It has been dark over here the last few months. I am very privileged to have a good doctor, who has gone above and beyond what i expected of her. through the haze of referrals and medication changes it has often felt as though i am 15 again: alone and scared. i have felt so disappointed to feel as though i have gone so far backwards. to still be in the thick of it a decade later.
it is hard to focus on the reality. which is that i am my oldest wisest self right now. i cannot un-know the skills i have learnt. my progress cannot be erased. here is a list of things 15 year old me was not able to do. i was certain i would never be able to do these things. that i would be sick and stuck forever. but now, at 25, all of these things are doable (though it is often hard), regardless of relapse. healing isn’t linear. it’s okay to be a bit all over the place. ❤️🩹
- move out of home
- cook for myself
- catch a bus
- hold down a job
- make a phone call
- answer a phone call
- have a sustainable, healthy relationship in which i am vulnerable
lately, i’ve been feeling some heavy grief about exisiting in the body i exist in. a body that is fragile and sensitive and often complicated. the type of body that is always back at the doctors. that takes pills and money and treatments and specialists and diets and scans and tests to keep above water. the type of body that hears the words “complex” or “difficult” or even “what are we going to do with you?” from the people who are supposed to help.
every time i feel stable, something new comes up. and every time, it gets more complex and confusing: more difficult for doctors to treat and more difficult for doctors to name. there are so many symptoms and side effects.
recently, i said to a doctor, what do we try if this doesn’t work? is there anything else to try? and it felt scary to say those words. to make space for them. to speak them into reality. which is not to say that i’m life-threateningly ill, but simply that i do not want to live like this for the rest of my life.
i cannot run from this grief forever. this might be what my life looks like. and i am allowed to be sad and frightened and angry. i am allowed to stop and feel this grief. to sit with it. to welcome it, even. to let it do what it is going to do for me. and then, when it’s ready, let it leave, too.
I wrote this essay as an attempt to explore and understand my strange and ever-shifting experience with body dysmorphia as I move through anorexia recovery still. I feel like, despite writing a whole essay about it, I somehow managed to only skirt around how disjointing and fantastical it can be to not know what you look like in any consistent way. But right now, this is the best I can articulate it. Thank you, Starling mag, for giving these words a home 💜
Feeling some shame about the way my body is carrying the side effects (swelling and fluid retention) of the steroids I am on for a connective tissue disorder flare up. Especially during this season of hyper focus on body image. I know to others my face may not look swollen but it, and the rest of my body, looks and feels different since I started the steroids before Christmas. I am thankful I have access to treatments that lessen my pain and I know the changes to my body are likely temporary and my body will likely shift and change a hundred more times in my life. In a hundred different ways. I know the changes are largely only noticeable to me and those close to me. That I still hold extreme privilege to be in the body I am in.
But that doesn’t alleviate the shame. As our queen, Brené Brown, says “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives ... If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.”
So in an attempt to combat my shame, to cut it off at the knees, here is some selfies of my face, however it looks, in all its glory 🌝🌝🌝
The year is stumbling to its messy end once again and there is a lot to reflect on. I got engaged. Watched my grandparents celebrate 60 years of marriage. I started to teach myself te reo māori and Irish Gaelic. I welcomed a beautiful new nephew to the world. I received the first royalties directly from my publisher for my book. I had more writing accepted for publication. All good, true, bright things. And yet, as we know, only a small part of the year. This year I was brought to my knees by my own sadness time and time again. Was so scared my chest grew tight and rigid and cold. I let myself sneak back into the comfort of harmful behaviours. I watched several people I love, family and friends, go through some of the worst times of their lives. I did too. We all lived in a constant state of continuous trauma. Anyone with even a sliver of empathy was, at some point, ripped open while watching this years events unfold worldwide. We did not have to look far for tragedy and suffering and heartache. Everything awful was tangible and palpable and unavoidable. But it was also a year of seeing community in action: people in Italy singing from balconies during lockdown; old friends offering to bring me supplies during level four; the way we prioritised kindness, even to strangers. I learnt invaluable lessons about connection and presence and boundaries and quality time and using my words to say exactly how I feel. I have watched my friends and family grow more into themselves. Watched them overcome, persevere, hold on. Despite it all. I am grateful for all of the people I am lucky enough to love. I am grateful for all of the unlearning I did
This year, I’ve done a lot of extremely hard work in therapy. Over the course of all of my treatment, I have never experienced the level of therapy trepidation and fatigue I have been feeling this year.
I would leave therapy somehow both numb and red raw. Somehow feeling nothing and also knowing that the slightest thing would set me off. I would take weeks to recover and the next session would come up too quickly, every time. I was never ready and always filled with thick, tense dread.
This is my eighth year in therapy, of hard work, and I have never experienced this feeling before. Nothing has been this heavily lingering. None of it has dripped off me like this. Into every aspect of my everyday life.
