Dear Reader,

Dear reader I am writing to ask you a question. What happens after a person has had some reconciliation of the fact that he/she was very much abused as a small child? If this doesn’t pertain to you, please disregard this post.

I have just undergone gut-wrenching and extensive therapy since December 2020 which for me had its origins in treatment I received as a small child of about 6.

I have been clinging to the earth these last few weeks so as not to slip again into the abyss where for some extended period of time a portion of my psyche had been living.

According to my own assessment, I have successfully crawled and clawed my way out of a 100 foot deep pit with slippery mud sides.

Now that I am completely out of the pit ( I hope), I am wondering what to do with myself, what to work on, what to avoid, what to learn, what to enjoy. Take a shower and wash off the mud? Take into account exactly where the pit is so as not to fall into it again? Designate this exit from the abyss as my new “rock bottom” and be thankful for hitting it so as to get the $%^&* out of there? Allow myself to tell myself, I deserve happiness? I deserve good health and fitness?

As fodder for knowing I have exited the abyss, for the first time in 20 years I have been able to stick to an exercise routine composed of mostly yoga and some walking in the neighborhood. I have recorded a log which is two weeks long and growing which for me is super progress. In my youth I was very, very fit, so getting back to that place with mindfulness is huge for me.

So if anyone here or there has also climbed out of their own pit of abuse or anxiety or depression, I would love to hear your story as to what you decided to do next once you found yourself alongside the edge of that pit but no longer in it.

Of course I will talk my therapist about it, but I thought I would ask you dear reader in the meantime.

What is beauty anyway? Gray hair and all?

Please do not read this post if you feel it will trigger any issues or concerns you may have with eating disorders or body image or body weight. This is a blogpost dedicated to thinking about body image. It brings up questions about eating disorders. This is not a professional opinion but one person’s exploration into body image.

I am wondering if anybody would like to comment on the relationship between body image issues and eating disorders. Over the years, as I have gained a good bit of weight largely due to specific meds and comfort/stress eating, particularly after the birth of my daughter. I am now overweight but have lost about ten pounds since the fall.

I feel at the crux of my comfort/stress eating is a real grappling with media coverage for people (mostly women but maybe not more recently men?) with model figures including actresses/actors in Hollywood. I grew up in my twenties in the 1980s when eating disorders were just becoming much of “a thing.” I feel that I suffer from unrealistic expectations of what beauty is for women especially beauty for women post-menopause with graying hair and changing hormones.

Over the last six months of COVID, I have begun growing out my hair and leaving it to return to gray rather than dyeing and highlighting it. I feel good about embracing my natural beauty and not fretting about my roots showing up every 6 to 8 weeks or so. It is liberating!

Also as a note, it does seem now in my daughter’s generation, that body image issues are being addressed more fairly than in my day. The idea of body shaming and the need to refrain from that is front and center in my daughter’s vocabulary. This is echoed by an openness about gender identity which did not occur in my youth or within my generation growing up.

Although I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, I do think I have body image issues. I need to be satisfied with a weight and an image of myself that befits a 57 year-old woman who takes life-sustaining meds associated with weight gain. I need to be OK with the fact that my meds cause weight gain. I need to be OK with the understanding that a model’s weight and a model’s figure is representative of .5 percent (I am guessing) of the population. It is an unrealistic goal to attain. Beauty is found from within rather than on the outside or in tandem to images that have been enhanced to make make-up models have flawless skin and no wrinkles. And so on and so on.

Another component to this puzzle is the role of exercise. I used to “work out” on a much more rigorous schedule than I do now. I find it difficult to motivate myself on a daily basis because for years I took working out as a measure of my success, trying to keep up with that model’s figure. Now I seek to exercise more for health than for vanity but it is still something that alludes me on a regular basis or over an extended period of time.

How do you feel about body image issues? Do you see that as synonymous with eating disorders? Or occurring sometimes simultaneously and sometimes not? What is the role of the media and the role of health leaders and every day people in providing healthy body image thoughts and pictures in the mind?

I just had a three-hour talk with my best friend…

My best friend and I talked on the porch with masks and social distancing for the last almost three hours. She is the type of friend who you cannot see for 6 months and then pick up and connect just where you left off last.

It was wonderful to know more about how she’s been doing and helpful to feel that I might be of help just listening to some of the things that have been occupying her life — like caring for her teenage son who has had some mental concerns and being a teacher in this time of distance learning and covid-19. The teachers right now in the States are having a time of it.

Talking also helped me put my own problems into better perspective. The challenges of my life seem to largely revolve around my anxiety even when the actual problems themselves are not that dire. Talking to my friend helped me gain some insight into my own peculiar need to always have something to worry about when that is not necessarily helpful or needed.

