Thursday, 12 August 2010

Reality Bites

There is nothing I love more than to plonk myself on the sofa in my comfiest pyjamas and no-make up watching reality TV. Big Brother, Dating in the Dark, The Hills… I will literally watch anything and everything that's out there. It gives me a little thrill - a guilty secret (that doesn't make me feel guilty and is no longer a secret - but you get the picture).

My all-time favourite show is America's Next Top Model (or ANTM as devotees will know). This technically goes against all that I stand for in terms of not changing who we are to fit with current trends. Being a modelling show, where the primary mode of judgement is on appearance, it doesn't seem to fit that I'd be talking about its merits here.

But this is what I plan to do. And here's why.

There are many things I've taken from this type of programme that I think helps me to feel good about myself and think about how I see myself and others:

1. Being thin does not make you happy.

We see this time and again on this show, and I've experienced it for myself. Thinness and beauty does not equate to feeling happy, confident and secure. There are more tears than tiaras at ANTM headquarters as the girls experience being judged, comparing themselves to others and learning who they are, and who they want to be. They suffer the same niggles as we all do in bikinis (or naked!) and the sheer bafflement I first felt at why beautiful girls who appear to have everything would feel insecure now makes sense to me: we all have issues. And I find this reassuring.

Lesson one, then, is that being thin will never make us any less human. We'll still feel how we feel and we'll still be us.


Tyra's catchphrase seems to be telling the girls to 'smize': in other words, to smile with your eyes - from within. In teaching the girls this trick for the camera, I've picked up something I can use myself in real life. By focusing on the things that make me feel happy, it shows in how I look, think and behave. I come across differently and exude an inner confidence that others can really see.

For me, it was thinking about my boyfriend's cat purring in my lap. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, and loved. It makes me feel happy.

Lesson two then, is that how we feel shows in our faces.

And this is the essence of SMIZING. Deep, Tyra, deep.

3. Technology makes or brakes the images we see.

It's said time and again, but it's only when I see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into producing the 'perfect' picture or video that it is brought home to me. Airbrushing changes how people look. They don't look how they do in pictures, so why should we be held to this standard?

Now, don't get me wrong.

I love magazines. Truly. I adore the imagery, real or unreal.

And I will be the first person to say that the media wasn't a deciding factor in my developing an eating disorder.

It's just important to remember that this is what they are: images. Pieces of art. They are not an accurate snapshot of a person at that given point in time. They are manipulated to portray a message, and it's not always a message we should take upon ourselves.

Lesson three, then, is to be media savvy.

Whilst I can appreciate how ANTM might not be the best viewing for those with disordered eating, for me, it's fun. It's escapism. And I hope that I've shown that we can take what we will from the media. If we choose to see it as threatening, we will find nothing but the bad in it. If we can put on our positive specs, we might see it a little differently.

Looooooooove Heather xxx

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Talking to myself

As part of my ongoing therapy homework, I'm on permanent look-out for the "voices" in my head. This notion itself had me worried. If listen out for - and actually hear - voices in my head, and look to name and talk with them as per my counsellor's prescription, then surely I'd be well on my way to true madness?! Isn't that a sign of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder (or any such misinterpreted mental health condition we hear about in the media)?

Well, no. It's not like that. It's taken me weeks of hearing the same thing over and over to finally… well… hear what was being said to me. Given the time it feels I've wasted (though this is, itself, a thought to be questioned - when is time in therapy or recovery ever truly wasted?), I thought it might be helpful if I shared what I've learnt and hopefully, it might click a little earlier for someone else in a similar situation.

We have an ongoing internal dialogue that essentially involves us "talking" to ourselves, in our heads, all the live-long day. Some people's inner talk is more relaxed, casual and friendly. Other people (by other people, you might want to look in my direction) talk to themselves in a mean, bully-like fashion. And that's putting it kindly.

Apparently we have a number of these voices, some kinder than others. (This is a key component of a school of psychotherapy called 'psychosynthesis', FYI.) For me, my Critic (henceforth this shall be her name - as it's a "her", for me, by the way) is LOUD. She is virtually all-consuming and has been for as long as I can remember. She tells me how awful I look, how terrible I am at whatever I try my hand at, and not to even bother trying (I'm likely to mess it up, she says). If I listen hard enough, she is more or less constantly whispering half-finished sentences to me. Like the lyrics to a favourite song, I can fill in the ending for myself - she doesn't need to bother doing it for me anymore.

Unsurprisingly, this has left me feeling less than my best. Honestly speaking, I've felt pretty damn crap. Although I have slithers of sparkle nowadays - generally at the weekend when I'm free and can be with the people (and cat) that I love - I still can feel shadows of depression chasing me round. It's the remnants of the eating issues/depression and general malaise.

This year, I committed myself to recovery. Despite my distaste for the word itself, "recovery" pretty much sums up what I am aiming for: to remake my life and myself in a happier, all together more positive image. As I'll no doubt discuss in later posts, I have strong views on using words like "recovery" and "positive". For now it's enough to say that part of my moving in this direction would involve tackling my Critic (though I wouldn't have realised that at the start).

So how, I hear you cry, is this possible? For a while I thought filling in the "Feelings Chart", reading the self-help books and turning up to therapy would do the trick. I was wrong.

I needed to actively participate in changing my internal dialogue. By "actively participate", I mean move on from the observing and noticing stages of working out what's going on inside and start talking back. For this, I needed an internal partner-in-crime; the since-labelled BFF (and for anyone that doesn't pay attention to Paris Hilton, that's Best Friend Forever). This smacked of imaginary friends; the remit of the only child and bullied classmate. It felt sissy and silly and girlie-twirlie - and any other phrase I could come up with that meant I wasn't going to do it. I couldn't anyway; it wasn't me.

But it is me.

And this was a key learning point for me: we are not any one part; we are the sum of all our parts and none. We can choose who we wish to be at any one time, and we are not betraying ourselves by pretending to be something we aren't. That isn't to say that it's easy to change. It often feels like I'm forcing myself to make up a voice for this BFF part of me. The bit that says I'm doing alright, I'm okay, I'm not alone and it is understandable that I am how I am right now. It feels alien and false, at times. I'm exhausted sometimes because I am constantly talking, correcting and reasserting myself - and no one but me sees this internal battle going on. As the battleground, my body takes the brunt of the blows.

Yet in the limited time in which I've been actively participating in changing from the inside, I'm also feeling less stressed and anxious (and it generally lasts for shorter periods of time). I am able to catch the Critic before she's able to launch into a full-frontal assault of my thighs/knees/breasts. I can come up with other things to say to myself, about myself and about other people (because it's easy to be cruel and judge other people when you can do it to yourself so freely). I am starting to be able to see the good things going on in my life, instead of being caught up in the less-perfect bits. I can appreciate that I have strengths and that someday, I might know how best to use them.

So when all is quiet, it's probably a good thing. Sometimes, it means to listen harder for those whispers in the background, but as time goes on, the quiet is starting to signify an inner peace. My Critic and BFF are on vacation for a few moments. And when they're happy, and heard, and reasoned with, so am I.