positivity

Confessions of a Reformed Yogi

yoga sunset

If yoga is supposed to be about getting in touch with yourself and developing inner peace, for years I was doing it wrong.

Some teachers say that there’s no “wrong” way to do yoga. Modifications and adaptations are all ways of listening to your body wants, and if you’re moving in a genuine expression of what you’re feeling, that’s no less valid than someone who can execute a perfect flying bakasana ten times out of ten. I agree with this. But these yogis weren’t talking about yoga practice the way I was doing it.

I began practicing yoga in the fall of 2011, through a reasonably priced and well-taught program at my university’s gym. I met with a fabulous teacher twice a week who put me through the paces of a vinyasa flow, starting gently and moving into longer sequences of postures. It felt great, especially as at this point I was trying to find a way to exercise while having been forbidden to run or do vigorous cardio. Yoga, it seemed, was the perfect solution to get a workout while leaving my running shoes at home.

Yes, I fell prey to the “yoga body fantasy.” If I spent enough time in downward-facing dog, if I did enough sun salutations, I would finally be able to get the slim, toned, perfect body I had spent so much time running trying to obtain. And even if the results weren’t immediate, at least it was a way of burning calories and toning my muscles instead of sitting on the couch and turning into a fat slob. Which, obviously, would happen within weeks, and would be irreversible. [*sarcasm abounds*]

My teacher told me that yoga was a mental, physical, and spiritual unity. My eating disorder told me it was a cardio workout.

I missed out on so much during these early practices. I focused only on the standing, high-intensity postures and loved the feeling of my leg muscles burning during warrior poses. I once did sun salutation after sun salutation not to get lost in the rhythm of mind-body movement but because it made me sweat and I couldn’t work up the motivation to go for a run. I scorned seated postures and worked every practice to the max. Come hell or high water, my inner perfectionist commanded, I would be the best damn yogi in that room.

Not exactly the best recipe for inner peace.

About a year ago, my recovery from my eating disorder actually took off, and my body began to undergo physical changes. In yoga, a practice so highly intertwined with an awareness of one’s body, where full-body scans are a normal practice, changes in body size create changes in the whole experience. And for me, these changes were almost traumatizing.

I hated the way my belly rested against my thigh when I moved into revolved side angle pose (put aside the fact that revolved side angle pose looks like this, and pretty much requires placing one’s belly on one’s thigh). Shoulder stand was agonizing as my shirt would slide up my chest, revealing the (so I saw) enormous fat rolls cascading towards my face. I’m sure the horrors of plow pose (with my newly-extant belly three inches from my face) need no elaboration. And let’s put aside that my yoga studio doubled as a ballet studio, and the two side walls were covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It was, to put it lightly, not exactly a relaxing hour.

As my recovery progressed, against all reason and logic, I had to take a step back from yoga. I was treating it as a weight loss crutch, and I would leave practice more stressed-out than I entered it after seeing my stomach and thighs from every angle imaginable. For several months, I didn’t touch the mat. I missed the sound of yoga breathing in my lungs, I missed the zone I used to fall into while doing sun salutations. But I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.

Last weekend, I hit the mat again. And it was glorious.

My roommate and I visited a tiny, out-of-the-way yoga studio on the far side of town. Both of us stressed, tense, and stiff (hello, midterms, you lovely beasts, you), we decided a nice, easy, soothing practice would only be beneficial. And you know what? It was the best feeling ever. We spent most of the practice seated, practicing spinal twists and stretching, releasing tension in our muscles. Not a high-intensity vinyasa flow in sight. I didn’t come out of the practice sore and sweating.

My old self would have felt cheated and disappointed. My current self felt energized and relaxed. Stomach resting on my thigh and all.

Yoga does not have to be about obtaining the perfect body. It can be about getting in touch with the body you have now, and treating it well so that it can treat you well in the future. It can be about taking a step back from the difficulties of everyday life and remembering, if only for an hour, to breathe. Yoga is for everybody, not just the lithe models in LuluLemon ads. Even with our complicated relationship in mind, yoga can be for me again.

