I walked into the group therapy room. There was the usual arrangement of hospital chairs, you know the ones with uncomfortable but well cushioned seats, and threadbare arms. Ten identical blue, miserable looking chairs in a box room with light blue walls. And the flip chart board. We all piled in, and as usual an actual physical alteration nearly occurred over a silent squabble for the chair nearest the door, preferred as it offered a fast escape.
Our therapist swished in, with red lipstick and a smile.
She removed a marker pen from the pocket of her oversized cardigan.
On the flip chart board she wrote, in neat yet accusatory capitals:
FAT IS NOT A FEELING.
She turned to us.
Looking both defiant and proud.
That memory is a clear one. And it continues, but the rest isn’t particularly relevant. Short version: we refused to “discuss” for a most of the session. Two people cried. The girl in The Best Chair bolted and was steered back into the room by a harassed but kind nursing assistant. An animated discussion was entered into, ten minutes before the end, when lunch was due, as usual.
Now, more than a decade on those accusatory capitals often pop into my head.
Today I was at the coffee counter and eyeing up a lemon muffin. I shouldn’t, I thought. Then – FAT IS NOT A FEELING. So I bought a muffin. Other times I am trying on my sixth pair of identical jeans. Almost in tears, plucking at my stomach and thighs. FAT IS NOT A FEELING. So I go get dressed away from the mirror, and get on with my day (I feel very thankful that I am now ‘recovered enough’ to do that. To walk away from the hurricane. To step out of the disorder and get on with other things. It is a choice, not an easy one…but there is a time it was not like that and these thoughts would sweep me away swallowing up days at a time).
So – I learnt a positive lesson, right?
I don’t actually really get it.
It has just become an internal mantra.
Because words can have power even if the meaning is lacking, or twisted or not fully relevant. Words can become a comforting bead string of letter sounds and syllables. Words can ignite memory.
I do feel fat.
I like many others, with and without eating disorders I have fat days. Sometimes my thoughts, activities and goals are driven by the feel the waistband on my jeans upon my skin. Also, fat feels different to sad, or lonely, or agitated. It contains a little bit of all those things, alongside some self-loathing and regret….but in many ways I refute those capitals. I would like to go back to that room, those chairs and my smiley swishy therapist and say…yeah, but, wait…..
Does it matter?
I don’t know. Probably.
I’m not writing this as a self-indulgent “poor me I struggle sometimes” post, and nor do I want to discredit all the amazing posts on this very subject that explain, more eloquently than I, the many ways you can articulate the route of emotions lurking underneath and within the feeling fat. I guess I’m just musing.
Feelings, thoughts, actions are all intricately linked and intricately difficult. Spikey.
Sometimes I think I didn’t ‘do’ therapy properly because I was argumentative, sullen, often disengaged and at other times treated it like one big joke. I limped my way through treatment fully intending to relapse upon discharge. So I think the fact some key messages have remained with me is a positive. A positive nod to the skills of the professionals who treated me with kindness and respect when I didn’t want it and at times didn’t deserve it.
I ate the muffin despite that little voice in my head that still tells me not to. I don’t know if it will ever really stop. I doubt it. But the muffin was a decent one and worth feeling a little bit sh***y for a little bit. And it’s all liveable with. Manageable. Mostly okay.
I feel silly, often. If my mental fat is not a feeling post it note helps, that’s okay though right. And I’m probably not alone in this habitual quirk…or similar.
This month, I’m putting extra effort into eating enough whilst I’m doing a crazy amount of work shifts super regularly. I feel better for it physically. Less faint-y. No ringing ears in important meetings. I don’t want to cry with tiredness daily. I’m struggling to accept the physical changes which my best friends promise are negligible but positive. Fat is not a feeling, and later I’m going to eat a slice of carrot cake the size of my face.
(p.s. If you feel like you have an eating disorder then you might want to click here check out the work the b-eat offer)
(p.p.s. read Alexis’ previous posts here)