Trying to play a character in your life isn’t a fun way to live, even if you love the theater. I’m only saying this in hindsight of course, I didn’t know that there was another way to live until very recently. I was the misfit who wanted to be normal- the girl who always did the “right” thing, the one who gets the guy, the girl who has the shiny career, the girl who doesn’t offend anyone but is rather pleasing to talk to. Some may see her as almost bland, uninteresting- but she fit into something (a stereotype). However, you can only run away from yourself for so long. And I found out again today during group that it has done me no good during a mindfulness eating exercise, of all the places.
A mindfulness eating exercise can be googled quite easily, but in a nutshell, it is an exercise where you only focus on your eating, and the food itself. You observe the color, how it looks, and how it feels inside your mouth and so on. (I have to stop here because it’s triggering.) During this exercise, I had the most unexpected panic attack that went from 1 to 9 (10 being the most severe). I usually can see my panic attacks rising gradually, and often can dig myself out of that hole using several distractions or mindfulness skills before it gets to a ten, but I was in the deep before I could search my mind for a distraction. I ran out of group to avoid further embarrassment and just bawled my eyes out without realizing what just happened.
For the exercise- every second of it was torture. Feeling the cantaloupe in my mouth, cold, soft and mushy, and the different tastes you don’t expect from a cantaloupe (e.g. cucumber), and just the sensation itself of being aware that you had to swallow the thing after chewing it almost made me barf. And I do not dislike fruit. During feedback, everyone explained how exquisite the experience was, and how much more they appreciated food now that they have done this for the first time. This was of course, the expected response coming out of this mindfulness activity. Mine was very different. I was almost in tears, about to throw up, and very close to some unpleasant thoughts. The group leader had to sit with me for a few minutes to calm me down with some breathing techniques until I could feel like I could come back to normal. I realized after that this was how, in medical literature, they describe what PTSD feels like, when triggered.
Since I was a child, I never had a good relationship with food as far as I could remember. It was much worse than bad, it was traumatizing. I always thought (and still think,) why hasn’t someone made a pill to substitute for eating? It would be so much easier, more efficient, and less painful. Allow me to explain: back in the old country where I grew up, I went to kindergarten/daycare that provided lunch every single day. I never had a great appetite, and always felt shameful that I didn’t enjoy food more, and was shamed for eating so little all the time by my mother, and the rest of the adult population because people are very blunt where I come from. (An example: they would say hi, and comment on how scrawny I look and I should eat more as a legitimate, love-filled greeting.) In kindergarten, I was force fed for many years because I would not eat the lunch that was provided. I would sit there with my food, while the other children ate quickly and had extra play time. When lunch was almost over, and everyone who had finished eating had gone to play except me, usually an adult came over to put the cold rice into the cold soup or stew of the day to make their job as the forcefeeder easier (which made it more disgusting than they had been when both menu items were hot), let it sit there for a while so the rice doubled in size (yuck, more food to eat), and if I really didn’t eat after they “helped” to mix the rice with the liquid thing, they would forced it down on me and punished me if I didn’t eat. Every single day. I never squeaked about this to my mother because, as a child, I was afraid of her, and thought I would be further shamed for not eating and being willful.
Since then, I grew up- found out that food and sports are the only viable topics in the workplace that doesn’t arouse suspicion (that you’re weird), or uncomfortable feelings about the people you work for, due the personal nature of opinions, and make you sound wholesome (in other words, not political or have anger management problems. This is different after the advent of Trump, obviously. Anger is a valid feeling at the workplace in modern America. Sigh.) I lied countless times about having a favorite dish. I lied about enjoying eating, and going out to eat. In my defense, I was only being polite, and I was starting to believe the lies. One lie followed another, and it was starting to become real, and I was starting to think that I was “growing out” of it. My parents saw that I improved in the eating department, and they were so happy that I was “normal” again. Why did I do this? Well, I felt like I was connecting to people in a very non racist, non culturally specific and genuinely human way by talking about food (more on this later), except, I was in disguise the whole time. I was acting as the well-adjusted, healthy and happy person with zero problems in her life, and I was so convincing that I convinced myself and everyone around me. I was faking it until I made it. Well, I made it into PTSD.
This is a story in progress, and I am still having a hard time processing what this is, what it means, and if this is an eating disorder or not since I don’t have and never really had severe body image problems that affected my eating.
Like they say, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. (And kick you in the face until you lose your teeth… sorry, too graphic.)