Struggling

I’ve been at this point many, many times. Several weeks in, feeling better, eating better.

And then I just stop doing it all.

I’ve had a dreadful week of sleep, it’s a few days until my period, work has been busier than it has for a while and the kids have been especially challenging. I feel exhausted by the effort of daily life.

I’ve stopped taking my supplements, and I’ve started eating sugar again. I have a big spot on my face as a reward.

I feel defeated. This is the point where I always slip back to old habits and stay there until I feel so horrible I make another “fresh start”.

Mentally I have given up. I don’t know why this always happens and I don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve been here so many times and I am so disappointed in myself.

Why do I not have the skillset to maintain a decision once made?

Shame Log #1

My shame started early, but I really began concocting stories to make me more ‘perfect’ from the age of about 15. There’s a lot to cover, and a lot of it is too painful for me to even consider right now, so I thought I would start with my Masters degree, which I completed in my late twenties. I’ve always proudly announced the fact that I got a distinction.

I knew the institution was an ex-polytechnic (these were lesser rated institutions in the UK that all got university status in 1992), and I suspected it wasn’t the best university even at the time of application but I had the choice of Westminster or Imperial as no one else nearby offered the conversion course I wanted (I could have moved, but I was living with my ex-boyfriend so it wasn’t really an option at the time – we split up, so maybe I should have considered my choice more carefully, but that’s more shame so we’ll leave that for now). The Imperial fees were £10k, Westminster was £3k. I couldn’t afford Imperial.

For years I have kind of glossed over that choice, hanging onto the fact that I got a distinction (the highest award for a masters degree), and ignoring the status of the university itself.

So today, I took a deep breath and looked it up in the league tables, both for my subject and as a whole. Westminster is in the bottom quarter of UK universities. I’ll just write that again, shall I? The university I got my masters at is one of the worst universities in the UK.

I kind of knew this, but I’d never bothered to verify it. I had just ignored it.

On facing up to this fact, and repeating it to myself, I felt actual physical pain in my chest. The pain of failure, humiliation, and shame. Why? Because I have always been told how clever I am – my parents drummed it into me as a child, and because it feels like a part of my identity to be academic – at primary school I was never the pretty one, I was the boy-haired clever one. And also because one of my oldest friends, who I seem to have a complex relationship with (more on that later), went to Oxford, straight out of school. The best UK university.

I felt so upset, my chest hurt and I wanted to cry. Then I got angry and thought that I may as well have not gone to a shit university at all – I’d be better off deleting it from my CV and identity. What a stupid mistake. I’d rather have no degree than one that says I am shit, right? But of course that is also a form of false identity that prevents healthy self-acceptance. To deny it is the same as making it out to be better than it was. Both are an attempt by me to avoid feeling ashamed.

But here’s the thing – I don’t need to feel ashamed. The shame is all in my head. It’s there because I didn’t live up to my parents’ label, and because it isn’t the view I have constructed of myself, and because I feel as though my friend feels superior to anyone who didn’t go to Oxford, especially me, and it was my way of competing with it – well at least I have a masters with distinction. I sat there and breathed through the feeling, sinking deep into the pain and humiliation and regret and everything else. I just experienced it. No fighting, no anger, no self-pity. And it started to pass. Because you can’t walk around like that all the time. So I just kept thinking about it, and breathing, and telling myself the facts. I got a masters degree from a not very good university.

And you know what? It’s okay. I went and dug out the certificate to take a look at it. It was still a worthwhile experience, I still worked hard, and I got a job at the end of it that I loved and couldn’t have gotten had I not done a masters at Westminster. It doesn’t mean I’m an academic failure. But I have to accept that academically I don’t present as a superstar, no matter how clever I was told I was as a child, and no matter how much I feel as though I should or would if life had been different and I’d had more supportive parents, etc. It doesn’t mean I’m an idiot for choosing a less well-respected university without checking up on it first. It is what it is. And it is a part of my whole. I don’t need to hide it, big it up, change it or lie about it. Welcome back to the real me.

So many years I have carried around that shame and feeling of failure. But maybe I can let that go now. I can just state what I did for what it was. It’s a relief not to have to make it seem better so people don’t judge me.

Now, as painful as the moment was, that wasn’t too bad. I am anticipating that other things I need to deal with will take a bit more than a few kind words to myself, but we’ll see.

I Am Ashamed

Today, while I sat with yet more tears streaming down my face, still reeling from a morning of tears and depression, I had a kind of epiphany. Without my crutches, my crappy comfort foods, there is nowhere to hide from myself. And I searched, deeply, for what the hell is going on in my head. For the reasons behind so much of my mental anguish. And I think I found it.