My friend is also an avid exercise person. I gave her permission to get on my case for not exercising on a regular basis. I asked her to reach out to her son and to her ex-husband and let them know that she respects the work they are putting in daily to overcome anxiety and other related challenges.

Once again, I am reminded how thankful I am for the relationships in my life. It makes me want to invest more time in developing more meaningful relationships across the board. Even when the conversation moves to serious topics, it is good to know we are not alone and that we can do our best to put on each others’ shoes and walk a mile or two.

What about weight gain? Anybody experiencing that?

Asking about memory issues is popular on my blog, so I thought I would start a similar discussion on weight gain.

Back in 1985 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was prescribed a combination of lithium and tegretol. There was a five to ten pound weight gain associated with those meds. With a diligence for exercise I managed the weight implications associated with lithium without a problem. As long as I stayed on lithium off and on until about 2004 my weight seemed largely manageable.

Fast forward to 2004 after the birth of my daughter. I never got off my baby weight. Also due to the postpartum depression, I suffered additional weight gain in that I ceased to be motivated to run 4 to 5 times a week. In fact, I am doing well now to get a short walk in.

In 2008, I was prescribed clozapine / clozaril which largely became therapuetic for me but also was associated with a good bit of weight gain. To this day I am 20 to 30 pounds heavier than I want to be. I also want to be walking regularly. In addition to the meds’ impact on weight, I began to eat as a nervous eater and a stress eater. This did not help with the weight issues.

I am hopeful if I can jumpstart myself back into an exercise regime, I can begin to address the weight-gain and the stress eating. Because my daughter is pescatarian we largely eat healthily as a family but portions are too large and snacking is too much.

A list for a rainy day (or any day):

I am creating a list of things I like to do:

  1. Put a balanced meal on the table for my family at dinner time – I am almost always successful in this except for our new “take-out night” once a week in the post-covid-19 era.

2. Keep healthy foods on hand for my family to eat for breakfasts and lunches. I typically do pretty well at this but I have a pescatarian for a daughter and she keeps me on my toes in trying to provide snacks and foods that meet her “high” standards.

3. Regularly count my blessings that I have not lost any one to the pandemic, that my family can eat and pay the bills. I have done this but need to do this more and more. There are so many people who have been hit harder, much harder than me and my family. Be thankful for the big and small stuff.

4. Play a board game with family – I have done this once since covid started and laughed so hard during the game of Monopoly I wonder why I am not doing this every day.

5. Take the dog for a walk. I have been doing this regularly for the last month or so. Feels good to get a little exercise and to engage my husband into doing the same.

6. Talk to my Mom over the phone each day to help alleviate her feelings of isolation and mine. She lives alone and we have only had two in-person socially distanced get-togethers outside her condo in the garden for twenty minutes each. I do this phone call to her every day. Somehow or another we find something new to talk about even when there is not too much new going on.

7. Plan a socially distanced get together with my Mom after my daughter finishes with the remote learning requirements for 10th grade. Have a barbeque or something outside where we can visit at 6 to 8 feet apart and include my 83 year old Mom. This planning is underway. We have talked about the inherent risks of a get together, but plan on keeping our social distancing up to minimize this risk.

8. Bake bread with my daughter. I have done this once during covid and it was great! Need to do this again.

9. Set up the tent in the backyard for a virtual camping overnight trip. This is just an idea at this point.

10. Watch a movie or TV series with my husband and 16 year old daughter. This has been happening every day of the quarantine. Go figure. While it is sometimes a little difficult to find a show that appeals to all three of us, we largely have done this. Everybody looks forward to this time after dinner each night – school night or weekend no matter. Sometimes I do popcorn.

11. Reach out to someone who is on the front lines of the pandemic. I have reached out to family who includes a cousin who is a nurse in the ER in Massachusetts. I also try to say thank you when I go to the grocery and the pharmacy and the lab to those who are coming into work these days and putting themselves at risk. I could do more of this – thanking and acknowledging people who are doing essential things.

12. Provide financial assistance to those who are short of food. We have made one food contribution so far. As soon as we get our covid-19 check we will plan to pledge a certain amount to a food bank in our area.

13. Play music that I haven’t listened to in a long while. Play music I used to like to dance to and dance if I feel like it. Have not done this yet.

14. Reach out to old friends by text or cell. I have done some of this but I could do more.

15. Blog on a regular basis. I have been doing this for a couple of months now. I feel I could improve my blog presence by including what I am doing to counter my anxiety and depression and bipolar symptoms more that just offloading these feelings in my blog posts.

16. Take a hot bath and think about nothing. I do this on a regular basis. I could add some bath salts to enhance the experience.

17. Plan what we will do as a family this summer. We have found out that my daughter’s camp will not be taking place this summer. We are uncertain of a trip for my daughter and mother to visit cousins in the UK. We are uncertain of plans to drive North to visit family. I could poll my family and ask what fun things they might want to do during a covid-summer if that is what we will have.

