The Body-Mind Connection
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
As I commented to a fellow Spark friend this week when she inquired about how I was feeling after my last downer of a blog: I always love writing rant blogs on Wednesday nights about my frustrations and how I'm feeling like the whole world is collapsing all at once, only to wake up on Thursday morning and go to my weekly therapy appointment. It never fails that I will walk into that room first thing in the morning, plop myself down on the couch, and open up about everything that's bothering me, thinking that I already have most of it figured out, and then will walk out of that office an hour later with a completely different outlook on life. My world is no longer falling apart, instead it has just been turned on its head. But that's ok - because I can breathe again and it feels great!
I am a HUGE fan of therapy. I wouldn't be where I am today without it. Absolutely would not. And it's not that I don't have complete and utter faith in myself and my own abilities to change myself for the better - it's just that therapy has allowed me to see how exactly to do that more clearly. Therapy has given me that courage to change and to desire and to achieve beyond what I was ever even capable of imagining before. I honestly can not say enough good things about it.
But anyway - this blog isn't about my love of therapy, but rather some of the stuff I've been thinking about since my last session. Maybe some of you will relate, maybe it will be like me talking hocus pocus crap - but this is mostly for me to look back on in terms of tracking my emotional progress as much as my physical process here.
Even though I only started working on the "Body Project" last April, in reality I have been working on the "Body Project" for 30 years of my life. Well...25. Ever since the rift between my body and my brain was created when I was still a small child. I'm convinced this happens to a lot of people. I certainly think that anyone who has ever been obese in their lifetime has experienced a similar body-mind disconnection. I think anyone who has ever had an eating disorder has also experienced it. And to some extent, any man or woman who is swayed by the media's interpretation of body imagery and who therefore has developed a poor self image has, at some point, been disconnected - mind from body.
This disconnection has recently become very apparent to me. Perhaps hints of this disconnection and being uneasy about it was what prompted me to seek help in the first place. But as I was chatting to The Scientist this past weekend, he asked me a couple of pointed questions about it that, together with my recent therapy session, unleashed a flow of thoughts about the topic.
We spend a fair amount of time talking on Skype. I was expressing my dislike for seeing myself talking while on a video screen. It creeps me out. And I can't spend any time really talking to him without looking at myself constantly - so I hide my video screen. He asked me whether it was the same thing with a mirror. And I replied that oddly enough, it isn't. I think we all spend so much time looking in mirrors and seeing our reflections on a daily basis that the image we see returned to us is more like hearing our own voice inside our head when we speak - it's so close to the brain that you can distort it to see/hear what you want. But put it out there in the world in a 3rd party form and all of a sudden we see the truth more clearly. I'm fine with my mirror image. I spend a lot of time every day poking and prodding and ogling and making faces at myself. I'm used to the girl I see in the mirror. But the girl I see in photos and videos is WAY different than my mirrored image. Just like when I hear my voice recorded on the answering machine at work - it's a very different interpretation of the voice that I hear inside my head.
So for 25 years I happily distorted that mirror image of myself. I accepted the fat and I actually believed that I looked "thin" and "pretty" and would have many "skinny days" every week. Until someone came in with a camera and ruined that pretty mind distortion. Body-mind disconnection. I was capable of hiding the truth from myself because for 25 years my body and my brain have operated under different managers - heck - I don't even know if they even worked for the same company! And recently I've been having an opposite reaction. For whatever reason, I still don't see myself as any thinner than my 313lb body. I still make extra room for myself wherever I go. I select bigger sizes at the stores because I'm still not convinced that the smaller one will fit. And I'm pleasantly surprised when I do actually realize that at Size XL, I'm pretty darn normal when I look around a crowded bus. My brain is still disconnected from my body, except now the effect is opposite - instead of getting negative feedback from seeing a picture of myself on a "skinny day" that actually shows every roll and dimple, I'm getting positive feedback when I see an external source show me that I'm not as big as I think I am.
When you tear off a limb, it takes surgeons hours and hours to sew it back together again. They have to re-attach each ventricle, each vein, each nerve ending so that the limb will resume regular functions again. If you're lucky. A body-mind separation is kind of the same thing. And when you have spent so many years living with the two pieces at a distance, putting the parts back together again can be even harder. Sometimes the organs don't want to go. Sometimes the mind rejects elements about the body and vice versa. It's a very long surgery - but now that I've started, I can't step away with dangling, mismatched parts.