I am horribly ashamed of myself. Almost everything I’ve done brings me shame, and I’ve spent my life trying to reinvent myself to get rid of it – to bury it and cover it up. But it never goes away. I think I have a fundamental tendency to view what I do as not good enough. Where this stems from I am not entirely sure. I have always felt very self-conscious and “judged” even when I was tiny – some of my earliest memories include feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment.
My parents and even some of my oldest friends have judged a lot of the things I have done, and I have always carried around the idea, spoken many times by people in my life, that I am falling short of my potential. My father was ruthlessly critical of everything my brother and I did. My mother was physically and verbally abused for the first 17 years of her life and had her own world of problems that made being a present and stable mother figure almost impossible for her.

I have never really felt that I have done right, in anything, unless it is perfect.

I was going to write a list of things I am ashamed of, but the list goes on and on and on – too long for me to probably ever finish. It ranges from things I did at school, to the way I acted at work, to my personal conduct in relationships, to my self-image, my career, my (limited) achievements, my taste in everything, my parenting, my everything.

Funny enough, even recognising that this is the root of the problem (and I guess shame is in some way a rejection of self-acceptance and self-love), has made me feel better. I know what’s wrong with me. 

So I need to work through all this – this mountain of shame and embarrassment and the feeling that I am inferior, and not as good in any way as anyone else.

How the hell I am going to do that I am not sure, but it must start with accepting exactly what I am and what I have done, no matter how distasteful that seems to me.

Panic Attack

To continue my shitty morning I went to a mum and baby group with my daughter who is almost 18 months. I never really got the whole mum and baby group thing. It’s just a bunch of women getting together who have fuck-all in common other than the fact they have given birth recently.

I always felt like an outsider when I went to them when the boys were babies and I did again today. I just sat there wondering why I persist in doing things I really don’t care about but think I *should* be doing, wondering why everyone else seems so much more happy and confident than I am. My daughter is the most anxious baby ever and would not let go of my hand the entire time. I think this is down to me spending nine months of pregnancy in a constant state of red alert because of all the miscarriages I’d had before. I literally spent every waking minute (and a fair few of the sleeping ones), afraid she was going to die at any second. Baby F came out stressed out and has never really recovered. Her personality is fearful of everything.

So, there we were, she was hanging onto my hand as she had done for the whole hour we’d been there and I was standing around feeling like a spare part, when suddenly she lost her balance and even though I had hold of her hand somehow she managed to dive head first onto the solid floor with a horrible smack sound.

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Well of course, she screamed and screamed. But I was unexpectedly upset beyond all reason as well. I think it was the combination of feeling shitty anyway, the fact it felt like it was my fault because she was holding my hand at the time, how out of place and isolated I felt and also a feeling of shame that I had let my child get hurt.

Anyway, we put some ice on her head, but she screamed and screamed. She calmed down a bit when I took it away, but then she lost it again when I tried to sit back down with her. I’d been struggling to hold back the tears since she first fell, but suddenly they just started running down my face and I knew I couldn’t stop them any longer. I was going to cry my eyes out and I couldn’t stop it. I got up and grabbed my bag and I couldn’t even speak a proper goodbye because I was trying to stop my chest from heaving out these massive sobs.

The two girls that run it were clearly concerned but all I could do was shake my head and leave – oh god it was all so embarrasing.

Walking back to the car I actually heard myself gasping little sobs out loud that I couldn’t control. Once we were in the car I drove off and my breathing went haywire. I was uncontrollably gasping my in-breath, around four or five times in succession, like I was suffocating and I couldn’t breathe. I was actually a bit frightened that my airways were going to close up (the only other time I had a panic attack was after nearly being hit by a car on my bike in 1998 – 19 years ago almost to the day – and my breathing was so erratic and laboured afterwards I was terrified I was going to die. I had a very competent, confident boyfriend at the time who stayed completely calm and just waited it out with me, bless him). It took about 10 minutes before I could breathe in and out properly, without my chest jumping up and down, by which point we were home (yeah, I drove home. I needed to be home and I drove slow enough that I knew I could pull over at any point if my breathing got worse).

What the fuck. Right? I mean, being miserable and irritable is one thing, but that kind of reaction is totally disproportionate and unhelpful.

I am beginning to wonder – is this just my brain fucked after all the years of a high sugar diet? Is it the glass of wine I have every single night making me depressed and anxious? Or have I just spent 20 years unknowingly self-medicating with sugar and alcohol to cover up my fucked up, depressed and anxiety-ridden personality?

I just don’t know. But the only way to find out is to carry on and see if this ever improves.

I don’t think I have ever felt so low – my mood is on a par with how I was after I lost pregnancy after pregnancy. Back then I had a reason – now I’m just clueless as to why I feel so fucking awful.

I just don’t know what to do to make myself feel better.

