coping mechanisms

Let’s Talk Regression

statregressionlollipop(No, not that kind of regression. I’m studying English. I don’t even know what that kind of regression means.) 

As some of you who have gathered from the amount I complain about writing final papers for university on this blog, I am still working my way through a college degree. On the other hand, I’ve only got one semester left to go (Know any good jobs for a highly qualified English and Creative Writing major, fluent in French and with tons of experience on social media and internet writing? Email me!), since I’m back home again for the holiday season. And you know what Hallmark, Lifetime, and Perry Cuomo have to say about being home for the holidays: apparently there’s no place like it.

But this is my fourth year of coming home for the holidays from college, and I’m beginning to notice a pattern. I wouldn’t call hanging out at my childhood home with my siblings and my parents relapse-inducing. My family has been more supportive of me than anybody else in the world, and I know that I’m way luckier than many in that respect. It’s not a relapse, per se, because I’m not engaging in behaviors any more than I would if I were spending the holidays at my campus apartment with my lovely roommate.

I just find myself having thoughts and emotions that I thought I’d left behind me years ago.

Maybe it’s the environment. Sleeping in my bedroom kind of brings me back to the way things used to be when I was seventeen or eighteen, during the worst times I spent with anorexia. Obviously, I’m much healthier both physically and mentally than I was in 2010. But I’m catching myself engaging in way more negative self-talk in my childhood zip code than in my young-adulthood town.

“You haven’t worked out since Thursday. What are you doing? Seriously?” (My negative self-talk voice has never been particularly interested in the fact that there’s currently seven inches of snow on the ground. God bless you, Michigan winters.)

“Yes, you’re baking cookies for the holidays. That can be fun. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat them, does it?” 

“Whoa, remember last time you were home? You’re up a solid xxx pounds from then. Slob. Look at how your pants are fitting.”

Whoa there, negative self-talk voice. Wasn’t this supposed to be the season of peace and brotherly love?

This is totally me this holiday season… Sorry not sorry.

This is totally me this holiday season… Sorry not sorry.

Now, I will say that I’ve made progress this holiday season, especially if we’re looking in the long-term to how I used to spend Christmakkuh about two or three years ago. I’ve eaten some of those cookies. (Dark chocolate crackle cookies with white chocolate chips. Om nom nom nom.) I’ve worked out, but not desperately, and I’m picking up a gym membership so I can go with my older sister, rather than doing preventative crunches in the basement. And while I might sit down and cry every so often (hey, I’m a cryer! That’s what we do), it’s not debilitating. I can still enjoy myself, and I am so glad to be home.

But it’s strange, that’s all, arriving at the vacation I’ve been waiting for all this time, only to find myself faced with body-image issues and negative self-talk that I just didn’t have time to engage in while trying to finish four research papers and a final exam in seven days. That’s the one positive side to exams: they keep your mind busy, so you can’t allow it to wander off to other, less-productive behaviors.

I’m trying to keep myself busy and to be gentle with myself for the three or so weeks I’ll be here at home. I’ve taken up knitting again with a vengeance – with two newborn babies in my family, I’ll have plenty of reasons to knit adorably small items of clothing in pastel colors. I’ve checked out the first version of In Search of Lost Time by Proust, because one of my life’s goals has been for a few years to be one of those people who have read Proust. And Netflix will be my best friend, as I work through my queue. (Has anyone seen House of Cards? It’s next on the list!)

Still, I’m not sure that constant activity is the best way to fight against these feelings of regression. I’d love to be able to spend an afternoon doing nothing more than sitting on the couch, petting my dog, and hanging out with my family without the evil negative voices coming back. That’ll be something to work for, I’m sure, though it might not happen today, or even this week. We’ll have to see.

Have you had similar experiences returning to spend time with family, either over the holidays or for any other reason? What are your best strategies for coping with voices you’d thought you’d left behind? I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, I’ve got twelve episodes of New Girl that I can probably make a sizable dent in before the end of the day.