My therapist says, that's how you know it’s what you need to work on. It’s as simple as that. It’s how you know you’re on the right track.
All of this is to say, I am still doing the heavy, life-altering work. Nearly a decade in, I am still learning and unlearning in a way I did not know existed or needed to be done. If you are in the depths now too, you’re on the right path. You are doing the most important work and there’s more than just you down here. I’m wading through too. ✨🥰💛
#mentalillness #mentalhealth #recovery #therapy
tomorrow i am going to back into the office for the first time since early march. we were instructed to work from home before the government even announced the COVID alert level system. and because the company is global and based in america, we have had strict policies in place globally only allowing a certain number of people in the office, even when we were a lot better off than other countries and were at level 1. it feels strange to be about to step into a space i left quickly one afternoon, thinking i would return in a matter of weeks, after eight long months. i have learnt a lot about myself over this time: what i need and what i don’t; what i get from my work and what i need from people and different environments; the ways in which i need to take care of myself to be alone for a long time; the importance of connection and presence and fresh air and movement and my cat. i have been a hundred different people over these months. and i am ready to see who i become as my life shifts gently again.
sometimes recovery looks like this. like being scared but going into the dressing room anyway. like forcing yourself to take photos in the new jeans. like being anxious but still going out for lunch. like doing the big and bad things and sitting with the big and bad feelings and doing it all again tomorrow. like knowing the only way to recover is to do things that scare you and keep doing them. challenge yourself and repeat. sit with the discomfort and repeat. eat and repeat. this recovery thing seems never ending but i’m going to get up tomorrow and try again.
friendly reminder that you are the expert in your own experience. you are the expert in your own body.
when i went to the doctor on thursday, i brought my e-reader, a book of crosswords and two days worth of meds. because i knew this was something new and i knew where i might end up. the doctor seemed unsure about me and sent me to the ED as a precaution because i was feeling so awful and because i’m on immunosuppressants.
at the hospital, i was told i have a chest infection. the ultrasound and x-ray showed an infection in my left lung and pneumonia in my right. i knew this felt different and bigger and badder than any other chest infection i’ve had before. the doctors listened and it all worked out. i got the treatment i needed. i’m home and resting.
but this has been a reassurance. a reminder than no one knows my body like me. no one knows what is normal for me and what is not. it has been a comfort knowing that next time i feel that again, that fear and pain, i can trust that i am right. that despite all the doctors who have said otherwise, i know when i am in pain and i know when it is bad. i know myself better than anyone.
a torn single-trip train ticket has been marking this poem since i bought this book in 2017. by black, queer poet, donte collins. from his collection ‘autopsy’ #blacklivesmatter
trying hard to combat the heavy shame i am feeling about myself at the moment: i am allowed to eat. i am allowed to feel. i am allowed to exist looking exactly as i do right now: with my bad skin and my stretch marks and my surgery scars and my soft body. with all the things i do not like. i am allowed to make mistakes. i am allowed to look back on today and see where i could’ve acted differently. but i am also allowed to forgive myself, to understand that i was doing the best i could in that moment. i am allowed to start again tomorrow.
body positivity is hard. here are some body neutral affirmations.
gaining weight had saved my life.
my body is blameless and innocent and deserving of kindness regardless of its appearance.
my body does not need to change.
i am more than my body. i am grateful for my body. i accept my body as it is right now in this moment.
some post-dinner affirmations that i need
not only am i allowed to eat, but i have to. if i want to see my friends and family and write and sing and play with my cat and get married, i have to eat.
food is not good or bad. it is just food and i am allowed to eat it and enjoy it even if it is labelled ‘unhealthy’. i am allowed to find joy in food.
my body doesn’t need to change. i do not have to compensate for the food i eat. i can exist just as i am right now. my body is irrelevant to who i am.
i do not have to give my thoughts power and attention. i can choose not to engage. i am strong enough to talk back. i am strong enough to sit with the discomfort i’m feeling.
i am full to the brim with love today. easter is a family affair for me and this year my family is in different bubbles all over the country. the last few weeks have been hard and today was set to be even harder. but when i woke up peter had hidden 30 tiny easter eggs around the house for me to find. something my parents do for us still. even now when we are all adults. i feel stronger and loved and able to face the day and all its chocolate. i hope everyone has a small moment of strength or love or joy or courage or reflection or whatever they need today. i hope you are safe and comfortable in your bubble. i hope you have chocolate and i hope you enjoy it. happy easter 🥳🐇🥰
The country goes into lockdown today. And today is a Wednesday which is the day I take my immunosuppressants. These eight small suns in my palm. It feels strange and scary to continue taking them at a time like this. But I don’t have a choice. You do. Stay home, stay accountable and be kind.