What is self compassion anyway?

Being unproductive is productive in eating disorder recovery

“I have achieved nothing this weekend”

This would have been completely unacceptable to me a few months ago. But learning being unproductive is actually productive to our mental health and recovery. This nuance has been a huge step forwards for me.

I still found it uncomfortable i’m not going to lie, the idea of sitting and literally doing nothing but listening to a podcast or watching a video is not something that has ever come easy to me.

In the depths of my anorexia I had to be “constantly productive”, driving my perfectionism to extremes. Often it led me to my becoming more unproductive because I couldn’t focus on a single task and the thoughts were constant and in conflict. Which led to exhaustion and frustration.

But, this weekend, I felt a bit off. I tried to do some work, I attempted to write a blog, but I just couldn’t. I felt so tired and I ended up doing, nothing. The ‘HH’ thoughts were there in the background, “this is so lazy, such a waste of time” However, I ignored them and did what my body was telling me to do and that was, nap and eat! I realized after I stopped fighting myself, that this is actually another recovery lesson. This is productive for recovery. And the most productive thing I can do for my future is to recover fully.

Being “unproductive or lazy and doing things without an end result, is near impossible and like torture for some of us with eating disorders, especially with a strong perfectionism component.

What do I mean by this?

When I was in my eating disorder, everything I did had to have a purpose, an end result, a target. If it didn’t it wasn’t worth expenditure of time or energy (even if it was something I wanted to do) I just couldn’t give myself permission. Things like reading a non work related book, or watching a movie etc

Now, sure the voice was there muttering away that I’m lazy bla bla but I don’t have to engage. I don’t ignore it, but I choose to not participate and try to reframe my thoughts.

This is where self compassion comes in.

Self compassion is integral to our mental health.

I like to think of it as, treating ourselves how we would treat a friend if they were suffering.

Why is it relevant in eating disorder recovery?

People with a history of eating disorders or living in it, tend to be very self critical and self compassion is not something that comes easily. I have always been hyper-critical of myself. Often we are very compassionate people, but when it comes to ourselves the thought of treating ourselves with a kindness is just simply alien and something that has to be practiced or learned. This is certainly the case for myself, when my therapist introduced the idea of trying to be more self compassionate I scoffed initially. Many times in fact before I became curious and open to exploring.

So what is self compassion really?

It’s a practice, with a ton of research behind showing that treating ourselves and others with kindness allows us to make positive changes in our lives. Pretty important for someone with lots of negative thoughts, distortions and behaviours associated with an ED. Also important in general.

I like to know things are evidence based, that’s my science brain. Kristen Neff is one of the frontline researchers of this movement and she has essentially outlined 3 major components of self compassion. I’ve linked her YouTube video summarizing below.

1. Self kindness. ( this one is probably the most obvious but also the most difficult for those of us who are very self critical) This is where the friend analogy comes in to play. On a difficult day, it’s listening to ourselves and soothing oneself, recognising difficult feelings or emotions and allowing ourselves what we need in that moment. Whether it’s just acknowledging the feeling, or doing something that we enjoy or is comforting. (This does not include using eating disorder behaviours for comfort because this is not self care).

We can become our own best friend, number one supporter.

2. I am only human. Recognizing common humanity is the second component. Accepting our faults, shortcomings and knowing it is not unique to just ourselves, rather we all suffer, we all have imperfections and that’s what makes us human.

3. Mindfulness: not suppressing or numbing unwanted thoughts or emotions. Listening to thoughts without judgement. In the depths of ED I tended to focus on the negative thoughts, rather than meeting them without judgment and often it led to escalating or destructive thoughts. I’m still working on this, for instance- I find it very difficult to call in sick from work even if I’m really unwell because I criticize myself, judge myself rather than experiencing the discomfort of the thoughts. But this is not how I would treat a friend if they were in the same situation. We all have areas we can work on.

Self compassion is not, judgmental, self indulgent or selfish. It is an important aspect of our well being. Sometimes doing something for the hell of it or enjoyment is good for us. Recovering is the most productive thing we can do and that involves learning to be “unproductive” at times.

Kristen Neff: self compassion YouTube video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=11U0h0DPu7k&feature=youtu.be

Food is more than just food.

Best biscuit ever……

Yesterday, I had a strange realisation. It’s taken me almost 30 years to get to it, but yesterday I realised food is not just fuel. Food has no rules, no moral value and no foods can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Whilst reflecting about my relationship with food, I craved a chocolate Hobnob. I heard ‘HH’ stipulate, ‘but you’re not hungry’. It was this thought, I rewound and re-framed my life-time’s thinking. Food, although important for fuel and nutrition is also part of connection and ENJOYMENT. It’s always blown my mind that people have just been able to easily eat something, just because. But yesterday, I understood food can be eaten whenever. Whether we are hungry or not. If we want to eat something we can, without judgement, without compensating, because it’s just food.

