Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Everything Else’ Category

Do your early experiences of work shape how you view it later in life?

 

My dad seems to think so. In a conversation we had a few days ago, he attributed my nervousness at starting placement soon to my first job, which he seems to believe has scarred me for life. According to him, I need to work through the anxieties that it created and get rid of the negative view that I have of all future employers and colleagues – namely, that they’ll all dislike me, criticise me and think I’m incapable of doing my job properly.

He might have a point. If my first experience of work had been an office in which I was bullied or undermined by my employer. If my first job had lasted a long period of time.

 

If my first job wasn’t three weeks at Domino’s Pizza.

 

But it was. Could those three weeks have had such significance? Not only did I have an intensely negative experience of employment at the tender age of 16, I also met my future fiancé there. Is this a good thing? We spent two and a half intense years together, before a suitably intense break-up. If I hadn’t met him, I might not have isolated myself quite so much in sixth form. I believe I grew apart from friends as a result, and my social life suffered. But equally, without our break-up I probably wouldn’t have gone to Canada. And I wouldn’t have met as many wonderful people as I did. And the friends I had in high school? Two of them I still see, and they have been my closest friends since childhood. The others… well, they were kind of bitchy anyway. I don’t need people like that in my life.

So, back to the job. Yes, the manager was a dick. He yelled at staff, he was mean and rude, he patronised me… his personality was completely at odds with mine. At that age I lacked confidence, and although I was confident with peers, I was shy with authority figures. I had (and still have, to an extent) phone anxiety and so having to take calls with people reeling off large orders while working the computer system and trying not to get the orders wrong sent me into a total panic. Once I got so flustered that I entered someone’s address and phone number incorrectly, so we were unable to call them back to correct the order. He shouted, in front of everyone, ‘WHAT IS SO COMPLICATED?!’

At that moment, I felt like the stupidest human being to ever live. Because he’s right. What was so complicated? How come everyone else managed, and I didn’t? How come my boyfriend was so good at his job that he’d be left in charge when the manager wasn’t there, yet I was on the verge of being fired because I couldn’t even work a basic computer?

I mean, people make jokes about staff in fast food places. It’s hardly seen as a high end, difficult job. On the contrary, it’s seen as a low-skilled, easy job to do. So if I’m not even capable of doing something so simple, how can I ever expect to perform in a real job?

 

The fact that this still stirs up so many emotions in me makes me think that maybe my dad was right. It also makes me doubt my sanity. I mean, come on! The job lasted three weeks before I quit – partly out of a desire to be free from the nightmare of working there, but also because I was scared that if I didn’t quit I’d eventually be fired.

But can this experience really be to blame for my anxiety today? Am I that sensitive? I guess I do lack confidence. All evidence since that horrible job has pointed to me being a perfectly competent individual. I’ve volunteered with organisations and done a good job, and I’ve held other jobs successfully.

And my previous feelings of not fitting in and of letting my shyness creep in and spoil my experiences motivated me to do everything to avoid that in my first placement on the course. I steamed in with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, worked hard, chatted to everyone and basically just fought to be seen as positively as possible. As a result, I aced the placement, everyone had good feedback about me and I avoided ever being on the receiving end of the manager’s infamous bad temper.

 

This is getting long. Less blog post, more confessional.

 

I guess I’m just working through things. I start the final placement of my course on Monday, and I’m terrified. I’m envisaging various scenarios, each with a negative outcome. They won’t let me leave early on a Monday to get to yoga class, so I’ll have to quit it for 6 months. They won’t let me do four days a week if I struggle with the workload (the university expects you to do four days until all assignments are handed in, but they seemed surprised when I told them that and said they’d prefer me to do five). My colleagues won’t like me. I won’t know what to do. I won’t enjoy the work, and will feel constantly depressed about having to go there. I’ll make a fool of myself in court. I’ll embarrass myself. The service users won’t like me. I won’t form good relationships. I will be ineffective when carrying out direct work with children. I won’t know what to say to them. My life will be one long feeling of dread and anxiety from start to finish.

All of these thoughts are genuinely going around in my head. Of course, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. The fact that they’ve stressed how flexible they are. That I can work from home on days that I just have a report to write. That as long as I get the hours done, I’m free to start and finish when I want (within reason). That everyone I’ve met so far has been really welcoming and friendly to me.

But my head tries to predict every scenario possible and attaches a negative outcome to it.

I think it has a lot more to do with my personality in general than one three-week-long job. I’m just a terribly anxious perfectionist. I can’t bear the thought of criticism, of falling short. Saying that, maybe my dad has a point. That first job, the one that it took guts to pursue because I already had fears about not being good enough, smashed any tiny bit of confidence that I might have had in myself when it came to work. And at a time of real personal crisis in my life too. If I had been more resilient, it wouldn’t have affected me.

But I wasn’t.

