So my friend and I were having dinner and for some reason we started talking about weight. Weight has always been an issue for me, because I’ve always been thin and many people think it’s ok to taunt me about it. No one in my family is overweight, and we’re all those annoying people who eat everything and don’t put on extra pounds. We also tend to lose weight when we’re down or stressed out, unlike other people. Personally, I eat more when I’m anxious and stressed, but everything I eat is burned up by my nervous system.
Apparently though many people think I should conform to their vision of what I should look like, regardless of my genetics and the way my metabolism works. It doesn’t help that it is socially acceptable to come up to a thin person and say, “You’re so thin, did you enter a contest to disappear or something,” (I didn’t make this up, someone actually said it to me once), but if I remarked, “You’re so fat, did you enter a contest to become a whale or something,” then I would be a really mean person. The irony in all this is that I’m not really underweight according to the body mass calculators online. I’m just pear-shaped and people only tend to look at your upper half. 😀
Anyway, as my friend and I were talking, I remembered something rude a mutual friend had once said to me about my weight and mentioned that I was so upset that I didn’t have any reaction to the rude comment.
My friend said, “Oh but you did, I remember you answered in a very dry tone and in a very smart way. [Our mutual friend] was left speechless.”
And I said, “I don’t remember. I believe I froze. I was going through such a hard time at the time and was so sensitive to anything anyone would say to me that I just felt hurt, like I’d been punched breathless.”
My friend smiled and said, “No, you didn’t freeze. Your voice became cold and you said something like, ‘If weight were easy to control there wouldn’t be an entire industry dedicated to it.’ I thought that was a very smart answer.”
I thought for a second and said, “That sounds like something I would say, yes.”
We proceeded to check if the rest of our memories matched. “Was it at that dinner party at our friend’s hostel?” “Was it in the summer?” “Were there our friends […]?” “Was it before dinner?” They did.
And as I kept thinking about it it slowly came back to me. But it brought up many questions. Why did I just keep in my memory that I felt deeply hurt and misunderstood? Why didn’t I remember that I actually managed to stand up for myself without being rude? Remembering that could have been a great resource in many situations afterwards. Knowing that I can defend myself could have boosted my self-confidence and made me trust myself more. Do I unconsciously want to play the victim? Do I unconsciously go on picking up clues that reinforce my ingrained belief that I’m not good enough and therefore I should feel sorry for myself?
I feel a little disturbed considering this. It’s definitely something I mustn’t forget to talk to my therapist about.
About a month ago I wrote about learning to express my feelings, and then start working on expressing my needs. It makes a lot of sense, but I also pointed out to my therapist that before expressing my needs I needed to learn how to recognize them. Truth be told, I never paid myself much attention. I only tend to my needs when my body becomes unbearably uncomfortable. My therapist illustrated this to me with my relationship with food. Sometimes I only remember to eat when my stomach is hurting and low blood sugar is starting to make me freak out. She says I must remember to take care of myself before it ever gets to that point. I must listen to the signs my body sends me before I become sick. She acknowledged that I’m only acting out what I unconsciously learned during my early years, and that is that people will only tend to my needs after I get sick. But she also reminded me that I’m not a baby anymore, that I can tend to my own needs and I’m responsible for my well-being.
But old habits die hard. Having low self-esteem doesn’t help. Based on what I know happened during my childhood I probably “learned” that being invisible would be better for everyone. I had a dance teacher once telling me, “Sónia, you must stop apologizing for being.” Most of the time I go on pretending I don’t exist to myself. I don’t like looking in the mirror. I don’t take enough breaks at work, which is terrible for my neck, my back and for my brain fog. i just ignore myself. Life makes sense to me if I pay attention to other people’s needs first and let myself fall behind.
I don’t know if the fact that I feel like I’m a weird puzzle is a cause or a consequence of this. I’m almost 32 and I can say I never figured myself out. I’m spending these last days of my summer vacations with a friend and the other day I told her, “I don’t really know who I am.” I can be a lot of different people, put on such different masks depending on the context that sometimes I even surprise myself, like I’m an actress or like I’m watching myself from the outside. I have great strengths and great weaknesses and they all mean something different depending on what I’m going through at the moment. It’s… puzzling.
Usually when I’m in a good mood I say just for fun that having been born in October I’m the most unbalanced Libra you’ll ever meet. As a child I could be very quiet playing by myself for hours, and I could also be very hyperactive, yelling and running around and making everyone around me really tired. This latter state I think was – and still is – fueled by a lot of anxiety, hyperarousal and hypervigilance as well.
