Can I Just Go Back to the Woods Now?

(Image by Jeanie Tomanek @ Jeanietomanek.com)

I’ve committed to a lot of work with this therapy I’m doing. Staying connected to my husband and deepening our relationship, not allowing myself to spiral into depressed or disregulated states, feeling my feelings, fostering a more positive relationship with my body image…the list goes on. It is, all of it, a lot of work. My instinct is to pull away and keep to myself, to live half in and half out of my life. The work requires me to stay in my body, talk about my feelings, pay attention to my thoughts and challenge what’s distorted, and to somehow do all of this while also taking care of the menial things of every day life.

I see the value in all of this and I’m beginning to see the fruits of the labor, as well as the improvements caused by simply taking my antidepressants and anxiety medications every day. And then, of course, life happens. My in-laws come for a 16 day visit which coincides with a four day family reunion. They’re wonderful people who love me and my children and who did a fabulous job raising three very sensitive and creative sons. When I finally got up the guts to tell my husband that 16 days is too long, his response was to remind me that a dear friend had just visited with her children and spent several days camping in our backyard. I wanted to stamp my foot and say “that’s not the same thing at all!” Instead I told him we’d talk about it after his parents leave.

The difference is really how much I can be truly myself and how much space that ease provides me. I can share a lot with my in-laws. They know about my trauma history, my struggles with depression and my chronic illnesses. My friend has known me most of my life and she’s seen me be wildly irresponsible, a puddle on the floor, a battered and frightened woman, a glowing bride, new mother, anorexic, a cheating wife, a wife who was cheated on, and a survivor hell bent on recovering from all my trauma. She saw me off when I packed up my car and moved to another state alone. These aren’t stories for her, they are parts of my life and my experience she witnessed first hand. And through all of it she loved me unconditionally. I’m trying hard to be that raw and transparent with my husband. I don’t feel that I need to be that open with my in-laws in order to have a good relationship with them but I don’t know how to strike a balance of staying open with my husband and in the same day having to spend a lot of energy staying tucked away so I don’t lose it in front of his parents.

My mental health is, at best, stabilizing. Interacting with people and needing to keep a lot hidden is exhausting. I got sick last week, then went into a fibro flare and now I’m having seizures every day. I so want to go back to the woods where I was wandering half-numb through life.

Looking for Heaven…Found a Devil in Me

I’ve been chipping away at my depression and working on changing distorted thinking patterns. Unfortunately, sometimes (okay, often) when I start working for a heaven within, I find devils. The most recent to sneak out from under a rock is made of all the fucked up thinking and distorted self-image that led me to be anorexic as a teenager and young woman.

Don’t know why, but I recently gained weight and I’m somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the ideal weight I set for myself. That number has gone up from 104 to 128 or 130 over the last 27 years. Seems like progress and it probably is. But whenever I’ve gone past the magic number I’ve always started restricting food intake and devoted lots of time and energy to getting myself back below it.

This time something is very different. I haven’t been restricting. In fact, I’ve firmly refused that option and have instead been walking around for several weeks with that sleazy, mean devil who whispers nasty things into my ears about my growing belly and giant thighs. (If you’re reading this and thinking I need to stop my complaining because 130 is not overweight, then go find some articles about anorexia and try to gain some insight and compassion.) I’ve mentally tossed around some ideas about how I might find some happy medium between eating more fruits and veggies and learning to accept my body the way it is. But mostly I just hear the incessant shaming of the devil:

Eat a smaller bowl of yogurt and granola for breakfast every morning.

Stop eating milk chocolate malt balls with your trail mix.

Don’t eat dinner every night.

Of course, something happened to help me begin changing my relationship with that devil. I saw this dress in an ad on Facebook as I was innocently scrolling along. A pretty summer dress on a tall, young, skinny model. And I thought, “I’d buy that dress if I were 20 years younger.” When I spoke this thought out loud my oldest kid was instantly up in arms against the body image devil. And then my husband joined the fight, along with my oldest and dearest friend.

My therapist says I need to rethink my relationship with my eating disorder and figure out ways to keep its presence as small as possible in my life. Challenge my distorted body image and negative self-talk. Think of ways to speak to myself the way I’d speak to a friend if I heard them saying the same things about themselves. When in doubt, check in with my husband or a friend. Talk about it. Be compassionate. When I get overwhelmed by the presence of this devil, physically shake or push or jump around.

I instantly thought of the Florence & The Machine Song, Shake it Out.

“Shake It Out”
Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I’m always dragging that horse around

All of his questions, such a mournful sound
Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues drawn
But it’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
‘Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It’s a fine romance but it’s left me so undone
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Oh whoa, oh whoa…

And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat
‘Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Well what the hell I’m gonna let it happen to me, yeah

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa