Sunday, September 30, 2012

The blank canvas

I had the most wonderful Psychologist/Psychiatrist (I still fail to understand the difference between them both, but I prefer to use ologyst, because it has a nicer ring to it) when I was in hospital, Dr. Prinz.
I came to understand that what makes a great psychologist is his ability to not make you feel like a person with an "issue". A great psych is a person who sees you, the person, before it, the problem. Prinz never treated Anorexia, he treated me, to strengthen me and help me gain a better understanding of me, Belle, in that way giving me the tools to beat anorexia. He taught me that I  have my own identity, that anorexia wasn't it, that I could do better than it.

In hospital I learnt to enjoy art and creativity, a concept that, in earlier days, had been far removed from my sphere of interest. As I had nothing else or no other occupation in hospital, I started to take art and craft classes. The beginnings were a struggle, because what I had created was never good enough, never perfect enough in my eyes and I always took great pleasure in destroying what I had created just so I could let out my anger and frustrations of not having the ability to create perfect things which, in essence, would have made me feel that bit more perfect.

Maybe anorexia is a physical manifestation of your whole being attempting to reach its perfect state and balance, may I even use the word homeostasis...? If you are perfect on the outside it would obviously reflect a perfect internal life resulting in a perfect person. By losing weight, by altering our shape, our exterior appearance, we adhere (and I use `we`as a general term, which can also include numerous other addictions and obsessions) to perfect ourselves as a person. Ironically we remove ourselves from that homeostatic state the more we torture ourselves chasing that ideal image.
Anorexia reflects an insecurity of self. It becomes a force that brings out the worst, not the best in you. It becomes a quest for physical perfection that seems to be marked by a body that is bare, that has no form or shape, let alone life. It becomes a bare/blank canvas.

I was sitting in Dr Prinz's office. We were discussing my inability to complete an artwork and my great ability at destructing and destroying the artwork.
"I just don't understand why I can't do it well enough... I can never make the picture on that canvas look beautiful... I'm just not good enough." Prinz sat there for a while, with a victorious smile invading his face, quietly glancing at me. This irritated me quite a bit. What was he thinking? Was he mocking me? Was he thinking 'finally she realizes that she's hopeless at art'? No. Instead, after what seemed to be an eternity, he got up, walked accross the room and high fived me. SMACK (it was a good high five that was deserving of another high five to celebrate the greatness of the previous one).

My frustrations about finding my perfect self, about creating the perfect body had translated into the way I viewed the art I was creating. The key word is canvas. Prinz went on to say 'The thing is you as a person, you as a body are a blank canvas. You can do anything you want with it until you've created the artwork that you like. Your whole life you can alter its look. You can add or change color, you can expand it, make it smaller, you can do anything you like, just stop destroying it or else there will be nothing left in the end.'
Now it was my turn to look at him blankly, speechless. it took me a while to comprehend what Prinz was getting at, it even challenges my thoughts at times now, but it has also become a comforting thought.

From then on I tried to see myself as that blank canvas, because I couldn't strip myself anymore bare than I already had. I was ready to add life to my lifeless self. Knowing that I had the control to alter the look of the artwork I was creating, gave me a sense of security, it also posed as a challenge.

I'm still working on my artwork. At times I like what I see, at times I don't. But from that session with Prinz, I learnt not to destroy what I didn't like, but simply to change the color, shading or form, until it felt right for that moment in time.

We are an ever evolving artwork, all beautiful and perfect in our own right.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The butterfly

Do you like butterflies? I am fascinated by them; by their beauty, elegance and individuality. No butterfly is identical to the other, they differ in coloring, shape and size, much like us people, we are all unique.
We don't see a butterflies true beauty until it has completed all stages of metamorphisis of which there are four - Egg, Lava, Pupa (chrysalis) and Adult stages, until it finally emerges in it's full glory.

A butterfly was always what I wanted to turn into when I had anorexia. I felt like a trapped caterpillar or lava, unable to move, unable to breathe. I wanted to believe that I could form myself into a pupa or chrysalis, and then emerge freely as a butterfly ready to fly.

