Hello, Nourished Life

I’m in the process of saying goodbye to somebody. Unlike most goodbyes, that we want to avoid because they are sad, this is a goodbye I happily walk toward. I’m saying goodbye to this girl:


She looks happy right? She seems nice, confident, smiling. This is where she fools you.

Although I was 20-years old when this photo was taken, when I look at this, all I see now is a sick little girl with her collarbones and neck tendons jutting out, thinning hair, and no boobs to hold her dress up. A girl who ate only salads, who tried to literally outrun self-esteem issues at a rate of 15km per day. A girl who was scared of food and scared to miss a workout. A girl who lost her period for months due to restrictive eating and over-exercise. A girl whose problematic body behaviours went unnoticed because her BMI was still “within range,” even when her body was screaming that this weight wasn’t sustainable. A girl who regularly received reinforcement in the form of compliments that she looked great and to “keep it up.”

Imagine how much I could have accomplished had I directed even a quarter of the brain power I had put toward taking up less space in the world, towards my schooling and future career… I like to think I’d be backing up the Brinks truck into the driveway of my summer home.

I won’t say it’s not hard to look back on these photos and know that I was much thinner then than I am now. When these images pop up unexpectedly (Facebook, you’re the worst), I give myself a moment to float around in those feelings of inadequacy – if only I had appreciated my body then, and had not been so self-conscious with it, etc, etc, ad nauseam. There is a part of me who still looks for this girl when I see photos of myself now, and when I don’t see her, the same part of me wants to look away and avoid acknowledging the reality of my actual, real, nourished body.

Soon enough however, in my back of my brain I hear the voice of my best friend Kim chanting, “No! More! Skeletor!” and I’m rushed back to the truth: That girl had a lot to learn. I’m smarter than that girl. I’m kinder. I’m a better listener, a better friend. I love myself more. My hair doesn’t fall out, but grows in long and shiny. I have a butt and boobs (both of which took a notable leave of absence during the time this photo was taken). I have hobbies other than obsessing over food labels and tracking burned calories.

I don’t miss her. Being obsessed with controlling my body and what went into it left little room to think about other people, and for the life of me, I can’t recall many instances during this time where I helped someone or threw myself into a project that wasn’t all about me. Disordered eating and exercise habits are an isolating and all-consuming endeavour in themselves, in addition to the effort put forth to avoid detection from others. This was a lonely, lonely life.

My life now nourishes me. I make a concerted effort to fill my world with good things – good people, good food, good movement, good thoughts – instead of trying to deprive my body and mind of what it wants. I consciously include things in my life that make me feel whole and allow autonomy over my life, something I was always pursuing but never achieved while restricting.

Of course there are moments where I wish I didn’t worry about what my body looks like, and I fool myself into thinking that women thinner than me could not begin to understand how I feel. Of course I deflate a little inside if someone makes a comment about how thin (and blond) I was back then. But I know these feelings are leftover from when I truly believed that my body size determined my worth, and I know better now. Media and society tell us that thinner is better, more attractive, the only kind of beautiful that matters, and we must have either reached that ideal or be punishing ourselves towards it. But at what cost? I will tell you for free that it is not worth everything I gave up in the pursuit of making myself smaller.

Along with a few LBs, I’ve gained self-awareness, true friendship, a passionate career, and a lifetime worth of belly-laughs. If gaining all this means adjusting my ideals of thinness and worthiness and saying goodbye to the sick little person featured above, then girl, bye.

I have, I do, I am enough.

Are you your own toughest critic?

factorialist_voice_imaginary

This is likely the easiest question in the land to answer, because, yes, most of us are mercilessly hard on ourselves in one way or another. Maybe we guilty for not being more productive at work, or beat ourselves up when we blow our budget. Maybe we call ourselves lazy when we miss the gym or stop for fast food on the way home from work. As much as we do and accomplish, there is always a small part of us, our inner critic, who will find something wrong with how we are doing things. And she’s a bitch.

In my experience, having a mental illness only turns up the volume and intensity of my inner critic. Not only is she shrill and difficult to drown out, but she relentlessly plays the same track over and over again. My depression makes it difficult to process and evaluate the merit of self-critical thoughts because the illness clouds my judgement and rationality. In my head, every negative thought seems credible and true.

And while the problem-of-the-moment may change, the tune is the same: I am not enough. Not ambitious enough, not hard-working enough, not smart enough, certainly not attractive enough. My mind can identify a hundred-and-one deficits before I’ve finished my morning coffee.

Sometimes the self-attack consumes my thoughts completely and this is when I find myself in a depressive low that takes a few days of hibernation to shake. The rest of the time, my inner critic runs in the background – elevator music to my life – occasionally tossing out little digs disguised as endearing, self-deprecating witticisms about how my life is anything but put-together. Make no mistake: I’m not trying to be humble. My inner critic is making herself known.

I’ve come to believe that the person who thinks she’s the smartest person in the room is likely not – probably far from it. Very intelligent, particularly very emotionally intelligent, people know that as much as they know, there is exponentially more than that they don’t know about a variety of subjects. The truth is, we don’t even know what we don’t know. I have used this theory to challenge my inner critic: What if… she’s wrong? I already know I’m never the smartest person in the room because of the infinite number of things I don’t know. It’s completely possible – likely even – that my inner critic could be profoundly wrong about some things – particularly how smart, capable, thoughtful or deserving I am.

So armed with this possibility, I’m working on it. Instead of undiscerningly accepting the criticisms that pass through my mind as true, I plan to take a more investigative approach. I’ll take more time to ask myself if I’m being fair and reasonable. Am I being kind? And examining all possible reasons for something not going my way, instead of assuming it has everything to do with my shortcomings. Would I ever talk to a friend or loved one the way I’m talking to myself? If the answer is no, I need to change my approach, because I should counted along with my loved ones who deserve my compassion and TLC.

Perhaps I’ll even get an adorable little tattoo one day, as a visual reminder of my commitment to changing my inner dialogue:  That I have, I do, I am enough.