self-esteem

6 Easy Ways to Do Something Kind for Yourself Today

Kindness

1. Compliment a Friend

I really do believe that most of us suffer from some degree of impostor syndrome.

We all have skills, talents, and unique ways of contributing to the world, but acknowledging and valuing them can feel immodest — like there’s something inherently sinful about acknowledging your worth.

So cut through the self-depricating voices in your friends’ heads, if even just for a second. They’re your loved ones for a reason. It doesn’t hurt to remind them why.

I’m still riding the high of a compliment I received this afternoon at the exact moment I needed it. And knowing you have the power to give someone else that feeling of value and importance is something to cherish — and something to be proud of.

2. Drink Some Water

Trust me. As a person prone to migraines — and a person who constantly forgets to drink water unless there’s a bottle directly in front of me at all times — this is a little thing that can make all the difference.

Stay hydrated, y’all.

3. Get One Thing Done

Not everything on your to-do list, mind. It can be overwhelming, looking at the list of personal, professional, interpersonal, financial, and whatever-else-have-you responsibilities piling up. And you don’t need to tackle everything at once. In fact, I’d argue you probably shouldn’t.

But the satisfaction of knocking one thing off your list can create a strong sense of agency. No matter how overwhelmed or stressed I feel, at least I got that one thing done today.

It can be the laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks. Calling a friend or family member. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Confirming your next session with a therapist. Actually doing the damned dishes for once.

(Why can’t I do my dishes in a reasonable span of time? The world may never know. *sheepishly sneaks off to do the dishes*)

4. Take 30 Minutes to Be

In our hundred-mile-an-hour society, productivity is king. And while there’s something to be said for activity to break through depression, it’s also important to remember that you don’t always have to be doing.

You can just be. It’s all right.

Whenever I can — and I admit, I’m not great at this yet — I try to set myself a 30-minute span to just do whatever my heart and brain want.

Sometimes it’s taking a shower, even though I already took one that morning.

Sometimes it’s calling a friend just to check in.

Sometimes it’s reading Game of Thrones fanfiction. (I make no apologies for my life or my choices.)

None of this means that you’re wasting time. You’re taking a moment to care for yourself mentally. And what’s more valuable than that?

5. Turn Daily Moments into Escapes

I’ve mentioned it before, but I swear by podcasts. I have a 2-hour roundtrip commute (hey, worst city for traffic in the continental United States), so I use podcasts to transform my commute into an escape from the world.

I’m not worrying about work or anything that’s gone wrong in my life. I’m catching up on the news, listening to stories from people I’ve never met, enjoying improv comedy. It’s a built-in time every day for me to get in touch with things I enjoy.

(Is this an opportunity for me to shamelessly plug my favorite podcasts? Absolutely. Try Welcome to Night Vale, the Thrilling Adventure Hour, Another Round, Snap Judgment, Judge John Hodgman, or The Bugle.)

Even if you don’t have a similar situation in your life, there are ways to turn your routines into daily moments of escape. Turn on your favorite music while you do household chores. Walk your dog a different route every day and enjoy getting out in nature. If you work from home, convert your workspace into a calming area of your house with scented candles, pictures of places that inspire you, or whatever makes you happy.

(Also, I’m fighting really hard not to make “Scented Candles” item number six on this list. You might not understand my thing for scented candles, but Buzzfeed does.)

6. Sleep

If you haven’t noticed, here’s the theme I’m harping on here: Productivity is great, but it should never come at the expense of your own personal welfare.

There will always be one more thing you could get done tonight. You could write two more pages. You could study for 30 more minutes. You could research for tomorrow’s presentation at the office for another hour.

Or you could curl up in bed, close your eyes, and give your body the rest it desperately needs.

The rest of the world will be there in the morning. But your body can’t be running on 11 all the time. Dial it back. Turn off the lights.

And don’t forget to breathe.