The thing is, I am now. I have so much more confidence, and I know better. I know better than my 16 year old self, and I believe in myself more than she did. I have no reason to doubt myself anymore.

So when I walk into that building at 9am on Monday morning, I have no reason to assume that it will be anything but the beginning of a wonderful, exciting, educational journey. And if I do happen to catch myself making any other assumptions, I will just have to remind myself that it isn’t Domino’s, I’m not 16, and I don’t have some spotty jumped-up little shit of a manager yelling in my face.

I’m a better manager than he’ll ever be, in every sense of the word. I’ve learned to manage my fears, my anxieties, my eating disorder… and the journey continues. He might have been the manager of his tiny little pizza empire, but I am the manager of my whole life, and I’m starting to think that I kick ass at it.

And my achievements in life are so much bigger than work. Work does not define you. Your success or failure at work has no bearing on your worth as a human being. I’ve managed to learn this about food. I used to think my eating habits, and my weight, were related to my intrinsic worth. If I could overcome that huge error, surely I can overcome this too?

And if those negative ruminations turn out to have some grounding, and I do have a shitty time on placement, I know that I’m strong enough to not let it affect my happiness as a person. Because it’s just work, you know?

My real job is pursuing contentment and doing the things that make me happy. Work is just one tiny part of that. In my life, I’m the boss. And it’s my job to be the kind of boss that I deserve. That means no unhelpful criticism, no putdowns, no unfair appraisals and no unrealistic expectations.

 

(I would like to be able to say that writing this has helped me to feel less nervous about Monday morning… but it hasn’t. Ah well, it gave me a break from studying – that’s one area that I DO need to improve in!)

Read Full Post »

As is customary at this time of year, I’ve made some resolutions. Yes, I know that everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions, and no one ever keeps them. But I think there are two reasons for this.

 

1. They set unrealistic goals.

2. They make a general statement about where they want to be, without looking at what needs to be done to get there.

 

I’m hoping to avoid these errors. I remember making resolutions every new year when I was in the midst of an eating disorder. Of course, every year I would plan to lose weight. That was all I ever wanted. Of course it wasn’t all I wanted, but in the absence of sound mental health and with no feeling of self-efficacy or control in my life, I imagined that everything else just happened to me. Losing weight was the only thing I could actually control, and so I resolved to do that, every year.

It’s not just those with eating disorders who make those kind of resolutions. It’s maybe one of the most common ones to make – to lose weight. Especially after the excesses of Christmas. And I’m betting most people usually fail.

But here’s the problem – you’re making a resolution that involves denying yourself, punishing yourself, and adopting a lifestyle that is less desirable than the one you currently live. When you make a promise to lose weight, more often than not it’s attempted through dieting and denying yourself of the things you enjoy. And it’s accompanied by reluctant, frenzied exercising which is done purely as a means to an end and not for enjoyment in itself.

Of course people fail, when you look at it this way. And the same goes for any resolution – if you’re not excited about it, truly motivated, and without a clear idea of what you’re doing and why, it won’t be important enough to you to stick at it when the going gets tough.

So I have promised myself that although I AM making resolutions, they’re not just for the sake of it – they will be things that are important to me. I will not make promises that I don’t think I’m capable of keeping. In fact,I’m not making any promises at all, just setting goals. And as well as those goals, I’m going to look at what needs to be done to achieve them. I’m going to ask myself every day what I can be doing to bring myself closer to those goals.

And I accept that I won’t be able to progress towards every single one of them, every day. The list is too extensive! But to get where you want to be, you need to work out exactly where that is first. And so by identifying what I want to achieve this year in every area of my life, I’m taking the first step towards getting there.

 

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

 

Food and Recovery
Stop weighing myself on a regular basis
Pay more attention to hunger signals, and eat slowly

Running and Fitness
Achieve a sub-40 minute 10K
Achieve a sub-1:30 half marathon
Run a mile in under 6 minutes
Work up to completing a full run in my Vibrams
Join a running club
Establish a home practice in yoga

School and Work
Pass my placement, hand everything in and qualify as a social worker
Get a job as a social worker!
Enjoy what I do, and not feel so anxious all the time that I’m not good enough
Stay on top of assignments and don’t let myself get too overwhelmed

Relationships
Stop taking my anger and frustration out on Matt
Spend more quality time with Matt that doesn’t involve watching TV!
Make new friends, by pursuing things that I’m interested in and reaching out to people more

Money
Set a budget and stick to it

House
Do all of the home improvements that Matt and I are planning as soon as possible. Aim to be finished my mid-February?
Establish a weekly cleaning day – Matt has suggested Thursday

 

So I’ve done the easy part. I’ve made a big list of everything I want to achieve this year. The hard part is doing it! And that’s where running comes in.

Running? What’s that got to do with sticking to resolutions?

