernourishment (some people talk about dieting as being a form of semistarvation) then your hunger drive will be very active. Physical deprivation affects people differently. For me, I didn’t have much ill effect for the first year or so and lost weight steadily. Then I started binging again. Infrequently and small amounts at first but it escalated rapidly. Eventually, after a further year, I was utterly out of control, on the road to regaining my weight back and had intense suicidal thoughts for days every time I binged.
Secondly, there is some dodgy thinking going on, otherwise known as cognitive distortions. In this case, it is dichotomous thinking (also called all-or-nothing thinking or black-and-white thinking). My eating was either rigidly ‘perfect’ or ‘good’ and fully in control and planned or the exact opposite meaning wildly out of control or ‘bad’ and binging. I talked to folk online about how I couldn’t have a single meal of mild overeating and then just carry on as normal. It always flipped into a binge. So of course I avoided those meals which were usually social occasions. And my world shrunk a bit more. In the month before I committed to trying intuitive eating, I had actually started to make progress with this and was able to have a range of calories that I was okay or okay-ish landing in. But it was still very rigid and limiting.
The last thing driving my restrict-binge cycle was the psychological effects of deprivation. I did not appreciate that this was happening at the time at all. I still don’t fully understand what was going on. I see the effects of it now though with my reaction to when I start to feel full when eating. At first, when I started intuitive eating, I could not bear to leave any food from a meal or snack. It wasn’t just ‘clean your plate’ habit. It felt like a desperate imperative that I wasn’t safe until I got all this food inside me. I knew I was full but that wasn’t enough. When I binged this month, I had thoughts that I had to ‘make the most of it’ and eat as much as possible while I was ‘allowed’. Also, I have been feeling a strong push to keep my kitchen packed with food. I feel like it’s essential that anything my body wants to eat is there waiting for it at a moment’s notice. I have spent nearly £300 on groceries this month! A lot of that is sitting in my cupboards simply there to make me feel better. With intuitive eating, if you genuinely give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, when you want, then these drives disappear because your body (or mind or whatever it is of you that isn’t part of your rational thoughts – instincts? emotions?) actually believes that it is safe and will be fed when it needs to be.
I started having moments of peace with food when I started mindful eating (being as aware as possible of the experience of eating and eating without distraction; it’s a key part of intuitive eating) before I really started intuitive eating. They were very strange little calm, cool raindrops in my mind. Just quietness and stillness and a surprised feeling of “oh, I’m okay” when I had satisfied my hunger and my body. Something unclenched in my mind. The oppositive of the frenetic, overwhelming drives to eat that were so intense that they were painful, though also exhilarating to be fair.
These moments of peace are what have kept me going through all the confusion and uncertainty (intuitive eating is really fucking hard at times) and the sense of loss from losing the benefits of dieting like feeling in control, like I was achieving something and like I was doing something right that other people approved of (which have turned out to be illusions). I had hoped that once I started following intuitive eating properly then I would have this peace more frequently and for longer and that’s not turned out to be the case so far. They are still there but sometimes I go days without them and sometimes I feel peace a few times in a single day.
I suppose I have to not just pay lip service to the idea that these are early days but actually work on being patient. Maybe after another month, I will be writing about how these moments have increased. Hope is heady stuff when you’re not used to it.