Content warning: food, eating disorders.
Today I have been feeling anxious, so I wanted to eat sweet things.
I was full of lunch, but still bought an extra chocolate flapjack and smoothie. They were supposed to last me the afternoon, but I devoured them in minutes. My craving was not satisfied. And I still feel anxious. Only now I feel sugar cravings and anxiety and shame about giving in to my cravings.
I hate the feeling of my stomach feeling full. Even now, years on from starving myself for perfection, I feel guilty when I feel I have “indulged” in too much.
I know this is bullshit. I know I should be kind to myself.
And yet I cannot.
I was speaking to my mum the other day, and she was explaining to me how worrying about her mother was keeping her up at night and making her ill.
“It’s difficult for us caring people,” she said. I immediately felt guilty. Does my lack of sleeplessness mean I don’t care about Grandma?
I mentioned this to the “Psychological Well-Being Practitioner” who I have phone calls with as part of my CBT (It’s not therapy it’s “a programme of guided self-help with telephone support.” I just love how the NHS will never use one word when they can use ten.) She said that a lot of her clients have positive beliefs about worry, and that a common thought is that “worrying makes me a caring person.”
Which is really interesting.
Although my recovery from severe anxiety and depression has since plateaued, in the first few weeks following diagnosis I was surprised at how much better I felt so quickly.
A number of things had changed during this time:
- I had spoken to the doctor about how I was feeling, and entered the system of seeking treatment.
- I had written about how I had been feeling, and had a lot of conversations with people on and offline about mental health.
- I took on more responsibility at work and got a pay rise.
- The gym re-opened and I developed a regular exercise habit.
- I overhauled my diet: less carbs, more protein (including shakes and supplements after working out), less alcohol, and started taking daily vitamins.
- These last two resulted in visible changes to my body, with people telling me I felt more toned (I can also feel my abs move when I walk, and so have taken to keeping my palms pressed to my core).
Basically, I started doing stuff and I started seeing results of what I was doing. It reminded me that one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your happiness is to feel in control of your own life.
Granted, in the midst of depression this can be difficult. But even things like choosing to and being able to cycle somewhere (previously I had been to anxious to get on my bike) made me feel powerful. Small wins towards my goals, like making it to the gym for ten minutes or turning down a second biscuit at work, built up momentum and I was gradually more able to feel in control of the bigger things.
Once I had decided that control was a key to happiness, I started noticing it everywhere.
Trigger warnings for sexual assault and Too Much Information – like, if you’re a member of my family, you probably don’t want to read this.
Five minutes after my first kiss I was hiding in the toilets. “It seemed less awkward to make out with him than tell him I didn’t want to,” I told my friend. “Kate,” she said. “You are the only person who would think that.”
At the time, I believed her. What’s wrong with me? I told myself again and again. I was unaware that my crippling social anxiety was far from unique. At the time, it seemed something to be ashamed of, to hide away from the world at all costs while I pretended to be a happy go lucky teenage girl.
Which is why, a few months later, I found myself in the back of a car with the same boy, trying to remove his hands from my underwear whilst trying to look after a friend on the other side of me, who was throwing up the evening’s vodka onto her lap. With hindsight, I should have turned round and punched him. But I was worried about being impolite.
Trying to do what I was supposed to do, and fear of being judged, has defined most of my sexual experiences.
I’m currently reading Becoming by Laura Jane Williams and would definitely recommend it. She writes with such intelligence, self-awareness and grace about her journey to where she is today. There have been so many moments in it that ring so true for me, I have to pause and let them sink in a little bit.
This one in particular stood out because it was about something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. I just didn’t know where to start, so let’s start with what Laura has to say.
I wanted love to wash over me and heal me and be me and become me.
I wanted to love myself.
That was it.
A voice raged inside me as the thought wandered across my mind.
YES! She screamed, uncompromising and forcefully. YES, YOU DO! THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT!
I let that sit with me. I wanted to love myself. I didn’t know how to get there, to that. How it looked. But I knew how it would feel.
It would feel like enough. And I – I desperately wanted to feel like enough.
