With mental health, it’s the small wins that are often the most significant.
Thats because it takes a lot to make those wins. It takes one comment from a loving relative, one joke at a dinner table – ‘Be careful, you need to fit into a bridesmaid’s dress!’ – to set what was a slowing spiral back on its breakneck course. You go back to measuring yourself daily, weighing food portions, and working so hard your appetite is gone by the time you get home. You can’t bring it up though, because then you get labeled oversensitive.
The gaming starts up slowly again.
Recovery is about daily victories. Sometimes it’s a spoonful, sometimes a bowl, other days, if you’re really lucky, a feast. One day of eating like a normal (middle class normal anyway) human being is not going to make you balloon, but it’s hard explaining that to a brain preoccupied with the minutiae.
I never started this blog as a recovery blog; writer’s block set in again when I tasked my brain with keeping my body alive. It’s been trying to kill me for so long, and I can finally admit that without feeling the need to add a caveat that I’m not insane. I am, a little. How can I not be when I speak to my matryoshka mental health problems as naughty younger siblings? But I keep writing here because sometimes the process of becoming isn’t beautiful, or beautifully phrased. Sometimes it’s a crock of shit, and I have to be honest about that too.
I was 10 when an uncle passed a comment about the thickness of my thighs, and that’s when I realised my body wasn’t like my other cousins’.
I was 12 when I asked for seconds at dinner and my stepfather responded I should look in the mirror before asking for more.
I was 14 when my stepsister asked me to stretch her jeans. My older sisters treated me like their chubby project to fix. I have a cousin who says my legs are stumpy. I had friends who didn’t hit early puberty like me, and so found my new body probably weirder than I did. My mother would take me shopping and I would cry in fitting rooms, pull my own hair out, and scratch myself, never being able to find clothes that fit my hips, seeing a troll in the mirror that I was sure everyone laughed at constantly. Even our family nanny constantly comments on my weight loss or gain. My body is everyone’s property but mine.
I never noticed when my weight started dropping, in fact I’ve never been able to notice. I cannot see myself. I can only tell by the fit of my clothes. And yet, despite all this self hate and harm, I find fat shaming repugnant, and hate seeing others go through what I went through. My hate is self directed, and I’ve long realised the issue wasn’t about weight – at least, not entirely.
As I’ve said before, the root is always in other people and their opinions of me, and the right so many people in my life think they have to comment on every detail of my being. I spent most of university covered in baggy pants and skirts and jackets to hide myself away (and to avoid changing rooms). I used to enjoy deciding what to wear in the morning, choosing my daily armor, but mostly these days it’s a fight to make it out the door without having a total meltdown. I check the mirror five times before I leave. I measure almost every day now, at least until the spiral slows again. And every time a man passes a salacious comment in the street I have to fight the urge to burst into angry tears. I do not want to be seen.
I do not want to be a body, I have only been a body. I was a body to my rapist, I was a body to mocking friends, I was a body to trashy boys with hormones for brains who thought treating me as a conquest was a way to cultivate mutual respect. I was a body to the guy who would throw a blanket over me and force his hands into my underwear with his friends in the room, thinking his violence made him a big man. My body has only ever been the source of my humiliation.
Recovery is a process. I am learning that to recover from this destructive relationship with myself I have to recognize its relationship to a host of other traumas I consistently assume I’m ‘over’, despite my own family or friends not even knowing about them. I’m open about my mental health because I think I should be; people make the dangerous assumption that you cannot equally be a mess and seem to have it all figured out. For example, anyone who’s been hangry knows what havoc it wreaks on your mood. Imagine that amplified, constantly having mood swings and feeling like your reactions to things are irrational and not being able to explain why to people because you feel like you’re making excuses. That kind of cycle of blame would make a steel turbine crack.
I am trying day by day, fork by fork, meltdown by meltdown, to rebuild – as hard, selfish, messy, and slow as that can be. I want to rebuild because I cannot let my own destruction be an excuse for hurting others. And I remove myself when I think that may be the case. You have to get up, you have to get up off the mat and call it in and fight back even if fighting back is a glass of water and three hours of staring into space. You have to. And I have to. I’m going to be someone’s mother one day – I know I will be – and I have to learn to be strong now, and to fight the world’s cruelty now, because one day I won’t just be doing it for myself.
I will invite neither criticism nor vanity into my child’s body image. I will not deny food for bad behaviour and dress fittings, or teach them that their body is not enough for play, for thought, for love. I will not allow strangers or loved ones to criticize them or even comment on their bodies, and for every schoolyard bully and trashy lover with a toxic mouth and violent words I will remind them that their wellbeing, their joy in beautiful things, their appreciation and respect for self and other, matters so much goddamn more than the needle edge of a scale.
Teach your children that they are transient, and transcendent, and more than the clumsy composition of flesh and clay that carries them through this plane of existence. Tell them, and teach them, only this: ‘Your soul is weightless, my love, and it can soar.’