Malign obsessions: On health as a whole organism phenomena

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“she goes to the gym seven times a week, doesn’t drink and watches what she eats. She is so healthy!”

How many times am I going to hear this or its ilk and still manage to keep my volatile opinions to myself. The surface is fraying, I’m losing my composure over this.

The media would have us believe that to be healthy, you must subscribe to a set of rules: you must go to the gym multiple times a week, you must control your weight and diet, cutting out ‘bad’ foods and drinks, and you must drink enough water to detoxify the bad stuff out of yourself.

Exercise, water and a good diet are nothing new as far as ideas go, but what is new, anthropologically speaking, is the attitude that some have towards health.

It’s no secret that a lot of people suffer from mental health problems. It’s all over the news, raising awareness largely of depression, but what there is still a general lack of recognition for less well publicised phenomenon like orthorexia, obsessions, paranoia, dysmorphia and anxiety, and I really think they are creeping up on people without them or their loved ones knowing. What is worse is that others look up to those with such problems as role models.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to live a healthier life and keep your body strong, but there is a line at which the compromise to ones mental state no longer justifies such control over ones thoughts and actions.

Take sarah, she’s in her mid-twenties and to an unenlightened onlooker, she appears to live a healthy lifestyle. She has a normal BMI, goes to the gym seven times a week, she plays squash, she drinks only water eats a healthy diet and gets plenty of sleep. Physically she is in good shape, so all good right? A paragon on virtue. Don’t you wish you could be like Sarah?

Well let me tell you a little more. Sarah gets up at exactly your same time every day and weighs herself, she has each minute scheduled in her daily calendar so that she can eat, sleep and exercise at the times of day that she read are the most beneficial.  All her meals are weighed and measured out and every calorie and gram of fat tabulated. Sarah won’t go out in the sun and only drinks water from a glass bottle because she knows that plasticides in plastic cups are bad for you. Every label is scrutinised for nasty additives and preservatives. She eats alone because she thinks that a late lunch is better for the metabolism, and she eats the same thing every day because she read that they are the healthiest foods. Sarah spends a lot of time reading about new health news about what extra things to avoid, and refuses to take medication that she thinks is bad for her. She has never had caffeine, alcoholic drinks or smoked a cigarette in her life because she considers them too dangerous. Sarah is constantly checking her feelings and measuring her words so that she can stay in control of her mind as well as her body. Occasionally the control is lost and Sarah binges on treats and then compensates by making herself do a commensurate amount of additional gym work.

Do you still aspire to be like Sarah ? Or do you feel sorry for the way she needs to obsessively control her body to feel in control of her life?

Let’s take a step back.

Exercise:
Someone told me the other day that I didn’t exercise because I didn’t go to the gym. Where did this idea come from? Why the hell do I need to go to a small petri-dish of a box room with a bunch of sweaty people to be considered to be exercising. The 1 hour of medium impact cycling that I do each day counts for nothing? What about the fact that I have gym equipment at home should I feel the need, and a half a ton horse that I wrangle at the weekends? Well you can discuss your concerns with my body fat percentage because I’m not buying such a blinkered view, and yes, of course I can lift that 10 litre water butt for you because you aren’t strong enough…. Exercise can be walking, cycling, shopping, cleaning, gardening, dancing or having sex. You don’t need to be in that mirrored box with onlookers to make the exertion count, nor do the calories burnt need to be emblazoned on an lcd for them to be real. Personally I think that if you can get a decent quota of exercise without resorting to the gym, then you’ve proven self-sufficient in your ability to keep yourself active. Hurrah! If you happen to like going to the gym then good for you, but I don’t see the point. Bottom line, moving your body and using your muscles are good things, obsessing over reps, times, steps, times etc, not so much.

Diet:
There are huge debates over dietary recommendations. Each week there is another article telling you to eat this but not that, and scaremongering about how terrible some foods are for you, for the story to be reversed months or years later. Keeping up with those articles is not only exhausting but also damaging if you start cutting out food groups willy-nilly. The keys to a healthy relationship with food involve a balanced and varied diet that includes snacks and treats, and not ignoring the social aspects of meal times; cooking for a loved one, or sharing and enjoying food and drink together. I really feel like enjoyment and savouring what you nourish your body with is important, as is including a variety of foods, and including fruit, veg and fibre in with your fats carbs and protein. If you only imbibe things that you dislike and deny yourself the things you enjoy then you might get a certain ascetic kick out of being so controlled, but really, what are you doing? You are strictly denying things that you enjoy, to what end? So that the numbers add up right? so you get to feel virtuous? So you get other people’s approval? Think about what you are doing and why.