I was feeling particularly reflective yesterday, because I felt really fucking sad. The fact the I felt sad, set off a whole chain of thoughts. But what made me grateful amongst it all, the fact I could acknowledge and identify that emotion. For years I have numbed my emotions, to the extent when I started to feel again, it took me a while to recognise what I felt. That’s pretty common I think amongst us who have eating disorders. I no longer associate with the nickname I have had for years and use to value, ‘the ice queen’. This is not me now. Nor do I want it to be. The fact it became at one with my identity is quite disturbing to me now, as I am a compassionate person. But in the depths of ‘HH’s grips I was an emotional void. I’d get angry, anxious & irritable if my routine was disturbed, or challenged but these were pretty much the extent of my emotions. Instead of returning to my old behaviours yesterday, exercising to the point of exhaustion, pain or restricting to the point of false euphoria, to numb out the events. Instead I went for a walk out in nature listening to a podcast and then had a cup of tea with a Hobnob.

I felt grateful. Grateful I have reached a point of mental freedom to enable me to feel. Being numb is not living. I was grateful I could feel sadness and sit with it. Feelings pass and are not permanent. But eating disorders are. Recovery although hard, is also temporary.

The next thing I’m working hard to reach, is body neutrality. There is so much talk about ‘body positivity’ at present. I believe the premise of this is great, but I also feel it’s a double edged sword. It’s general concept to love and accept your body, sure. Promoting acceptance by society of shape, size, gender or race is the main aim. But, I feel there’s pressure with ‘body positivity’ as a concept. It over values of the body image itself, rather than appreciation of the body’s functions. For me, I don’t know if I’ll ever ‘love my body’ but I love the things my body enables me to do. I think very few people eating disorder or no eating disorder love their bodies. So for me, getting to a point where I do not care, or have any value from my appearance will be sufficient, beyond that a bonus. But I feel it’s healthier to see our bodies as a vessel, a vessel that allows us to do what we desire. It does not matter what that vessel looks like. That’s what I believe the social media message should be, that’s what body positivity should be.

Interestingly my ‘negative body image’ didn’t truly start until I was in the depths of my eating disorder. Sure there were things I had insecurities with, but I think most people on this planet do have hang ups. But I can say, the negative body image spiralled and it took so much value. This value is incongruent with my own true values, i’m not a shallow person, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what someone looks like if they are a good human being. But the world becomes so small, consuming and out of alignment with our own beliefs. I really struggle with this aspect of my eating disorder, because on a bad ‘body image’ day it still has far too much space. Space that’s not relevant or part of me. However this is part of the divorce from diet culture and unlearning so many untruths that are so engrained in society. Most days now fortunately I am neutral towards my body, but i’m not where I want to be yet. I’m not where I want the whole of society to be, where body image is as relevant as yesterday’s weather. But rejecting diet culture and accepting ourselves is a start towards remodelling society’s beliefs . Ultimately change starts with yourself.

Re-reading old journal entries, anorexia recovery. What language does your ED voice use?

Reframe negative eating disorder thoughts

I’ve been journaling for a long time. I was re-reading an old journal, one I started in early recovery. I found there was a theme to the language I used to describe how I was feeling, or when journalling about behaviours.

It was all self critical. Extremely negative.

Common words I used: ASHAMED, DISGUSTED, LONELY, ANGRY, FAT. This was even when I’d documented small positive steps to change.

“I feel ashamed, I want to crawl out of my skin, I feel trapped, consumed & powerless. I’m disgusted I’ve allowed myself to get into this predicament. I don’t feel I deserve the help. It’s a spell I cannot break no matter how hard I try I’m stuck”

This was an entry I made a few weeks into recovery.

Comparing this to more recent entries, there’s none of the negative language. It’s incredible how consuming our eating disorders are, they overshadow us, they thrive on secrecy and feed the feelings of isolation and shame grows and grows.

Now that I’m much further into recovery, I can seperate this unkind voice from my own, kinder, compassionate in built healthy self voice. I do not allow myself to use language such as ashamed, disgusted, instead I reframe them and ask myself what I’m needing. Why the ‘HH’ voice is spouting these terms. If I have a thought that sounds hypercritical I know it’s coming from ‘HH’ and not me, and serves no purpose in driving my recovery.

Self compassion is difficult in early recovery because we are listening to the negative thoughts. But as we grow stronger in recovery it’s easier to be kinder to ourselves. Something we have to re-learn to do. After being the opposite for so long. It feels uncomfortable. But anything in recovery that’s uncomfortable is good.

I found it hard to do NOTHING. Or pause have a cup of tea when I felt tired, or allow myself to feel emotions. But with time, one of my favourite pass times is to sit and literally do nothing with a cup of tea ( and most often a chocolate hobnob) Yes I am English and do believe this solves everything. I never thought that weekend early in recovery I would be able to to do that. I thought ‘HH’ would berate me for sitting for a second. Sure, there are days where I do hear the negative utterances. But the difference is now I don’t turn against myself, I don’t tell myself I’m ashamed of myself, not deserving etc. I tell myself I am worthy, I can live however I want and I don’t have to listen to the thoughts. I am not those thoughts. What thoughts do you need to re-frame?