So body hate, you can kiss my asana.

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The Voice in the Mirror: Confronting Negative Self-Talk

Image via operationbeautiful.com

Image via operationbeautiful.com

I received a comment on one of my posts a few days ago that I can’t stop thinking about, and it made me want to address a topic that I’ve danced around a few times but have never gone into concretely.

What do you do when, even though you know that you are at a healthy weight, you can’t stop the voices from telling you otherwise? How do you take control of your own mind again?

I wish there were an easy answer to this.

The most insidious element of any eating disorder is that it takes place in your own head. One of the biggest misconceptions about EDs is that they’re about food: they’re not. They manifest themselves in our relationships with food, but they’re not caused by the piece of pizza sitting on the plate in front of you. They originate in our heads, and once they take root they’re incredibly difficult to get rid of. How many of you have heard that whispering voice in your head, when you least expect it?

You look horrible today. Take off those jeans, they make you look like a whale.

You can never be as skinny as she is, because you’re fat and you can’t stop eating.

Don’t you dare eat that. You don’t deserve it.

You’re a failure. Everything you try is a failure. Just stay in the house and don’t talk to anyone, they don’t like you anyway.

The most infuriating part about these voices? It’s almost like we’re all expected to have them. According to a semi-recent study by Glamour magazine (let’s not talk about how Glamour may or may not be perpetuating the problem and focus on the results…), a terrifying 97% of women have at least one negative thought about their body every day, with the average number of body-negative thoughts coming in at 13. That’s pretty much one negative thought for every waking hour. Oh, it’s 3:00. Time to hate my body again.

What are these negative thoughts doing for us? Only making it more difficult to live our lives to our full potential. If you’ve ever tried to drive with a nervous passenger, you know that constant judgment and critique makes you perform worse than you ordinarily would. And if you get stressed and inefficient in this basic situation, think about how much worse it becomes when you never get a break.

Ever.

Like I said, I wish there were an easy answer to reclaiming your inner thought-space. But even a year into active recovery, there are still more moments than I’d like to admit when the voices pop up again. I’m not that far off the average, let’s put it that way.

There is a difference, though, between hearing and listening.

Here are three tips for taking back control of your mental soundtrack:

1. Externalize the Demons

Remember when you were five or six years old, and your older brother would take your hand and smack it against your chest while taunting, “Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?” (I hope I’m not the only one with this childhood trauma…)

Did you believe for a second that you were actually the one causing yourself pain? Of course not. It was the external force of the antagonist hurting you, not you. Negative self-talk is the same way.

You are not the voices in your head.

Can you think of moments when you distinctly heard your own voice? Maybe it was a reaction to a book or a TV show that you love. Maybe it was how you felt in a conversation with a loved one. Maybe it’s the gentle drift of consciousness you slip into while laying in the sun doing absolutely nothing. Get to know this voice. Recognize it when you hear it. And then recognize when you don’t.

Some people find it helpful to name their negative voices to see them as detached from themselves. Jenni Schaefer uses this strategy in her book Life Without Ed, to great success. It’s not you that’s insulting you, it’s the voice of your eating disorder, which Schaefer called “Ed” for the obvious reason. For most people, it’s easier to reject being insulted by someone else than to challenge your own cognitions.

Personally, I never found naming the voice helpful, though it does work for many. However, I do have an image of a person in my mind to whom I associate my negative thought-track. I know exactly what my eating disorder would look like, if it were a person. This might sound weird, and heaven forbid I ever meet someone who looks like this, but it’s helpful in creating distance between self-care and self-destruction.

You are not your eating disorder. Step one is learning to tell the difference.

2. Pay Attention

Remember when I said earlier that eating disorders are not about food, but food is a manifestation of a different psychological problem? Negative self-thought, likewise, is not caused by there being something actually wrong with your body. It’s a manifestation of emotions that takes itself out on your body. And that’s not fair.