The other stuff:
As I have described above with respect to meal times, social interactions are important and isolation can be very damaging to someone in the throes of monomania; with noone to argue against their floored logic, it becomes cemented as truth and then paranoia slips in that others are trying to make them unhealthy or fat by sabotaging their strict regime. It’s a very delicate insular experience to be so absorbed in one aspect of your life that you obsess over it, and it has all manner of costs to you. It may feel like you are controlling your world from the calorie control room, but all you are doing is feeding the anxiety fire with more fuel so that everything outside of your safe boundaries becomes some kind of threat. Can you imagine pulling up the drawbridge like that?

I can. The reason why I have such a strong opinion and feel that I have a right to thrust this tirade internetwards is that I have had a serious eating disorder and a fixation with my health for most of my adult life. When I was sick I got so many compliments about how disciplined I was and how they wished they could be like me, how lucky I was to be thin etc. This kind of attitude was very unhelpful because it reinforced the idea that the way I was living my life was good and something to be admired. It fucking wasn’t, I was constantly exhausted, medicated up to my eyeballs, and every single thing in my life revolved around making sure I could eat ‘safe’ foods. I missed out on so many experiences in those years because I was too busy sat at home weighing and reweighing myself and my food and trying desperately to make the calories balance out. That is not a way to live, it’s barely an existence and if you genuinely admire those who live like that then maybe you aught to try some meds too. It has taken very many years but now I can exercise and eat without a thought for numbers of the energetic kind, and I can finally concentrate on the things that matter in life and every day is another day to try and maintain a healthy weight. I enjoy food and drink, and try new unknown dishes sometimes. For this gargantuan effort I receive the opinion that other people think I am not as fit or healthy any more. Health is not as superficial and the glossy magazines would have us believe. It encompasses the physical and the psychological, and people should not underestimate the physical impacts of a psychological problem. Unsatisfied as you may be with aspects of your physical form, if you had the opportunity to swap with Sarah to have a fitter, more muscular body and also take on her insecurities and necroticisms, would you do it? No, neither would I.

By the way “Sarah” in real life could just as easily be a man.

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Posting and trotting

I’ve been having quite a run of creative and at least partially edited stuffage on the other side, but as I only ever intended to post there every two weeks or so I think I need to cool it, lest I start to post even poorer quality efforts due to the growing addiction to the satisfaction of being able to press ‘publish immediately’.

I like to think I am making some progress regarding attempts to add a sense of movement and progression into my short story-esque scenes, but there is always this overwhelming sense of stagnation and treading water, like my characters are trapped in a moment. It’s a terrible bind to have so many strong emotions and thoughts to set down, but no storytelling skill at all.

Just ask my colleagues. I can’t tell them about anything withour their eyes wandering and yawns setting in. My pub banter is atrocious. Even if I’ve done something awesome, my ridiculous on-the-spot loss of verbal command leaves me and everyone else wondering why I was trying so hard when I am clearly just not novelist material. 

Anyway, enough about that here’s an example for you. My four legged ride was determined to test me this weekend….having still not quite recovered from broken-nose-gate, whenever his royal highness is feeling a bit fresh it sets my anxiety off big time. Last weekend’s ride waw lovely and reassuraning with controlled, sedate canters down the bridleways and good communication. This week was quite another story. I bravely opted for a route that when last week took it, the horses took off at high speed (with me almost being taken out by a low branch that I hadn’t noticed coming up) and wracked my nerves but I figured I have to challenge that. Unfortunately It was not the right day. If you’ve ever ridden before you may he familiar with the turn for home causing a massive increase in speed and enthusiasm, so when we did just that and had a nice open stretch in front of us the horses were dead set on having a big old race. Now. I wasn’t up for that, so we tried to make them walk, but actually ended up more jogging along and having to turn them into the hedge and stand there a bit a few times to chill them out. Nevertheless the temptation was just too much for them at one point and sparked off each other they bombed into a fast canter that took quite some strides to pull them up from. Most of the rest of the journey I felt like I had a horse with no head, he was behind the bit and not in contact with me, so no communication there, and I kept having odd flushes of worry that he’d bolt and dump me on the floor. Of course being spring with the grass shooting up both horses were in fine spring-loaded form, but aside from that one burst of unwarranted cantering, they just about coped with just walking and trotting the rest of the way home, even though they were visibly frustrated about it. I was half tempted to just jump out of the saddle and run away at one point but I stayed put and rode it out (ha!). My point is that despite being a little suboptimal on the communication and control side of things, I could handle Buster well enough to prevent a bolting situation, and by the time we got home we had both calmed back down to normal levels and I handed over the requisite number of polo mints for a ride well survived. Obviously I was kind of scared for a chunk if the ride, but I’m clearly not as wretched as a rider as I think as we actually did just fine overall. Next time I just have to remember that I can cope, and that my steed is in fact a (slightly hyperactive) superstar and not a monsterous bucking/bolting machine.

