5 May 2016

One General Overlook at a Time...

I am sure that I am not the only one when I say I have trouble accepting my body. I think it is something that we all struggle with, but most people do not let it rule their life. I wish I was one of the few that don’t care what they look like as long as they are happy and healthy, but at the moment I am not.

If I am honest, I never wanted to believe that some aspect of my Anorexia stems from my unhappiness regarding my body; I thought it was mainly an outcome of my obsessive label checking and a complex range of external triggers. Truth is, there have been plenty of times in my life where I have felt so uncomfortable about the way I look, that I have felt the need to change. My earliest memories are from attending a dance school and being involved in the annual shows. I remember sitting on the floor as we were categorised into small, medium or large for our dance costumes. At the time it didn’t have an impact on my eating habits, but I did start to question my size and compared myself to others. Whilst I was doing the dance shows I had no negative thoughts about my body image, and was just so proud of my talent! However, as I watched the DVD’s back, I started to pick out elements of my body that were different to others, and I recall feeling embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed. This did not prompt a change in my eating at that moment, but unbeknown to me, these were all negative building blocks that would accumulate into something more damaging.

As I started secondary school, there were again more events that caused me to have more of an awareness of my body shape. This included the comparison of clothing sizes as my age group progressed onto the womenswear section. Again, I started to become confused about the inconsistent link between my clothing size and my age, in relation to others in my peer group. I know that these comparisons are prominent in all age groups, and are just a part of growing up, but it is only now that I become frustrated with the fact that I questioned it so much. In the early stages of treatment, I used to wonder, if I hadn’t have made these assessments during this time of my life, would I have been through what I have? But, rightly or wrongly, I strongly believe that I was going to develop Anorexia at some point in my life, it was just going to take something, or multiple things to trigger it. I think the only difference that could have been made is early intervention. That may well have been initiated by myself if I had have known that what I was going through wasn’t normal through learning about mental health at school. In connection with the main subject of this post, I also strongly promote the need for body image work in schools.

As part of my treatment plan, I embarked on several sessions of body image work. These varied from assessing what my main issues currently are, exploring issues in the past around my appearance, and confronting a full length mirror. It was this final session of looking in the mirror that had the biggest impact on me.

I was asked to stand in front of the mirror and describe what I saw. It was only when I had scanned my entire body and picked out the multitude of features I wasn’t happy with, that I realised I had not once looked above my neck. I was so focused on my body that I hadn’t even noticed that my hair has a few natural highlights or that my eyes appear to have freckles in them. I didn’t need prompting to realise this, it just dawned on me after I had scrutinised every other feature of my lower body. For a moment I fell silent and questioned why I do this. What does it bring to my life? I know it brings me unhappiness. My Anorexia strives for me to restrict my eating, or over exercise in order to manipulate my body shape, probably in an attempt to achieve ‘perfection’. But perfection doesn’t exist! I have pushed my body to extreme limits, through no intention of my own, and at no point throughout that process did I witness ‘perfection’, or felt like I was even close to it. But what I want to know is, what does my mind think that perfection looks like? In Jess’ healthy mind, perfection doesn’t include my organs shutting down, the inability to walk and a fragile skeletal frame; but that was the only route that my Anorexia was directing me down.

I need to continue to shift my mindset and realise that body shape isn’t the be all and end all in life. People are still going to love me regardless of my shape and size. It doesn’t effect who I am as a person. At no point whilst I have been in the depths of Anorexia have I ever been happy, and that was because I could never make 'it' happy. I don’t know what my illness was trying to make me achieve, whether that was in terms of my body shape, social life or self worth, but I never got to a point where it released me from its grip. I need to learn now to continue to challenge 'its' ideals, and accept my body for what it is. I need to learn to take a general overlook of my body, and not isolate areas that I consider to be flawed. I need to learn that the only perfection that exists is that of health and contentment with who I am.

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