What do you think? Did I miss your No. 1 self-kindness tip? Let me know in the comments — I’m always on the lookout for new tips!

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Owning Up to “Guilty Pleasures”

Will I ever pass up the chance to have Tom Hiddleston's name on this blog? No. The answer is no.

Will I ever pass up a chance to reference Tom Hiddleston on this blog? No. The answer is no.

This sounds like a departure from my normal topics, but it isn’t, really. Hear me out. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the reason has a lot to do with Olive Garden.

Yep, Olive Garden. Here’s where I’m coming from. I moved recently, from one unreasonably cold Midwestern city to another slightly more unreasonably cold Midwestern city with a significantly higher number of Walgreens. In my new neighborhood, there’s an Olive Garden across the street from my apartment. When driving past with a friend who came into town to visit, he pointed out the restaurant and said, “I see you’ve got the height of class in this city.”

I looked at the off-yellow stucco, then back at him. “What’s wrong with Olive Garden?” I asked.

“Well, you know. It’s not exactly high Italian cuisine, is it?”

High Italian cuisine? What was this, an episode of Chopped? Was I going to be docked points for inappropriate plating?

“I,” I said, drawing myself up to my full (seated) (not very impressive) height, “love Olive Garden.”

Maybe it doesn’t have the makings of the Next Great American Novel, but this micro-conversation made me think. Should my ever-abiding love for Olive Garden be a “guilty pleasure”? Is there such a thing as a “guilty pleasure”? Is anything that makes us happy really anything to feel guilty about?

In my personal history, the answer has generally been “yes.” Of course we should feel ashamed about the things we like. Isn’t the fact that we like them a marker of our own poor taste, the signature on the death warrant of our worth as human beings? I could be immersing myself in hour upon hour of of The Roosevelts or sitting down to read the copy of Infinite Jest that has been collecting literary dust on the bottom of my shelf for months now.

But what am I doing? I’m watching back episodes of New Girl and reading 1500 pages of Game of Thrones in three weeks. I don’t even like Game of Thrones that much. I don’t think it’s well-written, and the intersectional feminist side of my brain is having a small aneurism every single time Melisandre appears (because come on guys, hasn’t the evil demon seductress with a mystical pregnancy been played out enough?). And yet, I’m midway through Clash of Kings and I’ve had that book since New Year’s Day.

Isn’t all this just a demonstration of my poor taste? Shouldn’t I hold myself to higher standards than this? Shouldn’t I at least make an effort to like authentic Italian food and David Foster Wallace?

Well, no.

Because why is it anybody’s business what I enjoy? The point of pleasure is that it’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to feel good. I can like crappy food and poorly written novels and TV shows without any semblance of a plot. It’s not a reflection of my worth as a human, or a being who enjoys culture. It’s just something that I like … because I like it.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to come around to this conclusion. And I think the reason for it is that pleasure, in and of itself, is something we’re conditioned to frown upon. Think about it this way: If you let your reptile brain take over for a day — side note, I hate the phrase “reptile brain” because it is gross — what do you think you would do? For many of us, the answer probably follows the “eat, sleep, and have sex” kind of model. (I recognize that for the asexual community part of this may be inaccurate, but forgive the generalization for the point.)

Now consider how we’re told to think about those instincts.

You like to eat? Selfish. Greedy. Lazy. Unhealthy and worthless. We’re in the middle of “New Year, New Pointless Diet” New Year’s resolution season, we shouldn’t have to stretch to think about how food and immorality are linked.

You like to sleep? Lazy. Unmotivated. Never getting anywhere. Get up and do something productive. Go to work. You’ll get a jump on that useless competition who’s asleep while you’re already at the office plugging formulas into an Excel spreadsheet like a madperson. You want to win, sleep when you’re dead.

You like to have sex? Slut. Whore. Straight to Hell for you. Have fun burning, lascivious monster who enjoys making your body feel good. Explain that to the Devil for me.

