I must confess, I am a comfort eater.
When stressed out or upset, in the throes of PMS, or just plain bored I can eat an inordinate amount of chocolate, doughnuts, or any other delight full of sugar and grease. I have eaten half my weight in peanut m&ms, and not batted an eyelid. I once melted butter, mixed in brown sugar, called it ‘caramel’ and ate it on a slice of bread. I have been known to literally eat a spoonful of sugar to cheer myself up – good ol’ Mary Poppins was not wrong. I have a snickers bar in my pocket right now. True story. I acknowledge that carbohydrates and saturated fat are not a healthy way of dealing with difficult situations. I have also come to accept the fact that this is a coping mechanism I am not ready to relinquish just yet.
This week saw ‘R U OK Day’ providing a national reminder to enquire meaningfully as to how the people around us are coping with life. Although geared specifically towards suicide prevention, asking with genuine care how someone is going can open real conversations about mental and emotional health; it can provide a space for people to speak out before things reach crisis point. It’s important to remember that answering ‘no’ to the question ‘are you ok?’ is not a sign of weakness.
This week, I didn’t go out of my way to ask others ‘R U OK?’. I do this in the course of my everyday interactions with people, and my intuition often allows me to know the answer without needing to ask. Instead, I turned the question inward and asked it of myself. And the answer was, quite simply, no.
Lately, despite consuming vast amounts of rum n raisin chocolate, I have not really been ok.
I have been physically, mentally and emotionally stretched, further than at just about any other point in my life. I am a mother-wife-daughter-sister-colleague-student-writer-friend, and I often feel that I fall short of expectations in all of these roles. I can’t seem to manage one without letting the others slide. But let me be very clear – I’m talking about my own expectations here. This is not about how I am seen from the outside, by my wonderful and amazing network of family and friends, with their rather generous opinions of me. Rather, it is about how I perceive myself, what I expect of myself. And I expect a lot.
But don’t worry! Being able to admit (to myself, let alone to you, my adoring public!) to not-ok-ness is a huge step forward. Acknowledging the fact that I often feel overwhelmed, swamped, all at sea, completely scattered and amply less-able than I used to be is, for me, an important step in the road back to sanity. Some days I am not ok. But I always know that I will be. And that is such an important distinction. Because when someone loses their confidence in the future, their conviction that things will get better, that is when we need to worry.
A couple of months ago, I started seeing a psychologist. This is something I haven’t exactly kept a secret, but it’s not something I have broadly advertised, either… until now, I guess! I felt that things around me were spiralling out of control, that I was losing my grip and my ability to cope, and that this had the potential to seriously impact important aspects of my life – my family, study, work and friendships.
I am a firm believer in taking responsibility for my choices. I don’t like to indulge in self-pity or wallow in regret. I realised that in this, as in all things, I had a choice – not about the circumstances I was experiencing, but about how I reacted to them. I could passively watch my life unravel, becoming a victim of circumstance, or I could take steps to understand what was going on, to carefully deconstruct my life and piece it back together in a manageable way. I chose the latter, and booked myself in to see a psychologist. His name is Woolfie – he is a softly spoken German who looks a little like John Malkovich. Whatever stereotype you are imagining, you’re probably not far wrong. Seeing Woolfie isn’t easy. He doesn’t shy away from questions I hesitate to ask myself. We explore the mysteries of my subconscious using a metaphorical landscape – my inner cynic rolls her eyes at how corny it all is, but I know it’s doing me good, so I just give her the finger, placate her with the promise of malteasers, and push on.
So I guess that, after all, I am ok. Not great; not terrible. Ok. I’m firmly on the middle ground where things could go either way, depending on the moment. But actually, I’m more than ok – in the sense that I am on my way to a better way of being. I’m looking after myself (apart from my little sugar addiction… one little step at a time!), and that in turn will allow me to continue looking after those around me. In recent times I have well and truly bitten off more life than I can chew – but that doesn’t mean I’m choking. Instead I’m spitting it all out and starting over. And while I sort through the slimy, semi-masticated, uglyfood mess of my inner self, I take comfort in the delicious, hearty, warm and cosy sustenance afforded by the wonderful people around me… and also the confectionary aisle.