Its the end of mental health awareness week and so many people are sharing their struggles with their anxieties, depression and so many other conditions and giving others hope and understanding that they are not alone.
So i thought Id share my own struggles, to show that despite them it is still possible to be a successful, compassionate person and therapist. I have previously had diagnoses of depression, binge eating disorder, and more recently anxiety and verging on OCD… what do those labels actually look like for me? I am considered high functioning, in that i am capable of creating and running my own business, having relationships, leaving the house etc. I have significant lulls that can lead to suicidal thoughts rarely, more often an ‘I cant be bothered existing feeling‘. More significantly, most days my disordered thoughts starts with ‘right today will be the day I conquer my food’, invariably ‘failing’ in some way, berating myself for it, whilst at least obsessing over foods I’d like to eat, if not actually stuffing my face with them, to end my day hating myself for ‘failing’ yet again and for still being fat, to start the cycle all over again the next day, with increased guilt, shame and self loathing. These thoughts create a spiral of low mood, more negative thinking, becoming more and more self critical, literally eating away at my self confidence/esteem, which creates a vicious cycle of wanting the food to self sooth.
Most folks have heard of most of these thing, with binge eating disorder being a difficult one for people to fathom (but actually I think its more common than people realise – I often see signs of it in others). It is in essence a behaviour that I have learned (from a very early age) that to calm my emotional state I use food. As a child I would sneak into the kitchen and literally eat spoonfuls of syrup – sugar was the thing for me – and still is.
It is a very complicated relationship – it soothes me, it calms me, it energises me, comforts me, its used for celebration, commiseration, as a reward (I’ve had a bad day I deserve XYZ) and everything in between (as it is for most folks – so many of our interactions are based on eating – Christmas is the perfect example of societal excesses around food). As with most drugs, of which make no mistake sugar most definitely is, you build a tolerance and need more and more and more. Yet whilst it gives me all that short term, the long term consequences are very detrimental, not only physically (obesity) but mentally.
I spent my teens, learning to hate myself because of my weight, for not being able to have enough ‘will power’ to just shift the weight (I so wish it was that easy!) I am now 41 years of age, and on reflection it makes me sad that this has been my life so far, that I have spent so long hating myself, berating myself for my ‘failings’, thinking no one could/would like let alone love me because I am fat, that I cant possibly be a good acupuncturist because I am fat – its been at the forefront of my thoughts on a daily basis, to the detriment of my own life.
How this has made me the fabulous person I am today
This discomfort in myself has guided me down a path of healing, attempting to find ‘the cure’. Started with diet plans, researching food etc (as I thought it was simply food choices that were the issue). Followed by my degree in psychology (not the entire reason I went to uni) but I hoped I’d find the answers there, I’ve seen counsellors, life coaches, psychologists, many styles of natural therapies – acupuncture (a few styles), massage, shiatsu, zero balancing, rolfing, hypnotherapy, journey work, reiki, most recently herbal medicine. I’ve taken pharmaceutical interventions, I’ve attended courses, read books, been to workshops, joined Overeaters Anonymous (OA). They have all helped in small ways, but no one thing created the life free from the sometimes overwhelming thoughts.
What I have come to realise is that its the culmination of all that experimenting and experience that has got me to where I am at now, I am moving more consistently than I ever have (and of course could move more), I am consistently reducing the foods and drinks that are not healthy, I have regular treatments of acupuncture, massage (well my wife is one – it would be rude not to!), I meditate daily, have regular baths with epsom salts, and work hard to not allow the negative voice to stop me doing what I want to do. Most recently, I have learned to be nicer to myself – which is probably the hardest – and requires the most focus to continually commit to making those choices, to create the life I want to live – full of joy, freedom and movement.
All this internal conflict in my life I believe has helped me be a better therapist – and acupuncture is an integral part of my ability to understand what is happening and what is helpful for me to improve my life, I see it as a very useful, integral part of my health – and it can be yours to, along with some other lifestyle change – taking up a yoga class, learning breathing techniques, whatever it may be – find the tools that work for you, i can suggest PLENTY from personal experience and make the CHOICE to use them to your benefit.
We are creatures of habit – to be able to function in this life our bodies automate as many processes, including thoughts, as possible (imagine having to learn to talk and walk every day – humans sure wouldn’t have progressed as much as they have without things becoming subconscious!). These learned behaviours/strategies/habits we have become ingrained and we believe they are unchangeable. One of the wonders of the human body is its ability to change – research on the brain shows it can be rewired (neuroplasticity).
A life coach I worked with described it as pathways – so our biggest habits are akin to super highways, learning new habits is like walking through a forest with no path – you have to create it – and the more you walk it the bigger the path gets. Our brain recognises the importance of the new behaviour when we keep repeating it and it starts to make the neural pathways stronger and eventually it will become a superhigh too, whilst the old, no longer useful, habit highways become overgrown and neglected (but may never disappear).
I think that is the key to understanding ourselves – the old habits won’t disappear completely. In my case, my default will always be to reach for food as my comfort, but with time and repeated positive behaviours it wont be as strong a pull, now that old highway is full of potholes! The way to create the life you want is to consistently, and kindly, make choices that support the life we want to have – but don’t expect the lightbulb moment, where everything suddenly changes and you never default back to your old ways.
I humbly offer my story in the hope that it inspires you to care for yourself in a more gentle, loving way, knowing that your struggles are understood and accepted, in the very least by me. If you want to reach out to me – email is best firstname.lastname@example.org (no one else has access to this account) or even try acupuncture for yourself FOR FREE you can book here