It’s odd, isn’t it? That the things our bodies naturally want are the very things we’re shamed for enjoying? That we’re bombarded with guilt for “indulging” in these things, even though we’ve been programmed to want or need them? Odd to say the least.

We’re told we’re supposed to want things that are difficultTaking the easy way out is for people who won’t ever get anywhere in life. Why go to sleep at 10pm when you could stay up all night and get a little bit more work done? Why flip through a magazine when you could pour over Grey’s Anatomy or every individual paragraph of The Goldfinch, regardless of whether or not you like it? Why make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich with the kind of cheese that’s individually wrapped in plastic when you could do something fancy with gruyère and chèvre and other words containing the letter è?

It’s another version of the “not good enough” mentality that hounds us every single day. It hounds us about our bodies – not thin enough, not fit enough, not tall enough, not pretty enough, not anything enough. It hounds us about our minds — not smart enough for this job, not hardworking enough for that promotion, not worthwhile enough for a raise, not worth anything to anyone.

And I want it to stop.

Once I finish writing, I’m going to open up Netflix and pop on the next episode of whatever show is at the top of my list. It will, doubtless, be rated one or two stars. It may actually be targeted toward five-to-eleven-year-olds (you do know about my Disney thing, right…?). And I’m learning to be okay with that.

As a side note: I had Olive Garden leftovers for lunch at the office yesterday.

And they were delicious.

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.

When Self Worth Becomes The Biggest Loser

the-biggest-loser

This post was originally published on Adios Barbie and can be viewed in its original context here.

On the inside, I’m still about 7 years old.

There’s a shelf in my bedroom dedicated to Disney movies. When I’m stressed, I’ve been known to break out coloring pages. I’m still a little upset that I didn’t get my Hogwarts letter when I was 11. I look back on my childhood as a simpler time, when there just weren’t so many things to worry about.

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Image via the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS)

And that’s why this billboard that I recently came across struck me especially hard.

The ad, if you haven’t seen it, features three slim, happy children playing on the higher end of a see-saw, and an overweight, sad-looking boy holding a bag of chips on the lower end. The slogan? “Once, kids played like their lives depended on it. If only kids still did.” This friendly fat-shaming message was brought to you by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Now, I’m not claiming that kids don’t need to play outside. I don’t believe that sitting on the couch playing video games and eating truckloads of Cheetos is a good way to spend one’s childhood. (Not to mention the Cheeto dust getting all over everything. That stuff’s insidious.) I think we all agree it would be a good thing if everyone in America were happy and healthy, in whatever way felt right for them and their bodies.

But fat shaming is not the way to accomplish that.

For those of you who think you aren’t familiar with fat shaming, trust me: you are, you just haven’t heard it referred to by that name. Fat shaming is the idea that your body shape is everyone’s moral issue. Simply put, if you’re fat, it’s your fault, and you’d be better off if you did something about it. If a family member suggests you should skip dessert because your dress size has two digits; or if a doctor focuses only on your weight instead of your symptoms; or if you’re being used in a public service announcement as the worst-case scenario, you are being fat shamed.

Fat shaming assumes that if we make people who are overweight feel bad enough about their bodies, they will be motivated to change them. This motivation might not be overt: after all, I doubt the AAOS got together around their conference table and said, “You know what? Let’s make kids hate themselves. Bonus points if we can encourage crash dieting and trigger eating disorders, too.” (I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that meeting, just to hear what the rationale really was.)

There’s a psychological theory behind this, called operant conditioning. Here’s the gist: each time a subject does something the experimenter doesn’t like, the subject receives a painful consequence until it learns not to repeat the behavior. If this sounds like something designed for lab rats, that’s because it is. Some people argue that even though those on the receiving end of operant conditioning are treated poorly, the shame gets the desired result in the end. If making children feel worthless and unlovable gets them off the couch and out onto the playground, isn’t it worth a few years of trauma?

