I was in my late 20′s, and well into my struggles with anorexia and bulimia, before I began to perceive a tangible difference between “my body” and “me.”
After so many years of casually speaking about “my body,” “my mind,” “my heart,” “my spirit,” I finally started to wonder just who the “my” was who claimed all of these things.
Who owned “my body?”
Who was in charge of “my mind?”
Who sensed the presence of “my heart?”
Who was it who spoke of “my spirit” with such confidence?
Well, it must be …. “me.”
All at once, I became deeply curious about just who this “me” was who rated a body, a mind, a heart, a spirit all her own.
With this post, I return again to that literal tome of life wisdom, “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.
I have always learned so much from my animal companions….and continue to do so each and every day.
I also love watching nature documentaries that follow animals during their day-to-day lives so I can learn.
Sometimes while I’m watching these programs I think, “Oh, no, I could never eat termites for lunch!” and that is that.
At other times, the documentary reveals something so profound….a shared sense of deep and timeless, well, humanity – only the species I share it in common with is not technically “human.”
At a particular point in Safina’s book, he is describing the despair researchers have often felt as they have battled against humanity, global warming, inertia (from the general public, interested parties, and other scientists), and the suffering of the sea turtles themselves to maintain the hope for species regeneration.
All the senior professionals…..they all work from hope. They’re not the types to gloss over problems or look through rose-tinted lenses. Quite the opposite; they’ve been the first to sound alarms. They’ve felt despair and fought despite it. I’ve learned this by observing the real professionals who go the distance. You dodge despair by not taking the deluge of problems full-bore. You focus on what can work, what can help, or what you can do, and you seize it, and then – you don’t let go. What they see, and what I’ve come to see, is the possibility of making things better. That’s what hope is: the belief that things can get better. The world belongs to people who don’t give up. (emphasis added)
But wait – it gets even better:
If you’ve been following this blog for longer than five minutes, you already know I’m a staunch champion of mentoring (plus the blog title kind of gives it away).
And not just for eating disorders recovery, either, or even for recovery in general – I’m also a huge fan of mentoring just for living life.
Mentoring (like feathers) makes everything better.
From the moment I met my first mentor, the alienation I had always felt from everyone and everything else began to fade.
At last, another being SAW me.
A single other soul really LOOKED at me – into me – noticed me.
I felt known – like my name suddenly took on greater meaning, and so did my life.
If I tripped and fell, someone else would care (and bring a band-aid and antiseptic wipes).
If I had a great day (or even a great minute) someone would cheer and celebrate with me.
The gift of mentoring changed my life – my whole world.
Since founding MentorCONNECT in 2009, I have been working with a wonderful researcher, Dr. Marisol Perez, and her team at Texas A&M University to quantify the value of mentoring as a source of support during the eating disorders recovery process.
I wonder if there has ever been a time in history when human beings have not been fascinated by the human body – our own and others’.
According to various sources, the “mirror” was invented sometime around the first century.
Depending on how you define “camera,” the first one was invented either in 1000 A.D., 1827, or still later.
All that to say, human beings have had access to the means for examining our visual selves for thousands of years.
Even before mirrors or cameras (let alone “selfies”), there were ponds and paintings, poetry and prose.
Recently I came across a photo montage entitled “Rare Pinups: Vintage Bikini Models.”
The montage contains images from as early as 1902 – just a few decades after the camera itself became widely accessible.
Some of the models’ costumes must be seen to be believed. It is hard to imagine bathing in these outfits – even walking in some of them must have been difficult.
Alongside the usual assortment of film and show stars are un-named models. Very few appear to be re-touched after the fact (aka the widespread use of tools like Photoshop today).
The two photos that most captivated me are #30 and #34 (just scroll through the montage – each photo is numbered).
I noticed a few key things after I completed my viewing of the full montage.
In a way, the montage had gently mentored me without me even realizing it – giving me a glimpse of what it might be like to live in a culture where beauty ideals more closely match my own body.
There was a time in my life when I thought my worth 100% relied upon my body shape and size.
Several years ago a friend called and asked me if I wanted to go with him to see a film called, simply, “Milk.”
I like movies in general, and this one sounded innocuous enough. So I said, “Sure!”
I left the theater sobbing.
I was furious with my friend – for inviting me, for not warning me, for reminding me of how deadly stigma and fear can be.
I was furious with the whole world – how could such a bright light be permitted to burn out just when we need bright lights the most?
I was furious, period.
I have never forgotten the movie, and I will never forget what Harvey Milk posthumously taught me.
In his San Francisco mayoral election campaign, Milk exhorted voters, saying:
Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better. [emphasis added]
In the film, he explains his strategy by saying that when someone close to you knows that you struggle with a particular type of issue, they are more inclined to vote favorably on that issue at the polls.
Their inclination has nothing to do with the issue itself, and everything to do with how much they care about you – one single person who struggles with that issue and will be helped by their vote.
In other words, when given a choice, people don’t vote for issues. People vote for people – people they know, people they care about, people they love, people they don’t want to lose.
As you may know, I suffered with anorexia and bulimia for 15 years before I started my recovery work. I suffered with severe, crippling depression and anxiety for another decade beyond that. So approximately three-quarters of my life to date has been spent battling one type of issue or another – and battling the stigma and fear surrounding it.
This has formed my belief that the specific type of issue I have, versus the specific type of issue you may have, versus the type of issue a loved one of yours may have, doesn’t really much matter.
