Feeling Good (or When I Realised That The Opposite of Self-Care Is Self-Harm)
Every fibre of my being tells me I can’t ask for anything that will make me feel good, because I don’t deserve to.
I have, what I call, a ‘Mean Voice’ in my head; a dry, cold voice that speaks to me every minute of every day.
I can be excited or inspired or angry or sad, or be having an awesome day, it doesn’t matter. Mean Voice doesn’t make allowances. She has one job to do: to point out all my failures (past, present and potential) and flaws (real or imaginary) to me, and one hell of a work ethic. She notices the weird looks and fake smiles of people around me, or even just the micro-expressions on their faces, all their subtle tells, and is vigilant in making me aware of them before offering her theory about what they mean — and it’s always the same theory — they dislike you, maybe they even hate you.
“And why wouldn’t they”, Mean Voice will add conversationally, before treating me to a rapid mental montage of ‘Every Bad Thing Ida Ever Did And All The Times She Failed At A Thing’, projected onto the screen of my mind. “You’re just awful, aren’t you?”
That is the perpetual moral of her narrative, the conclusion she always arrives at.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, my body conspires with her and I get a craving for unflavoured instant noodles and eat nothing else for days at a time; my skin crawls and itches and won’t stop even when I draw blood; my throat seizes up and my stomach plummets when I receive a compliment, smile or gentle touch; I overthink punctuation in text messages and create conflicts where there were none, then cry my eyes out because I don’t like conflict; I refuse to receive oral from my partner, then lie awake in the dark and fantasise about it, feeling a longing so strong it’s physically painful.
Here’s the silverlining: I know what this is now. I know that just because I’ve thrown away my razorblades and stopped punching walls, I didn’t automatically stop self-harming.
That’s all it is. The toxic relationships, the sleepless nights, the skipped meals, the workout mania, the self-sabotage and depriving myself of everything good, or chasing it away again if it still manages to find me, those are all just invisible cuts and bruises.
And now that I know — I can work on it…A post in my old Mental Health blog, summer 2018
Early on in my relationship, I was struggling to eat. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but when I’m anxious or nervous or, as it turns out, infatuated, I can’t stomach very much. Similarly, if I’m hypomanic, I don’t feel the need to eat, or sleep, or I simply just forget to. Which is why, in the first six months of 2018, due to being hypomanic and in love for the first time in my life, I lost another twelve kilos on top of the thirteen I’d lost from weening off my medication.
Over the past year I have regained about five of those kilos and my GP no longer considers me underweight; I am somewhat happy with my body, although it causes me a lot of pain and I could do with more regular exercise and core strength, I do by no means consider myself to have body issues, and I am not at risk for developing an actual eating disorder.
However… Here I am, force feeding myself toast and batting angry tears from my cheeks, and I can’t help but ask myself What the hell happened?
The butterflies of infatuation moved out ages ago and I am definitely not hypomanic right now. If anything, I am on a four, teeting on the edge of a three. Yet, for several days now, I keep “forgetting” to eat — and even when I look up from my writing to realise Oh, shit, it’s two o’clock, where did the time go? and I never had breakfast, I don’t press Save on my Word document and get up to make myself a meal, in fact I deliberately don’t.
Every day for the better part of a week, I’ve skipped breakfast and lunch, and by the time my partner and I have dinner my stomach is aching with hunger… But even then it’s a struggle for me to finish what’s on my plate; the food doesn’t taste of anything anymore and after only a couple of bites my stomach starts protesting. I eat anyway, even when I start to feel slightly sick. I even go for seconds, and then I go to bed with a stomach ache… So what’s happening here?
Well, I figured it out. And I am not happy.
Let me take you on a joyous journey of the inner workings of Ida Thomasdotter:
I’ve become so good repressing my self-harm urges by now that, beyond a dull but persistent pressure that squeezes me from all sides, including from the inside out, I don’t even notice them sneak up on me anymore. But they do. And even if my conscious mind is none the wiser, my body still reacts accordingly: my chest caves in, my hands tingle, my stomach knots itself and I pend between crying uncontrollably and fighting not to, until my throat closes up and all I can think is everything’s wrong, even though rationally I know that nothing really is, and the fact that I know that, but still feel the wrongness with every fibre of myself, just enforces the feeling and intensifies all of the aforementioned symptoms.
And this is where my subconscious self-sabateur’s real genius comes in… At this point in the process, I arrive at the conclusion that the thing that is wrong is me; I am wrong for being like this and feeling like this, despite all available evidence telling me that things are fine, which means I am irreparably damaged and doomed to always be and feel like this, which means I am always going to be impossible to be around for any length of time, which means that I am a burden on anyone and everyone in my life, which means I should have no-one in my life, because that would be selfish and evil of me — and the fact that I do have people in my life who have to put up with the misery that is my existence can only mean that I am selfish and evil.
Hence, I don’t deserve good things, including food even though my stomach is aching from hunger.
But that’s not the genius part. Here it comes: even after I’ve caught onto myself and realised what I’m doing, given myself a stern talking to and let myself know that this bullshit will no longer be tolerated, the mental and emotional joyride, however fabricated, has left me with all the lovely symptoms of anxiety that one might expect nonetheless, including a stomach in knots incapable of process food.
So here are some quick fix tips, if you have this problem:
- Water. Cold water, drunk in little sips. Not only does it “warm up” your stomach, but focusing on the feeling of it in your mouth, throat and stomach, is a good mindful distraction that tricks your brain to focus on your body rather than the infinity that is your anxious mind.
- Comfort food. Food that is “easy” to eat, but that you also enjoy the taste of. Taste is important, trust me. Even if you can’t actually taste it at this moment in time, it needs to be a food that you would enjoy the taste of under normal circumstances. Even if you have an inexplicable “craving” for unflavoured instant noodles, don’t fall for it. My Self-Saboteur does this to me all the time, sends a signal to my brain and creates a craving for something that I actually won’t enjoy so that, as I eat/drink/do it, I subconsciously associate the activity as some form of punishment, which reinforces the whole “I don’t deserve good things” idea.
- Eat a rainbow. Make yourself a meal with at least three different colours — colours, not shades — which will have a psychological as well as physiological impact. Same reasoning as with the comfort food, with the added benefit of a healthy nutritional boost.
Self-Saboteur: Wait, wha–
Me: Check fucking mate!