Growing up, I kept feeling for most of the time completely restless. Part of that restlessness was what it’s now called in social media FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), as I had the feeling the world was turning and I wasn’t keeping up with it. The other part of it was the need to plan everything ever so carefully for fear of losing control. Even in my early 20’s when fatigue settled in, I kept on pushing myself, and pushing myself a little further, ‘cause if anything ran out of my control I would become terribly anxious and nervous – and if everyone else was living while I was merely surviving I would fall into depression and I didn’t want that.
Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 29 became a double-edged sword. On the one hand, for the first time in my life, people convinced me – and I realized – that it was ok to rest. I finally started on a journey meant to teach me how to monitor myself. I’m still far from reaching the destination, but I definitely started listening to myself more, paying attention to my limits and to what my body was telling me in each different situation. I found out it was not only ok to rest, it was also ok to take breaks, to hit the brakes, to say no, to do nothing, to not be productive, to not prove myself to anyone, to just be. And I found myself enjoying it, my self-indulgence-I-have-the-right-to-be-healthy time.
On the other hand, I became even more restless, more hungry for new experiences. Whenever a challenge presents itself to me, even if a little dangerous, I think to myself, “I don’t know for how long I’m going to be able to do this, so here I go.” Or, “I don’t know for how long my legs are going to keep on working so let’s just do it, right?”
On Monday, my friend and I decided to go see the caves that are nearby the place where we’re staying. Our guide was a former Boy Scout who grew up in the region. He was fairly at ease, going into the woods, climbing up the rocks and hills, going down the caves, showing us around, “This is where a Neaderthal’s tooth was found,” and all that. My friend also seemed pretty comfortable. Me? Let me just say that I don’t trust my balance that much. Even though for the last 10 years I was taught yoga, Pilates, several contemporary dance techniques and kept being told my balance was great, I’m really insecure about it. I was dreading I would fall down at any time and make a fool out of me. But I kept following them, panting as if I was an inveterate smoker. I must say at this point that not even my friend knows about my MS, and I didn’t think it was appropriate to stop them on their tracks and yell, “Wait, I have multiple sclerosis, please bear with me ‘cause I have balance issues and I also get really tired!” When we reached the entrance of one of the caves and I saw our guide take a rope out of his backpack because it was “easier to go down there holding on to a rope” my knees started shaking. No, they weren’t shaking because I have MS, they were shaking because I don’t trust myself. I’m glad I decided to go because the inside of the cave was pretty wondrous, but when I left I was kind of angry because I didn’t take any pictures. Well, I needed both hands free to hold on to the rope, which meant leaving everything I had with me outside, but does that count to my perfectionist self? No.
So on Tuesday, I left my friend reading and napping on the garden, I took the keys, my cell phone and my camera, and went back to the caves. I enjoy doing things by myself because people either speed me up and I get really tired, or slow me down and I get impatient. Going by myself means I get to keep my pace. Now, I’m not completely crazy and I didn’t go back to the most dangerous ones, especially because I had no equipment whatsoever with me. But I wandered. And I wondered if I’m ever going to find that middle ground between wearing myself out completely and letting life pass me by. And wondered what I keep trying to prove myself. But whatever it is, I will be taking pictures of it.
Many years ago I used to be upset because people hardly noticed how I was feeling about something. So one day I was told that people don’t usually carry a crystal ball around with them and they aren’t usually mind readers either. Simply put, they don’t guess how I’m feeling unless I tell them. I thought that made an awful lot of sense (why didn’t I think of that?) so I started working on expressing my feelings.
~ I later found out I need to learn how to deal with people who still don’t care even when I do express my feelings, but let’s save it to another post. ~
Fast forward to the present day, and it’s time to take it a step further. Because it’s just not enough to express your feelings and then wait around for people to guess your needs based on those feelings. Again, no crystal balls or mind reading involved. If I want them to know and meet my needs I need to express them.
~The fact that I need the help of a therapist to come to these conclusions kind of worries me, but hey, I’m flawed. ~
So let’s see how this goes. I haven’t told my boss that I need a raise or my infatuation that I need him to take his clothes off (*giggles like a 15-year-old*) but I have been telling people that I need to rest. I think that’s a start. There’s always a chance some of them might feel threatened by my assertiveness (“Really? She has needs? Now what?”) but the good news is I might start attracting different people and developing healthier relationships. And god knows how I need those…