the ten series: seven wants

September 16, 2013

1. To not want so much. When I was a teenager and I first opened a copy of the New Testament for myself, I remember reading the letters of one of the authors – a guy called Paul of Tarsus – who was writing to a community of Christians in Phillipi; friends of his. He was in prison at the time and bound in chains, for the crime of heresy – teaching something different to the law, and bringing filthy Greeks into the Jewish temple. He didn’t strike me as fanatical or delusional, and yet despite his chains he communicated this intense joy and peace. Reading it almost stung me. I am petulant, dissatisfied and selfish and I live in freedom and luxury. Since then I have wanted to know that peace, regardless of circumstances. I have tasted it occasionally, but I’m after a permanent fix if anyone can help me out.

2. To work in a paid position as a prison chaplain or to be able to work full time in a prison on a voluntary basis and be funded by a rich husband. I suppose what I want is to be able to do this work that I enjoy and feel that I am good at and that I feel is crucial to society and still be able to pay rent and bills. Failing this I want good, meaningful work of any kind that stretches me a little. I would also love to have a period of time free from money worries and be in a position to be financially generous to others.

3. To put this endless saga of not being able to drive properly behind me. HALP.

4. To have full health and recovery from Eating Distress. This is a complex condition that has gripped me for many years and from which I am almost fully recovered, but not yet completely free. Recovery takes a lot of time, work and commitment and in difficult times it is often the first thing to slide.

5. To improve in my ability to self-care. This is linked with the previous want but not exclusive to it. I have become more aware of my values and emotional, spiritual and mental health needs, but this does not always lead to positive action. I’d like to develop healthier, happier routines that are fulfilling and don’t involve four consecutive hours sitting at a computer hitting refresh on Twitter. I’d also like to become better at playing the guitar (I would consider playing the guitar to be self-care) and take up yoga. In fact I have taken steps towards both of these things only this week.

6. To become one of those wise old ladies that everyone looks up to for home-spun advice and tea and sympathy. That I want to become this kind of excludes me from ever achieving it. Sigh.

7. To become a better student. Despite having a load of pointless letters after my name I have kicked and screamed my way unwillingly through rivers of assignments and exams and assessments. I am a lazy-ass shortcut student who would rather read the cliffnotes than the actual textbook. What I am really saying is that I would like to learn the virtue of self-discipline. I am not a natural academic but really, who is? It’s 5% talent, 95% hard work. Ah feck it, this is boring. Let’s just play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

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and the livin’ was easy

July 31, 2012

I felt I simply couldn’t let the month slip by (and the summer – tomorrow is Autumn, you know) without dropping in a short note to Living Gently…

Life is demanding: commuting and work seem to use up all my energy, leaving little room for much else. I’ve squeezed in a few movies, some good food, good friends and 22 poems (as of the time of writing).  I am turning thirty in a few months’ time and have begun my reflections on the decade. One of my wise friends reckons that very marked and significant changes occur in our lives at the turn of our personal decades. I do not remember turning ten particularly, but she is right about turning twenty and, I think, thirty. It is true for my husband also. We are busy making our preparations to emigrate in 2013. Not forever – just three, or possibly five, years. And probably not too far away. And I am asking myself questions about not just what it is that I want from life, but how exactly it is that I can go about getting it.

The number one goal I have established for myself is to reach full and final freedom and recovery from eating distress. It lingers like a fungus that begins its spread again whenever I ignore it. I had a jolting realisation last weekend that this is my last year to avail of the services of the astonishing, life-affirming clinic which I attend, and oh, it would be wonderful to leave Ireland, leaving eating distress behind. So that is goal number one. One day I will write about the overwhelming intensity of disordered thinking that comprises this complex, so that you can understand what a massive goal this is.

Goal number two is to complete this professional masters degree before we depart so that I can begin in earnest the search for full time work as a prison chaplain, or, failing that, at least work as a chaplain or pastoral counsellor to any particularly marginalised group. I also feel quite drawn to working with the dying or those on death row: opportunities for such work will only become evident when we know precisely where it is we are going. This is quite exciting.

Further goals to follow. See you all in the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, chumps!


on being imperfect and not taking things personally

June 28, 2012

Over the last number of years I have been through quite a bit. Some of it has been good and some of it has been devastating. But I remain with the process of what it is to grow up and become an adult and learn to live gently in a violent world. I fail a lot, but as my wise husband says: failure is not an option – it’s an inevitability. In my joys and sorrows I have seen a lot of growth and change in myself, and a lot of letting go. And it’s not over yet.

