I could feel it coming on, but didn’t quite know how or when it would play out.
I used to have two favourite stress coping mechanisms: alcohol and food binges. I’ve discussed abstaining from alcohol until December quite extensively in previous posts, so I thought I’d give some time and weight to the latter. Wait, I have to give some time to the latter, as I slipped up yesterday and have a few things on my mind about it.
At the peak of my depression over the last few years, I was, almost daily, ploughing my body with unhealthy food. I would eat pizza at least 4 days a week, and take regular (daily) trips to different supermarkets to buy sweets, sugary cereal and as much chocolate as I could lay my hands on. I’d usually buy the same kinds of foods in the same period – almost in routine fashion. The list would be small but the items would always be in excess. A chocolate bar wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be a slab. One pizza wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be two, thick based doozies with so much oil I could start a fucking mine (ok maybe I’m being a bit dramatic). Since I started my depression recovery, I’ve been meticulous about eating healthily, cooking meals for myself and cutting down on the sugar, all in an effort to see how it would affect my mood and ability to get into a better mental and emotional space. Naturally this has had a great effect on my health, including the fact that I’ve dropped over 13kg’s, but I knew that temptation still loomed around the corner (this process isn’t a straight line after all), and I was wondering when it would be knocking on my door.
This is how I knew I was heading for a relapse of sorts in terms of the binge eating and it’s worth noting so I can feel it coming on in the future:
- My sleeping pattern has been irregular again for the past week or so. I’ve been waking up very early (in the 4am region) and my body has required more sleep as I’ve been ill with flu for the past week. My mind hasn’t been able to switch off efficiently.
- I missed therapy last week due to being ill, and I thought that taking a two week break between sessions would be ok, but not having the release and opportunity to share openly in a safe space (even if just for an hour) has shown me that it is not a good idea for me to go for an extended period of time without a session. That, coupled with travelling, clearly took a toll, regardless of how enjoyable my trip was.
- I woke up and operated in militant fashion yesterday morning. I cleaned the apartment, organised my schedule by-the-hour (always a no-no, as you simply can’t maintain a 6am-6pm schedule in such a way without at least one thing being thrown out), got to work two hours early (dude!), and still expected that I would be able to get to everything I needed to and in the exact order that I had planned. Ironically, I also decided to preach to two people at work about spending too much time at the office (the nerve). Needless to say, by 3pm, I was fried and I couldn’t concentrate. Not only that, but I ended up staying late, until close to 6pm, meaning I had 11 hours at the office, something I used to do when I was in corporate and a promise I made to myself I wouldn’t do ever again, no matter how many companies I started or ventures I worked on, or how many adventures my career took me on.
- I’m supporting a bunch of my friends through some murky waters, which is something I take on gladly and feel is part of a natural gift of connection, but also something that can take a toll and something I need to manage. It is so important for me to create boundaries in these situations, as I can get quite swept up, and distract myself from self care in the process. I’ve recently found myself worrying more and more about others, and slowly diverting attention away from my depression recovery, which contributed to what went down last night for sure.
For a bit of context I’ll tell you a bit about how I used to operate. In the past, I would feel awful and stressed, go buy alcohol and a ton of sugary food, switch my phone off for the rest of the day and simply lock myself away from the world, stuffing my face and numbing the pain with booze. This was my primary coping mechanism. I wasn’t on any kind of anti-depressant, wasn’t in therapy, didn’t have a coach, didn’t write, didn’t express myself in any kind of positive way. I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall into the same trap exactly yesterday, but it got awfully close and it was a nice reminder that I may not be doing as well as I’m projecting to people that I’m doing.
On the way home last night, after sitting in unusually long traffic thanks to the rain, I decided to stop at the local supermarket, ready to buy my one true kryptonite – a chocolate cereal box called Squillos, essentially a sugar laced, chocolate cereal with no nutritional value. I went through a phase in university where I ate a box of the stuff in a day and my weight spiralled from doing so. A whole box a day, yes. It had terrible consequences physically, not only to my appearance but in terms of my digestive health and I would feel bloated and tired all the time, compounding my depressive thoughts. As I was stopping at the supermarket, beating myself up for being so weak and not being able to resist the temptation, I kept thinking you know what you’re about to do, you know that there are always consequences when you do and in true human form (we are all flawed after all) I went in anyway and happily swiped my card for what certainly wasn’t an act of self care.