18. Journal and write notes about what I have been feeling and thinking about the pandemic and other challenges. I like to keep a handwritten account of what I am dreaming and/or concerned about. Right now I am most concerned with there being a second wave of covid-19 in the late summer or fall. Although I am not in a position to affect outcomes, it helps me to write down my concerns. Perhaps it helps me let go of anxious thoughts that I have no control over.

19. Consider buying a modest gift online to spruce up the house. I have not done this yet but usually feel very good when it comes time to decorate for Christmas and Easter. I like decorating. Perhaps I need to buy a new set of pillows for the living room or some other fun accent to keep it light and not be too expensive.

20. Plant flowers or herbs in the front yard. I have been doing this for five years since we moved into this new house and for as long as I can remember in the house before that. I enjoy going to Home Depot and getting flowers or herbs to plant on the front porch. It is a cheerful way to enter the house each time we go out and come in again. My winter pansies are pretty well ka-put and need a refresher at this point.

21. Talk with family and extended family each week using Zoom or something similar. My sister and her husband have been arranging this for us. I could learn how to host Zoom so as to do this once a week. So far, I have just been a Zoom participant.

22. Find a way to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from 10th grade in two weeks. Since schools are not open this is a challenge. I am just thankful that she is not a Senior in high school now with virtual high school graduation in the works. We often do a nice dinner out to celebrate good grades and end of the school year. Perhaps this will morph into a take-out celebration dinner.

There is a whole other list of things I “should” do like clean out the garage or clean out the junk room or organize my closet. I am not really doing the “should” list until it becomes essential like paying bills and doing the housecleaning.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Clothing Then and Now

I have continued to have some sort of fixation with clothes and clothing – not only the color in which they appear but also the “privacy” of the label.  Sometimes this label is not private and is emblazoned on the back pocket of the jeans as in Calvin Klein jeans from the 1970’s or even the Levi’s name tag on that ever so timeless brand of clothing.  I am unsure what this fixation on clothing entails exactly.  I do know that it is tied with some body image issues that get complicated because of my need to take regular meds for my bipolar condition. 

Throughout high school and college I remained a size 6 to 8 when I perhaps should have been a size ten.  After meds were introduced in my life I was almost always a size 8 to 10.  After bearing a child and substantially increasing my meds, I have been more a size 12 to 14.  My goal at this juncture in life is to be back at that size 12.  Perhaps my obsession with clothing is in parallel to my own body image issues, perhaps not. 

In any case, the preoccupation with clothing seems to have something also to so with pattern recognition.  If four people out of ten wear red to the office that day, I notice it.   If black was worn by person A on day one and by persons B, C, D, and E, I notice it. Not that I really ever did anything with the information, it was just a layer of the type of perceptions I would have – extraneous and meaningless maybe or maybe not.  Definitely with a focus on color patterns and patterning.

In my teens, I spent hours shopping for the right clothing.  Today, I abhor shopping for clothes largely because I am two sizes bigger than I would like to be.  The preoccupation with clothes at an early age is probably all wrapped up in image.  I have very little to say in that regard today as Ego is largely drained from my daily events.  I tend today to wear the same make of clothes all the time and often repeat the same outfit once a week.  In fact, I do not care about clothing at all.  It is a chore to buy clothes and it is a chore to pick out clothes for any given day.

While being diagnosed with an eating disorder is something I have considered as relevant to my mental health, I feel that my weight gain issues center more on body image issues and medication use.  For years, I bought into the fashion magazine mindset that you were not beautiful unless you were a size 6 or size 8.  For years throughout high school and college and into my twenties, I ate and exercised in order to maintain a size 6 or a size 8 figure.  Often this meant running three to five miles several times a week and counting caloric intake to be about 1000 calories a day.  When I became pregnant at age 38 I was about a size ten. After giving birth to my daughter, I have stayed at a size twelve if not a size fourteen.  I currently have very little discipline in the food and exercise realm largely in my own view because I feel I am reacting to years of over-exercising and over-dieting. 

So it is that my size in clothes has moved from a size 6 in high school to a size 14 in married life and after child-birth.  This continues to be a goal of mine to return again to size 12 through a combination of exercise and food monitoring.  However, it is something admittedly that until quite recently has fallen off the radar screen.  Some of this frustration and back-pedaling about eating and exercise may include the fact that meds are often associated with weight gain.  In my mind, I tell myself it is better to have an extra twenty pounds on while taking medicine than it is to be a at a model’s weight with little or no mental stability.  This is particularly true when I start to be honest with myself that fasting from breakfast time through lunchtime is associated with mood issues since blood sugar levels are not being addressed.