Today I spent however many hours there are in the second half of season five of Haven, watching TV. It’s OK,  I got up regularly to make cups of tea so I didn’t get DVT so I call that a bank holiday Monday well spent.

If there was a better way to go it would find me

When visiting my mother I found this:

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This laminated bad boy was my ticket to high school freedom. Whensoever the fancy took me to maybe not attend a class, I always had an ironclad yellow alibi. I got pretty good use out of this flexible friend when it came to physical education. It really was amazing how all my musical instrument lessons coincided every week! Weird huh!

I also found some old drawings I did. Now although I am using Accidental Tentacles for my arty stuffs these days, I have vowed to only post new work, no old has-beens for that shiny new site (except the header dragon, and he will go as soon as I make a suitable replacement).

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Here is an example. A hint of tortured mask wearing vampire.
I was really flattered to be referred to as an artist recently by a talented writer known as Gordon Flanders, instead of just a weirdo, or a nerd 🙂 it pretty much made my week. Though based on the above picture he may retract that descriptor! Now that I’m talking about Gordon, I’d like to mention that without his feedback when I started this blog years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had much confidence to continue, so I am ever grateful that he stumbled here, so go read his blog if you don’t already, you won’t be disappointed! While I’m on a train of praise and thanks I’d also like to thank the babe and Tony Single for their continued inputs, you guys are so amazing and it’s really just incredible to have you come and read my inane jabbering 🙂 I feel very lucky to have caught your attention. Go read their blogs too, ok?

Now for something possibly even more awesome, a picture of my childhood dog Abbie:

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Now, I’m sure you are thinking that your dog is probably way better than this one, but I regret to inform that you are wrong. This beastie was the pinnacle of all dog, or for that matter mammalian evolution and her like will never be seen again. Certainly not to be confused with this monster:

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Who incidentally, I taught to play fetch during my visit. She’s an eight year old nervous nutcase and normally just wants to go for your ankles but this visit she wanted to be my buddy, so I guess my dog whispering is on point. I’m still watching you Tiggy, I know how your brain just pivots in weird ways sometimes.

I’ve written two posts recently that are sat in my drafts because I have finally developed the maturity to realise that sometimes you don’t need to impulsively let off every thought that you have to run rampant in the world wide Web. Sometimes prudence is your friend, and pissing people off just isn’t always worth it. They are safely out of my head and in my drafts and I think it would be best all round if they stay there.

The title of this post is, of course, from Fiona Apple’s song “extraordinary machine”.

Also sorry if you saw this on my other site for a flash. It’s my first slip-up since blog bifurcation!

A fresh new year

The new year has come and swallowed us all up,like a hungry hungry unstoppable hippo and with it – it has engulfed my feelings about this particular blog. The seemingly arbitrary categorization, the punctuation of inane diarising between artistic endeavours and idealistic theorising and fixation on mental health issues that are ostensibly in the past no longer appeals to my sensibilities. In short – the thing I loved about making this blog – the seeming randomness of what spewed forth from my typo-laden fingers, now feels unwieldy and clumsy rather than fluid and expressive.

I’m gong to start something new. (which will probably degenerate into PSMP v2.0 within weeks)

This doesn’t mean the end for pickledsparklymooseprincess, but it does mean that I won’t be posting much here for a while. Maybe I’ll see you from my new cyber window – perhaps I’ll give you a wave from there so you can see that it’s me! or maybe you’ll find me there by osmosis anyway!

Happy New Year all!