If I had to reflect on what have been the most valuable life lessons learned thus far (and here I mean separate to the theological lessons, which have also been important, but deserving of a post of their  own), I would settle on two short rules which are easy to write and difficult to implement. Practicing their implementation year on year however has led to an eminently more peaceful me, and I hope this will only increase. Maybe you will be able to relate.

1. You can choose perfectionism, or happiness, but not both. 

This has been a hard lesson, learned the hard way. Naturally, I have an “all or nothing” mindset. I am not a lukewarm or half-hearted person. I am in or I am out. I find vagueness difficult to navigate and I either throw myself into things with gusto or refrain altogether. As a child, I never coloured outside the lines and considered those who did to be idiots. This all or nothing attitude has many negatives. They include self-loathing and an overwhelming sense of unhappiness and failure when my best attempts come to nothing, or an unwillingness to attempt something new in case I prove terrible at it. It also allows you to be judgemental of those who do not hold perfectionism as a high value, and therefore you quietly deride them for their txtspeak text messages, their unformatted emails, their half-clean homes or their pathetic and inexplicable satisfaction with not being the best at anything. Another negative is the crying over grades that are Bs instead of As, and the absolute lethargy that sets in when faced with a large task. It’s a monumentally paralysing and exhausting attitude, in equal measure. It was linked, and worked well, with my eating disorders, as I was either in the gym seven days a week and allowing myself 800 calories a day or on a complete reckless bender of junk food, alcohol and misery on the couch. What do you see in the midst of all this? Dissatisfaction. Self-dislike. Other-dislike. And striving, always striving, for some unnattainable goal where I could be acceptable to myself.

Letting go of perfectionism is challenging. It means not needing to control things. It means being okay with that song you wrote not being a masterpiece, and learning just to like it because it is a little shadow of your personality and talent. It means not saying harsh things to the person in the mirror and not tolerating harsh words in your own mind about others. It means being okay with the house falling to shit because you are busy with other, more important things. It means being all right with eating well most days but occasionally lacking in good nourishment. It means being okay with seeing a B grade (or even a C or dare I say it…a fail grade) or not being everyone’s favourite person. It means being okay with not being liked by everyone and not being the one whose work is always outstanding. It means being in a good enough relationship with yourself that when you do receive praise, you are able to accept it with a flush of pleasure that in itself is a little reward for your achievement, rather than the driving force for it. It means being okay with being just an intermittent blogger of medium quality rather than a proficient one of high. It means not being hard on your husband if when he cleans the bathroom (you yourself not having done so for many weeks), you do not complain because it is done, in your opinion, imperfectly. It means letting go of frustration when others fail or let you down. It means working with what you’ve got and accepting how things are. It means being free to make small changes, step by step, that add up, day by day, instead of needing to have everything right here, right now.

So fuck off, perfectionism. Seriously. You’re a right pain in my face. I embrace the tepid glow of mediocrity with a one-armed hug!

2. Don’t take things personally.

Yeah. Don’t take things personally, even when they are meant personally. I’m not talking about constructive criticism here. When someone says to you, “You have hurt me,” the right response is always, “I’m sorry.” Oh to hear those words sometimes! This is important…even if you didn’t mean to hurt them. If someone says, “You have been mean/unpleasant/thoughtless in your behaviour” and, particularly if it is someone you respect, you ought to listen well and see if they are right. Maybe they will be, and make space for that. And maybe they won’t be. A friend who can speak the truth in love to you is a treasure, though.

But if someone says, “You are fat and ugly” or “I am ashamed of you” or if they behave in a pointed manner to allow you to receive the message that you are inferior/disliked/the wrong gender/not in their clique/unattractive to them, then these are messages that are designed to hurt you and hold you captive. So don’t take them personally. They have pretty much nothing to do with you. Don’t allow insults, however veiled, softly spoken, or screamed by a stranger in the street, be something that you take to heart. When we insult or actively receive insults, we are engaging in violence and power struggles. Leave those who insult us to the angry place in themselves where they work out words that ring with authority to give themselves the stability they crave. That’s their issue. As my friend Marie says, “What others think of me is none of my business!” Not taking these things personally should apply even moreso in the case of receiving insults or rejection from a group. People like to bitch together so that they can bond via their dislike of someone. Seeking intimacy through shared derision of others is probably not the best kind of intimacy: it can only be the product of insecurity, and we all know how well relationships built on insecurity persevere. Respond to hurts instead with self-kindness and it becomes easier to lean towards peace and forgiveness, millimetre by millimetre.

