My therapist said, ‘Anorexia is a form of self flagellation.’ I knew what she meant. I didn’t want to own it then. I’d been working really hard peeling back the layers of inter-generational trauma. I understood why I befriended the shadow: anorexia. And I went to Africa. My brain was fried.
I’d physically recovered by 23 and didn’t give anorexia much thought. By 30, I was pregnant with my first child and by 35, a mother of three. I returned to work four years later, weekend ICU, an intense world which kept me enthralled for 18 years. I needed a break and moved into community health. Writing called. I answered.
My anorexia remained sub-clinical, hidden. I didn’t understand that the shadow still lived inside me. After the publication of my first book, Schicksal; I began to delve into my adolescence. Nearly six years later, I have a first draft. The work is not publishable at this stage.
Facing my past unearthed faulty beliefs. It demanded forgiveness to move forward. Cornered, I sought help. A Schema Therapist helped me piece together the last parts of the my personal puzzle. Why had always plagued me. Perfectionists don’t like loose ends. My therapist was pregnant so we worked hard. It ravaged my physical health. Despite four courses of antibiotics, a stubborn sinus infection persisted.
Barely well enough, I left for Africa. The plans had been made. I felt sick, weak and vulnerable and prayed that I’d made the right decision. Mindfulness was the least exhausting option. I tried living in the now. I embraced Africa and let her ancient wisdom bathe me. I immersed myself in her beauty and fed my flagging spirit on the eternal variations of the desert landscape.
I took some photos but mainly sat and let myself be present. For 20 days, I wondered at the miracles of nature and let my joy wash away the jagged self harming beliefs, I’d once held. I smiled more than I had for the past couple of years and silently my body began to heal.
On the last day, on the way to the airport, I began to think about returning home. Who was I? It was then I realised that, I no longer carried the shadow with me. Somewhere amongst all the beauty, it had slipped away, like a silk shawl on a dark night. I’d walked out on myself. The desire to revisit to my manuscript vanished.
I felt relief.
Even the thought, ‘you should,’ didn’t change my mind. Self sacrifice and guilt couldn’t goad me.
So I’m composed of gaps, the shadow is gone, the manuscript incomplete and I have a discharge visit from my therapist coming up. Africa gave me the space to process the experience and to integrate new thinking about my value to the world and my place in it.
I do not feel a sense of failure. The process took me to my destination: a place where, I am at peace with the past, a place where I will use my voice. The ‘good girl’ scenario is behind me. At the moment, I don’t wish to publish. But I remain committed to mental health, especially women’s mental health.Many women have a weird relationship with food. Ironically, the very substance which nurtures us also tortures us.