“The very facade my life had become was killing me, slowly and silently…”
“You’re a failure…”
Insidious, negative, mind viruses, self-neglect, and tabloid headlines were rife and rampant in my head. But that wasn’t my voice. My real voice, for the first time in a long time, spluttered two words:
I couldn't take any more. I’d walked into a shop ten minutes before, to get an outfit I wouldn't buy, for a party I wouldn't really go to.
Size 16? Nope. 18? Err, no. But, size 20? SIZE 20! I knew my clothes had been feeling a little snug lately, and I had possibly put on a little weight, maybe a kilo or three, but size bloody 20?!
I didn’t have a set of weighing scales at home to humiliate myself with — they had been ‘recycled’ a few years before in an increasingly frequent moment of self-pity. I had now absolutely perfected the art of not looking at myself in any mirror for any length of time, or for that matter, looking at any shiny object which could potentially show my reflection and give me a reality check. I was, at this point, a self-taught grand master at using the mirror to see only what I wanted to see. I needed a little stand-mounted beauty mirror in order to avoid accidentally invoking a corneal ulcer when applying mascara, and to ensure I left the house, on the days when I actually wore make-up, not looking like a clown. Although I now see the irony in that statement, because when you look like I looked and you feel like I felt, no amount of make-up can hide you from yourself, or the rest of the world. My pitiful self-image didn't want this ruthless reflection to point out my flaws and foibles, but most of all I couldn't bear to be reminded of all my failings. No one wants to feel a failure. So I didn't look.
Then the voices rallied, rushing to my aid. This couldn't be happening. These shops were making the clothes smaller, using less material, and it was a cruel thing to do, leaving women all over the country feeling ashamed and frustrated that they couldn't fit into the sizes they wanted to fit into. And they probably did it to save money, as well as making them in Third World sweat shops with forced child labour. It was disgusting! It was an outrage! I was appalled at their greedy, selfish behaviour.
This was the level of thinking I had come to now, to justify and excuse my own self-neglect, but today it wasn't working.
Alone, I was trying to keep my composure, with my mind in overdrive, full of self-loathing, and anger. I peered out through the crack in between the curtains. I was presented with an image that absorbed my own self-pity in an instant. As I looked out through the curtains, I could not help but stare, at my female companion who occupied the cubical opposite mine.
At least I didn't look like that.
Jeez, she was as fat as a house. Huge! Overweight, out of condition, I bet myself silently she needed at least a size 22! She looked exactly how I didn't want to, and the thought that flashed through my mind, clear as day, was that if I ever looked like that I’d definitely do something about it. I was mesmerised, and instantly another mind virus kicked in. I suddenly felt a little better knowing someone else was even fatter than me. Even worse off. Phew! I felt a momentary sense of relief I was not alone. I continued to stare at the large lady opposite me, I knew I really shouldn't, but I did.
Then, without warning our eyes met and she caught me; an instant too late I ducked reflexively back behind the curtain.
And so did she.
It then occurred to me the cubical opposite me was empty!
My brain was trying to register this. Time stood still with beads of sweat bursting out on my forehead. My heart raced, trying hard to burst out of my chest. Nausea rose up from the pit of my stomach, a searing burning sensation filling my throat, choking back the scream I so desperately wanted to let out. I realised with a grim finality that I had been staring at my own distended, misshapen body. I had been looking at myself. I turned to the mirror behind me and tears stung my cheek. Then the room closed in and darkness took me.
I was slumped in a ladies changing room with several outfits, that didn’t fit, that I didn't want, and that I would never buy. Going through the motions of trying to find something suitable to wear to a Christmas party I knew I wouldn't go to. I had a wardrobe full of the stuff already. I had gone through this process so many times before that it was routine now. Why did I do this to myself time after time after time?
It had become a torturous, almost sadistic ritual; being given an invitation to something, someone had felt sorry enough for me to invite me to. Receiving the invite and feeling slightly better for the simple fact that at least I had been thought of even out of pity, but knowing that even when I was accepting the offer, I was never really going to go. I would plan what I’d wear, knowing I would never wear it, and unconsciously start preparing the excuse I would give nearer the time to relieve myself of the embarrassment of having to attend a social event. No need to feel uncomfortable mingling with a crowd of people who would expect me to be my happy, bubbly self, when on the inside I was a crumbling wreck. Just trot out another excuse about childcare problems or work commitments and stay home. Where it was safe. With my friends Ben & Jerry!
My life had become one massive contradiction, saying one thing, while feeling another, pretending everything was great when it was anything but.
The very facade my life had become was killing me, slowly and silently. Emotionally and mentally I was dying, and a few short weeks later I would find out that physically it was even worse. The fact that I was actually well on the way to killing myself would become my reality.
