Good morning! Did you have a good Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/whatever else people call the day before Ash Wednesday? I haven’t quite decided how I am going to honor Lent this year, but I’m working on figuring it out. One thing is for sure: it will not involve any food restrictions whatsoever. It’s hard for me to believe that we are only forty days from Easter and halfway through this week, but it’s true, which means that I’m linking up withPeas and Crayons to share a day’s worth of eats with you on this fine Wednesday.
Truth be told, I have been doing quite well lately. A few things have happened recently that have allowed me to do some much-needed introspection and evaluation, resulting in me feeling fairly positive and motivated about recovery. For the last few days, it has been easier for me to choose real life over my disorder, to choose to feed my body rather than punish it, and to plan for the future that I want instead of struggling to believe that I deserve better than my disorder. I’m working on a post expounding on why things have been improving (suspense!), but it suffices to say that I have just been living lately, and it’s fantastic.
With things looking up in recovery, I have felt more relaxed around food, allowing myself to eat when I am hungry so that I can actually enjoy my life. Yesterday started out well, with an excellent breakfast of oatmeal and Tazo Pumpkin Spice Chai.
I wasn’t at work for too long before I felt the need for a snack, so I nibbled on these granola bars while I served coffee to the masses. Historically, I have not allowed myself to have a snack so soon after breakfast, but the last couple of days have given me opportunities to practice answering my body’s need for food without letting my thoughts and judgments interfere too much.
A little while later, I was still hungry and my official lunch break was a ways in the future. Without giving it too much thought or feeling too much guilt, I helped myself to a few baby carrots with a bit of peanut butter.
When my lunch break arrived, I was eager to try a grain and vegetable bowl that a coworker had given me after buying it and discovering that she didn’t like one of the ingredients. I brought along lettuce and made a salad with the vegetable bowl, which I ate with a few salt and vinegar potato chips, a container of greek yogurt, and some carrots with hummus. Hooray for free food!
The grain and vegetable bowl got two coffee-stained thumbs up from me, but it didn’t hold me over as long as the turkey sandwich that I usually eat does (for a good summary of my feelings toward sandwiches, I would like to reference this video). Since I was hungry shortly after lunch, I ate an apple and snacked on this homemade snack mix consisting of almonds, wasabi peas, and dried cranberries throughout the afternoon.
I ran some errands before heading home for the day, where I had another small snack of plain yogurt, Chocolate Cheerios, and sliced strawberries. I also incorporated a chocolate chip or two by using my microplane grater to make itty bitty chocolate shavings on top. Delightful.
It was after this snack that I began to struggle a bit. I put a load of laundry in the washer and changed into a pair of jeans that had recently been dried. I pulled them on and they felt tight. Insert small amounts of panic. I changed into a t-shirt that has always been fairly small on me, and it felt even smaller. Insert somewhat larger amounts of panic. My brain immediately jumped to black and white, disordered thinking. What if I have gained a ton of weight? What if I never stop gaining weight? It’s probably because I’m getting careless. Maybe I should count calories. Maybe I should eat a smaller dinner. Maybe I should weigh myself, just so that I can know.
It was at that last thought that I paused for a moment. What was it that I wanted to know? Did I want to know that I had lost weight so that I could enjoy the fleeting sense of satisfaction my disorder provides? Did I want to know if I had gained weight so that I could restrict food accordingly? I asked myself what good has ever come from me knowing my weight in the last several years and, truthfully, nothing positive has come from that knowledge. Even when my disorder delighted in seeing a smaller number on the scale, my healthy self knew that I was only getting sicker and the temporary joy of a lower weight was hollow and unfulfilling. If I saw that I had gained weight, my healthy self may have been satisfied, but my anxiety skyrocketed as my disorder thought of countless ways to make the weight gain stop. Any satisfaction from any number was short-lived and empty.
The joy of recovery, though, has been real. The joy of the last few days has been wonderful. The joy of loving friends and family, of choosing to not be distracted by hunger at work, and of feeling comfortable and confident has been authentic and delightful. I cannot possibly let a pair of too-tight-from-the-dryer jeans allow me to choose the hollow comfort of my disorder over that beautiful, life-sustaining joy.
Knowing that I needed to turn to my toolbox of recovery skills, I spent some time reflecting. I did a meditation on self-acceptance that I found online and journaled for a while. I reminded myself of how good I have felt over the last few days, better than I ever felt knowing exactly how many calories were in my lunch or putting on a pair of jeans that hung loosely off of my emaciated body. After I centered myself a bit, I moved on with my evening. I ate a tasty dinner of pizza and salad, with some chocolate chips and Bunny Grahams for dessert.
And, before bed, I had an english muffin with peanut butter and a little cereal because I was hungry, and because no article of clothing is going to make me deprive myself of food. My brain and my disorder may have different ideas about how much food I need to be eating, but only my body truly knows. All that I can do is trust it and hope for the best.
Even on a good day, or after a series of good days, triggers can trip us up. Yesterday, I came close to letting my disorder lure me further into its web of deceit and isolation. Part of living with mental illness is acknowledging when your brain is not functioning properly and knowing how to care for yourself anyway. Of course, my jeans fit perfectly fine after an hour or two of wearing them because that’s what jeans do. My healthy self knows this, and it can and will overpower my disorder in the end. I can outsmart my disorder. I know how good I feel because of recovery, and I now know how to help myself when my disorder tries to convince me that I’m not worthy of it.
If you’re struggling with unexpected triggers, the best advice that I can offer is to remind yourself of why recovery is worth the anxiety. Remind yourself of how little your disorder has given you compared with the beauty of real life. Remind yourself that you are strong even if your brain does not always think properly, and that you can win in the end. And, most importantly, remind yourself to eat enough food, so that all of this can be possible.