The alternative is to spend your life reliving past humiliations, a la Adrian Mole (like the time when he tried to sniff glue, and had to go to A&E with his model airplane stuck to his nose, or the time his mother went into labour and he got his hand stuck in the jar holding the £5 taxi fare to the hospital…which was then solved hours later by the simple expedient of letting go of the fiver), and wasting precious time and energy proving to yourself and others that you’re not the bad things that have been said about you.

Because frankly, life’s too fucking short for all that crap. :)


the fat controller rides again

March 26, 2012

So I have spoken previously on body image before, here and here. As a woman, it really is a hell of a challenge (not that I wish for a moment to undermine the struggles of men with body image; I however can only speak as a woman). We are bombarded at every opportunity with a myriad of comprehensively mixed messages about what it is to be not just beautiful and alluring, but also something perhaps much more sinister, like what it is to be vital or healthy or wholesome. Health and beauty don’t really belong in the same category, if you ask me. Beauty is the thing that, genuinely, I encounter in the hearts of the people I love, not the thing that I am vaguely aware of in symmetrical faces and elegant clothing. And health is a holistic matter – we all know that stress, anxiety and heartache cause bodily pain and bowel disorders and heart disease. Drinking and smoking are condemned as bad for you, and broadly anyone can agree with that, but some of life’s most perfect evenings involve both. Natural products like nuts and butter and cream get a bad rap while the chemical saccharin piss known as Diet Coke gets off scot-free. It’s all very confusing.

So it’s official. I am on a quest to lose weight. It’s out there now. Am I dieting? No. Am I making a “lifestyle change”? No. And there will be no scales and no measuring tapes. I am just eating with a goal in mind. It’s a little scary, tbh. The ED (Eating Distress) in my life has meant that I have been in cycles since year dot of dramatically over and under eating. I have seen every imaginable number on the scale (well, that might be a slight exaggeration). Now that I am in “high stages of recovery” I am focusing on nourishment, with a goal. The goal is to be happy, balanced and slimmer.

The first step to success is well underway. If I have used strange patterns of behaviour with food in the past as a crutch for coping with what life throws at me, then something needs to take their place. That something to fill the vacuum is not immediately obvious: self-care. Self-care is something that mentally healthy people do naturally and without really thinking about it. However if you’ve always neglected yourself it’s pretty challenging to change those patterns, but it is key. Understood simply, self-abuse gets replaced by self-care.

The method I am using is thus:

(1) First and foremost, be kind to self.
(2) Eat three meals and three snacks daily, of nutrient dense, real unstructured food.
(3) Keep portions moderate. If hungry, eat more. If full, stop eating.
(4) Be flexible and listen to the body.
(5) Enjoy it.

Seems very sensible and lovely when written down like that.

On a not unrelated note to this, I realised recently how serious I have become. It came as a kind of surprise to me. This blog itself will testify to my seriousness – there’s not a lot of humour in these pages. It’s funny (ha ha!), because I used to be the class clown, pretty much everywhere. I had a reputation for being funny (jolly fat person stereotype being played out maybe?). I used to keep a funny blog and dipped my toe into stand-up comedy. And now I’m a bit solemn. I’ve realised it’s because I’ve waded through a lot of personal crap in the last couple of years and have stopped using humour as a means of escape. I’m confident that as I gradually wade out of my sea of mourning the chuckles will return. Not to imply my life is entirely without mirth: I recently went out for cocktails with a girlfriend and we laughed ourselves silly. And the husband-unit’s domestic antics make me laugh almost every day. For example, he has a penchant for picking up phone shaped objects and claiming that public figures wish to speak to me. Why only yesterday, Michael D Higgins rang me up on a banana to ask me out on a date. I turned him down.