Let me paint you a picture. I went into the shop, grabbed what was the last box of the poison on the shelf (seems other people also like eating this crap), walked past the bakery section and grabbed two plain scones (because a box of cereal just wouldn’t be enough), along with a small Lindt dark chocolate bar, as well as a Tex milk chocolate bar. I approached the counter rather sheepishly, feeling guilty and ashamed that I was allowing myself to do this again, and ended up marching out of the store and home, avoiding eye contact where possible. It felt like a heroin addict getting a fix! What subsequently followed, was me switching my cell off – in fact, I had done it while sitting in traffic – hell bent that “tonight was my night” and “I didn’t give a shit” and I didn’t want to have to deal with anything. I got home, avoided my landlady, shut the curtains, threw all my things down (I didn’t even put my bag inside the cupboard, threw it on the floor), put PJ’s on with much effort, plonked myself in bed, put on an episode of Intervention (ironic, I know) and ploughed through the food in the space of a few minutes. Scones and chocolate down, I decided to tackle the cereal. I ate one cup of the stuff, and something told me that I needed to stop.
I think I realised that there would be consequences to a binge like this, and I simply didn’t want to put myself through more pain just because I was numbing my anxiety. There have always been consequences to a binge, especially when alcohol is involved, not only because I would treat people I care about like shit without feeling bad, but also because it compounded my depressive thoughts and usually meant that I would take a day or two to recover. It simply throws everything out and derails any progress in true all or nothing fashion and I hate that it’s such a big deal to me, but it is, and that’s part of the path that I am walking now.
Something changed in my head ahead of pouring the second cup of cereal. I got up, and poured out the rest of the box into the trash, and threw it away. This was a big moment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was still feeling like I had stuffed my face, but I loved myself enough to stop and to attempt to regroup before totally spiralling. I switched my phone back on, it had been about two hours, and I had a bunch of messages, including one from my work friend Dan, who had tracked down a link to Robin Williams’ documentary about his life. Winning. A small victory, but a victory nevertheless. If I hadn’t changed my tune, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the documentary for the rest of the night (cell would have been off), I would have woken up feeling like shit, and also missed out on a couple of great conversations over the course of the night. A nice reminder that there is so much to be missed out on if you shut yourself away and numb your feelings. Reaching out and talking to people when I felt like this, hell, even writing about it now, is a better alternative and helps me to gain better insight and understanding around my depression and how I’m navigating it day-to-day.
I’m reminded now to keep being gentle and kind to myself as I tackle the rest of the week. Did last night mean I didn’t pack away the washing? Yes. Did last night mean I didn’t replace my car licence that arrived in the post, like I planned to? Of course. Did last night mean I didn’t was all the dishes like usual? Yeah. Did last night mean I didn’t plan out my Tuesday? Absolutely. I lose quite a bit of control over my day-to-day when I get into the militant, stressed mode and it’s almost like I’m just trying to get through, almost zombie-ish and unaware of the fact that I’m spreading myself too thin.
Sure, last night had some consequences for how I’m starting my day, but are they all bad? No. I might have woken up at 3am, but here I am, writing and sharing and showing that the journey is not all rainbows and butterflies. I want to give last night sufficient weight, and acknowledge that it’s something I should address in therapy today, but better than that, I know now that I have to be kinder to myself going into this new day. Here’s what I’m focusing on today:
- Go into work when you’re supposed to, no earlier, no later. Yes, stay for the cupcake-making competition the HR manager is organising so excitedly for 5pm (yes that’s sarcastic but you know my sass game is real), but don’t stay longer than 30 minutes.
- Avoid scheduling each second of your day. Write a few things down and tackle those if you’re able to. Don’t be too harsh on what you’re able to achieve today.
- Prioritise getting to therapy today and play open cards in the session. Remind your therapist just how important your sessions are to your mental health prioritisation and that you’re worrying about the sessions coming to an end in 5 weeks.
- You don’t need to eat rabbit food today to counter that you had a binge last night. You’re giving it enough time and energy by bringing it to light today. Pack a healthy lunch and grab a cappuccino with a slice of milk tart if you feel like it. It’s cool that you didn’t pack your lunch last night, you can forgive yourself. Yesterday was yesterday, you should acknowledge that you stumbled, but that you also recovered quite quickly, which is a great thing.
- Remind yourself today that you can only do so much and that you’ve been doing incredibly these last few months. There are so many great things in your life, and there is so much to be thankful for. Your life is so different than it was a year ago. Remember, this is only the beginning! Keep going.
- Shame passes, but resilience breeds momentum.
Conrad was here.