Things sink in at the damndest times.
Thoughts I’ve had for years but haven’t felt in my bones percolate under the surface and then for no apparent reason, pop into my consciousness, but with depth and gut-deep understanding attached. They become more than words I say because I’m supposed to believe them even though large chunks of me don’t.
I love “ah-ha” moments. That point in time when you finally get it.
I was sitting in a chair under my deck the other day, resting and drinking a diet Pepsi. It should’ve been water because I’d just finished mowing the lawn but I’m a fan of the bubbles. I was there but also not there. I’d drifted away into my head as I’m wont to do. I ended up at my local pub.
In my thoughts, a young woman came into the pub with her friends and sat down at an adjacent table. They looked over in our direction – because I’d brought my friends along in my fantasy with me – and started talking intently. Then one of them got up and headed over to me, intent on offering an unsolicited opinion.
“I don’t like your hair.”
My daydreams don’t generally end well when they start with me being attacked. It’s usually a disaster of epic proportions. Imaginary violence often ensues. Strangely, however, this one went in a different direction. I looked at her, this girl, and I realized something: “She has an eating disorder”. I could see it in her face. It’s a look I recognize. I see it out in the world sometimes; there’s a set to the muscles in the jaw, a look in the eyes. As she stood there waiting, I suddenly realized something else as well.
I don’t care what she thinks. And I didn’t. The me in my thoughts was not at all put off by the attack or criticism. That led me to realize something in the now. That thought – I don’t care what you think – is starting to be true. I’m starting to not give a fuck. It’s an interesting feeling. It’s not all the time yet, but the seeds are there. I put that thought aside and went back to the mental ramble.
Back in my daydream, the young woman was still waiting.
“Did you hear me?”
I turned back to her and instead of responding to her question, asked one of my own. “How long have you had an eating disorder?” In my dream she burst into tears.
I was very comforting; I even remembered not to utter those horrifying words, “It’ll be okay.” I try to not use that expression, ever. It’s patronizing. How do I know, after all? It might not be. It’s possible that whatever the situation is, it could get worse. Or never get better.
I started to talk to her about her eating disorder. About how it was trying to kill her. About how death is all an eating disorder wants. How everything else it tells you is a lie. I talked about how mine just wanted me to be perfect. It told me it was trying to help me. Because if I was perfect, I’d be okay. But perfect was always thinner. It was always just out of reach.
I told her she needed help. I told her I’d call her parents, if she wanted me to. She did and so I did. I had a lovely and enlightening imaginary chat with her imaginary father. We talked about what to do next. I suggested that if they could afford it, they should look at residential treatment, because she needed it. Her eating disorder was killing her. You go to treatment when you’re dying.
You go to treatment when you’re dying.
When I went into treatment four years ago, I thought I believed I was dying. I didn’t believe it enough to stop or change my behaviours, however. Or perhaps I didn’t care enough. Even though it seemed like every part of me wanted to seek help, I couldn’t let go enough to accept it. Couldn’t give up the eating disorder, couldn’t stop the self-harm; not on my own. It took an intervention to save me.
When I got to treatment, one of the counsellors in the eating disorder program sought me out. She told me she was glad I was there. She told me, when I questioned whether I was really sick enough, that when the intake team reviewed my file, they were surprised I wasn’t already dead.
I thought I felt the impact of that. But I didn’t.
You go to treatment when you’re dying. The shock of me saying that to the imaginary father in my daydream pulled me back into the now once more.
I was dying four years ago. I’ve been able to say it for a while but until I had this recent daydream, I didn’t really feel it. Even attempted suicide didn’t make me feel it. I didn’t feel it soul-deep until I sat on a chair under my deck, still sweating from yardwork, lecturing an imaginary father about eating disorders.
Feeling it, finally owning it eased something inside of me, some small piece that persists in thinking that I wasn’t that sick, that I’m not still struggling, and that I should be over my mental health problems by now.
It’s a weird way to get insight I suppose, these drifting dreams I have. It stresses and distresses me somewhat; the ease and regularity with which I drift away bothers me. But sometimes, it’s worth it. Sometimes, I get insight.
You go to treatment when you’re dying. I went to treatment. I was dying. That’s kind of a big deal. Mental illness is kind of a big deal. It’s okay to take time to recover.
It’s even okay, at least I felt like it was in that moment, to never make it all the way back. Because regardless of far I come, it’s than being dead. Progress is better than stagnation. And starting to not care what people think is progress. Believing in my bones that my sickness was a big deal is progress.
My life now is infinitely better than when I was dying.
And that’s a very strange thing to be able to say about yourself.
photo credit: Craig Westwood 2016