Shame as a motivator is pervasive in weight loss culture. According to the reality television program The Biggest Loser, the best way to encourage an overweight person to begin exercising is to repeatedly remind them that they’re unattractive, lazy, and otherwise going to die. This can be done either by yelling oneself hoarse or getting more artistic and locking them in a coffin for up to 20 minutes to remind them of the consequences of obesity. The ends justify the means, right?

Right?

I’m not convinced.

Aren’t we supposed to tell our kids that we love them the way that they are and encourage healthy self-esteem? But then we treat overweight children as an “epidemic,” and we belittle and ridicule them in the name of “health.” I smell a contradiction.

We should be supporting health for America’s youth, no doubt about it. But societal norms are not health, and shame is not support.

Ads like the AAOS billboard or the Georgia anti-obesity campaign are not the only ways we’re telling our kids that they only have value so long as they’re thin. In a controversial move, NBC’s The Biggest Loser has teamed up with Seventeen Magazine (which, irony of all ironies, features a section called “Body Peace Pledge,” encouraging teens to love themselves as they are) to feature childhood contestants for the first time.

Pause for a second to let that sink in: some of the new contestants on The Biggest Loser are13 years old.

Yes, trainers have said that the teenagers will not participate in weigh-ins, nor will they be yelled at (or, hopefully, locked in coffins). But this teaches overweight American teenagers that as long as they’re overweight, it’s okay for them to be gawked at. It’s acceptable to push themselves so hard to lose weight that they damage their health, and it’s natural to hate their bodies until they change them. What does it say about us when a show that encourages fat shaming, disordered eating behaviors, and outright cruelty gets a 21% rise in ratings when it extends its tactics to teenagers?

The Biggest Loser’s proponents claim that the drastic lifestyle changes the show encourages may prevent the life-threatening consequences that are commonly associated with those who are overweight: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. But I can only speak for what I’ve seen. Public weigh-ins in front of entire towns, using junk food as punishment, and of course simulated death as a motivator to crank the treadmill up one more notch… all of these are clear strategies for making overweight individuals feel terrible about themselves, and they reinforce the idea that weight is something to be ashamed of.

Not to mention, of course, the inundation of longitudinal health studies that prove to us that weight cycling, or repeated weight loss and subsequent weight gain, has consequences of its own. Sixty-five percent of people who rapidly lose large amounts of weight regain it within three years,which is hardly surprising. The weight loss program proposed by The Biggest Loser isn’t sustainable for people without eight hours a day to devote to exercise. Weight cycling, alternately known as yo-yo dieting, has been linked to a weakened immune system,high blood pressureheart disease, and a slowed metabolism. This last side effect may actually cause faster weight gain, since the body is accustomed to operating in survival mode and will respond to changes in intake more dramatically.

We want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy members of society – regardless of the numbers on the scale. We need to teach them to accept themselves for who they are and what they can do, not what they look like. We need to ditch shame and use love instead. Engaging in healthy eating and exercise are great, but without healthy self-esteem, what kind of message are we sending?

Kids learn by example. Show them that fat shaming is unacceptable. Encourage health that isn’t based on appearance or size. Aim to love your body.  If you’re in the process of learning to accept your body, be conscious of not engaging in “fat talk” in front of children. Discourage unhealthy diets and negative self-image as soon as you see them surfacing.

Please, let kids fantasize about being firefighters and doctors and Spiderman. Don’t replace their dreams with shame and diet plans. If this continues, we’ll all be the biggest losers.

Considering Comparison and Body Image

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All right, folks, it’s final exam time, which means that I’m spending tons of time hunkered down in the library dressed like I just rolled out of bed, drinking far too many cups of coffee and eating most of my feelings. Which, you know, is the absolute best way to study.