As people, and especially as women, we are not very good at loving ourselves. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. For the most part our culture is set up to make us feel bad about ourselves, so we might buy all the things to make us feel better, to keep the economy going and make sure everyone has a job (which they need to make sure they can buy the things that probably won’t make them happy).
The thing is, I’m starting to believe more and more than loving ourselves might be the thing that helps us most in our lives. I don’t want this to be the answer. Firstly, because it sounds really trite, and secondly, because it’s a lot more effort than buying a new dress. But boy does it work.
It was a victory for worried-about-being-late Kate when I arrived at my appointment 40 minutes early. The door was locked so I had to ring the buzzer. “Erm, hello, I’m really early. Is there a place I can sit and read for 40 minutes? I’ve brought a book!”
I tried to read but couldn’t manage it. This must be the short concentration span and lack of focus that the pre-appointment anxiety quiz was asking about. Eventually, it was time for my appointment.
The practitioner introduced herself. We sat down and talked for a bit about how I have been since my assessment. I was half concentrating on this conversation and half on her eyebrows – they were amazingly neat! Goodness, I thought, mine must look awful in comparison. I really need to be better at personal grooming. I’m such a mess.
We talked through what she called the cognitive cycle. This is what it looks like.
“My word for 2016 will be peace. I’m going to focus on staying still.” – Me in January
At the start of the year, I set my one word goal as peace. I’m still not sure whether it was prompted by trying to stay still, but the months that immediately followed setting this resolution were possibly the most emotionally tumultuous of my life. They say that if you want to make God laugh you should tell him your plans.
Emotional roller coaster sounds like such a cliche but it is the most useful way of describing how it felt. I went from not wanting to get out of bed to manic excitement in the space of a few hours. I returned home from work a nervous wreck, likely to collapse into uncontrollable tears for barely any reason at all. It was exhausting.
Thanks to a combination of medication, writing and talking, my moods are now much more stable. I’ve had a chance to think about how my year is going in terms of peace. The conclusion? I’ve learnt a hell of a lot.
After I was diagnosed with “severe anxiety” I resigned myself to a lifetime of panic attacks and mood swings. Once I did that, I stopped having them.
Okay, it’s only been about three weeks since I last broke down in hyperventilating hysterics for no real reason at all, so I hardly think I’m “cured”. But it turns out that things get much easier once you stop beating yourself up about something and start showing yourself compassion.
I stopped telling myself I needed to stop being so ridiculous, and let myself relax. I stopped panicking that I was about to start panicking, and accepted that I probably would at some point, but it would be okay and that I didn’t need to worry about it before it happened. I accepted that I was ill, and I started treating myself more like somebody who needed a bit of help. I went to bed early, I stopped insisting that all my time be productive, I stopped making myself do things I didn’t want to do.
Once I noticed how good this felt I started doing it in other areas of my life.
I’ve had a couple of panic attacks this week and both (at least partly) took place at the gym. I learnt a valuable lesson here about the answers always being more complicated than I pretend they are (I have to re-learn this on a regular basis). I had been counting down to the gym re-opening as though it would solve all my mental health problems. True, I always do feel better when I exercise, and the gym can often give me some much needed structure, but obviously it’s never that easy.
The gym I go to used to be an LA Fitness Gym, but has re-opened following a refurbishment as a Pure Gym. It’s taking me a little while to adjust to the changes, and some of the things that they’ve changed have made using the gym a pretty anxious experience for me.
Hi there folks, and welcome to part two of what I’m thinking of calling “The Anxiety Diaries”. Part one saw our intrepid heroine pour her heart out into a blog post and share it on Facebook and Twitter. She had loads of supportive messages from internet friends, IRL friends, and total strangers, telling her she was brave and that she wasn’t alone.
Sounds like a happy ending right? And it was kind of happy, I was blown away by how nice everyone was being to me. The following morning I woke up feel pretty embarrassed and worried that I was attention seeking. Do I deserve all these people being nice to me? I don’t think so.
I tried to blame it on the patriarchy. Woman are taught to just get on with it, and to not speak up about who they are. Society is making me feel shame!
In the end I just felt confused and even more tired.