Well… my experience of running has taught me that I am capable of things that I never thought possible. This time a little over two years ago, I was a complete non-runner. Not just a non-runner actually, an anti-runner. I disliked people who ran. I couldn’t understand it. And like many things in life, when you don’t understanding something you tend to be fearful of it. I wasn’t homophobic, I wasn’t xenophobic but oh boy was I runner-phobic! I would actually scowl at them in the street. And when my dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law AND boyfriend went running, I would shake my head in disbelief and mild pity.

But deep down, what fuelled my negativity towards running was the fact that I just could not do it! I had tried. I knew it was good exercise. I wanted to be able to run for miles. But every time I tried, I would make it no more than 100 metres before I decided it was too hard and walked back home with my tail between my legs.

Fast forward two years later. Not only can I run, I am GOOD at running. I LOVE to run. I eat, sleep and breathe running (and eat, sleep and breathe BETTER because of running!). How did this happen? Could it be that somewhere deep inside me there lies a well of determination, stamina and willpower that had gone previously untapped?

So if I can go from despising running to it being an indispensable part of my life, what else could I do if I set my mind to it?

That, dear friends, is why I feel confident in my ability to achieve – or at least work towards – my goals. That, and a loving, positive approach to them. So if I don’t always do what I know I should, or if they fall to the wayside at times, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to remind myself why they’re important to me (if they still are… because things change, right?), and if I decide they’re still worth pursuing I’ll pick myself up and get on with it again.

Of course it’s easy to pick and choose which goals you want to work on and neglect others. Sitting here in the library blogging about ‘staying on top of assignments’ is a convenient way to avoid actually doing them! So I have a plan. I’m going to identify one thing from each area, every day, that I can do towards a goal. It doesn’t have to be big or time-consuming. I just have to set that intention at the start of the day, so that I can be sure that the way I’m living is consistent with where I would like to be headed.

I’m sure you’re thinking this all sounds lovely and idealistic… but it’s only January 6th, how long will I keep this up? I’ll be honest, I’m asking myself the same question! But then I remember how determined I was to run, and how that determination has stayed with me – and I am reminded of how capable I am of making changes when I really set my mind to it.

So I’m going to finish this mammoth post off with my list for today. It’s a little late in the day now, so my intentions will have to be small ones.

 

  • Concentrate on eating my dinner mindfully
  • Go for a run, and do another mile in my Vibrams
  • Spend half an hour reading for my next assignment (seeing as I’ve already done some – but not enough! – today)
  • Be nice to Matt for the whole evening (yes, unbelievably, I have to set this as a goal because I usually find something to have a go at him for!)
  • Stay within my weekly budget (I doubt I’ll be spending any more money today, but so far I’ve done well)
  • Clean the bathroom

 

See, those are all easily achievable daily goals! And they correspond to each area of my life that I identified bigger goals in.

Maybe I should have added ‘Update blog regularly’ to the list! I’m not quite sure where it would fit so for the moment I’ll just keep it in my head – but at least I can tick that one off for today!

 

Read Full Post »

It’s official. I’ve been referring to myself as a 25-year-old for a few weeks now, but I was always comforted by the knowledge that I wasn’t really that old. Not yet. So I soaked up every last moment of my life as a 24-year-old as my birthday fast approached.

But I couldn’t hide forever. And on Friday 28th October, I officially hit my mid-twenties.

The heat was taken off me somewhat by the fact that my little baby nephew decided to steal my birthday thunder and arrive the day after my birthday last year, and so the whole family headed over to Ireland to celebrate him turning one. This meant that I got to celebrate my birthday there too, with my brother, sister, parents and nephews all together. With my brother living in Ireland, this doesn’t happen often.

I got cuddles with the birthday boy (it was a fancy dress party!)…

 

 

…and admired all of the party food and decorations.

 

 

 

 

Yummy cupcakes…

 

 

 

More cupcakes!

 

 

Green cupcakes!

 

 

As well as all of the cupcakes, there was an abundance of proper, traditional party food. It reminded me of my childhood, when parties were a chance to stuff yourself full of little pizza slices, crisps and sweets…

 

 

After my nephew woke up from his nap and came to join his party, we all sang happy birthday. It wasn’t until afterwards that we realised how unnerving the situation must have been for him when immediately upon waking he was carried downstairs into a room full of people dressed in scary costumes, all of whom began singing to him at the top of their voices while shoving a cake in his face! No wonder he burst into tears!

Fortunately, there were plenty of volunteers on hand to help him eat his cake…

 

 

Everyone grab a spoon!

 

 

The abundance of party food photos is due in part to the fact that I couldn’t eat any of it! There were no vegan cupcakes, no vegan ice cream, and no vegan pizzas… and so I got my fix by frantically photographing everything.

But I had not been forgotten. My sister-in-law failed in her attempts to find a vegan birthday cake for me, and so she improvised with a mandarin orange, raisins and some squares of dark chocolate…

 

 

I munched happily on my birthday orange, and opened some lovely gifts. And when I went to bed that night, I contemplated the kinds of things that you usually contemplate around significant events like birthdays (particularly those on which you turn a quarter of a century old!).