Ironically the process anorexics go through to recover from anorexia is similar to the metamorphisis of a butterfly.
The first step of the metamorphisis is simple -  an egg is laid upon a leaf, which the mother fly expects its offspring to be feeding off the most after it hatches. When it hatches a butterfly doesn't instantly emerge, rather the Larve aka caterpillar. For it's survival it must eat to grow so it can develope to its full capacitiy before it goes into its final stage of transformation - Pupa/chrysalis where the butterfly developes all the parts that distinguish it and turn it into a beautiful butterfly.

So... what does this have in common with anorexia? To some extent anorexia is mostly associated with an attempt to achieve perfect beauty, which in reality simply does NOT exist. Anorexics try and achieve this state by starving themselves, going through what you could choose to call a 'reverse metamorphisis', turning themselves from already beautiful in their own right, into a caterpillar trapped within its cocoon.

Anorexia engulfs you so much that you, as the person, have no other choice than to retract into a cocoon, because it feels safe and non-threatening, you are trapped within your own little world. The only way for a butterfly to break out of its cocoon is all tied up with how strong they are before entering their final transformation. If they haven't built the strength they need to break free while they are a caterpillar, the battle to emerge out of the cocoon will be all the more challenging.

The only way for me to get better was to go back yet another step in the metamorphisis process and let myself become a caterpillar, feeding on the things that would make me stronger, physically and emotionally, until I knew I had built the capacity to begin the positive process of my own metamorphisis, form myself back into the pupa to eventually breakfree as a butterfly would.

That process started in hospital, where my focus was on nothing other than to get better. For too long I stayed hidden in my 'safe' cocoon, letting anorexia feed me and continue to control me. Over time I grew weaker and I knew if I didn't change now I would never break out of the cocoon anorexia was trapping me in.
I was on a 'normal' ward in the Insel Spital in Bern, surrounded by children who could not alter the outcome of their illnesses, who didn't even have a choice about being sick. I could alter the outcome of my illness, I had a choice about being sick, and after too long it was time to poke my head out of the cocoon, even if not as a butterfly rather as a caterpillar, and actively begin to get stronger, even if that meant gaining weight.

The lighter you get, the more weight you lose through anorexia, the weaker your will to fight becomes. But in reverse, the more weight you gain the stronger you get and with that your will to fight strengthens too.
If you think about it, the more you starve yourself the harder it is to think on a rational level. I haven't done any detailed reasearch as yet, but malnourishment has been shown to lead to chemical imbalences, which is then also a trigger for depression. Once you start fueling properly again you start progressing to a state of equilibrium, when your body gets stronger your mind gets stronger and you can start thinking clearly again, you can start thinking as you not as anorexia.

With an incredible support network around me I began to form a new cocoon, one that I would enter with strength so I could emerge as that butterfly I had always invisaged. I stayed in that cocoon for a while, maybe too long, but I needed that time to continue to develope as a person, to let my body recover from the ordeal I had put it through.

Sometimes I feel like retracting back into that cocoon, but then I look around me and see the beauty of life. I can feel myself fluttering around freely, the way I had always dreamed of when I was trapped in the cocoon of anorexia.

A butterflies metamorphisis has four stages, which I have renamed to reflect what that process represents to me - GROWTH, CHANGE, LIBERY, BEAUTY.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Puzzle

When it feels like all pieces of the puzzle are coming together, it creates an incredible feeling of confidence and excitement. That's how I felt about this years Jungfrau Marathon (JM), confident and excited because my puzzle pieces were finding their spot. Physically I have never felt better. Mentally I felt confident. Running wise I felt strong. On the day that all these pieces were meant to fall into place, they seemed not to fit.

The JM is dubbed one of the Worlds "most beautiful Marathons". Starting in Interlaken, it then winds up a 25km valley to Lauterbrunnen before the beginning of the ruthless 17km ascent all the way to the base of the Eiger (maybe not quite that far, but it sounds impressive all the same) before descending the last km to the finish line - Kleine Scheidegg.
This Marathon is literally in my backyard. I had trained on the course numerous times, with each run feeling stronger and more confident, making friends with the mountain instead of seeing it as an enemy. So really, what could possibly go wrong if everything was falling into place? This marathon taught me that a piece of the puzzle can be a misfit on that particular day, and that one misfit can change the whole picture.

Race morning arrived and I was filled with excitement, especially because my friend Shayne would be out there on course with me. There was an edge of apprehension however, because I had been given an elite startnumber, something I felt I couldn't live up to just yet, something I didn't feel deserving of, especially because it was the world long distance mountain running championships. I was determined to run my own race, and not be influenced by that red two digit number. As the startgun blasted I quickly realized that the number had sucked me in and I was running at a pace much faster thatn I was comfortable with. "I've got to stick with the front if I've already got this number", I kept hearing myself say. The initial stride that I found wasn't all that uncomfortable. I felt like my legs were working with me and I wasn't too strained aerobically. "Relax, Breathe, Focus" I told myself, but after 10km, only 10km (!!!) my legs started to come off. It felt like they no longer responded to the cues my brain was sendint them. I dropped pace. I dropped confidence. I dropped enjoyment. My legs didn't feel tired, not did I feel aerobically challenged, but the Tank was empty. I felt like I had no control over my body. Frustration engulfed my initial feeling of excitement and the run that was meant to set me apart from my previous achievements turned into agony.

As I was being reeled in by dozens of fellow runners, and I felt hopeless about doing anything about it, my morale plumeted. All I could think about was seeing my mum at the half way mark, making it there and then reassesing.

The thing is, the Puzzle isn't just made up of pieces of your own, the puzzle is also made up of pieces other people bring into it, their encouragement, belief and support. Once you feel like the picture isn't coming together on that day, you not only feel like you're letting yourself down, but you feel you're letting those people down who attribute a piece of the puzzle to complete the picture. Reality is that you're not letting those people down. They believe in you as a person primarily, then your athletic abilities. They are the people who define us as a person, not as an athlete or runner. We, as the person keep searching for something to be defined by, yet we fail to realize that we are already defined by the person we are.

Giving up seemed like such a tangible option, to simply drop out of the race, not to have to answer any questions and go and hide under a rock until all the disappointment disapated. What reason did I have to give up? Nothing hurt, I wasn't sick, I just simply couldn't get my body to move. There was no reason I couldn't reach the finish line, except for reasoning with my pride, even if it meant not breaking even with my expectation. A DNF beside my name though, would be worse, would be longer lasting and nothing more than an easy out. So on those grounds, dropping out quickly got dropped as an option. I decided to take a different approach, sit back and have fun, run with other people, chat to the volunteers and cheer people on who were having a better day than I was. I needed to turn that misfitting piece of the puzzle into on that would fit, to just slightly change the end product of the picture.

That is how I met Phillip, a guy that was hard to miss, with his tall, lean physique and the most attention drawing aspect of him was that he was running in sandals, Tarahumara style, shirtless and watchess. I pulled up beside him and first of all high fived for both running watchless. His words were "your heart sets the pace". Phillip wasn't having a good day either, and as me, resigned to the fact that making it to the finish line would be the goal of the day. Still fighting feelings of anger and disappointment, Phillip and I started talking about the essence of running, which isn't the racing, but the joy it brings and how the good days along with the not so good days create the fundamentals for a long lasting love story. We were partaking in a race, but we were doing what we love, that is winning in itself.
15km can pass quickly when your sharing passion and agony. 2km from the finishline Phillip cramped and I was left to make the final descent to the finishline solo. A whirlwind of emotions inveded me and I didn't know if I was happy, sad, angry or disappointed. Maybe just a little of everything.

The picture was complete. I made it to the finishline, althought the picture didn't quite reflect the desired image I had painted in my mind, it was still complete. The puzzle piece fit in the end, now its up to me how I look at that picture.