what if you always had to think about elephants? what if no matter what, your thoughts always circled back to them? what if you thought about elephants when you got up, and when you got dressed? what if they came with you to work? you’d think about them when you should have been paying attention at the staff meeting. they’d come with you when you went on a date. they’d show up when you were home alone. they’d interrupt when you were trying to read a book, or watch a movie, or have a snack. elephants everywhere, all the time. even when you tried not to think about elephants. especially when you tried not to think about elephants.
what if they not only showed up, but they talked to you? what if they weren’t very nice elephants?
what if, even when you thought they were gone, they really weren’t. what if they were just lurking in the background, waiting for you to relax, waiting for you to start to notice that you weren’t thinking about elephants to pounce. that would suck, but elephants like to do that a lot.
i think almost everyone has a representative elephant. mine is everything to do with my eating disorder. she pops up whenever she wants and she’s always unwelcome. she showed up while i was writing to point out that my stomach seemed larger than usual and really, what was i doing sitting here when i was obviously too fat to attempt anything. i should work on fixing that first before trying anything else.
i’m getting better at ignoring my elephant. it doesn’t discourage her as much as one might hope though i’m told that will improve with time. she trumpets on for quite some time even when i don’t attend to her, before she shuts up to sulk for a bit. i enjoy those elephant-free moments even though i know they’re fleeting. she is determined though, always coming back around. she especially likes to interrupt me when i exercise.
exercise is difficult when you’re trying to recover from an eating disorder. the “why you’re doing it” gets all confused. for health and fitness or to get thin? to improve your lungs or to burn calories? it gets muddled. there’s a reason why they suggest only easy walking and gentle yoga in early recovery, i suppose. it’s harder for the elephant to suggest that i push for the caloric burn when i’m ambling in a group, or when i’m taking a class where the most strenuous pose is touching my toes.
my elephant is more obviously in my face when i work out with weights. she’s a good mimic though and it takes me some time before i realize who it is that’s actually talking to me. whose voice it is that’s reminding me about those amazing yoga pictures i saw and weren’t their bodies perfect? who it is that’s flashing images of all the thin and beautiful people i’ve seen on my brain, and wouldn’t it be great if you could look like them? who it is that points out how bones are beautiful and why aren’t mine more prominent? you listen to enough of that and an internal switch flips. i start thinking about my body, about how it looks instead of how it works. about how thinner would make me better. about how three sets of weights aren’t going to be enough. about how i should do more, push myself, get perfect.
it takes time before i start to realize that i’m listening to my elephant but when the voice inside my head starts suggesting i’m in serious need of a body makeover, i know i’m in trouble. i know i’m heading down a road i don’t want to travel anymore. i know i’m having pachyderm problems. once i’m aware that i’m thinking about elephants, the knowledge acts like an elastic band snap to the brain. i can pull back and redirect my thoughts, all while knowing that i’ll eventually be thinking about elephants again.
sometimes i think about quitting working out, and my extreme resistance to that idea has me thinking i should think about it some more, but i don’t really want to. bodies need to move, and regular exercise helps my mood and reminds me that even i can accomplish something. it’s tempting to let it become about getting thin but i can’t give up everything just because of the possibility of elephants. i have to learn to carry on regardless. i have to remember that i want to be strong and healthy.
it’s hard work, not thinking about elephants.
sometimes, i struggle to remember that i don’t want to think about elephants. it’s hard to carry an elephant, but the idea of fully letting it go is terrifying. part of me keeps thinking that perhaps i can tame the elephant, and keep it locked up around back. it wouldn’t interfere, exactly, just sort of be there. in case i need an elephant one day.
but that’s probably still the elephant talking.
(march 30, 2018)
photo credit: the master shift; norwich radical