I simply instructed myself to be silent…

*This is Part 2 (of a 3-Part) guest-authored series on Anorexia Nervosa.*

 

Classmates were the first to pour in with their hypocritical congratulatory messages. “You’ve lost so much of your flab! How did you do it?” “Are you only eating healthy now, like a cow?” “Tell us the secret, bitch.”

I just couldn’t eat as well as I used to.

For a while now, I felt a slight gurgle in my intestines but it didn’t hurt me in a noticeable fashion, now that I had learnt to steady my stride and walk with a sway in my hips. My lips were in an eternal pout, as if a dried fig dipped in red paint was waiting to be eaten.

***

I’m not a particular fan of geraniums; I prefer marigolds and their luscious flowers. My mother hadn’t used them in this garden because they drank too much water, and needed to be tamed, or would overgrow. She wasn’t used to giving her plants any attention and despised having to care for them. I think she would prefer to have a few cacti someday.

***

Blouses in XS sizes that looked “cute” at one point were now hiding elbows which stuck out like bamboos. My stomach was plastered to my back. I couldn’t stand up straight and take a deep breath for some reason. My back hurt from being hunched over almost all the time. I hid my balding scalp with the few strands of hair that were still mercifully clinging on. I had to spend a few extra minutes setting them correctly to avoid the stares.

I instructed myself to be silent and stifle all feelings of nervousness when I could not meet the eye of a person who decided to talk to me.

***

There did come a time when my garden decided to rebel against not being nurtured. Except this rebellion was in wilting away into death. It was a simple equation – you didn’t feed it and it died. It was one of those times when I wished the equation of my emotional eating disorder were so simple.

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I wished I starved and withered away into nothingness.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/silent/

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A Body So Meager with Hunger…

*This is Part 1 (of a 3-Part) guest-authored series on Anorexia Nervosa. This experience is one that would make a meaningful addition to the conversation around mental health.*

I stood by the window overlooking what was once a prim and poised garden; still fearfully clutching onto the memories of when I was called “chubby”, “had breasts shaped like two melons”, had “grown up too suddenly” and had “fallen in love too early and too hard”.

The wildly grown vines – now dowdy and eccentric in their flowering patterns – were a familiarly comforting territory. The orderliness of what lay on the other side of this grass scared me. I had no friends and as the sun slantingly caressed my forehead that morning, I felt a little reassured. All it would take is for me to say I ate out and there would be no one to doubt my claims.

***

My once taut skin turned leathery, flaking at the first sign of a breeze. The dark circles under my eyes threatened to dip down into the depression my cheeks became. I picked up nothing less than a fistful of hair after every wash. Soon, the rubber bands I used everyday had become too stretched out for my withered tresses. The tops I once bought as a “chubby” person began drooping off my shoulders.

***

I couldn’t remember when I last basked under the sun; but that morning, I felt like a little girl being kissed on the forehead by a grown-up man who had straddled me under his enormous power. The pink geraniums that lined the garden stood in stark contrast to the bottle-green color that now enveloped our wild garden. I’d heard that geraniums are a sturdy species. And they had poked their necks out in flowers even in this ignored space of the house. They are tenacious.

***

But this new diet made me irritable, I had a knot in between my brows that refused to go away. My stomach winced and churned when I looked at a plate of food. My body had become so meager with hunger that hunger refused to reside in me. Blackouts were a common occurrence, especially in the middle of the night when I would wake up with a startle if my blood glucose levels got too low. The next morning, I couldn’t remember what year it was.

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/meager/

 

 

Did I “inherit” Mental Illness?

Dear Maya,

Today, like everyday, I was glossing through the posts on a social media group dedicated to Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology. A lot of the scientific literature around mental illness seems to be revolving around the topic of whether or not you can genetically “inherit” depression, for example. Is it coded into the strands of your DNA or is it a product of your upbringing, or is it a product of simply how you think?

Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, in practice, has very little to do with the “origins” of mental illness, simply because it’s not a useful way of thinking about it. If you present with a mental health ailment, it’s not very useful (or good) to hear that it’s because your genes are skewed. And so Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry are both intervention-based, in practice. Your therapist might be more invested in offering you practical solutions to your anxiety, than in extracting your DNA to study under a microscope.