I thought about where I was this time last year, and the year before. This time last year I was in the first year of my MA, and I had been living with Matt for just three months. It was my first full autumn in recovery and I remember throwing myself into Halloween food-making with a vengeance. Despite the fact that I was going through a rough patch at the time, I made a pumpkin pie and ate it defiantly (I even got Matt to take a photo).

 

 

In terms of running, I was coming towards the end of my first year and I was smashing PBs left, right and centre. I had just completed the Great North Run and I was due to run in the Abbey Dash a few weeks later, where I would come tantalisingly close to my sub-40 minute 10K goal.

And the year before? I remember going for a birthday meal with my family and Matt, shortly after they found out that we were together. I had blonde hair (it didn’t suit me). I wasn’t in recovery yet, but I was about to be. I was in the process of applying for the MA, and made ends meet by working as a teaching assistant for an agency. Things were going well, although I was dissatisfied with my job. It was easy work though, and knowing that I was going back into education again the year after helped.

Come to think of it, my life has progressed fairly steadily in the past few years. Previously, when I played ‘this time last year’ games, I was usually astonished at the twists and turns my life had taken. Starting university engaged and living with my long-term boyfriend, and then breaking up and fleeing to Canada, then restarting university after returning to Canada for the summer and travelling around America. Getting together with Matt in secret (because you don’t expect your big brother to be particularly happy when you start dating his best friend…as it happens he was!), taking off for some more trips to Canada and doing generally crazy things, acquiring tattoos. Graduating from uni.

I always felt unstable, sometimes in a good way but sometimes in a bad way. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or who I was. And I lurched around, trying to find something to cling onto that would define me. I used the eating disorder for that, a lot. As friends settled down and seemed to be growing up, I felt myself becoming more chaotic. My parents stood back and let me do my own thing, but I’m sure they despaired when I announced another trip to Canada where I stayed with a dear friend who was very much in the same place as me…I don’t think either of us knew what we wanted from life, or where we were going. We sure had fun trying to find out, but it wasn’t always healthy.

I am reminded of these times every day by the little maple leaf that sits on my left wrist. And the huge fairy, curled up sleeping on a bunch of leaves on my right wrist. And the spiral on my foot that says, “When she dances she goes and goes…”

I got all three of these tattoos in one summer, with no more than a day’s thought going into each one. I laugh now, but really…who gets themselves permanently inked with such little care?

One day, as we were driving along, I saw a sign that caught my eye.

 

 

It felt profound. I suspected that it carried an important message. But back then all I could do was photograph it, and store it away somewhere for a day when I was ready to truly believe it. And it’s only recently that I feel as if I really appreciate who I am, rather than trying to be someone else.

I also saw this…

 

 

I imagined myself living in the Beaches, in a big house with a balcony and a hammock. And I would get up on a sunny morning, and I would do yoga on the beach. Never mind that I hardly ever did yoga back then. It wasn’t about the yoga. It was about the image, the ideal. I created a picture in my mind of the perfect existence, and I saw my life as being so far away from this. I allowed myself to dream of living this way, without any real idea of how to get there. I thought that in order to achieve happiness, I needed to work out a way to move to Canada. And afford one of the pretty houses that I would drive by and admire. And meet a handsome Canadian husband.

It never occurred to me that, while all of this was no doubt a desirable way to live, it wasn’t the key to true happiness. It took years before I accepted the reality – that in the quest to be happy, you have to start by looking inwards.

So, twenty-five years old, eh? Despite the chaos I’ve lived through over the years, it seems that I’m pretty much where you’d expect a girl to be at this age. I’m living with my long-term partner, and I’m a postgrad student. I worry about grown-up things like paying the mortgage. I’ve started to prefer staying in and baking to going out drinking (okay, confession time –  I always preferred staying in. But now I’m getting older it’s becoming socially acceptable!). I’ve made some sacrifices – I’ve chosen to abandon the Canadian dream to stay in England, close to my family. I’ve realised that you can spread your wings and fly away, and you can experience a taste of true freedom by taking off to a new country and opening up a whole new world of experiences…but eventually you have to make a choice. And my family are more important to me than any of that. I couldn’t move that far from them.

So I have begun to develop a little of the wisdom that comes from experience. Some of Matt’s younger friends (team mates) recently went to university and I found myself smiling knowingly at their optimism as they insisted upon staying with their current partners. I remember saying that myself, and I remember other people’s equally sceptical attitudes. And now I am one of them. I watch them starting out in a new phase of their lives, and it feels a million miles away from where I am now.