Notice what you’re doing when your negative voices come into play. What else is going on in your life? Are you taking on a lot of new projects at work? Is there an illness or another stressful event going on with your friends or family? Are you nervous about work, family, responsibility, being judged by others? Are you sleeping enough? Are you physically feeling ill?

I used to reject this advice out of hand, because I thought it made me sound hysterical and irrational. Obviously it’s about my body, I would tell myself, I’m not making this up! I feel fat and out of control and horrible because I am fat and out of control and horrible.

But with a little distance and mindfulness, I’m starting to notice patterns. When is my negative self-talk the worst? During big transitional moments. Travel. Beginning of the university semester. Moving. Family illness. New responsibilities. Any time I think I’m not going to be able to measure up. And so I take that stress out in the easiest way I know how: body hatred.

That’s not fair. And it’s impossible to deal with an issue if you’re avoiding it.

Not that the solution is easy in any case, but it helps to be working on the right problem.

3. Learn to Say No

This can mean many things in recovery. Learning to say no to ED behaviors. Learning to say no to others who want to take advantage of you, and to take control of your own choices. But in this case, we need to learn to say no to the voices in our head.

Sometimes out loud, if necessary.

Often, when we get caught up in mental negativity, it’s almost impossible to find the off switch. The spiral of thoughts goes on and on, getting darker and darker, until soon you feel so terrible about yourself that you don’t even want to get out of bed. One thought builds on another, until they’ve formed an unbreakable chain of horrible things.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Negative thoughts are powerful, but they can be stopped.

Just say “no.”

No, I am not going to listen to you today.

No, you’re wrong, there is nothing wrong with me.

No, I do deserve to eat, because you have to eat to be alive.

No, I am beautiful.

It’s not always appropriate to say these things out loud (it might look weird at a dinner party, for instance), but it’s helpful to hear your own voice if at all possible. Your voice is the real one that you can hear with your ears. It exists. The voices in your head? Not real. Why would you listen to something that doesn’t really exist?

If you can’t vocally throw a wrench in the works of negative self-talk, try movement. When I’m eating out (still difficult sometimes) and get stuck in self-doubt, I like to shake my head quickly, just to myself. It can look like it’s part of a conversation, or just a little shiver, but I know what it means. It means no, I’m not going to listen to what I’m hearing. I don’t need to believe it. No. You’re wrong.

You are a human being with your own beliefs, opinions, and knowledge about the world. You are allowed to disagree with people who are saying things you know to be wrong. And that includes yourself.

Progress is slow, and it’s difficult, and often it’s two steps forward and one step back.

But hopefully someday, the only voices any of us will be hearing will be our own.

A Whole New World: Traveling in Recovery

stock-footage-view-out-airplane-window

I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately.

Well, technically I’m not sure if it’s nostalgia or déjà vu, but I don’t really know how to turn “déjà vu” into an adjective, so let’s go with nostalgia.

About this time last year, I was preparing to leave the country for the very first time, on an eight-week study abroad program in France. (Actually, I had left the country before, but since I live in the northern US and my “abroad” experience was Canada, somehow it didn’t feel like it counted.) Amid the packing and calling the bank to remind them not to turn off my debit card, which would in effect leave me penniless and force me to turn into a quasi-Gavroche from Les Misérables, there was a whole different wave of nervousness I was trying to deal with.

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How was I supposed to eat abroad?

For someone worried about their intake, strategically restricting themselves to a handful of “safe” foods, throwing myself into the center of haute cuisine wasn’t stepping outside my comfort zone so much as taking my comfort zone, placing it in the middle of the Champs-Elysées, and letting after-work traffic drive all over it.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored France. I was insufferable after I returned home, starting far too many sentences with “When I was in Europe,” or “The French do this so much better.” This Buzzfeed article? Story of my life. Not proud of it, but at least I’m honest.

But I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my energy on being worried about what I was eating.