The Scientist and people like him are interesting to me. He's never had a body image concern in his life. He eats what he wants when he wants to. He buys clothes because he needs to, not because they make him look thin. These are the other people in life. The people who we "rifters" are envious of. Sure - maybe their metabolisms rock, but I don't think that's the real reason we secretly and publicly loathe them. I think that actually, we're all just jealous of their fabulous body-mind partnerships. It's what we all strive for but can't seem to achieve. That seamless, thoughtless knowledge of what you need and want and the ability to just go and get it without ever really having to think about it. I hear people say "I'll always have to watch what I eat" or "I'll always have to be careful about monitoring my exercise" all the time - around here especially. I don't think life has to be like that. I think if you are actually capable of re-attaching your mind and your body, that you can become, over time, one of the those people - the ones who don't have to care about all of this so much. I believe that with all of my heart. I have to - it's what I'm aiming to do. But I know it isn't going to be easy. My brain has been rejecting my body for 25 years - and now I'm trying to force them back together again. It's not a wonder I was in such turmoil!
There's another part of this too that isn't just about food and exercise. It's about who's really calling the shots. I say I've really been working on the "Body Project" for 25 years or so because even though my brain is powerful enough to make me believe that it has been in charge, my body has proven otherwise. Despite being the best in my class at school, and landing a great job in my career of choice, and having many other relevant achievements all racked up on the "Brain Team", the "Body Team" has been known to play dirty. Every time the "Brain Team" wins a point in the great debate, the "Body Team" is right there with the rebuttal - "It's great you got a good job, but would you have gotten a better job if you were skinnier?", "Your marriage failed because you were fat", "Hey check out that guy looking at you right now! Oh wait, he's only looking at you because you're disgusting".
Despite all of my best efforts to make the show about THE REAL ME throughout my life, the weight has unfortunately remained the star performer, shoving the real me to the wings (quite literally, I opted in life to be a stage manager behind the scenes rather than an actor onstage because I managed to convince myself that it was better that way, managed to convince myself that my brain was in control - secretly denying my desire to be onstage because I believed that I was too fat to succeed as an actress). My family certainly defines people by whether or not they're "up" or "down" on the scales. And since I adopted that method of thinking early in life (probably right about the time the big rift happened) I have also defined everything in my own life by those two terms. Am I up? Or am I down? The weight serves as an excuse for just about everything that has ever happened to me in all of my years of conscious knowledge.
Well, I'm done with the weight. And with it, I'm DONE with my body being the star of the show. When you really think about it - weight loss is DAMN BORING. Sure you lose two pounds and do the happy dance naked in your living room (cause I don't know who you are if you weigh-in with clothing on). But normal people - those people who are happily connected in mind and body don't even know what it means to do that happy dance. And frankly, I'd prefer to be more like them.
I will continue to celebrate my losses here on Spark. I'll still post my 100 pound blog. I'll still look forward to making my Goal Video. I love and appreciate this community of people who like me, all struggle with that body-mind rift. That's comforting and accessible and of great service to me with what I am trying to do. But out there in the "really world" (as one of my dear university professors used to call it) I don't want it to be all about the ups and the downs anymore. I want it to be about me, reconnecting all the pieces of my body and my mind, so that I can one day live more in unison, more in balance. And honestly, not having to think about it so darn much! Some day I will live without Spark - and that is the day that I will truly have succeeded with everything that they teach us here.
My body will continue to change - but it doesn't get to be in the spotlight anymore. I am not going to become famous for losing 200 pounds. And mark my words that even if People Magazine comes knocking, my face will never grace those pages. Because I'm worth more than that. I'm worth more than being devoured by the masses of America for 2 seconds of entertainment before they turn the page and forget all about me. I will celebrate my successes personally - and my life will celebrate my big loss by lasting longer so I can reap many more meaningful rewards than 15 seconds of fame will ever be able to bring me.
I have big plans for me. I don't quite know what they are yet, but they are much broader than what I'm doing here. Losing 200 pounds is a big achievement, but it will not be the biggest thing I ever achieve. There are people to meet, dollars to make and life to live - and just being happy and satisfied with all of it is already worth more than any number on a scale.