This has been a rather long train of thought, and although I have so much more to say I think I should save it for a later entry. It’s time to go to yoga anyway. I’m not going to get there by walking out of my large house in Toronto to the end of my street, where I will perform perfect downward dogs in the sunshine with the sand between my toes. Instead, I will wrap up warm to cycle in the dark to a studio, where I will fight myself into a very imperfect downward dog.

But this is real. This is my life. I will meet my friend at yoga, and we will giggle together at lion’s breath and catch up on the gossip and I will come home to a cosy house with a freshly carved pumpkin (Matt doesn’t know it yet, but this is his first job when he gets home later!) and make soup. The Canadian fantasy life is just that; a fantasy. I have all of the ideas in my head about how my life would look, but none of it is real. It’s empty.

Meanwhile, my real life is full of family and friends and love. And I appreciate that now. I realise that everyone else is taken and unless I want to be completely unhappy and dissatisfied, I have to find joy in just being myself.

 

Read Full Post »

*Warning – this entry is a long, not particularly well-constructed ramble that isn’t so much for others to read as for me to get some thoughts out and try to make sense of them. It started out as fairly coherent but then descended into total chaos, which is actually pretty representative of the state of my thoughts at the moment! So consider yourself forewarned.*

 

I love Saturday mornings, provided I have nothing to do. I wake up, stretch, and slope downstairs to prepare the bowl of cereal that I have looked forward to every morning since the beginning of recovery. I forget these days how difficult life was when I had to get out of bed on an empty stomach, and face the prospect of no food all day. No wonder I was depressed. Now I spring out of bed with a rumbling tummy and look forward to filling it up.

On a Saturday, this cereal is accompanied by the weekend paper, which I fetch from the shop across the road while my coffee is brewing in my Bialetti.

It’s all rather idyllic.

Of course, when I do all this post-run or post-gym, it feels even better. But this morning I woke up drowsy, from a deep sleep, and decided I didn’t feel like going to the gym. It’s a beautiful autumn day and cycling there along the canal would no doubt be perfectly enjoyable. But I have other things to do, and I’m feeling lazy. I’ve been very rebellious in recent months.  I used to exercise every day, without fail (apart from one rest day a week which was specifically scheduled in). And I do feel better when I’m stuck to my plan. But since being injured I’ve learnt that having days off won’t result in my fitness disappearing before my very eyes. I’ve had weeks off from running before, and my ability hasn’t declined whatsoever.

So I’m a little less militant these days. Although when I suck it up and make myself go to the gym, I do feel better. Anyway I’ve decided that this week has been a bum week, and I’ve allowed myself sleep ins and I didn’t cycle at all because I was feeling exceptionally tired at the start of the week, almost as if I was coming down with something. But I intend to cycle to and from uni for the three days that I’m in (well…to the gym, where I leave my bike before getting on the train…cycling to and from uni wouldn’t be viable considering that it’s about 60 miles away). And I’m going to do my Wednesday gym session, which I’ve avoided lately.

The main thing is running to be honest. I don’t skip runs, without good reason. The day I start doing that, well…it just isn’t an option. If I’m running, then all other exercise is simply supplementary.

So anyway, while sitting here with my coffee and the paper, and Tchaikovsky playing gently in the background (idyllic!), I got to thinking (does that sound too Sex and the City-esque?) about the concept of deserving. People say to each other, ‘I’m so glad for you, you deserve it!’ when they’re happy for someone. Or they say it about themselves. ‘I deserve some happiness after everything I’ve been through’. Or, ‘I don’t deserve it’.

Listen, and you’ll hear it everywhere. And I know it’s something that people say without too much through, but I can’t help but question the entire concept. Where does it come from? What is the basis for deciding whether or not someone is deserving of something? Is it related to their general moral conduct? Someone who generally behaves kindly towards others, I presume, is deserving of similar kindness towards them. Someone who has been through a particularly tough time, provided they are seen to be a ‘good’ person, also deserves happiness.

I’m guessing that those who don’t deserve happiness or good things are people who are sufficiently ‘bad’. Murderers, rapists. They deserve jail, pain, hurt. Isn’t that how it works?

I thought for a long time that I didn’t deserve food. That idea is common amongst sufferers of eating disorders. I was too bad. Other people could eat whatever they wanted, and they could be happy at whatever weight they were… but me? I was different. I don’t know why I thought I was different. You could turn it on its head and say that I thought I was special. My eating disorder set me apart, albeit in a negative way. Part of recovery was accepting that I was no different to anyone else. In doing so, I lost my little party trick. I had to accept that I was no better or worse than anyone else.

I also had to accept that food has no moral value attached to it. It’s impossible to be either deserving or undeserving of food. It’s simply a necessary part of our existence, much like oxygen or water. To say you don’t deserve it is essentially the same as saying you don’t deserve life. And if you truly believe that, why waste time with an eating disorder? Just get right to it and kill yourself.

