She lasted seven whole days. And I leave tomorrow, so it was almost the entire duration of my stay. I should have known it would come up at some point.
I was straightening my hair, sitting on the floor in her bedroom, in front of the only full length mirror in the house. I hate full length mirrors but it’s the only one near enough to a plug, so there I was. I sighed, and – I do know I started it – said, “If only I was as fat as I was when I was twenty and merely thought I was fat.”
Now, dear reader, at age twenty I was in fact underweight for my height. Not enough to trigger any concern on behalf of medical professionals or indeed anyone else, but definitely on the skinny side, medically underweight. And yet I still believed I was enormous.
Years of restricting what I put in my mouth behind me, and ahead of me at that time, made me hypercritical of my appearance. Coupled with a growing hatred of my very obviously feminine body from the start of puberty when my favourite jeans would no longer zip as I developed hips, it was a slippery slope to calorie counting, skipped meals and lying through my teeth about what I’d eaten and when. It was control, and it lasted all through my teens and into my early twenties. Getting up super early for school and using the milk I would tip into my coffee to first swirl around the cereal bowl so it looked as though I’d eaten was a favourite trick.
Sucking on Polos throughout the day, oh so slowly until each one was paper thin and then cracked, was another. Chewing gum was a favourite too for a while, but the acid that swirled in my stomach made me give that up. Swapping the Kit Kat in my lunch box for a piece of fruit made me popular and kept the calories down.
I never really thought at the time about what I was doing, but it was – I think – a knee jerk reaction, both to the arrival of definite curves (I went from tomboy stick to hourglass in the space of one summer holiday) and to my mother’s careful insistence from birth that I never missed a meal.
I know she had been hungry at times, and I can’t blame her for not wanting the same for her children, I really can’t. She was a war baby, and suffered quite serious deprivation at times, especially in the food and nutrition department, but her urge to never be hungry again tipped into a rigid control of her own. Mealtimes in our house growing up were absolutely non negotiable, But coupled with that was another kind of control, the one where you ate everything on your plate regardless if you were hungry or not, and you certainly didn’t get pudding until your dinner plate was clear. Anything you tried to leave was frowned upon as a criminal waste.
I can see her point, and it’s not about blaming my mother, because I am old enough to know better. But she did sow the seeds for my need to control my eating habits.
Now, I am the opposite. I have just one full length mirror at home, and it’s partially hidden by a large box I deliberately shoved in front of it. A quick glance to check my hair’s OK is about as far as I usually venture into the world of reflections. That way I don’t have to look at the blob I’ve become.
Obviously, I’m not stupid. I know that fewer calories going in, and more expenditure by way of exercise would pretty much guarantee me some weight loss. But it is not that easy. If it were, we’d all be a perfect size ten or whatever the fuckity fuck we’re “supposed” to be for optimal health and fitness. A hint of defensiveness creeping in here, oops.
I have five kids. The second two were twins. My pelvis became unstable and I ended up on crutches, in agony due to SPD, symphysis pubic dysfunction. Look it up if you’re interested, but basically it means the two halves of my skeleton were attempting to pull themselves apart. Nice huh? The good news is that I gave birth (at 37 weeks, thank you wonderful obstetrician who scheduled me for induction due to “maternal distress”) to two wonderfully healthy babies, a fact for which I will be forever grateful. And I did manage to pull the two halves of my traumatised body back together again with the support of a lovely post-natal fitness instructor.
Move on several years and I had our fourth child, then promptly fell pregnant with number five. I spent half that pregnancy on crutches too. She arrived 14 months after number 4, and my body fell apart. She is now ten and my poor osteopath grits her teeth whenever I manage to make the 52 mile journey to her clinic because I am too sore to keep functioning without her help. She lovingly puts me back together again, and I rejoice in my non painful pelvis until I walk a bit too far, or run about the beach with my kids and undo all her good work.
As well as the five amazing children I have, I also have six that didn’t make it. Not writing that for the sympathy vote – life’s too short – but it is a fact that the rush of hormones at the start of each pregnancy, valid or not, have contributed to the train wreck that is my pelvis. It’s a biological fact. And it doesn’t help.
Coupled with all that, I’m a bit of a hermit. I prefer my own company, that of my kids, or of one other person at a time. And yet I also get lonely. Yup, bit of a mess lol. But at times, I deal with my messed-up head by eating things that I shouldn’t. Possibly an entire packet of them. Oh go on, yes, pretty much always a whole packet. Biscuits generally, or sweets.
I know it’s destructive behaviour but I have an addictive personality and I find it hellish hard to stop. 95% of the time I don’t enjoy it after the first one or two, and yet I still don’t stop. This addictive behaviour is one of the main reasons I don’t drink. I’ve been at the point where having a few was dangerously close to tipping over into something a lot worse, so I stopped. This past week I’ve had four G&Ts and that is more than I’ve had in the past two years. I enjoyed them, and now it’s done. Back to tea and water and coffee.
So, back to this morning in front of the mirror. “Well,’ said Mum, ‘X did it, didn’t he?” Referrring to a member of the family who has in the past year shed a ton of weight. I am incredibly proud of him, but it wasn’t easy, changing the habits of a lifetime, and, more importantly, he wasn’t restricted by a body that won’t allow him to walk 10K steps a day come rain or shine. Nor is he an addictive personality type. Never has been. He just made bad food choices.
I actually make better food choices overall. I still do. I just happen to add in a ton of shit on top, which is frankly crazy. But I never pretended to be sane.
It hurt. It hurt that my mum thinks I “just” need to back off on the treats and add in a few laps of the village each day. It hurts that no matter how many times I’ve tried to explain, she just doesn’t get it. It hurts that she probably thinks her daughter is lazy and greedy.
I’m not. I’m really not. There are more reasons than the above for my weight gain, but I’m not ready to share them publicly, and I may never be. But it’s almost never as simple as ‘Oh you should skip the biscuits and you’ll be fine.” Sometimes it is. I know that X had fallen into bad habits and needed a wake up call. He got it, and he is turning his life around. It’s a long road, and I want to join him on that path, but I need support.
I have never been this honest about anything personal. Not even sure why I felt the urge to start writing, but perhaps this might help one person to stand in front of their own mirror and see that they are so much more than the reflection of their lumps and bumps. I know I am. I just need to believe it.