I haven’t really felt like writing lately, I do and don’t know why that is. Sometimes when I feel quite bad, writing can be a way for me to unburden myself. When I feel ok, or even good, I feel like perhaps there isn’t a place for it. Years ago I used to spend a lot of time writing thoughts down, but I stopped because it stopped being honest, and it was full of clichés and it was forced and so ultimately pointless. I started writing something in this post but became exasperated because it didn’t feel honest. This is honest, because this is raw catalogueing of thoughts, and it doesn’t feel forced. I was going to write about some metaphor for recovery, but I lost interest very quickly. Now that my confession is out of the way, we can begin.
Recently I had an introductory talk from a woman who I met this year at First Steps. I first met her when I started going to the weekly drop in sessions that support people with eating disorders. In around 10 months I have somehow graduated from service user to volunter. It feels strange to say that, because volunteering at a charity that supports people through incredible suffering, must imply that I somehow have the capacity to do that. I do have this capacity, but not because I am fully recovered (I don’t believe in full recoveries). I have it, because I have learned a lot and grown from the time I have spent with people from First Steps. They have taught me a lot about my own suffering, and how I can use this to extend a hand to somebody else. In 12 step circles, people in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction sometimes have a mentor. Often that mentor has just had more experience of relapsing or being in recovery, they know the darkness and they have several years more experience. Despite eating disorders being very varied, and having vastly different causes, like all things there is some universality. What is common across them is that somehow for some reason, we came to feel that we were not enough. This is what I will tell them this year; you are enough.
It is a curious thing, how a deeply personal and at times incredibly destructive set of experiences, enable a person to take all of that and use it to help other people who are suffering. It is remarkable, and I feel some part of that within me too, and I want to understand it more. For a long time I felt so disconnected from people due to isolating myself for so long, but things are different now. I have a good support network around me, and it started with this charity. I made friends with other service users, and I became friends with a friend of one of these new friends, and through her I have made other friends, and here we are. I may have started a new tradition of sorts. I had three friends round to watch the first episode of the Great British Bake Off last week, and some days afterwards a stranger on twitter challenged me to bake something, and I did. I made some gingerbread sandwich biscuits, twice. It was nice, and I got to share them with my housemates and friends. This time I will make a cake. I haven’t done any baking for a long time, mostly because I have a lot of shame about preparing food when other people are around. It helps to have housemates I can just feed it all to as well. This is a way for me to challenge my own behaviours around preparing food, because once I see that it is ok, I can do it all more naturally.
The eating isn’t going so great at the moment, I am resorting to convenience rather than preparing food. I feel like at the moment that is more to do with my drive to get things moving with my thesis and other things. As a friend has said before “it’s ok to not be ok”, so sometimes I have to just accept that I won’t be able to focus a great deal on eating better. It is not afterall uncommon for people to dip into bad eating habits during times of stress and high workload, so I don’t need to burden myself with thoughts that I am failing somehow. Recovery is a slow process, and if it has to remain at the same level for a while, so be it. Then again I don’t really see recovery as just one area, because there are parts of my life which are invariably good right now, better perhaps than they have ever been. It would be typical of me to focus on one worse area and use that as the lens through which I see everything else.
In other news, the thesis is progressing, in part thanks to therapy, and in part thanks to my partner in crime (together we make up Asskickers United). Through therapy I learned about a model of generalised anxiety (the Dugas model, see below) and it shows how anxiety comes down to “intolerance of uncertainty” and within it, how cognitive avoidance behaviours develop. Avoidance explains my issue with the thesis. Ultimately I was just avoiding it, but not because I felt anxious necessarily, but because I had built the thesis up to be an anxious experience. I think that I subconsciously thought that thesis work would make me anxious, and therefore by avoiding the thesis I avoid anxiety and remain intact. My therapist reminded me that I enjoy my PhD work, she asked me to talk about it with her, and I explained some concepts, she asked how I felt, and I felt better. I must work hard to remember that I am interested in it. It must be really difficult for people who can’t lean on that. I’ve learned that I deserve help and I should ask for it, instead of just trying to help others and struggling myself. I am hoping to apply for an extension to my deadline, if I don’t get it then I will understand and will just have to do my best to finish when I can. I am gaining momentum at last.
I have found that I need to be around other people when I work, I cannot stand the thought of working from home, in my room. I also don’t much like the library, though I should try it more. At the moment I have found going to a friend’s house to be helpful, and also, surprisingly, working in public in cafés. My therapist just advised me to go with whatever seems to be working, and this does seem to be working, so I guess I can’t complain at that. I keep having these thoughts about what comes next, all the things I will be able to do once I don’t have thesis work taking up time that could be spent doing paid work. I hate skimping by on barely any money, and it is something that has underpinned my resolve to volunteer in my current role, helping people search for jobs and handle benefit issues etc. It just seems like nowadays there is never enough, you get paid and a huge chunk goes on rent (because you can’t afford to buy a house any time soon), and then your bills are high, and you have to buy food, and then somehow save something of what is left? Aha, nearly fell for it. Worries that could be really serious but are not yet serious, will try and creep into my mind and inflate themselves. It is a curious thing, how merely noticing a thought can be enough to stop it, at least for me. I hear these things take practise, so that eventually you notice the thoughts earlier and intervene before anything really happens. I like this idea of growing stronger mentally, because for me the only thing I have ever allowed myself to be proud of is something related to intelligence. I love to absorb new knowledge and learn new skills, and treating recovery as a mental skill makes it more interesting to me. I think about how my general problem solving skills have improved a lot compared to when I was younger, and it makes me look forward to the future because of all the things I could be capable of. There’s that word again, capable, the word that describes how I see recovery, capable of living.
I’ve been playing a survival game lately called “The Long Dark” and it is a post apocalyptic game where you have to survive the freezing cold. When you start a game, you are presented with a thematic quote on the loading screen. One that really stuck with me recently was this:
Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.
This was written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 2000 or so years ago, in one of his many letters dealing with moral issues.