But I would hazard a guess that most sufferers don’t really believe that they deserve death. There must be some hope inside them, or they wouldn’t choose to continue living. So the act of abusing food, and their bodies, is not so much a desire to end life but to avoid living. If you have a mental illness that also makes you physically weak, you get to be excused from life’s responsibilities. It’s also a distraction from other, non-food related worries. Just like those loan companies that offer ‘debt consolidation’… rather than paying out money to lots of different companies, you pay one lump sum to them and they take care of the rest. It usually costs more than the initial debt. But it’s more manageable, right? You don’t have to take responsibility for all the little things.

Well, an eating disorder does the same thing. Or it appears to. Instead of worrying about bills, relationships, your career, your studies… you simply elevate food to a level of such importance that it exceeds all other responsibilities in your life.  You pretend to yourself that it’s so important, you must spend all your time worrying about it instead of dealing with the other problems in your life. You deliberately complicate your relationship with food.

It might be unpopular to claim that eating disordered behaviour is self-indulgent, but in a way it is. It is a deliberate act, however you look at it. And it is one which not only hurts you, physically and emotionally, but it hurts those around you. It’s extremely selfish, as is any addiction. By choosing to take the easy route, and wallow in self-pity and misery, you impose on others. You force them to worry about you, to take care of you, to take over some of your responsibilities because you’re incapable of doing so yourself.

It sounds harsh to say this. People with eating disorders already feel so bad about themselves, how is this going to help? Surely being told that your behaviour is selfish and cowardly will simply exacerbate existing feelings of self-hatred and inadequacy?

Well, because I’m making a judgement on the behaviour, not the person. No one would argue that the way in which an eating disordered person behaves is positive. It would be hard to argue that ED’d behaviour has good consequences, that it improves life for either the sufferer or those around them. Of course it doesn’t. It has horrible consequences.

That isn’t to say that those with eating disorders intend to cause pain and suffering in their lives. I’m not making any judgements. I’m simply observing that the behaviour associated with eating disorders is inherently negative.

I remember how I was in the midst of an ED. I would turn the slightest criticism against me into a full-blown attack on my being. If my performance on an exam was only average, I was useless. If I made a mistake at work, I was incompetent. If someone didn’t like me, I wasn’t worth knowing. It sounds contradictory to say that such hyper-critical thinking is actually tremendously self-indulgent, because it certainly doesn’t feel that way. How can something which causes pain be self-indulgent? How can it be the easy way out?

But it is. Because staying eating disordered is easier than recovery. If recovery was easier, everyone would do it! If you judge yourself so harshly at every turn, and have done so for many years (if not your entire life), then learning a new way is exceedingly difficult. At first, it’s easier to hate yourself.

The popular view is that learning to love yourself is a crucial aspect of recovery. I would have agreed, a while ago. But now I worry about the danger of going too far down that road. I think there is too great an emphasis on self-worth in our society, and it ties in to our individualistic culture. Everyone needs to believe that they are special, that they have talents, that they’re ‘good enough’.

But I see things differently these days. I am sure most people would say I’m a ‘good’ person. I don’t do bad things to people, I have close family and friends and I try to take care of them. If I saw someone hurt themselves, I would check to see if they were okay. If I found a lost wallet, I would hand it in rather than taking the cash for myself. These are all qualities that are associated with goodness. So am I a good person? No. I don’t think anyone is inherently good. It’s easy to make that jump from how someone behaves to their core worth as a human being. I do lots of ‘good’ things, but I also do bad ones. I hold grudges, I resent people, I’m bad at sharing and I have a fierce temper. I have lots of negative qualities.

But I don’t hate myself for them. I look upon them with patience and curiosity. I recognise that if I choose to act upon these negative qualities, they will have negative consequences. These may be direct or indirect. I accept this. I don’t feel bad about it. I feel quite neutral really. These negative qualities are all part of my greater journey, and they are simply obstacles which must be overcome.

I am neither good nor bad. And in accepting this, I am removing all judgement from myself. I am no longer standing in the dock, while the judge and jury assesses my actions in order slap a definitive label on me. I am a person, whose actions are sometimes positive, and sometimes negative. I am working towards tipping the balance towards the former, and away from the latter.

My eating disorder had negative consequences. All that came out of it was pain and suffering. I am personally responsible for this. I don’t feel guilty. I accept that responsibility, and I strive towards a healthier life.

But the sense of personal responsibility is key. It doesn’t denote blame, or imply guilt…those are such negative, loaded terms. It simply means that I accept the negative consequences associated with my eating disorder were a direct result of my behaviour. By accepting this, I am free to make positive changes.

 

Sin has only one spiritual consequence, and this is invariable and inescapable. It creates an obstacle to enlightenment –  great or small, according to its magnitude – and this obstacle is its own automatic, self-contained punishment… If you judge your thoughts and actions from Patanjali’s viewpoint – asking yourself, “Does this add to, or diminish, the obstacles to my enlightenment?” – you will avoid the error of imagining that sins are difinite acts of absolutely fixed value which can be classified, graded, and listed. They are not. What is wrong for one person may be right for another… Each of us has his own sins and his own virtues, relative to his own duties, responsibilities and present spiritual condition. All we can do is to search our own consciences, and try to relate our motives on any particular occasion to the great central motive of our lives. Extremely difficult problems in conduct are sure to arise. We shall make many mistakes; and the best we can hope for is that our overall intention may be in the right direction.

Patanjali teaches us to regard our sins with a certain scientific detachment which avoids the two extremes of lazy tolerance and futile disgust, The surgeon does not tolerate a cancer; he cuts it out. But he does not shrink from it in horror, either. He studies it. He tries to understand how it has grown, and how the growth of a new cancer can be prevented.

We do not sin through pure wickedness or sheer moral idiocy. Our sins have a meaning and a purpose which we shall have to understand before we can hope to stop repeating them.

– ‘How to Know God – The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali’, by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Read Full Post »

While I was in Ireland, I visited Avoca for, like, the millionth time. No matter how many times I go though, my eyes always widen the minute I walk through the door and see the array of baking utensils, homewares, ornaments, clothes…the list goes on.

Knowing that I was flying home and wouldn’t able to transport large items of furniture back with me, I kept my gaze firmly away from potential purchases and wandered over to the book section instead. I figured I was safe there. They might have some books with nice pictures that I could look through, and marvel at, but nothing I would want to buy.

And then I saw it. Almost instantly, as I turned towards the cookbooks sitting on the table. It felt like our eyes met. In a movie, romantic music would have started playing.

Sweet Vegan!

No, that isn’t what I exclaimed when I saw it. That is the name of the vegan dessert book that I found most unexpectedly, not buried in and amongst the other cookbooks, or in the ‘special diets’ section, but sitting proudly on its own little stand.

I just had to have it. Fortunately my sister in law is an absolute doll and insisted on buying it for me as an early birthday present. That night, I took the book to bed with me and read through every single recipe, cover to cover. Oh, the fun we were going to have…

It took until Wednesday evening before I had the time, and the ingredients, to try out my first recipe. I kept it simple and went with the marshmallow bars. I was also keen to make them because while we were away, Matt had bought non-vegan ones on two separate occasions and I had looked on longingly, wishing I too could order dessert so easily. This way, I could get my vegan fix.

The recipe was for plain bars but I borrowed the chocolate topping from another recipe in the book (chocolate peanut butter bars…watch this space!) to jazz them up a bit.

 

 

The first batch filled a 9″ by 13″ baking tray, and being the greedy bum that I am I split it into only 9 bars. They were huge, yet I managed to eat three that night. The next day, I ate three more. I had promised my mum some, so with only two left I resisted the temptation to have another. But Matt came home, and ate one of them without realising that I had saved them specially. This morning, I succumbed and ate the remaining bar.

 

 

So the only sensible thing to do was make more! I had some marshmallows left, and some crispy rice cereal, but not enough of either to make a full batch. I scaled the recipe right back to reflect this, and managed to make enough for one huge square. This time, I cut it into little pieces. Not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the first batch, but – if it’s possible – even more delicious.

The addition of the chocolate layer is what really makes these bars. It takes them to the next level. The chocolate is thick enough that it gives a satisfying little kick of sweetness, and it sets perfectly – still soft enough to give the topping a fudgy texture.

 

 

The recipe is so super simple too. That’s the danger with these bars – they’re far too easy to make! I think I may have found a new addiction.

 

Vegan Marshmallow Bars

(Taken from Sweet Vegan)

Makes 9-12 servings

 

Ingredients:

40g vegan butter substitute

380g vegan marshmallows (I used Ananda’s)

180g rice crispy cereal

 

For the topping:

85g vegan butter substitute

180g vegan chocolate chips

 

Method:

1. Prepare a 9″ by 13″ baking tray by lining with well-greased baking parchment.

2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat.

3. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted (about 5 minutes). They will become really gooey at first, and you want to keep stirring past this point until they turn into a thick liquid.

4. Remove from the heat and add the rice crispies. Stir until completely combined.

5. Press the mixture into the baking tray until well compacted. Set aside.

6. To make the topping, melt the butter and chocolate chips in a small saucepan over a low heat. Remove from the heat before the chocolate is completely melted, and keep stirring until it has finished melting.

7. Pour the melted chocolate mix over the crispy mixture and spread it evenly. Put the tray in the fridge and leave to set for at least an hour (the longer the better).

 

Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

I’m starting to get excited about autumn, finally. For a few weeks I lived in denial, insistent upon heading outside in short-sleeved tops and refusing to take an umbrella with me. My Havainas appeared to be surgically attached to my feet, such was my refusal to acknowledge the existence of any other footwear.

But it’s nearing the end of September, I return to uni next week and Christmas cards have begun to appear in the stores. It’s time to accept that summer is over and embrace the new season.