Study abroad was both an eye-opening and difficult time for me, both on a general level and in terms of my eating disorder. I had amazing experiences (I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN) and difficult ones; I had more than one Skype call hone that ran more or less like this:

Me: “I can’t do this. I’m eating dessert all the time and I can’t exercise because I’m constantly in class or seeing beautiful French scenery and historical monuments, and I’m going to come back five hundred pounds heavier and this is awful.”
My parents: “…Did you just hear what you said?”
Me: “That I’m eating desserts and going to French classes and historical sites and cities and it’s horrible?
My parents: “Yeah. That.”
Me: “Yes. And I mean it.”

I’m not trying to be glib about it, but the amount of energy I put into worrying about things completely out of my control was exhausting. My eating disorder came with me on my trip abroad, and it sucked some of the joy out of it that I could have had.

Not all. But some.

Haven't tried these yet? Run, don't walk.

Haven’t tried these yet? Run, don’t walk.

I still discovered a taste for French pastries, like the ubiquitous, affordable, and oh-so-delicious macaron. I tried steak tartare, which is… well, which is raw hamburger. (Surprisingly, tastes like cold pasta sauce. Not terrible.) My host mother taught me how to make chocolate mousse by hand, which is both easy and incredible-tasting.

But the time I spent worrying about the weight I might have been gaining could have been spent so much more productively.

And being so careful and nervous about how I was eating while abroad actually only set me farther back.

This was one year ago Sunday. Thursday, a few months shy of one year into recovery, I get a second chance.

Thursday afternoon, I’m heading back to the airport for my second trip abroad, this time to London and Northern Ireland. I’ll be studying creative writing with international professors and students from across the United States, and attending an international writers’ conference the last week of July. If this sounds like something I came up with in a fever dream, well, that’s my feeling too. I’m even going to see Macbeth at the Globe.

Let’s type that one more time: I’M GOING TO SEE MACBETH AT THE GLOBE.

And this time, I’m going to be far more discriminating with my packing.

Umbrella: check. Scarves and long pants: check. Electrical outlet converter and camera: check.

Eating disorder? I think I’ll leave that at home.

I’m not kidding myself that it’ll be perfect this go-around. I still have issues shaking up my daily food routine, though I’ve learned how to better manage my discomfort. I’ve been relying on an exercise routine to make myself feel comfortable, which I doubt will be feasible while strolling the streets of London and visiting the tombs of Chaucer, Spenser (I hate Spenser, but I’ll let that slide), Tennyson, and Dickens at Westminster Abbey. But I trust myself at this point to see the relative value of five pounds verses the grave of my literary hero and historical crush Chaucer.

The image in my head is of those travel-sized tubes of toothpaste that you’re still allowed to bring on the plane, despite the paranoia of the TSA. There’s still a small potential for danger there, but as long as it’s three fluid ounces or less, the damage possible is highly manageable. If I am going to bring the baggage of an eating disorder, I’m only packing the travel-size version. Pretty tough to ruin an entire vacation with a problem that can fit in the palm of your hand.

It’s not going to be as easy as it might be for someone who has never struggled with issues around weight and eating.

But I’m going to have my high tea in foggy London town and eat it too.

*****

A brief side note to this post:

Given that I’ll be traveling through the United Kingdom from Thursday until the very end of July, updates to The Body Pacifist will not be as frequent as they have been previously. I’m leaving the country for a creative writing fellowship, so while my  Microsoft Word will be flexing its muscles pretty regularly, I don’t know how much time I’ll have to spare.

Never fear, however: I hope to update at least a couple of times while I’m away, and when I return at the end of this literary sabbatical I’ll be back with enthusiasm aplenty to continue writing.

Don’t miss me too much.

Or, if you like, do. My self-esteem would enjoy it 🙂

Serenity, Peace, and Cake: A Recovery Story

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Some of you who have been with me for a little while are pretty well acquainted with my recovery process. You’ve listened to me rant about the uselessness of doctors, therapists, and nutritionists, you’ve listened to me bang my head against the wall as the number on my scale continued to defy logic and science, you’ve listened to me work my way through triggering situations and try to wrap my head around the recovery process. Sometimes, when you put all these moments together, it seems like recovery is more trouble than it’s worth. But I can tell you this:

RECOVERY IS WORTH EVERY MOMENT YOU SPEND ON IT.

