My therapist told me this morning that from her clinical experience, she thinks a lot of people who develop eating disorders have the same personality temperaments. In this case sharing a tendency to “externalize” things. Whether this comes from anxiety, perfectionism, ocd, depression, aversion or whatever, I understand that it likely applies to me.
For me this makes complete sense. I have always pursued “objective success” to the detriment of my physical and mental health, while never really stopping to consider the journey of life. The whole real point of it all. I assumed that by working hard I could keep as many doors open as possible and decide once I got there. I realize now that not taking the time to “stop and smell the roses” may have left many doors open, but also left me with no idea which door I want to go through. As a result I’ve arrived here in my early 20s with no real idea of who the hell I actually am as a person or what I like. To be honest I couldn’t even tell you my favourite movie, favourite food, nor favourite artist let alone what I want to do with my life.
Maybe this is why I’ve always been bad at making decisions. Ignoring a whole part of me that’s trying to fight to be heard. Maybe recently I’ve been letting the anxiety of this conflict take over and am avoiding having to make any decisions at all costs. The only way for me to escape my expectations is to be too sick to fulfill them. It’s the way I know how. A complete mindset shift, while definitely more constructive, would require an awful lot of work. Work that I cant have the energy for unless I’m taking care of myself physically and mentally. While Paradoxically, taking care of myself is something I can’t accept that I deserve unless I can change my mindset. So I guess I just have to go ahead and start down the path to change even if I don’t want to. While listening to myself is the ultimate goal, ironically for now I have to listen to other. To those telling me that they believe this is something I have to do. Something that will align with my true self and my true desires. I have to trust those I love, who can see the real me that shines through the external, to push me in the right direction.
The good thing is that I’m still only in my early 20s…There’s plenty of time to figure things out. Provided that I change things that is. Changing my dangerous, deeply-rooted, behaviours may be an important step in allowing me to truly “find myself”. Making changes of cutting back on school and sport might allow me to get into a better head place and to address my bad habits while giving me time to focus on the journey instead of the outcome.
Eating disorders by nature are very externalizing behaviours. Worrying about controlling my body and food means I don’t have to worry about controlling other uncontrollable things. It gives me an excuse not to face the impossibly dangerous expectations I set for myself in other aspects of my life. Whether these expectations are in general too high, or completely inconsistent with what I actually want. I can see that trying to stick with something that doesn’t make me happy might be just as detrimental as chasing unattainable perfection.
I’m overwhelmed at the thought of even trying to consider what I truly enjoy or who I truly am. I’m worried that I won’t be able to figure it out, or if I do, that I won’t be happy anyways or it won’t be “right”.
I think though, that I’ve been making decisions that really do represent my “truth” (or whatever you want to call it) all along but I don’t necessarily realize. They might be the reason I got this far at all. Maybe they are what have kept me going and gotten me to this point. I think I’m suppressing them or ignoring them, but maybe they have been doing their best to save me the whole time. Maybe my intuition does exist and it isn’t as broken as I think it is, so it’s possible that learning to tap into it will serve me well.
I chose my university. Based on some “gut feeling” I got when I visited.
I chose to be with my boyfriend, based on love.
I chose to pursue psychology as my minor. With all external things removed this is what I (think) I actually wanted to take. Electives seem to remove the pressure, “if you had space left over to fill what would you actually enjoy?” – that happened to be psychology.
I know I often suppress my internal desires to prioritize the external. I have done so for as long as I can remember. But the internal is not completely inaccessible, and I know this now. From passion that has leaked out into my life it doesn’t look like what’s inside will end up leading me astray or being nearly as disastrous as I think it will.
There’s no way to know for sure unless I try. Yes it’s overwhelming, but I know now that making changes, and necessarily making mistakes, is the only way to figure things out.
I can relieve myself of the pressure I feel – the need to escape from what I’m doing right now. I CAN allow myself to do what I want. I don’t need to be sick to take care of myself, nor is prioritizing your mental and physical health any less respectable than working yourself into the ground.
I am worried that I won’t be happy because I don’t ever remember being happy (or self-confident). That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s actually just consistent with the fact that I’ve only ever done things one way, and that this might be one big reason I’m not happy – this way doesn’t work. Yes I may always be someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, but maybe building a life with healthier coping mechanisms around what makes me happy are good tools to battle these demons. After all, it does seem like it might give things the feeling of really having the eternally sought-after “point”.
What if I don’t like where my intuition takes me? Doubtful. I worry that in leaving behind my mental illness I’ll be leaving behind the good aspects of my personality as well, but logically this is unlikely. Just as my intuition has been expressing itself in small ways all along, I think my true personality has too. It’s often just masked by my disorders. Whether I can accept it or not, there’s a reason my wonderful boyfriend chooses to stick with me. There’s a reason I have great friends and tend to be able to work well with others. There’s a reason I’m successful. These reasons live somewhere in me aside from my mental illness. In the words of Matt Haig, In the me that is transient. Change might really only result in me actually being able to appreciate these things that I’ve truly earned for good reasons. Change might allow me to spend more enjoyable time with my friends, family and boyfriend. I know I care about these people and that won’t change. I know I care for others in general. I want to take care of others not in attempt to ignore taking care of myself but because I know how it feels to be sad, and I don’t want that for anyone. Maybe recovery will bring me even more energy to help others, cause I don’t think I’ll suddenly want to stop doing so. Change (or even success) in the mental health realm too might just make me generally more successful overall, and if it doesn’t, any lost “success” (however externally measurable I think this might be) isn’t really worth it if costs me my happiness.
“So what do you want to do with your life?”
Any shame I might feel from answering that I don’t know or that I’ve already changed my mind twice may not come from a completely logical place. (As is frequently the case with my anxious, depressed brain). The point is, most people DONT know what they’re doing at this stage in their lives. And those who figured it out had to try different things, and likely fail at different things, to get there. Yes it would have been ideal if I knew all along what my goals were, where my passions really lay, such that I could have forged fiercely forward, gotten my degree in as short a time as necessary and as little money as possible. But I’d be kidding myself to say I haven’t realized that life is far less than ideal. I haven’t quite come to be okay with the discomfort or anxiety that idea induces yet, but maybe one day I will. One day, when down the line I’m doing something I truly enjoy and am happy. There’s so much societal pressure to be “doing” and “achieving” it’s hard not to get caught up in the externalizing behaviours. Of course eating disorders have a significant social aetiology but I don’t need to change society to start changing myself.
One thing at a time.
And today that one thing might be as simple as getting out of bed and eating a real meal.