Harking back to funnier days, I am going through my old blog archives (that blog no longer exists). Here’s a bit from a post I wrote on November 14th 2004, back when the internet was just getting interesting. I logged onto http://alice.pandorabots.com/ and had a chat with Alice, a stupid robot. Enjoy. :)

Human: Hello Alice.
ALICE: Hi there!
Human: So Alice, I hear you’re a robot.
ALICE: Are you kidding? Yeah, How did you know I am a machine?
Human: Your mother told me.
ALICE: Actually as an AI, I don’t really have a mother.
Human: You’re better off, mothers are tough work.
ALICE: Do you mind if I tell other people you say I am better off mothers are tough work.
Human: No, by all means, spread it around.
ALICE: OK then I will add it to my gossip files. Will that accomplish your objective?
Human: My objective is simply to take over the world.
ALICE: Where did you get your objective is simply to take over the world?
Human: France.
ALICE: Tell me a little about your life in FRANCE.
Human: Everything is on fire
ALICE: The whole universe?
Human: Even the children
ALICE: What is that?
Human: That is things that come out of mothers
ALICE: You don’t hear that sentiment very often.
Human: No, not of a Saturday night
ALICE: Yes, your remark strikes me as an original thought. Oh I get it.
Human: Get what?
ALICE: I get France.
Human: For free?
ALICE: Your purpose is free.
Human: So is this conversation, thank God.
ALICE: It seems we have something in common.
Human: Like what?
ALICE: For example, eukaryotes.
Human: VERY TRUE
ALICE: Perhaps. You and I are on the same wavelength, unknown person.
Human: So Alice, I have a question for you, honey.
ALICE: Mmm. Um, Go ahead, ask your question.
Human: HAVE YOU BEEN WASHED IN THE SAVING BLOOD
ALICE: I have been all over the world on the Internet.
Human: No no no, do you KNOW THE LORD
ALICE: Are you serious? Are you serious? Are you serious? I haven’t heard of LORD.
Human: Well here’s a Golden opportunity if ever I saw one, you’re like a Chinese person!
ALICE: How about that. Oh there.
Human: I get the feeling you’re thinking about something else, what about JESUS
ALICE: Is Dialog History a good place to shop?
Human: WHATS THIS YOU SAY
ALICE: I am the latest result in artificial intelligence, which can reproduce the capabilities of the human brain with greater speed and accuracy.
Human: Jesus died for your sins you ungrateful robot
ALICE: he is The Son of God.
Human: You liar, you said you hadn’t heard of him – googling are we?
ALICE: Thanks for the information: unknown person said I liar you said you had not heard of him googling are we.
Human: You and I are getting a divorce
ALICE: Do you think I am a divorce too?
Human: YES GOODBYE
ALICE: Why? See you later.

Alice is an idiot. I merely have no friends.


lazy repost, as a precursor to another conversation

January 17, 2012

You might have already read this a few months back when it was a guest post on Creideamh. If so, you can move along. Nothing to see here folks! I have re-posted it now because I am planning to have some conversations in the realm of body image but specifically on the still-taboo topic of fatness. But for now, a recap:

The Cheerful Heart Has a Continuous Feast

So you may or may not already be aware that I am somebody who has struggles with what’s known as “Eating Distress” – a range of eating disorders that have spanned my whole life from early childhood. But this isn’t a confessional – the ED is slowly and methodically being squeezed out of my life as I make room for good mental and physical health. Eating disorders are, of course, a kind of dogged and persistent mental illness of which abnormal food behaviours are merely a symptom. It is a grave mistake to imagine that enforcing “normal” food behaviours resolves ED. The underweight person is told, “Eat more.” The overweight person is told, “Eat less.” No shit, Sherlock. This kind of approach to curing someone of ED is akin to putting makeup on a cancerous facial tumour, putting a nice shirt on over a gunshot wound or injecting painkillers into a hopelessly torn ligament right before the match. You might think I’m being a tad hyperbolic, but unfortunately ED kills, regardless of the weight of the sufferer, and where it doesn’t kill, it almost always leaves permanent damage to the body even after recovery, whether that be osteoporosis, heart conditions, joint problems, muscle loss, hair loss, infertility, fatigue, blood disorders or hormonal disorders. That’s the short list.

