Malign obsessions: On health as a whole organism phenomena

image

“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.

Advertisements

Laboring through the inevitable fear

The end started its approach on Monday, it didn’t take long to pick up momentum, waves of sticky and infectious anticipation slamming relentlessly into me. That was when I first realised that I’m dying.

I feel my heart atrophy, burning into ischaemia after every cup of coffee, every sip of wine,
Each faltering beat convulsed with another gripping stab in my chest that is far too severe and rhythmic to be heartburn.

A narrow escape lets me see Tuesday.

Just when I think the coast is clear, I feel my chest implode and I can’t breathe, some heavy cinch has grasped me tight, and the blood rushes faster as I struggle to inhale, shoulders to my ears but lowering won’t help me, aren’t you listening to me? I can’t damned well breathe!!!

A fluke recovery meant Wednesday rose to met me.

But in Wednesday’s maw is a terrible fate. Into a small cut that I obtained, leapt staphylococcus and streptococcus. They swim from that cut right up to my brain! Lending headaches and feverish ranting as my grey matter becomes violently colonised.

I don’t know how I survived that meningococcal experience, but Thursday knocked on my door nonetheless.

The sun rises with a stab in my thigh, a throbbing ache that portents of a clot. Perhaps I didn’t move all night, and as I rub to test if it’s muscular, the clot detaches and heads for my lungs.  shortness of breath is quick to follow, accompanied by dizziness and all things severe, but once the worst of the embolism is passed, I get out of bed and cycle my weary self to work.

Friday approaches with a rash in tow and infact on my toe, but I’ve had enough. I’ve already had two strokes, five ulcers, two brain haemorrhages, pneumonia and toxic shock this month, No-one can be expected to die every day of the working week. I’ll resign from the Billy Witch council, I’ll join health anxiety anonymous, I’ll write poems in strawberry shampoo, paint a platypus on my knee, whatever you want, just fucking get me off this adrenalin-sapping horror show!

Maybe let me Google that rash first though first, just in case…..

The morphing face of perception

As I have described before, I find my own visage reminiscent of something squiddish. Or at least I did. Some peculiar change has taken place recently in the face that lives in the ocean at the bottom of the mirror that cannot entirely be explained by my all too tardy discovery of eyebrow pencils. No, there is something inexplicably different and almost, human about the overall mask. It’s uncannily like I am simply Homo sapiens like you and not a demon-spawed sea-creature abomination. Could it be that I’ve transformed through some cephalopodic adolescence into my mature form? A flood of aquatic hormones that has flushed out the adolescent obsession with facial paranoia? A transition where dysmorphia is displaced by clarity.

It’s funny how a slight change in perspective can alter perception so vastly. The monster under the bed retreats into its former scarf and slippers form with the flick of a switch but I’m left wondering which switch got flicked this time, and how do I keep the light on?

“I think I should be

a little more confident,

in my self,

in my skin” ~Daughter, Home

Autumn equine reflections

I’d like to show you how my buddy Buster is shaping up as we head into winter.

image

Look at the shine on his coat!! He looks so healthy and happy, even if he is shamelessly checking out the tackbox for polo’s! ( over here mate!!!!)Oh I’d love to tell you that the photo was post bath but they haven’t been washed since the start of summer ( don’t look at me like that…they only go and roll in the mud when you wash them anyway…)!! It’s too cold now for that kind of business and to be honest, if we bathed him he’d probably reflect the sunlight so much it would distract the drivers (and spook the neighborhood animals).

The horses managed a record-breaking 29 poos between the two of them in just one night the other day….even thinking about that makes my bottom feel sore. It must have been exhausting because the pair of them practically slouched their way around our hack..dragging their hooves and largely bemoaning their lot. Its hard to imagine these are the same beasts that were getting all fizzed up only a matter of weeks ago. I guess the summer sugarcube fairy has stopped visiting. Another possibility is the the pony stealth pooed when she snuck into that field before and the evidence has only just been found…that would mean they just didn’t feel up for an active hack because the weather was miserable, and I certainly can’t blame them! That’s right Buster, I guess I did need the leg exercise.. 

“It’s time, meet me on the sunny road”~Emiliana Torrini, sunny road

What a difference a couple of months makes!

My lovely friend Buster was a bit poorly this winter/spring and looked very much unloved (though was actually very spoilt).

image

See? So tired and old-looking. Now after a few months of decent grass, continued bucket feeds and more exercise he has been transformed into this:

image

I hope that you will agree that there is really quite a big difference, not just in his coat. You’d never guess the second pic was if a 26year old would you? I’m so glad he bounced back from his winter tummy woes so he can make the most of his retirement, frolicking in the  field and being a noisy beast.

Now I get to see this gorgeous face all the time

image

Where are my mints?

And this cheeky face

image

He doesn’t need mints, where are MY mints?

I love those silly horses.

“I’m always drawn to the dark horse~heather nova, paper cup

Glove faces and actually, finally wallowing in a bath of wellbeing

I got caught smiling to myself today.
I Made an acquaintance waiting for the lift, Exchanged a few words about being too lazy to walk up 6 floors but needing caffeine…I then got a hand shake, aname beginning with r and was told he’s seen me around a lot…yeah I’m like part of the furniture I’ve been here so long, plus Im pretty promiscuous with the rooms I work in. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this guy before, and now I’m either going to say hi to a random someone else instead, or ignore him by mistake….darn you shoddy memory for faces and names!!!

image

This guy was waiting for me on my bench this morning. We’ve a creative bunch in our lab!!

It has been a hectic week. The blood test said I’m fit as a fiddle ( have to agree now taking vitamins I feel pretty formidable for the first time in my memory). I have energy!!! I can think, multitask and I can smile….I don’t feel depressed or anxious and my weird neck muscular tension is gradually subsiding.
It turns out that you can’t get vitamin b12 from plants…so…being pretty much vegan (aside from cheese and chocolate) I was basically getting no b12 in my diet. I have been eating ‘healthy, natural’ breakfast things like museli, so haven’t even had fortified products!!! You know how I rave about nimm2 sweets and feel much better when I eat them? Yeah they have b12 in them….
Why, oh why didn’t any of the many dieticians that I have seen suggest I take a supplement or have a test done???

https://www.b12d.org/book/export/html/1785

Well now I feel much better informed!!

Dentist says that the one molar that doesn’t have a filling is feeling bullied by the others and has given in to peer pressure to have a filling done….boo

Continuing forhead woes

Dear acne-infested forhead,
I shall henceforth endeavour to:

-Resist the urge to pick at all lumps and bumps with my nails (and certainly not repeatedly until I’m bleeding…)
-Honour my thirst by drinking water as well as coffee (not instead..)
-Stop rubbing my face dry on towels of questionable sterility
-avoid over-exfoliation
-Keep stress levels to a minimum
-Get better quality sleep

So you’d better sod off or I’m pulling out the oral antibiotic arsenal. Mmmk?

That is all.