I had never experienced a complete lack of appetite like this before. At first my stomach burned, but after a week the sharp empty pain in my belly let up. I knew I needed to eat, I wasn't trying to die, but I didn't feel hungry for anything. I forced myself to eat once a day. No biggie, I thought to myself. It's not like I don't have belly jiggle to lose. Who cares if I lose a little bodyfat? That's not what happened though. The ache in my belly was replaced by a burning in my legs. My thigh muscles felt like they were on fire. My calf muscles have shrunk. A pair of thick knee-high grey and red wool socks that used to fit snug around my calves now sags down around my ankles. I've lost a major amount of muscle. Glutes, thighs, calves. My legs have gone missing.
I didn't care enough about myself to care that I was hungry or uncomfortable. It was more like, up 'til now I took care of myself as an afterthought or while I was in the process of caring for others.
I'd stopped cooking. I was so chronically exhausted that I just ate canned food. Most of the time I didn't even bother to heat it up. Cooking had been an act of love. A way to show the people around you that you care. Feeding others was one of my go to ways to show love.
The realization that I never really learned how to value myself. I never learned how to love myself enough to care that I was wasting away. I didn't love myself enough to care that I was so deeply uncomfortable. To care that the muscles in my lower body were shriveling up and dissolving away. My once strong legs were now shakey when I did get out of bed. Walking to the bathroom felt like running a marathon. I felt unsteady and fragile physically and mentally. The shame of not knowing how to love me. Of never having learned how to love myself. I was a fraud.
Thinking with a depressed brain made this feel worse. It magnified the shame. I was a fraud and I am a fraud. I have cared for babies and kids, old ladies and teenagers, but I don't know how to care for me? Well, just look at me. I'm a trainwreck. I wouldn't trust me to plantsit right now. I'm too deep in the muck.
"You can't love anyone else until you learn to love yourself." Yea, that saying is BS. You can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself first, sure...ok...I'll buy that line. But love, no. It's totally possibly to love someone and not really care that much about yourself at all. To not have ever learned to love yourself. I call bullshit on that saying.
I hated goals, they seemed so pointless. Why have a goal if it seemed like whenever you really wanted something, had your heart set on it, it was the job of every adult to put up hurdle after hurdle? Don't get me wrong, I still accomplished things, I just thought capital G Goals were for someone else. They were for little girls who had moms who dressed them carefully and did their ponytails before sending them off to girl scout meetings. I thought of myself as endlessly more flexible than that. My own superpower was that I adapted to anything. I rolled with the punches. I changed plans suddenly when I was unexpectedly left in charge of Lb and Ls and about a hundred cousins. "Don't worry, RR can handle it." My mother's voice rang in my head. And you know what? I did handle it. Because I had to. Because who else was going to do it?
Goals were stupid. My goal that I wanted to be comfortable was stupid. When the fuck was that ever going to happen? Why did I even think it was possible in the first place?
For a long time now I've considered myself a cautious optimist, my glass is two thirds full to allow for expansion due to freezing. Lol. Ok, it's a Minnesota joke. But it's also a joke about my only slightly positive self protective outlook. Protective because I expect people to let me down. I have to be the stable one for me and for the little kids. They needed me. I had to be strong. I trust very few people. My lack of trust is my protection against abuse and disappointment. It protected me from the million broken promises adults made to me when I was younger. It protects me from men who break their "rock solid" commitments. It protected me from a string of fake friends who were there for the sunny days and nowhere to be found when the downpour started. It helped me to protect Ls and Lb from my parents repeated broken promises. I knew they would probably fail us. I expected them to fail us. And they did, spectacularly.
I was disconnected from my own body. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to blink and vanish from existence. I didn't want to die. Really, I didn't. I just wanted to never have existed in the first place.
But I can't do that. I don't have the power to blink myself out of existence. Slowly I realize that obviously I need something to take care of, because I am not enough. Look at my chain of jobs I've had since as far back as I can remember. Taking care of Ls and Lb, my cousins, kids I babysat, clients at the nursing home, daycare kids, my own kids, kids at the school when I was a para, the tenth graders I tutored, hospice patients, the foster care kids I worked with, Alzheimer's patients, developmentally disabled clients at the group home, the kids on the school bus, my nieces and nephews... I literally have taken care of people from birth to death. And, somehow, I don't know how to take care of me? I don't know how to love me enough to care that I'm not taking care of myself.
I am on the phone with the crisis line, the lady on the other end is talking me through the panic attack this realization triggered. I feel deeply deeply like a fraud. How the fuck can I not know this. It's basic shit, but I don't know how to love me. "Give me a puppy, a house plant, ANYTHING, and I take care of my basic needs as a necessary step to taking care of the other thing." I say.
She says that she thinks I'm being too hard on myself. She is probably right.
I say I hate goals but this is my short term goal, this is what I will do for me - when I am hungry, eat. I will do this for four days. That's all I feel like I can commit to. Four days of paying attention to if I'm hungry, and feeding myself. Four days of paying attention to my most primitive feelings and taking care of me. I say it's stupid. She says no, it is not. This is a perfectly attainable goal. It's good. Four days isn't too long. It's achievable. I say it's stupid and I'm stupid for having to even have this as a goal. "No, it is not. It is important." She has me repeat my goal and then use positive words to lock it in my brain in a positive mindset. "My goal is easy and attainable. My goal is easy and attainable. My goal is easy and attainable."
If you'd asked me about basic hygiene being an act of love, I'd've said no, it is not. I have given baths/showers to maybe a hundred different people. Maybe more. As part of my job. But, if you really look at it when I first started helping Ls & Lb it was out of my love for them. My want to take care of them. To protect them. At the same time, my own self cares were so I didn't get smacked, or called stinky. So I wasn't physically or emotionally abused more. And mom was teaching me how (not) to love myself. How to (not) value myself. And S-dad was teaching me that I was not in control of my own body. I didn't get to use my voice to change things and make them better for me. But I did get to take care of Ls & Lb.
I had a choice - lay there and listen to what the programming and the depression playing in my head said, or...
Or, instead, get up and do something for me. Brush my teeth, my hair, take care of this body that had for so long taken care of me, but I'd neglected for the past three months.
Taking care of myself became a radical act of self love. It went against all the abuse. All my earliest programming that taught me how to think about me. All the teaching me that I wasn't worth it. So, slowly, I crawled out of the black hole I was sunk in. It's been a year and a half, and I'm still working on it. I told my siblings how bad it had gotten. I asked for help. I did physical therapy and saw my doctors. I did counseling. I feel like I'm not really quite "there" yet, but I'm working on it. Things are slowly getting better.
A radical act of self love indeed. 💗