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Implementing Self-Care Without Guilt

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Well, I’m sure you’ve all been wondering how I’ve been passing my time for the past week and a half or so. And if you haven’t, that’s fine; all I’m asking is for you to humor me. The answer, in any case: not so badly as you might have thought.

After a whirlwind trip through the city of London, I’ve settled down in my little Northern Irish town for the next month, to meet with professional poets and playwrights and pound out a novella of my own in time to present to an international conference of writers at the end of July. Talk about pressure. My jet-lagged brain isn’t even quite awake enough to process all of this.

Traveling abroad has been a wonderful experience. Should I just list for you the famous graves I’ve seen since last Friday? Henry V. Richard II. Elizabeth I. Charles Dickens. Mary, Queen of Scots. Sir Isaac Newton. Edward the Confessor. Brian Borù, allegedly. Tons of ancient Irish chieftains from the 1st century BC. HENRY THE FIFTH.

So yeah. This has been happening to me IN REAL LIFE.

So yeah. This has been happening to me IN REAL LIFE.

But traveling is by no means an easy deal. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and that means that I’m starting to learn what exactly I need to do to take care of myself when the going gets stressful. And living in one room with four other girls for the next month, and having a deadline to write a whole novella in essentially three and a half weeks, and being social and friendly and cheerful with a group of fifteen other people that I’d never even heard of before June 28…

Well, the going’s gotten a bit stressful.

I’ve written about coping mechanisms before, but this is one of those days that I’m really beginning to put them in practice. Now that we’re staying at a hostel, I’m able to cook dinners for myself, which is incredibly refreshing. No more shelling out fifteen pounds for deep-fried fish and chips (which, I’ll admit, were glorious and salty and delicious) when I can stay in and make a bowl of whatever sounds good to me at the time.

I also know how much sometimes I need to pull away and take a few quiet hours when constantly making small-talk and being “on point” starts to get to me; in fact, I’m doing that now. Sometimes taking a mental health break and lying down on your bed with your laptop blogging about something extremely personal can be just the refreshing moment that you need.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the guilt of living does not entirely go away. I made a point, as I said earlier, of only packing my “travel-sized eating disorder,” and so far it’s only been big enough to pack into a carry-on. There was a brief hiccup when I had a late-night gelato run and then found myself in the ancient “voices in my head” runaround. There have been times when I’m absolutely convinced that my stomach has grown to twice its normal size, and then there have been days when I’m sure my brand-new pants fit looser than they used to.

But the point is, I have these moments, and then they’re gone.

Case in point: we had our welcome dinner for the writers’ program this evening at a pub downtown. The menu included an alcoholic beverage of our choosing, an entree, and a dessert. Now, dessert is ordinarily simultaneously the meaning and the bane of my existence. I could live solely off of frozen yogurt, chocolate bars, and scones, if it weren’t for the crippling guilt that yanks the rug out from under me whenever I indulge.

OHMYGOD SCONES

OHMYGOD SCONES

But I had dessert this evening. And an entree that involved fries (well, chips, if we’re being technical). And a small Guinness, because this is Northern Ireland, after all.

And you know what?

I’m a little uncomfortable about it.

Not everything is perfect. I didn’t expect everything to be perfect.

But I can deal with it. I can reassure myself that I get to cook whatever I want for dinner tomorrow, and that this is a special occasion. People are not frequently buying me cheesecake free of charge and paying for my beer, so I may as well enjoy this while I can.

Plus, I’m living on top of a giant steep hill for the next month. If hiking that multiple times a day isn’t exercise, then I don’t know what is.

I might wish I’d made “safer” choices for dinner this evening, but what would have been the fun in that? I wanted the garlic chips and the cheesecake, and I’ll put up with the feelings of guilt and the slight confused rumbling in my stomach for the evening.

And I might wish that I’d gone out this evening with the other members of my program and been happy and social and put on a false front of excessive cheerfulness. But I know that sometimes I just need to be alone and in bed, and I’ll be much better for it in the morning.

And knowing what I need and having the strength to act on it?

That sounds pretty perfect to me.