There’s so much negativity wrapped up in anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, body dysmorphia, EDNOS, and all other disordered eating behaviors in between, that it gets difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I began trolling the Internet for resources for people in my stage of recovery (not that kind of trolling. I’m not one of those people), everything I could find was, mood-wise, on par with a re-reading of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Thought-provoking and important, but not helpful when you’re looking for somebody to lift you up.

Well, I’m here to tell you today, I feel myself lifted. It does get better.

I am in recovery. And I’m farther along than you might think.

The event sparking this dramatic pronouncement is a pretty banal one, one that pretty much everybody experiences a few times a year barring those with severe gluten allergies, religious restrictions, or relatives who don’t like to bake: the birthday cake. June 6 was my dad’s 53rd birthday. And I baked him a cake.

That’s not particularly noteworthy in and of itself, if I’m being honest. Since last summer, I consider myself an improvisational baker. I enjoy pulling out the bags of flour and sugar and the adorable little jars of vanilla extract and whipping up something strange and delicious for my family while I’m at home for the summer. I quickly volunteer to provide things for the bake sales my student organizations at college put on every few weeks. Let’s be totally honest about my previous baking experience, however: I bake things. I don’t eat them.

Apparently this practice is not as uncommon or strange in those with eating disorders as I’d thought. I wish I’d read this article about linkage between cooking and eating disorders earlier: it pretty much describes my descent into foodie-ism to a T. I felt like a crazy person setting myself up for terrible failure: my “trigger foods” almost all involve sugar and/or chocolate, and here I am filling the house with things I’m not allowed to eat? But my family would tell me how delicious things were, and I would feel good that I could pull off something as grown-up and professional as cooking. It was great that, even if I couldn’t indulge in these heavy, non-safe foods, at least I could vicariously enjoy them by seeing my family praise them.

Plus, I was notorious about taking pictures of my concoctions. One of my largest Facebook albums contains nothing but pictures of food, usually centered on a contrastingly colored plate and under ambient lighting. I’m a terrible hipster that way.

When baking something I planned on eating myself, pre-recovery me would go to websites like Cooking Light, Eating Well or Weight Watchers and paw through recipes for that ideal 100-calorie-a-serving air-and-egg-whites dessert that I would pretend was exactly what I was craving. It wasn’t, by the way: I could have eaten a whole pan of peanut butter fudge with a spoon, but I decided that strawberry cheesecake cool whip trifle was really what I wanted.

Fun fact for all those who don’t believe that processed, sugar-heavy foods have any place in a balanced, healthy diet: the longer I went without my peanut butter fudge, the more I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would waste hours daydreaming about that Reese’s Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen while eating a sugar-free Jello chocolate pudding. If that’s your idea of a healthy lifestyle, count me out. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

But back to tonight. Because my house is in a bit of an uproar at the moment (my dad’s in crunch time at work, my sister’s been sick for a week and my brother’s open house celebrating his high school graduation is this weekend), I ended up suggesting to my mother that I bake my dad’s birthday cake. And not only was I going to bake a cake, I was going to do it right. I dug into the recipe box and pulled out my grandmother’s recipe for chocolate-frosted banana cake.

In all its fabulous glory.

In all its fabulous glory.

Now, for those of you who aren’t blessed with the recipes of a Jewish grandmother, let me sum them up in two ways. 1) They are delicious. 2) They would stop the heart of each and every employee at Cooking Light. They pan out somewhere between ordinary food (“Hmm, this cake needs some sugar!”) and Paula Deen (“Add ALL THE BUTTER!”). Which is what make them so good. But for years, I would have made this cake for my dad and then quietly eaten my no-sugar-added trade-in dessert in the corner, basking in the praise of family and friends.

But not tonight.

No. Tonight I ate the cake. And I didn’t even feel bad about it.

You know why? Because chocolate-frosted banana cake is DELICIOUS.

Om nom nom nom.

Om nom nom nom.

