21 April 2017

One Skype Call at a Time...

This morning I had one of my monthly psychologist appointments. The usual ringtone of the Skype call proceeded at 8:00am, but I was ready. Armed with my stories of fundraising success, holiday excitement and new volunteering ventures, I was ready for the conversation. This is how most of my appointments start- full of positivity and achievement. As stupid as it sounds, I have quite a good habit of skating over the areas in which I have struggled prior to the appointment, in the hope that I do not have to confront the issues. Like I say, I know it sounds stupid because that is the whole point of the appointment- to work on the challenges I need to face. But this is hard.

As expected, the first 15 minutes of the conversation was the usual catch up, and I was quite happy to give an in depth account of all of the positive events that have recently happened in my life; quietly dropping in a few elements that I have struggled with, but quickly following up with a success. Why I think that my psychologist will not pick up on these difficulties if I rapidly blurt out a positive anecdote I have no idea, but I always give it a go anyway. Sure enough, soon after I finish my last tale, the digging begins and I know that some of the issues I have been suppressing will begin to surface.

“So you mentioned a meal that you ate in Dubai where shortly after completing it you began to close yourself off?” She starts.

“Well, yes, but I discussed it with Mum afterwards and apologised, and everything was fine.” I followed, hoping that I had said the right thing to brush past the topic.

“What was it about the meal that made your behaviour change?” She continues.

That was when I knew that I had to delve into my thoughts, feelings and emotions that I experienced at that moment in time and get to the root of the problem. Otherwise, I will never be able to develop the tools I need to work through these boundaries that I am confronted with.

I know that at this point you are probably all wondering what was so ‘horrendously’ wrong with the meal that I had consumed that day, so much so that I felt a crippling inability to talk or be emotionally present in my Mum’s company. Well I am not embarrassed to tell you that the meal was a simple fajita-spiced chicken wrap and chips. Some of you reading this may be able to relate as to why I felt that this was such a challenge, others may be bewildered as to why I am even talking about this as a problem. As I started writing this I decided that I was not going to go in depth as to why I found this a troublesome experience, but I want to relay the battle that presented itself in my mind at the very moment that I began consuming the meal, so that I can try to convey the difficulties I experience.

Jess’ thoughts:
Anorexia- ‘How many chips are there?! That isn’t one portion! How many has Mum got? Have they given you more? Hang on, your wrap looks a little bigger than Mum’s, why would they do that? This isn’t what it described on the menu- where are the vegetables? Why is all the chicken covered in sauce? You cannot eat that. Oh good, there is salad. Oh wait, have they covered it in creamy dressing? How stupid, you should have known and asked for the dressing on the side. You should have just picked something else on the menu. Are you actually going to eat this? Maybe you could offer Mum the majority of it.

Rational Jess- ‘Right, come on, I need this food for fuel. I have walked 68km already this week and I am doing more this afternoon. I am just going to try the salad with the dressing, I might like it and it is still a portion of vegetables. The wrap actually looks really tasty and I haven’t had chips in a while. I am really hungry! The wrap is actually quite nice, a bit spicy but nice. I actually forgot how good chips taste!

Anorexia- ‘Wait, are you actually going to eat this? Have you not seen the portion size? Do you not think you should use your knife and fork to eat that? You look really greedy using your hands. What did you have for breakfast again? Haven’t you already had bread today? Where are you going for tea? What are you going to have? Make sure it isn’t fried whatever it is. Surely you are not actually enjoying those chips. Keep offering them to Mum. Why are you still eating them? You know you shouldn’t be doing that! Have you seen the oil on the plate? I think you should stop eating now. Tell Mum you are not enjoying it and that you are full. I thought you had more self-control than that.

Rational Jess- ‘This meal is actually ok, maybe not the best but I know I need to eat it. At least I will be refueled ready to do some more exploring this afternoon. That oil doesn’t look great on the plate, but I hardly ever eat chips and I am enjoying them so I will just keep picking at them. I know it is quite a big meal but I don’t have to eat it all and I am not going to be eating again until teatime. I wonder if Mum is enjoying it?’

So there we have it; an insight into the battle of thoughts that circulated my mind at the moment that I began to eat that one meal. Feel exhausted reading it? Imagine having this same conversation in your own head every time you eat something or plan to eat something. Granted, the voice of ‘rational Jess’ is usually much louder during this stage of my recovery, but with this example, it was clear that the Anorexic voice had sensed vulnerability and cranked up the volume a few notches louder than my developing strength could handle. But now I had the opportunity to expand my mental toolkit to prevent that experience occurring again, so I commenced with regurgitating the event to my psychologist.

As hard as the process was, I am so pleased I did it. Talking about the experience made me think about the thoughts I was having and slow them down. Vocalising the mental battle allowed me to appreciate just how much time I spend listening to the thoughts, both good and bad. It upset me. I was sat in a lovely café in the Dubai Mall, with a picturesque view of Ski Dubai and the opportunity to watch people tobogganing, sledging and having snowball fights. But instead, I retracted into the chaos that was going on in my head. I shut down. I didn’t speak to my beautiful Mum that had booked this holiday of a lifetime. I didn’t live in the moment. I didn’t acknowledge how grateful I was to have even been there. I just became absorbed into the exhaustive process of eating a chicken wrap and chips.

On the other hand, I know now. I know that I still have elements of my recovery that I need to work on and speaking to my psychologist, I knew that I had the support there that I need to make those steps. So I have decided to write a list of ‘recovery goals’ that will be pinned up on my noticeboard for me to look at every day. Most of these goals will take time, but I am ok with that. I am not in a rush. Every day I learn something new about myself- whether that is my capabilities or weaknesses, but that is the key to personal development and it is how I use this knowledge that is what is important. I can either choose to capitalise on the strengths and work on the weaknesses, or settle for the life I am currently experiencing. I think I know the option I will choose.