Misery

I just feel like shit. This morning I had to talk to the teacher about something that happened at my son’s school, and I have a client I’m working with at the moment that I took on at a friend’s discount rate, but I feel as though she is overstepping the boundaries in her requests so I’ve got an email to write to reinstate them. Both of these things I hate doing because I am a people-pleaser. I have a dreadful fear of people not liking me (instilled by my mother all through my childhood). I hate this about myself, and I try to counter it as much as I can, but even when I do so successfully I still feel awful inside.

My cravings are enormous right now, which probably means stress is another big trigger. I have felt like crying all morning. I genuinely feel completely awful inside, for no real reason at all. Is this misery the lack of sugar? I’m so pissed off. I definitely wasn’t this upset and pissed off when I was eating it (I was more up and down, whereas now I’m just down).

All I want is to indulge in a big pile of something really nice. Like a giant chocolate bar, and a massive slice of cake from Marks and Spencers. And a hot chocolate. With loads of whipped cream. But I know I’ll just feel awful afterwards, so instead I had a banana.

Fucking hell.

My Dopamine Receptors Are Fucked

They must be, because life has just felt totally crap of late. I am SO short tempered and fucking miserable. It’s been 11 days since I stopped eating sugary foods and life is definitely not in technicolour.

Sugar, over time, and as you eat more and more of it, has a similar effect on the brain to class A drugs. You need a bigger and bigger hit to get the same response because your dopamine receptors increase decrease in number to take up the additional dopamine reduce the take up of the additional dopamine produced when you enjoy a pleasurable chocolate bar (or line of coke). When you stop taking said substance, you have all these hardly any receptors and no surplus dopamine. While you wait for your extra receptors to wither away back receptors to grow back to normal numbers you feel like total crap. Which of course increases your desire for the said substance. Welcome to addiction.

Today we went out for lunch. Feeling totally disillusioned with my spectacularly average career and our total lack of money to buy a much needed bigger house for us and our three kiddos (we had spent some time this morning looking on rightmove to see what we could buy – nothing), I fully intended to eat a massive slice of glutenous cake and a giant hot chocolate with whipped cream.

When I actually got there however I was just so angry about my arthritis that I had a jacket potato and a decaf tea. Go me. I felt relieved I had avoided a stupid sugar binge, but still pissed off because, you know, no sugar.

I don’t know how long this is going to last, but the only thing keeping me clinging onto the straight and narrow is the teensy chance that I can heal my foot enough to run without totally fucking up the joint forever and ending up in a wheelchair or something at 50.

We came home and I moped around a bit more, wishing I could just scoff a massive pile of chocolate without it slowly destroying my body. And then I went for a run. And had a shower. I feel better, but still pissed off. Thank god for wine because I swear it is what I spend the day thinking of (dumb, right? Surely this is the path to addiction transferal I hear you say. Hopefully I am too much of a lightweight for that).

The career thing – eugh. I passed my eleven plus. I have a masters degree with distinction in software engineering. I am, as defined by society, clever. But in the workplace I am just not a leader. Although I could see what was going wrong and what was working in all the jobs I did, I was never enough of a personality to take the lead and make a difference.

Secretly, I want to be a writer – a proper writer. I probably always have. But I have so much in the way of daily distractions and overwhelm I can never fit the writing in that I want to do. It just seems like a totally unachievable dream.

I hope I break out of this funk soon, because I am not sure how long I can keep up the willpower.

Homocysteine Test Results

My results came back and they are fine. My level is 9. Anything above 9 is considered a risk, so I am right at the top end. Patrick Holford advises anything over 6 is less than optimum. So all in all, I might have slightly higher homocysteine levels, but considering I am a 42 year old coeliac with osteoarthritis and I am permanently exhausted, that’s not too bad, right?

After this, and the breast clinic visit, and my reasonably good blood results from December, I have had a bit of a think. The mind-body connection is a phrase bandied around a lot, but maybe in my case a lot of my ill health really does stem from my mental health, not my physical condition. The negative effects of stress and depression on the body are slowly being accepted by mainstream doctors. My mental health has been poor, pretty much since I became a mother seven and a half years ago.

Part of it was the realisation of my own parents under-parenting (which I had just never really given much thought until I had my own children), and part of it is the absolute exhaustion of being a mum with no one to help out – no family, no friends. I have found the journey so hard, and I have often felt so completely spent, but still had to pick up and carry on day after day. I have a perfectionist streak and criticise myself constantly.

And of course, when your mind is not right, you don’t do the right things when it comes to eating and exercise. I seek solace in chocolate and wine and pick at food instead of making myself proper meals. The long term effect is vitamin deficiencies and tiredness.

So I need to clean house – mentally – in order to make this journey work. I have finished searching for weird things that might be wrong with me (I think this is partly a hangover from three years of miscarriages with no attributable medical cause ever found). I need to focus on making the steps to clean up my diet, but also on making steps into the dusty, crowded, dark and neglected warehouse of my brain and putting things in order. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do that just yet.