Not only is it delicious, but it was a lot of work. You ever tried whipping up egg whites to a “soft peaks” consistency while simultaneously sifting flour and baking powder and mashing up five ripe bananas? You need more than two hands is all I’m saying.

Plus, it was my dad’s birthday, and I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a family that means more to me than just about anything. They’re my serenity. They’re my stability. They’re the only people I can make Lord of the Rings jokes to at unexpected times and expect them to follow along. If I can’t enjoy celebrating with them, who can I celebrate with?

The cake politely chilled in my stomach as sustenance and a fond memory throughout the evening, and while during recovery I’ve eaten my fair share of decadent desserts, this was one of the few that I’ve had that I neither dreaded nor was consumed with guilt over. It was a piece of cake. Life goes on.

And life has gone on. Many of you have read my Freshly Pressed post where I discussed the problems with recovery weight gain that seems to go on in blatant disregard for the laws of physics. You want to know something fantastic? For the past month going on five weeks now, my weight has been in a stable, healthy, relatively unmoving zone.

Not to say I don’t still get fluctuations up and down, but they’re small, manageable, and don’t freak me out anymore. The scary part doesn’t last forever.

Recovery is a roller coaster ride without lap bars or seat belts. It flips you upside down and you’re hanging on by your fingernails and a prayer, wondering how long the ground is going to insist on being the sky. You think you can’t go on any longer. And then, all of a sudden, everrything flips the right way around again, and you’re just flying.

And there’s a delicious slice of chocolate-frosted banana cake waiting for you when you get off the ride.

Vigilante Positivity: Coping Strategies and Relaxation

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I realized it’s been a little while since I took up a cheerful topic with you all… It’s easy enough to get caught up in negativity, especially with fantastic people like Abercrombie & Fitch running amok in society, or with every third commercial on TV advertising some pre-packaged diet plan that ships food to your doorstep (more on that later, I’m sure). Although it’s productive to focus on the negativity so that we can pinpoint things we’d like to see changed, it can be a little wearing.

And by “a little wearing,” I mean exhausting.

Whether it’s from reading the news headlines, being exposed to media that’s trying to make money off of your low self-esteem, or negativity that’s coming from within yourself, we all need strategies to pull back when things get too difficult. Taking a break from thinking about problems isn’t giving in, and it isn’t hiding. It’s so important to think about your mental health and give yourself some time to breathe, zone out, and do something you enjoy. Even President Obama still enjoys a game of pick-up basketball now and again, and if you think he doesn’t have enough to worry about…

But stepping back and relaxing is easier said than done. Sometimes negativity can seem so overwhelming that you don’t feel like you deserve to enjoy yourself, or you can’t even remember what you used to do that made you feel good. Trust me. I’ve been there. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling bad because you feel too bad to make yourself feel better.

That’s why this edition of Vigilante Positivity is about coping mechanisms.

Now, I’m sure many of you have read lists of ways to relax or to distract yourself from the urge to engage in behaviors. They’re not difficult to find: for example, you can check some out here, here, and here.

My problem was always that reading a list of ways to relax always felt disingenuous, like it was written for someone other than me. Write positive affirmations and put them in a shoebox? I was already tired of being treated like I was eight. Learn to garden? Okay, I wasn’t in a retirement home yet, and besides, my home state is notorious for being 80 degrees one day and snowing the next. I wasn’t ready to sign up to be a plant murderer.

What I’ve learned might seem like an unproductive topic for a blog post, but it’s true nonetheless: all the lists in the world won’t help you until you find what actually works for you. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and try something that feels stupid or unimportant, but no one can tell you what strategies will work for you other than yourself.

Discovering ways to help you feel good about yourself and relax is a huge step in the recovery process. I’ve gotten to know myself better since I started actively searching for things I enjoyed and evaluating what I did and why I did it. It’s a way to explore what you can do, not what you look like. And it doesn’t have to be limited to coping with eating disordered behaviors. You can use the strategies that you discover for any stressful situation. (Hello, college exam week.)