One might argue that it is inherently necessary to study the “origins” of an illness before attempting to cure it. But for something as complex as mental illness, that literally lives within your own mind, I think it is necessary to first downsize it. The first aspect of doing that, for me, was dawning into the understanding that anxiety did not mystically “descend” upon me. The Universe did not conspire with my parents’ zygotes to decide to give me anxiety as a sixteen-year-old.

There were times when I started therapy when I was entirely convinced that I had anxiety because my third cousin has it too – it runs in the blood. There’s nothing I can do about it. It wasn’t a useful method of looking at a problem because that meant giving up all control and surrendering to medication. The truth is, even till today, the scientific community has no clear answers to how medication helps improve mood. It is true, however, that lots of people (including me) have benefited considerably from it, we just don’t know how.

There were also moments when I thought that it was because of my parents and their lack of problem-solving skills that I had developed anxiety. Maybe they were just negative people, or weren’t taught the skills by their own parents. Blaming others for the influence they had on my life did give me a semblance of temporary relief. But my problems were still right there, just where it all started. Could I possibly choose to erase my upbringing? No, not at all.

[TL;DR]

While acknowledging that it is entirely possible that this huge spectrum of mental illnesses could have genetic origins, I found that simply looking at them as products of slightly ‘misplaced’ perspectives could offer me a position of power over them. It’s like looking over a battlefield from atop a hill. It allows you to study the landscape and carefully strategize your plan of attack. And with each new conscious perspective shift, you get closer to hoisting that victory flag and reclaiming enemy territory, in the space of your own mind.

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/inheritance/

Theories about Mental Illness

Dear Maya,

Have you noticed how eager people are to offer unsolicited advice? On topics ranging from parenting, marriage and religion to breastfeeding, housekeeping and even mental health.

As someone who suffers from anxiety and seizures, while also being a student of Psychology, I can safely attest to the fact that there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health.

Which is why I refrain from posting on topics like ‘tips about how you can take care of yourself better in 2018’. There are several people out there, who mean well (and not a single one means any harm), but offer theories and suggestions in an unhelpful manner.

This reduces the conversation surrounding mental health to a few tips that, if followed religiously, will work its charm like a panacea.

The truth is that mental health is an experience that deserves not to be trivialized but instead to be spoken about more holistically. And you don’t necessarily have to suffer from a mental health illness to know that staring at a long list of to-do’s can be quite unproductive.

The other reason I have a problem with such topics, Dear Maya, is that they encourage you to constantly play the victim card. They teach you how to float in a swimming pool of your own weaknesses. The reality is, after you’ve learnt to swim in that pool, you need to take those skills into the bigger pool of life and swim your way around with everybody else.

Mental illness is so much more than just a set of redundant theories about how to live, eat and dress. It’s a rare opportunity to understand human nature up-close by using yourself as a guinea pig within the laboratory of your own mind.

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/theory/

I’m Not Always “Elegant”

Dear Maya,

I look in awe at the people who breeze through social situations. They glide through conversations like chocolate ganache being poured over hot cake.

The poise with which they conduct themselves – always on alert – yet never seeming so, intrigues me. Their strides are just long enough. Their backs are arched just enough. Their wine glass is held at just the right point on the stem; their smile displays just enough teeth.

It’s a level of poise that glossy magazines teach adolescent girls to aspire towards. And these people seem to have perfected it at a point when I’m still doubting whether brushing twice daily is really necessary.

For me, social situations are difficult at best and a turn off at worst. It’s more likely than not that I have over-rehearsed conversation-starters to the point that it begins to make me look disinterested. Refined expressions of concerns about the weather or global warming are the best and worst cloaks for my anxiety.

Usually, any move I make is only aimed at helping me get around the table without knocking a dish or its ladle over, or discovering the edge of my sleeve dripping with curry.

Having anxiety hammer at your existence while a friend peers into your eye for answers to the ‘how-are-you’ question can be dreadful. Extending a sweaty palm for a handshake can be just as uncomfortable as the answer to that question – I’m not great, but I’m pulling through quite well.

