A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Weight Issue

When I was a kid I was skinny. At adolescence I became average weight and stayed that way until I became psychotic at age 36. I put on 70 pounds. Now I'm about 40 pounds overweight. Yesterday I decided to lose 20 of the 40 pounds within the next four months through diet and exercise. The deadline is a doctor's appointment at the end of June. If I succeed I'll be halfway to average weight again and then I'll work on the final 20 pounds. The last time I lost weight without exercising was four years ago. I ate one meal a day for four months and yes, I lost a chunk of weight. Not healthy and if I continued in that pattern I would have become anorexic.

It was my voices that warned me against self starvation as a means to weight loss. The implication was that it would change me in a negative way and that it would be hard to stop once I started. And so I got myself a treadmill, continued to eat and exercised 90 minutes four to five times a week and I lost 20 pounds. Then I stopped exercising and began to put weight back on, not a lot but enough to make me want to get back on the horse and try again. And that's where I'm at now. But there's still that temptation to drastically cut back on what I eat, to, in effect, take a shortcut. Intellectually I know that puts extra stress on my body and on myself. I know it is unhealthy. I know that is a paradox because what I really want is to be healthy. Emotionally I want fast results without having to work at it, just like a little child. I want that miraculous pill just like many other people. And emotionally I am also repelled by the idea of a diet pill because at the same time I don't want to work, I also want to earn what I get. I want my life to be meaningful rather than easy.

So there's this psychological struggle in me between action and inaction, between doing what's challenging and doing what's easy. But why should moderate eating and exercising be such a challenge to me? When I stick to it, I enjoy it. Then inevitably I fall victim to my own gradual lack of discipline and I slide back into a kind of inertia and from there I slide back into a low level depression that reinforces itself each time I decide to eat a little extra and skip exercising for the day. I can see why people go to training coaches a couple of times a month as a necessary kick in the ass, the motivational push to persevere. But I live alone and can change my daily standards at will and so I have to just push myself a little harder and keep going.

I'm minimally aware that I hide behind my weight. It reinforces my self isolation. I accept myself in all my middle aged lack of beauty by myself, for myself but avoid pursuing friendship and any potential lover. Again, intellectually, I know this is foolish and unproductive. Just because I'm overweight doesn't mean that I don't deserve friends and a lover. And really it's just an excuse to remain alone. I feel safe with myself and after all the pain I've been through loving an abuser when I was not psychotic and then the pain of psychosis just makes me settle into myself and not venture too far outside of myself. Again, it's easy and so that's what I do.

Eating. I'm not really an overeater, though I probably eat a bit more than I should each day, but I watch what I eat and avoid the usual suspects: pizza, wings, cake, ice cream, etc... I don't binge and I've never intentionally purged. I do enjoy eating. I say a prayer before I eat for those who are hungry, especially the children, that they be fed. This prayer gives me permission to enjoy my food without feeling guilty. I used to thank God for the main ingredients of what I was about to eat, it was sort of a Buddhist meditation practice for me. It's amazing how that pause before eating really does something to me. Deepens my gratitude, slows me down, makes me think of others instead of taking the food for granted. Food like water is precious and I want to remember that when I eat.

It's not food that such a problem for me, it's the lack of exercise. I am aging, my metabolism is slowing down, like many middle aged people I don't stay active as I did when I was younger and therefore I put on weight. I believe if I could again commit to daily exercise that that would be more than half the battle for me. I'm very fortunate that I do not have an eating disorder and should take advantage of that window of opportunity to get back on track. But many people are not so fortunate.

Pam was the first one to wake me up to the palpable reality of eating disorders. In her blog she openly discusses her struggle with anorexia. I feel protective of her and of all people who are starving themselves after they hit their healthy weight. There's so much media peer pressure to become emaciated like some models and there are so many famous women (and I'm sure some men) who are anorexic or bulimic. It is a serious social problem. And I admit, I have trouble understanding it. In my overweight condition I would be perfectly happy to be only ten pounds overweight. I have trouble imagining being underweight because that just hasn't been my adult (or adolescent) experience. Except for those four months of semi-starvation, I do eat and don't have a problem eating. So how do I relate to someone who either has no appetite for eating or who willfully won't eat, someone who has a deeply rooted fear of gaining weight? I'm an example of what they fear most. I am a fat woman.

I can understand why women (though I know eating disorders affect some men too) do not want to become fat. Of course I understand. I don't want to be fat either. Not only is it unhealthy but it is unattractive. And many of us have this horror about being unattractive because somehow it translates into being unloveable. But really, this fear of being unattractive and therefore unloveable is an illusion. Take a good look at the people passing by you on a street or in a supermarket and you'll notice most are not beautiful and yet they love and are loved. Standards of perfection are naturally imperfect and should be. It is not what you look like on the outside but who you are on the inside that is important. Most of us know this, we live this. If people were rejected based on appearance we would have a civil war on our hands.

I'm in the midst of reading a book called [ Appetites ] by Caroline Knapp. I bought it in response to learning about Pam's anorexia. The author describes her struggle with anorexia and goes on to analyze the reasons for it that are spurred by society. The book came out in 2003 and was a national bestseller. The shocking thing is that Ms. Knapp died at the age of 42 from complications of anorexia before the book was published. And I think about wonderful Pam and I don't want her to extinguish her own light through the not so simple act of not eating. I'm going to finish the book and write something about it and then send it to Pam. I'm hoping that it will help her in some way that I'm unable to.

So Pam and I are coming from opposites directions, she's underweight and I'm overweight. Either way our health is being compromised and we both need to do something to change our situations. Well, I'm on day two of my diet and exercise program and I'll keep posting about my progress during the next four months. Pam, the ball's in your court. It's time to take some action.
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