Even though I’ve just said that you need to find what works for you, I hope it might be helpful for me to share the strategies that I turn to on a regular basis when I’m stressed, sad, or overwhelmed. I’m not perfect at this; anyone who knows me will tell you that I have my days when I just want to sit around and feel sorry for myself. (I call them Wallowing Wednesdays, because I’m a sucker for alliteration.) But these strategies help. And I hope that you’ll find what you need to help you as well.

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Knitting

I know, I just said that I wasn’t in a retirement home yet. But there’s something oddly centering about having something to do with my hands but not with my mind. It’s the repetitive motion that I enjoy, and it makes it totally okay to zone out and think about nothing. I’m especially fond of knitting while watching terrible TV, because even if I am wasting three hours watching Real Housewives of New Jersey, at least I have a hat to show for it at the end.

And on a side note, I’ve been knitting relatively actively for the past three years, and last week I finished the first hat that I actually had any desire to wear myself. (I’ve been donating the rest to charity.) A sign that I’m improving? It’s fulfilling, anyway.

Netflix

This is a recent addition, because I just received a subscription for online streaming for my birthday, but this is just a more convenient rendition of a previous item: searching the Internet for free streaming of TV shows or movies. They don’t have to be of any good intellectual quality; actually, sometimes I find it’s more relaxing if they’re not. Taking an hour or two to escape from reality and enjoy someone else’s melodramatic life without being counted on to engage with the other person in any way is extremely satisfying for me.

If you’re at a loss for TV shows to lose yourself in, here are some of my personal recommendations (this is a no judgment zone, remember!): Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, The Tudors. (That last one is a recent love of mine… I’ve watched four episodes in the past two days. No judgment zone!!)

Music

I’m extremely lucky in that my mother signed me up for piano lessons when I was five and made me stick with it until I learned to love it (around age eight). Music doesn’t involve thinking in words, but it’s a completely engaging emotional experience. If you don’t play an instrument, it’s never too late to try and learn one! Listening to your favorite music is just as effective. Even if you don’t have time to really disengage and relax, listening to music during your commute or while at work, if possible, can really change your outlook. If you want to listen to something soothing, I’ve discovered fabulous hour-long YouTube mixes of classical music or instrumental world music that are great for getting rid of stress.

Sleep

Not going to lie, this is my go-to. My emotional fuse gets proportionally shorter along with how sleep-deprived I am. The less sleep I get, the smaller my personal space bubble gets, the less patience I have for anything, and the more cataclysmic the smallest setbacks seem. When I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep between work and stress, I lost one sock in the dryer and it felt like the world was going to end.

It’s important that we take care of our bodies, and while that tends to get conflated with behaviors that, if taken to the extreme, can exacerbate eating disorders, that also means listening to our bodies and giving them what they need when they’re asking for it. If that means rest, make sure you rest.

Take a warm shower with nice-smelling body wash or shampoo (I have aromatherapy honey vanilla shower gel, and I credit that with the recent love I’ve developed for showering), put on comfortable clothes (you all already know about my love affair with sweatpants), and curl up in bed. It doesn’t really matter what time it is. If it’s in the afternoon, set an alarm to go off in an hour and a half. If it’s later, don’t worry about going to bed earlier than you usually do. One night of relaxing won’t kill you.

Coloring pages

I’m here to contradict myself, apparently. I’m tired of being treated like I’m eight years old, and yet one of my favorite coping strategies is coloring pages. I can’t really explain it. It’s just another mindless activity to do with my hands. A psychologist might analyze it as a way to regain control, in a world where everything turns out like I want it to and everything fits within the lines. I don’t really care what a psychologist would say, though. It works, and I’m keeping it. You can find some of my favorite sites for free black-and-white printouts here and here.

Animal Videos

I really don’t think I need to explain this. It works 85% of the time for me. Maybe it’s a mark of shallowness on my part, but seriously there’s something about a cat dressed as a shark chasing a duck or screaming goats dubbing pop songs that makes life seem less serious.

Those are just a few of my personal favorite ways to relax and step away from stress and negativity. What are yours? Share them in the comments!