We basically need the same building blocks to begin healing – love, empathy, an open door to share and be heard, laughter, friendship, a way to serve, a willingness to be served, and the awareness we are not – are NEVER – alone in our struggles (even if the names of those struggles may change from one person to the next).
Harvey Milk taught me this.
On that note, I have a very dear friend who struggles with bipolar illness. She is one of my oldest, closest friends, and I care for her very much.
You see, I work from home, so I don’t go out every day.
Last month we were shocked – flattened – to discover our beloved Robin Williams had taken his own life.
I blogged about it the day I found out….and I’m still very sad. I miss him.
Knowing more about the possible “whys” – he had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s Disease; he may have been struggling with bipolar illness as well as depression; he found aging to be a ponderous and difficult process – makes his choice perhaps less mystifying.
But it doesn’t make it one bit easier to accept.
I will admit sometimes I feel like I should have been asked. “Is it okay with you if I just go now?” I would have answered him: “No. No, it is not okay with me. No one else makes me laugh quite like you. I feel like you know me – even though I know you don’t. Please stay. Promise me you will.”
Watching someone we love lose their battle with depression kindles a bit of that same capitulation in each of us.
I am definitely no exception.
In times like these, I can’t help but remember my first big suicide scare. It was in college. One night the bottom just dropped out of me. I ended up in a local ER. The nurse diagnosed me with a “runaway eating disorder” and recommended counseling.
That night was the first time I’d ever considered there was an “it” ruining my life – that it wasn’t just me screwing things up all by myself.
I felt hopeful, but also very scared. Suicide seemed, well, easier, and certainly quicker, than fixing what was wrong with me.
In fact, the “terrible twins” of cyclical anxiety and depression have stalked me nearly all my life, but I was in my early 30′s (and newly in strong recovery from the eating disorder) before I had enough energy to notice.
Many, many times in the in-between years, I continued to toy with vague notions of suicide. Usually these were couched in the form of remote philosophical queries: “I wonder – just hypothetically speaking of course – if I drove off this cliff, how long would it take before anyone noticed?”
As a traveling marketer living out of state and away from her family and friends at that time, I had many weeks and months on the road to ponder all possible answers.
Later on, as the anxious and depressive cycles widened and deepened, thoughts of suicide became more functional. Recognizing my addictive personality by this point, I was terrified to take drugs (prescription or otherwise), and yet I couldn’t make heads or tails of how to end the unbearable cycling any other way, other than the obvious.
After a long course of neurotherapy treatment, I began to experience some relief from the anxiety.
Then all of a sudden the depression worsened again. Neurotherapy didn’t help this time.
Finally, through a truly strange series of twists and turns, I began to take anti-depressants at last. This was three years ago.
A week or so ago I was talking to one of my colleagues.
We were discussing stress.
I asked her how she copes with stress in her life – her answer surprised me.
She said, “I am an ‘emotional sleeper.’”
It didn’t take me long (i.e. about two seconds) to figure out that I, too, am an ‘emotional sleeper.’
In fact, even on low stress days I am barely out of bed before I am looking forward to being back in it again.
On high stress days, I can barely wait for it to be time for my favorite activity again – sleeping, of course.
What I found most odd is that I’d never heard of this term before….or even thought to think it up for myself.
I’ve blogged a bit here and there about my ongoing work to resolve conflicts between “me now” and “me then.”
One of the most effective techniques I use is a simple Q&A.
For instance, if I wake up (like I did this morning) and realize I spent all night dreaming about painful periods from my past, I will ask my younger self questions.
Since my younger self is, well, younger, I use simple, open-ended questions.
I might ask, “What do you need from me?”
Or “What can I do to help?”
I also use statements.
Sometimes I say, “I’m so sorry.”
Or “Thank you for not giving up.”
Sometimes I just wait and listen and let my younger self vent.
The other night I was watching something…..I think it might have been “Longmire” but don’t quote me on that.
Speaking of which, while watching, I paused the show to write down this great quote:
There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it….only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.
Since then, I have read it every few days (on account of having written it down right on my in-phone grocery list).
Each time I re-read it, the quote makes me pause yet again.
You see, I’ve never been a “past gazer.”
I’ve just never wanted to go back – not a day in my life.
If anything, I have spent more time gazing into the future, wondering when it will finally get here.
Perhaps this is because for approximately 20 of my 44 years to date, I struggled with anorexia and bulimia.
Even after that struggle ended, I had another good long decade to follow of fighting tooth and nail with cyclical anxiety and depression.
Maturity, medication, meditation (and feathers – plenty of feathers) helped me break free at last.
When I broke free, I felt like my past had released me into my future – the future I had been longing for ever since I was born.
The other night I had a dream that a big lion bit me in the stomach and I died.
It was a sad dream.
My family was there, and many friends, but no one could do a thing to save me.
Please understand – this kind of dream is nothing out of the ordinary for me.
I have always dreamed vividly and do not anticipate this will ever change.
I don’t even really mind it – over the years I have learned my dreams are often teachers – especially the ones that come over and over and over again.
Also, I have learned that often my pets will take on roles as “me” in my dream state (understandably, over the years this has made repeated episodes featuring the dream-time demise of my beloved parrot much easier to bear).
The lion dream especially interested me, because it followed a mystifying two-week episode of intense stomach distress of the kind I used to get when I was recovering from my eating disorder.