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 10.46.07 AM

Beyond pouring through notes on the Great Vowel Shift in Early Modern English linguistics and trying to remember the difference between Antonio, Alonso, Angelo, and Atolycus (stop, Shakespeare, stop), I’ve been doing a bit of thinking on body comparison. I know, I know, this won’t help me on my blue book exam in four days’ time, but a person’s gotta stall somehow, right?

The question that set this off for me was the typical one you get whenever you start thinking about body image in any therapeutic/psychological/professional setting. In case you haven’t gotten it yet, it’s a good one to think about:

  • Think of the people you most admire in the world.
  • What do you admire most about them?
  • Do you admire these people for their physical attributes?
  • Do you think the people that admire you are talking about your body?

Which is a great set-up, really. I had no problem coming up with a list of the women I most admire in the world. I have a list ready-made in my head, actually, and you can find many of them in my handy-dandy blogroll over there to the right. The person who asked me this question yesterday was probably a little taken aback that in addition to my sister, my roommate, and my best friend, I popped Melissa Fabello, Margaret Cho, and Arielle Lee Bair on that list. But hey, girl’s gonna admire who she’s gonna admire.

Of course, I do not admire these women because of how their body looks. I admire them because of their determination, their work ethic, their dedication to social justice, their ability to communicate well and make me laugh, all of those things that make a person who they are.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice their bodies.

There’s an awful game of comparison going on here that I’m still trying to get out of. I look at these people who are doing exactly what I want to do in the world, and when I consider how much they inspire me and how much I want to do what they’re doing, sometimes I still fall into the trap of looking at their bodies, then back at mine, then back at theirs. It’s not judgmental, it’s not negative, I wouldn’t call it cruel. I just do the tennis-court back-and-forth with my neck and go “hmmmmm…”

comparison-is-the-thief-of-joyI want to stop doing this. I don’t want to compare my weight or my body type to friends, family, co-workers, or people I’ve never met. I catch myself when I’m doing it, and I try to snap myself out of it. But the sad and true fact is, it happens.

And for the last part of the question set, I took the questioner aback when I said “yes.”

I absolutely do believe that people I am friends with are talking about my body.

Not necessarily in a bad way, either, and it’s entirely my own fault that they’re doing it, but there’s probably a discussion going on there. I have gained a large amount of weight back from the depths of my eating disorder, and it’s happened in a very short amount of time. I’ve had people tell me that I look much better now, that I look healthy, that (my favorite comment) I “could totally kick somebody’s ass if you wanted to.”

And while my rational brain tells me that this is good, that people don’t look at me with shifty eyes and wonder what’s going on anymore, this also tells me that they are looking and talking about my body amongst themselves.

Rationally, I’d rather have them have this kind of conversation than the other kind. But ideally, I’d like my body to be my own business. I don’t want to be a conversation point because my pants size has changed several times in the past month. In an ideal world, I’d like people to look at me and, instead of wondering what size the “English Major Problems” tee-shirt is that I’m wearing, engage me in a rousing conversation about the use of time in The Winter’s Tale. (Interested in this? Message me.)

Of course, this isn’t an ideal world. I know that comparison, whether between other people and myself or between the way I used to look and the way I do now, is a fact of life. I just don’t want to turn into a before-and-after picture, and I don’t want to reduce the women I admire into “In Thirty Days You Can Look Like This!” magazine cover advertisements. We are so much more than that.

So the next time you find yourself comparing the way you look to the way you used to, or the way someone sitting next to you does, try to snap yourself out of it. Don’t compliment friends and family on their weight loss, or weight gain for that matter. Talk to them about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking about, what they like, what excites them. Because I don’t think anyone is really excited on a deep emotional level about their daily carbohydrate intake.

I’ll keep working on ending this comparison game, even if for now the only solution that I’ve come up with is mental blinders. But hopefully if I train myself to see the world differently, soon it will become second nature.

In other news, there is a character named Antonio in Much Ado about Nothing, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Merchant of Venice. Why? Because Shakespeare hates me, apparently.

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.