You Matter Too: Overcoming Problem Shaming

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“Destructive Thoughts” by coweetie

For me, and for all other Americans, this has been a pretty rough week. Start with the bombing of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, speed through a wave of xenophobic finger-pointing and misinformation about potential suspects, add a catastrophic explosion killing at least fourteen in West, Texas, and then culminate in Friday’s shootout-slash-car-chase-slash-manhunt-slash-media-circus around the apprehension of the bombing suspect, and it’s no wonder that suddenly I’m lost in a glass case of confusing emotions right now.

And as if this all wasn’t enough, exams and final papers are coming up for me right now, my weight still refuses to stabilize, and I have an appointment with a nutritionist in four days.

If those two paragraphs sounded like problems that really shouldn’t be mentioned in the same blog post, then welcome to the conflicted world of what I like to call Problem Shaming.

I don’t know if there’s a technical name for Problem Shaming, but here’s the basic three-step overview:

  • Something bad happens to you.
  • Your problem is thrust into comparison with another problem on a more widespread scale.
  • You feel selfish, petty, and terrible about yourself.

you-are-bad-and-you-should-feel-bad2Yes, friends, Problem Shaming is essentially a glorified way of describing feeling bad about yourself for feeling bad about yourself. If there’s a less productive cycle in the world, I’ve yet to find it.

In my case, I’ve had nothing but horrific experiences with nutritionists in the past. I wasn’t particularly keen on going back for another go-round in the Nutritionist Torment Spin Cycle, but both my parents and my GP were behind me on this one, she came highly recommended, and she was very kind to me when I expressed my concerns over email. So although I’m still asking myself at least once a day what on Earth I’ve gotten myself into, there’s still a glimmer of hope there.

And then this week happened, and I’m left feeling scared, threatened, disgusted, unnerved, and, above all, ridiculous.

What am I doing wasting valuable energy worrying about my weight when people across the country are losing their lives or gravely injured?

How selfish can I possibly be?

Don’t you realize that no one cares about your petty self-centered little problems?

Why don’t you just get over yourself and accept that no one gives a damn how fat you’ve gotten, because there are more important things in the world than your feelings?

bad_thoughts_by_nekolizI put these thoughts in italics because this isn’t me thinking. This is my eating disorder talking.

This is the same voice that tells me that I don’t deserve to eat, and I don’t deserve to relax and take a day off of exercise.

This is the same voice that reminds me constantly that I am worthless and that no one is interested in my problems.

This voice is wrong.

Whether in this specific instance or in any issues that arise in your daily lives, we are entitled to our feelings. We are allowed to feel sad, scared, and frustrated when things beyond our control happen in our daily lives, regardless of how small or insignificant they may seem to others. In fact, it would be a more serious problem if we refused to register any emotions about our lives. What kind of existence lives on emotional level zero every second of every day? Our ability to feel makes us human, whether those emotions are positive or negative.

Problem Shaming crops up an unsettling amount of the time around eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are written off as “First World Problems,” a pseudo-disease given to rich young suburban white girls with nothing better to do than look at themselves in the mirror and complain about “oh my God I’m soooo fat right now.” A legitimate mental illness is treated as a personality flaw and a selfish problem constructed for attention, and those dealing with this problem aren’t able to get the help they need.

But eating disorders are serious problems, just as any other problem going on in the world right now, on any level, is serious. Anorexia nervosa has a 20% fatality rate, the highest of any mental illness. I dare you to tell me that’s not serious.

Sometimes I don’t want to be in touch with my emotions. Last night, watching the news and texting a friend, I sent the following message:

I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. I just want to escape to a magical world without any other people, only cats wearing amusing hats.

No seriously, please?

No seriously, please?

And while I think this would give me a lot less emotional torment in the long run, we can’t hide from our emotions or our reactions, either to things in the outside world or in our own personal lives. And neither set of emotions is more valuable than the other.

You are worth taking care of, and your problems are worth thinking about. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t ever forget that you matter.