My alibi is in my room. It’s in being able to brush everyday in the morning, shower, dress up and get to work. It’s being able to have a functioning day without anxiety (or any other parts of my closet) trotting along. It’s in eating healthy and understanding what makes you happy.

It’s in being functional, and not necessarily elegant.

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/elegance/

I Can Be “Jolly” Even with a Mental Illness

Dear Maya,

You might have noticed that I, sometimes, like to “brag” about how bad my day is going. I use the word “brag” because I sometimes feel like an entitled brat because I have a mental illness. Entitled to “deserve better”, entitled to “lesser effort” and “easier opportunities”.

As you might also know, it can be entertaining to listen to my animated rant. Add in a dash of vulnerable humour and it’s the magic potion to get the sympathy of well-wishers (although it’s empathy I value the most when I’m really down).

Some of the best entertainers in my friends’ circle – the people who crack the wittiest of jokes – are the same people who go back home to pop their depression pills. It’s almost impossible to judge a person’s internal struggles by their outward appearance.

I too can be jolly, even with a mental illness.

It’s this humour which makes speaking about mental health more liberating to me. By laughing at my anxiety, I’m able to lessen the strength it bears on me. By poking fun at my seizures, I give it one less chance to poke back at me. I’ve made a few more people smile by pointing at my sometimes-awkward body language. By writing this blog post, I’ve opened myself up to a larger support community.

More often than not, it’s the route I take to decipher who I can be friends with, and who might not judge me very well. It’s a risk I take; because being accepted for who I am – mental illness and all- is far more rewarding than being loved for someone I’m genuinely not.

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/jolly/

Circle of Life

Dear Maya,

I’m no novice to medication and non-compliance. I can’t imagine having to pump my body with chemicals for years. And yet, I’m left with no option. Yesterday I was told, much to my horror, to take my anti-seizure meds for another two years during which period I’m banned from driving, swimming and any aerobic activity.

I’m scared.

A circle has three-hundred-sixty degrees. I’m convinced this circle of mental illness has just as many moving parts: psychotherapy, talk therapy, CBT, medication, meditation, exercise, spirituality, and many many more.

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But, Maya, let’s never forget that with each new challenge, we are together moving closer to completing this circle of life.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/degree/

Unvarnished Truths about Mental Illness

Dear Maya,

It hurts to be “abnormal”.

And it soothes when you’re only “imperfect, and human”.

It embarrasses to have a seizure in the middle of a flight.

It reassures when, after the seizure, you’re happy to still be alive.

It isolates to see your friends go out every weekend.

Although it satisfies to have a few come home instead.

It scares when people ask how you’re doing in life.

Still scares. But you’re scaring it back with everything you have.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/varnish/

 

 

Anxiety makes it difficult for me to socialize

Dear Maya,

It’s so easy to be anonymous.

I don’t have to spell out my name, or my gender, or introduce myself through my job (and it’s not like I can hold one down for longer than three months).

Trying to be sociable when you have anxiety is like trying to re-seal your box of Chinese takeout; it never fits as well, and you most often can’t eat it the next morning.

I know I should socialize, it’s a part of my (self-designed) protocol to deal with the anxiety. I’m not a bad person, but my anxiety makes me a difficult person to get along with.

My response to most invitations for social gatherings is to honestly be excited about it. At this point, in my head, I’m exuberantly rehearsing conversations with that cousin I haven’t seen in six years.

Two weeks to the event, I’m fervently trying out dress after dress, until I’m convinced every piece of clothing I own is out to make me look like a barrel, and my wardrobe is filled with ugliness that I see no point in owning.

I can’t afford to buy a new dress, so a week before the event, frustrated, I pick up the newest piece of clothing I have in the hope that, if someone asks, I’ll have a not-so-awkward conversation starter in the very least.

