On Monday I was in yoga class and something really strange happened, I suddenly became very aware and self-conscious of my body, specifically my stomach. I had just had a great day at work and was excited to be at yoga, my practice was hard but felt really great. We were 10 minutes from the end of the class and doing supine twists. The assistant (a good friend of mine) came over, placed a hand on my shoulder and another on my thigh helping deepen my twist (none of this is new of unexpected). All of a sudden a thought popped into my mind “I’m so fat and she saw it!” I sat in it for a few minutes ruminating about how fat I was and how I needed to fix my body, thinking about how embarrassed I was that she saw my body. I suddenly felt emotional, like I wanted to disappear and as if I was going to burst into tears. The anger that I turned towards my body was so quick and intense that it actually scared me, whatever was happening causing these emotions I was blaming it on my body and my mind was thinking of ways and reasons to fix my body to make me feel better.
This feeling really struck me because it seemed to come out of nowhere, I do have trouble with my body image but this was so intense and sudden I knew it had to be because of something else – I was blaming my body because that’s what my mind was used to doing. I took a look at what was happening to bring this emotion up. It wasn’t my day or my practice because they were both great. It wasn’t my clothes or the assist from my friend because she had seen my body in these clothes and assisted me hundreds of times. It wasn’t even the position I was in, she had seen me contorting into all sorts of strange and unflattering positions.
After class I lay down on my mat and covered my face with a towel trying to get control of my thoughts and emotions. I went through my vulnerability factors to see if there was something making me more vulnerable than normal. Below are the things I know make me more likely to get urges and feel compelled to give in to them based on this post about exploring vulnerability factors.
Was I tired? No, I’d had enough sleep the night before. Did I miss some medication? Not in a few months. Was I waiting for someone of something? I suppose, I did have to go to choir after yoga was finished. Was I anxious? Not that I was aware of. Was I late or rushing anywhere? No, Mondays are busy but I give myself ample time to get everything done and I was in class which is controlled by the teacher who always finishes on time. Was I in a new social situation? No, this Monday routine was months old. Did I have to be weighed soon or was I just weighed? No, I only weigh myself on Fridays and had no appointments coming up soon. Was I with my family or my mom? No. Was I with thin people or people who obsess about their weight? No, but I had spent Sunday with an old friend who is pretty thin. Was I wearing something that showed my body? Yes, yoga clothes. Was I alone or bored? No, I was surrounded by people and had lots to do.
So after examining the evidence and looking at what happened I was able to look more closely at the cause of my thoughts and emotions. I was likely transferring my emotions onto my body because of my eating disorder and my visit with my friend on Sunday – but what triggered the emotion? I stood up, took a deep breath and started moving to the bathroom to change for choir and I realized that doing that twist signaled the end of class, the end of class meant that I had to go to choir. This realization brought more tears bubbling up into my throat and a small thought came to the back of my mind – “I don’t want to go to choir”. I shut the door of the bathroom, locked it and collapsed in tears on the floor. The fan in the bathroom was loud, the music in the studio was loud so I knew no one could hear me. I let myself cry, that ugly cry that only comes from extreme emotion. I wailed and groaned and the grief flowed through me. “If I go to choir there will be a concert and my mom can’t be at the concert because she’s dead”. Suddenly I realized what this was all about – I missed my mom. I let myself cry for another few minutes, took a deep breath and composed myself. I didn’t want to go to choir but I knew I had to go, I didn’t want to go now but up until this point it made me exceedingly happy, I knew that this had to be temporary and I had to drag myself to choir. My mom would be so upset if she knew that I quit choir – she was so proud of me and so happy I was in the choir.
I made it to choir, cried little tears all night and did a little more wailing when I get home that night. At choir I was still incredibly self-conscious of my body, I was fidgety and did everything I could to hide my body behind my music folder. Every time I felt upset about my body or my food I reminded myself that this was not about my body, “fixing” my body would not fix my grief for my mother.
Now, a few days later I am still struck by how quickly my mind jumped to fixing my body as the solution to my emotions. It was so easy, even after 14 months of being symptom free, for my mind to blame my body for whatever was happening with my feelings and just goes to prove the importance of looking past the eating disorder thoughts and urges. Often times it’s not about the body, that’s just the easiest and most convenient way that sufferers feel they can solve all their problems.
Next time you have eating disordered thoughts or urges, try looking deeper about what else might be going on, and be brutally honest with yourself. Not that knowing what is spawning these thoughts makes them go away, but it makes it a bit easier to last through the thoughts. Remind yourself that you are blaming your body but it’s not really about your body – fixing your body won’t help. You have to feel the feelings, as painful as that can be, and trust that coping with life’s pains does not have to mean abusing your body.