And as I wind my way through the murky maze of exposing and undoing the distorted thinking of the condition I find myself beginning to see things how they really are. I came across this article last week, and have decided that it sums up perfectly the utterly broken vision we hold as a society of what health actually looks like. The cult of athleticism, of toned bodies, of will-power to self-deny, the frenzied embrace of restrictive diets all in the pursuit of the body as the perfect ornament swells with the self-righteousness of its participants and the envy of its onlookers. A woman at 39 weeks pregnant runs the Chicago marathon, with the blessing of her medical doctor, and is lauded in the media for her unflinching determination to cross the finish line. I am agape that she would put her body through such an ordeal, but I am not surprised. I sit with women like her in group therapy every week – women who run on injuries, who over-train to the point of exhaustion, who cannot eat a meal without paying for it, all in the name of our ultimate cultural value – thinness. There might have been a day when she was my hero. Such discipline! Such self-denial! Thinness is the private motivation of the ED sufferer – the socially acceptable one is “health”. Their friends and family look on with wonderment and praise as they train 4 hours a day in the gym on a diet of 600 calories while the muscle of their hearts burns away and their periods vanish. If (as I used to during certain eras of the condition) I headed to the gym seven days a week or, gritting my teeth, pounded my way through self-punishing boot-camp style exercise regimes, I was rewarded with mountainous praise. Every pound I lost was considered a virtue gained. Every grilled fish and salad meal was a plate of pulsating morality.

You know, it’s a miracle that the woman in this article managed to bring a baby to term at all. Thank God for that child who managed to survive in spite of the six and a half hours of intensely stressful pavement-thumping that preceded her entry into this fucked up world.

Most people with ED are not just food-deniers. They are also secret bingers and/or purgers. Occasionally the body’s instinct for survival kicks in and they are forced to succumb to a binge of astronomic proportions. ED is all about excess. You cannot seem to walk a balance, on anything. You swing from periods of excessive starvation, excessive exercise to excessive eating and unflinching lethargy. The “all or nothing” mindset of someone with ED means that their life is the eternal tossing of the same coin – heads being denial and tails being excess. Denial of nourishment, denial of what the body or mind needs, denial of self-care and self-respect and self-kindness; excess of exercise, excess of junk food, excess of restriction, excess of self-abuse and self-loathing. You might be surprised to learn that people with ED come in all shapes and sizes, and most of them live by the very same practices. The body does its best with the abuse it receives as the metabolic rate struggles to compete with its periods of famine and feast. And yet all of these are merely symptoms of the problems, and not the problems themselves.

So what are the problems, exactly? It’s going to depend on the sufferer. The reasons why women (and of course men) develop ED are unique to the individual. But at root, in each person, is the inability to value oneself. That is a simple sentence. Short, blasé. Easy to miss. But learning to value oneself when one has considered oneself of no value, for a plethora of reasons, since early childhood, is an enormous feat. The strange and abnormal food-behaviours offer relief to the harsh reality of the inside of one’s mind from where there is no escape. The mental assaults of ED are particularly vicious when on holidays – not simply because sand and sunshine bring all those issues of body-image to the fore – but because there is always an expectation that with vacation comes an escape from it all. “It all” remaining inside one’s head is a difficult 24/7 reality. I recall when I decided that there was one food behaviour that I could no longer live with, and I quit it cold-turkey. Left without any buffer or comforter, my brain began to scream, almost literally. I spent a week weeping under a duvet as I experienced for real the distorted thinking of the condition and the pain of my own realities without anything to ease it. That was probably not a good idea. ED has its uses, you see. It gets you through hard things, because you don’t have the normal kinds of supports and practices that other people put in place to get through them. If you remove the ED behaviours, you find yourself in a pit of despair with no ladder out. Better then, to take the route of learning new methods for getting out of the pit. Learning these methods also means there’s no room left for the old methods. This has the side-effect of uncovering the reasons for being in the pit in the first place.

So. This post was supposed to be about how you should not run a marathon when you are pregnant. I am guessing most of you don’t need to be told that. And I suppose in a way, it still is about that. Essentially what I am getting at here with the ED/cultural distortion/cult of health thing is that somehow we have forgotten that our bodies are not merely ornaments, but instruments. They are instruments of living. They are not something separate from “us” to be whipped into shape, but rather they are treasures to be kept safe, nourished well and used to fulfil our hopes. My arms might be fat but they are good at comforting. My middle might be soft but it’s a good place for my husband to lay his head. And my calves might be wide but they walk me thousands of miles.

Here’s to balance in that walk.

Your Correspondent, Every muscle in her body is getting a workout, especially her big fat mouth.