I actually adore autumn. It’s the most exciting part of the year, in some ways. I have my birthday to look forward to, followed by Halloween, Bonfire Night and then Christmas. And from a culinary point of view, it’s also way more interesting than summer. In summer, it seems wrong to make soups and stews and (soy)milky hot drinks. Yes, you can experiment with salad. But nothing beats finding a million and one different uses for squash. Carving up a pumpkin for Halloween and then whipping up a soup and pumpkin pie for dessert.

In the spirit of embracing the colder weather, and taking my inspiration from a friend’s photo on Facebook, I decided to seek out a good recipe for a vegan pumpkin spice latte. I’m fascinated by lattes, and the various flavours on offer. Perhaps because ordinarily I am unable to try them. None of the options that are available in coffee shops are vegan. I make a mean homemade chai latte, but that’s not a real latte.

I take my coffee strong and black, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about milky varieties. But the excitement of autumn, the sight of a delicious-looking, vegan-whip-topped pumpkin latte and my curiosity got the better of me.

The recipe I used can be found here. I didn’t have any vegan whipped cream, which would have just topped it off perfectly. As would the use of a milk frothing tool. But no matter; it turned out delicious and has opened my mind to the possibilities of other flavoured lattes!

This recipe gave me the chance to try out the Grumpy Mule coffee that I was given as part of my leaving present from my placement in July. I had three to choose from; in the spirit of feminism (the placement was at a women’s centre) I chose the Bolivian variety as it was described as ‘supporting the women that produce it’.

I also used my Bialetti Moka Easy for the first time in years. I bought it as a teenager, before I ever really appreciated coffee, and quickly tired of it after a few uses. It lived in a kitchen cupboard until I decided it was time to cut down on the amount of money I was spending in the coffee shop at the end of on my street, and I asked my parents if they still had it. I never realised just how cool this thing is. It’s essentially a kettle for espresso – you fill the bottom with water, pop coffee in the filter in the middle and screw the top on. Turn it on at the plug and about 3 minutes later the fresh coffee is ready to pour.

 

I heart my ridiculously expensive vanilla extract.

As with my chai lattes, the spices don’t dissolve and so some cinnamon-y sludge is inevitable. I guess I could strain them out, but I’m just too lazy.

Et voilà! My first pumpkin spice latte, sans whip (avec floaty bits).

Continuing with the autumn theme, M and I decided to take a walk into Cragg Wood. Apparently there are some old ruins down there that are reputed to have been built by warring brothers who erected competing structures and ever-increasing walls between their plots of land to outdo one another. M grew up playing down there as a child, as one of his best friends lived on the edge of the woods.

We set off and as we passed the house we saw said friend’s car outside. It turns out he was house-sitting for his parents for the weekend. We popped in with the intention of saying hello and then continuing on our walk. But when his girlfriend told us they’d been picking apples in the orchard (yes, his parents have an orchard in their back yard!), I couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

We had to pick our way through the brambles of the blackberries growing below…

 

…but eventually we were rewarded with a tasty selection. We ended up with two full bags, some for cooking and some for eating (they had different varieties growing).

I’m going to have to make one very large pie tomorrow!

I often run through the woods, and I’m going be very tempted from now on to hop over the wall into their garden and help myself! It’d be just the thing after a hilly 18 miler – their house is halfway up the last hill I encounter on my regular long run route.

We never did go on that walk. After collecting the apples we went inside for a cup of tea and a chat, before heading out for something to eat at our favourite restaurant. We’re planning on going down there tomorrow in daylight!

Now, time to go and sort through these bags of fruit…

Read Full Post »

So I was glancing over my recent entries and I noticed two things.

 

1. I tend to write awfully long entries.

2. There aren’t enough pictures.

 

Yes, this is a space for me to vent when needed and work through whatever issues I’m having. And it’s for me, no one else, and how it looks really doesn’t matter. But I don’t think it’s doing the best job of representing my lighter side right now. And there is such a thing as too much self-analysis. As important as recovery is to me at the moment, there are so many other things in my life and I think they deserve a little space in here.

So in light of this, I am sharing a collection of things that have made me happy lately. And really, just looking at these photos serves as a reminder of all the wonderful things that exist out there, and how great life can be when you’re choosing to participate in it.

 

Does it count as cliff diving if you’re bombing?

 

The ‘Bog of Doom’ during Hellrunner! The look on my face is significantly less impressive than last year, possibly due to the fact that it was about 10 degrees warmer this time around and I knew what was coming!

 

I’ve been baking like a madwoman lately. I think I just have too much time on my hands while I wait to start uni again. I baked polenta muffins again in my new silicone muffin cases and they looked so pretty I just had to take a photo. This time I experimented by adding lemon zest and raisins – they were lovely.

 

That’s all for now. No lengthy ramblings this evening!

Read Full Post »