I made it to the clinic and apparently I’m settling in. Well – lots of people ask me every day how I’m settling in. What do you say to that? I’m here and I’m following the rules. I’d rather be at home cleaning my toilets but I’m not. So here we are.
My world has become very small.
I have a bedroom. There is a communal area where we eat and watch television. There is a corridor and there are people around. That is now my world.
I can see the rest of you out the window – wandering around with your freedom and day to day worries. Not limited by regimented clothing guidelines and eating structures. I see you. I envy you. It is not your ability to walk out in the fresh air I envy – I can leave here any time I choose. I’m not here involuntarily. What I envy is your normality. Your decision to eat what you want, when you want. I envy those who don’t stress and ruminate about those choices every moment of the day. I long to be just like you. One day.
When your world becomes this small, there is a lot of time for self-reflection. So, reflect I have done. Today there was art therapy – a most hateful activity. I was not looking forward to it. While it is true that the marks I left on the paper will not be hanging in a famous (or infamous) gallery any time soon, it is also true the art therapy allowed for interesting emotional expression.
As my hands were shaking like a leaf (thanks to a combination of high anxiety and lots of ventolin), I decided against trying to create anything requiring straight lines. But interestingly enough, I found myself “drawing” anxiety. Swirls and swirls upon swirls. I filled the page with crayon swirls. And in between the swirls, I wrote in almost invisible letters,
This too shall pass. This too shall pass.
I didn’t consciously draw anxiety. We were given a couple of exercises, and then the third exercise was to “draw something that expresses how we’re feeling at the moment”. So I held up my page of purple & silver swirls and said, Just like this. But apparently that wasn’t enough – I had to get another piece of paper and do something else. So I used water colours and filled the page with huge black and purple treble clefs – with added swirls – then did a golden wash over the whole lot, so the treble clefs smudged and ran. Then I wrote, gone in the bottom corner. That’s how it feels. My musical world – gone. I found it very upsetting to be honest. Luckily being one of the new chicks I didn’t have to explain in great detail what I’d drawn, why I’d drawn it, and how I was feeling about it.
We all hear the importance of letting stuff go.
Let emotions go. Let stress go. Let people go. Let your career/husband/kids/dog go. But it’s not that easy is it?
I remember being at Questacon many moons ago, and they had this free fall slide. (They still have it if you happen to be in Canberra any time soon.) It’s basically a slippery dip, but you have to hang from a bar and free fall onto it. From the ground looking up, the drop is very small. You free fall a split second and then you’re on the slide and heading down as per usual. But hanging from the bar looking down, the drop is enormous. Despite knowing it’s completely safe, biological instincts kick in to say what you’re doing is unnatural – stop it right now. Heart pounds, breathing is rapid, the body shakes. And the inside of your head is screaming, I can’t do it! It’s incredibly hard to override the fear with logic and let go of that bar.
Letting go of emotional issues and well worn coping mechanisms feels just as terrifying. A biological instinct kicks in saying, don’t do it, don’t do it. And all the rational and logical statements in the world don’t help. You know you have to do it, but overriding that instinctive fear mechanism is all consuming and exhausting. Arachnophobes, aerophobes and acrophobes all know exactly what I’m talking about. As do all the other phobes.
I seem to have multiple fears.
Fear of failure (atychiphobia). Fear of dogs (cynophobia). Fear of getting fat (pocrescophobia). They are my big three – and today I’ve learned they all have proper scientific names, which ironically makes me feel less alone. We all have fears – if you think you don’t, you’re wrong. But some are less obvious or intrusive than others. And some people have more extreme versions than others. My pocrescophobia is overwhelming. It rules my life and has escalated in the past five years. If I can’t overcome this fear, I will be trapped in this place forever.
I have been fat. I have been thin. I was no less fearful when fat or thin. Losing the weight doesn’t help the fear – at all. In fact it makes it worse. I am now incarcerated with 20 young women all of whom have the exact same fear. We sit together at meals, staring at our food with longing and fear. Their body sizes vary enormously, but I can see the fears are identical no matter their size. I feel their fear. I share it.
Six times a day we have to eat. S.I.X times. That is a lot of eating. Do people normally eat six times a day? I’m not sure what normal people do. They probably don’t know either. They probably get hungry, then eat food and stop thinking about it. But when you live your whole life thinking every morsel of food is going to make you fat, and that when you’re fat people will judge you, then all these morsels are fear inducing and you’re left hanging from that freefall bar again and again and again. All day long. Once you’ve let go once and got to the bottom, and your heart is still racing and you’re thinking you don’t ever want to do it again, then you have to climb back all those stairs and take a second bite. All day long. It is exhausting.