Three days to go, and I’m brushing my teeth more than usual and rehearsing my smile on all the reflective surfaces of the house. Sometimes I even offer myself a handshake, angling and stretching my arm out perfectly. But what I dread most is that moment when I reach out for a handshake, while the other person actually leans in for a hug. While our cheeks awkwardly slide over one another’s, I’ve poked people in the torso or knocked a drink off their hands entirely, while our collective smiles drifts into a look of horror. I speak from experience, Maya, this fear is not unfounded.

On the day of the event, most often, my go-to solution is that I’m just not feeling like it any more. To allow my mother to go on without me, I just have to blame it on the meds, and she’s sold for the next two months. No pressure to attend any more social gatherings in that period. As a matter of fact, I could use any of the side-effects of my anxiety medication to swerve an otherwise unfavourable situation onto my side. As grounded as this is in scientific truth, I sometimes don’t know where to draw the line.

What part of my integrity do I still have a hold over?

While my mother is away covering for me with, my mind goes back to the allure of anonymous online chat-rooms. How lighthearted it makes you feel to pour your heart out to someone you’re not accountable to – someone who is as disinterested in your problems as you would yourself hope to be.

I now see that as a clarion call to book the next available appointment with the shrink. Although it does’t make me any less of a difficult person to be friends with.

Maya in Death

Dear Maya,

I’m tearful as I write this. It’s for the first time that I feel my anxious voice can be understood. I feel a support system for my mental illness growing with every “follow” and “like” I get on this blog. And I’ve only published one post so far (thank you to everybody that gave me your time by reading this!)

Am I a victim to the vices of social media, Maya? Am I a slave to the positive affirmations of people I don’t know or have never met? Will I stop feeling this when the likes and follows stop? I don’t know. Am I overthinking it?

My secrets carry strength that astonishes me. They pound at the doors of my soul, waiting to burst out. Today, I attended the funeral of one person that was very close to my mother and me, and my heart was pounding as I entered the funeral hall. Can all these people see through me? Do they know that closet of anxiety I carry? Can they look into my eye and feel my suffering, or will they point their fingers of judgment and laugh at me?

“The eyes are the window to the soul”- is a sentence that scares me. I hide behind them, Maya. My eyes are an impenetrable iron curtain.

Maya” is Sanskrit (माया) for “illusion”. A school of Hinduism believes that the World itself is an illusion. Birth and death are illusions. Then what is a mental illness, Dear Maya? Where on this illusory continuum does it fall, and where does it end, most importantly?

Maya

Dear Maya,

Today, I decided to publish that side of me which not many know of. It’s that side I vehemently guard and never let slip. You, Dear Maya, are all too familiar with the alter ego of mine trotting along in a closet. It’s the anxiety, the seizures, the medication and the skewed relationships. Tied to the other by what my psychiatrist calls “functionality” (aka dividing my time effectively between the bedroom and the hall).

Anxiety, though, is really not my “illness”. It’s how I live, although I’ve never come to accept it as part of me. I’ve lived with it for at least seven years now. It pulls me in many different directions all at once. I usually manage to inch forward without my closet and its contents bursting out in a spectacle for the world to see. It’s a tough pressure to live with and can easily become overwhelming. Then I turn to the relationships in my life to nudge me ahead – and boy do they do a darn good job!

If you stick with us long enough, you might get to know know me, and us, through this blog.

Why This Blog

Dear Maya,

Today, I decided to publish that side of me which not many know of. It’s that side I vehemently guard and never let slip. You, Dear Maya, are all to familiar with the alter ego of mine trotting along in a closet. It’s the anxiety, the seizures, the medication and the skewed relationships. Tied together by what my psychiatrist calls “functionality” (I divide my time trotting between the bedroom and the hall), and what a Yoga instructor called “Zen” (the reason I don’t do Yoga anymore).

Anxiety, though, is really not my “illness”. It’s how I function, although I’ve never come to accept it as part of “me”. It pulls me in many different directions all at once. I usually manage to inch forward without my closet and its contents bursting out.

Sometimes, I fumble before I get to inch forward. It’s during such times that I turn to the relationships in my life to hold me together – and boy do they do a darn good job. My mother My family consists of me, my mother, our collective illnesses and my fiancé.

Now back to the blog for more.