I was trapped in my own body, a helpless victim of my unfortunate genetic make up, my heavy bones, a slow metabolism, and a hectic lifestyle that meant I had to eat what I could when I could, the cards life had dealt me were all conspiring to increase my weight, and decrease my happiness despite my best efforts to the contrary.
Except that wasn't the truth.
The truth was that it was my mind that was holding me prisoner. Somewhere deep down I desperately wanted freedom from the turmoil that was raging in my being. Each day a new battle to face or more likely the same battle to face again. I felt like life had chewed me up and spat me out. I used to be so strong, coping admirably with all that life had to throw at me, receiving compliments on my high spirits and stiff upper lip, but I had somehow, somewhere along the way, become my own worst enemy. I was fighting me, and no one else. I had been listening to the advice of others, well meaning and not, for too many years, and had become fearful of living MY own life, always worrying what others might say, think or do. So I hid and I dodged, and I made excuses, but I felt utterly rejected, beaten by the world, and as my breakdown in the fitting room graphically demonstrated, there was now nowhere else to hide.
Nowhere left to run.
I slouched on the bench afraid to open my eyes, wanting the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
Over the last ten years a series of events that were outside of my control had come at me one after another, conspiring to drag me down into the depths of depression that I now inhabited, dealing out body blow after body blow. As with so many people today I was busy nurturing others with whom I shared the traumatic events, encouraging them to feel good about themselves and raising their spirits, but forgetting to do the same for myself.
Except I hadn’t forgotten.
It was deliberate because when you focus on helping others it lets you off the hook. You help others deal with their problems so that you don’t have to deal with yours. But it takes its toll, slowly; incipiently it takes its toll. My own feel good gauge was now at an all time LOW. The tank was empty. I had nothing left to give. So the engine spluttered. And then stopped.
Looking back on that time in my life I was hoping that someone would help me, that they would do the same for me as I did for them. I had started to become resentful. I knew I had no right to expect others to make me feel better, but surely if I was helping them they should help me too, but if I'm honest now I knew they wouldn't. It was all just a charade to excuse me from the responsibility of sorting my own life. A diversion. I never voiced my inner most feelings of sadness, resentment or fears to anyone, it all stayed inside me, and as my emotions had become self-contained and confined to my own head space, they had turned inward and started to attack me. Don’t get me wrong, I'm no Mother Theresa; it was pride that kept them there. What I didn't verbalise, the self- loathing, the denial of the situation and the sheer size of the problem I needed to confront, was building up inside me like a volcano, and more often than not would have a mini eruption. I would lose my temper easily over mundane things, being snappy and curt, but the one thing that was really out of control was my bingeing and overeating, which led to feeling tired and unwell, physically and mentally, all the time.
It had become an utterly overwhelming, vicious circle, the more these behaviours took hold, the worse I felt; the worse I felt, the more I binged and the angrier I got. In my mind I had created a reality where I believed everybody had this expectation that I was strong and could weather any storm and if I didn't then I would lose face, be a failure or become less of a person in their eyes.
Needless to say I never went to the Christmas party.
Later that day I visited a friend I hadn't seen for a year or so. The door swung open and she looked puzzled as she studied me carefully before speaking. She said: “If it wasn't for your lovely smile, I wouldn't have known you. What have you done to yourself?”
I stood like a statue as my smile evaporated. I had no answer, but her question was what I needed to confront. What had I done to myself? How had I got to this point, where I felt so unhappy, hated the way I looked, and my friend didn't even recognise me. You may think this lady, a close family friend, was rude for being so blunt and tactless, but her greeting was the final blow to my pantomime, breaking asunder my carefully crafted illusion forever and for that I will be eternally grateful for her honesty.
Her words changed my life.
Life gives us clues that things aren't right. It practically screams in our face but there is so much noise, and overwhelms all the things we think we should be doing that we often fail to hear, or pop the warning call on hold. We ignore the signs at what cost? I wanted to be a good role model for my children, and surely my unhappiness couldn't be having that big of an effect on my children.
My life was a contradiction of promoting health, yet ignoring my own. Fear had become my friend who I hid behind.
It was time to make my difference.
That was my turning point, what will yours be? How far are you prepared to let things go before you say enough is enough? In sharing my story I pass on the gift of self-reflection, self-awareness and self-care, three key ingredients to live a life you are totally connected to and peace of mind that we all seek. Live courageously facing your fears, forgive easily to let go of experiences that do not serve you, and love deeply to put yourself at the top of your action list.
You CAN do it, it all starts with accepting you want to
Are you ready to accept?