The confidence I have in my body and my self esteem are intrinsically linked. It’s always been this way, since I was a child. I can remember before I hit puberty that I was terrified of becoming a woman. The very idea of having breasts and curves filled me with dread. In a way, I wanted to be strong and capable, like my brothers and male friends. I’m not saying that I felt I was in the wrong body, but that it felt daunting to grow up and become a woman. I’ve since learnt that I didn’t have to lose my tomboy characteristics as I grew up; it’s ok to be a woman and enjoy sports and getting muddy, and more importantly to be fiercely competitive and ambitious.
Growing up I was never skinny, but never overweight, until I became severely depressed during my mid teens. I turned to food as a comfort, as so many do with depression and I gained weight. I was mercilessly teased and bullied by a group of boys and the experience shattered my self image. As a result of my fear of having curves and the bullying, I began to despise my body and felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I lost weight slowly and steadily, but never felt it was enough. I still saw that overweight depressed girl in the mirror. The two became one and the same, and in my mind being overweight could only be seen as a negative. I created a warped sense of self value that has evolved and taken over my life, infecting my relationships and self esteem.
As an adult my weight has fluctuated in tune with my moods. Manic me doesn’t eat and exercises furiously, depressed me is lethargic and eats excessively. There has been one constant though throughout my adult life; that I hate my body, whatever size I am. I can’t stand to look at full body photos of myself. I will walk passed windows or mirrors and catch sight of my image and feel horrendous for the rest of the day. My self image is distorted to the point I think I am too fat and ugly to be loved, to be appreciated or cared for. My paranoia is always in full force. I feel constantly judged and ridiculed by strangers as I walk down the street. Some days I can’t leave the house on my own in fear that people are staring at me. If I do go out on these days I will feel so panicked my chest will begin to tighten.
One of my greatest fears is exercising in public. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been going to the gym, which is a huge achievement for me. Even the idea of walking there in my gym clothes was filling with me dread and I have had to talk myself into walking out the door a number of times. What I’ve realised that for the most part, people at the gym are focused on themselves and rarely show me a passing glance. To them, I’m just another gym member. I’m not this freakishly huge monster my mind is always telling me I am.
I have been speaking to my psychiatrist about all of this, and we have discussed therapy a few times. I never thought I was ready, but now I think it’s time to stand up to the invasive and negative thoughts in my mind. I need to relearn how to think about my body and how I value myself. It will be tremendously difficult and I’m sure many ideas I have about myself will be challenged, but it will be worth it in the end.
The last month has been incredibly stressful. The main reason for this has been that I found out that I’m not eligible for ESA (Employment Support Allowance) payments. Although I have been working for the past three years, I haven’t accumulated enough National Insurance contributions. This is because I was on a zero hour contract, meaning everyday off ill, every holiday I took, every time I scaled back my hours, I was not paying into National Insurance. I can’t receive ESA based on income either, because my husband works more then 24 hours a week. Which means I am living off the minuscule amount of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) I receive, and what feels like pocket money from my partner. I felt absolutely fucked and a complete abject failure. I stopped working to look after my health but have been debating with myself whether to go back to work. The moral of the story here is never to agree to zero hours. Always ask for a contract with a fixed amount of hours each week. I took on zero hour work, because I was recovering from an extremely difficult period of poor mental health and believed the flexibility of not having to fulfil a certain amount of hours each week was a good fit for me.
Stress for me is a trigger for a manic episode. In the most stressful times of my life I have been overcome with delusions of grandeur, insomnia, hyperactivity, over spending, irritability and full blown anger. I’m beginning to struggle with sleep and can feel that niggling irritableness creeping in. Now I’m more aware of the warning signs and can ask family and friends to be mindful and keep an eye on my behaviour.
The beginning of a stressful period has always affected me physically. I will feel physically weak and constantly exhausted, until the mania kicks in. This time though, I have acquired another symptom, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Symptoms began last week and I knew what it was straight away. I’m aware of the symptoms as I know a couple of people that suffer from IBS. I felt bloated and a sudden and urgent need to go to the toilet. Once I’d been, I felt I still needed to go, but couldn’t. Even though I was having diarrhoea, it didn’t feel like a virus or food poisoning. It was the worst possible timing as we were about to go away for a long weekend. The weekend was paid for generously by the company my husband works for. I had been looking forward to it as we will most likely not be able to have a holiday whilst I’m not working, which is the foreseeable future. There were activities planned for the three days away and I felt incredibly embarrassed that I kept having to run to the bathroom. I spent the Saturday morning alone in the bedroom, crying. Life felt unfair. Unfair that I already had a debilitating misunderstood mental health condition and was now suffering from symptoms of IBS.
I’m hoping that the IBS is only linked to stress and that I can learn to manage it. I have cut out greasy, fatty foods, cut down on caffeine and alcohol and plan to go to the gym regularly. I went to the gym today which is a massive achievement for me, but that’s for another post! Although it’s embarrassing I’m still going to talk about it, the same as I’m open about Bipolar.