When we approach an event like our birthday or Christmas, or our Facebook time hop pops up with a post from last year or 5 years ago, we are bound to create the comparison of what our lives were like from the past whether that be good memories or bad. Either way, we can have a tendency to punish ourselves as the past was either better than the present or might bring up bad memories we don’t want to think about. My birthday is approaching and I can’t help but compare it to the last one where my health was rapidly deteriorating.
My 21st birthday last year was in no doubt a great birthday in itself. My closest friends and family gathered for a picnic in the park where we played games, ate great food and drank lots of pimms and prosecco to then hitting the bars until the early hours of the morning. This all sounds like a wonderful 21st birthday except the reality is I did not eat great food, I played games excessively to burn calories and drank far too much pimms and prosecco till I was blind drunk. At the end of the night when everyone went home and my family went up to bed, I sat on the kitchen floor in the early hours of the morning, binging on left-over party food and crying with desperation. I think back to all the special people who came along to celebrate and don’t remember the happy smiling faces I should, but expressions of worry and sadness. They all realised I was slipping down a steep slope to a turmoil of anorexia.
My 22nd birthday is approaching and I don’t feel the usual excitement – I have always celebrated my birthday and usually make plans weeks in advance. A lot has changed in the last year and due to the nature of recovery for anorexia; noticing your progress isn’t always something you feel proud of. I am comparing my weight to this time last year, the amount of control I possessed and the amount of friends I thought I had. Strangely, I am not comparing my achievements or happiness. Recovery has changed me in so many ways: not only have I accomplished positive changes in my health but I have experienced changes in my relationships. Sadly, my relationship with Matt came to an end and my friendships aren’t as they were this time last year due to the illness pushing those close to me away. My attitude towards my family is quite different as I have unpicked a lot of my childhood and upbringing through therapy to discover much about how my illness developed which has only left me feeling confused and somewhat resentful. The relationship I have with myself is also very different and in many ways unfamiliar – I am still on my journey to fully understanding myself and my identity without anorexia. I currently feel lost in myself and the world around me which is quite unsettling so therefore, I feel unable to celebrate a day which is all about me, not to mention I can’t fathom the thought of being the centre of attention. In all honesty, I feel very lost and lonely which is why I’m not overly ecstatic about my birthday this year.
You can’t predict the unpredictable
There is a consistent conflict in my head of desiring to be that person once again – the sad and desperate girl who’s life was controlled by anorexia. “Go back, you were much stronger then.” In a sense I was stronger – stronger at obeying the one thing that took over my life and appeared to make me ‘happy’ however, I was far from strong within knowing myself and didn’t truly have an identity that wasn’t a debilitating illness. By comparing ourselves to ‘this time last year’ or any year for that matter, the negative thoughts can control us into thinking where we should be at this point in the present. That word ‘should’ is unhelpful as it creates a sense of expectation in which we make a judgement on ourselves. Life is not something you can predict, there is no manual or guide to where we should be and milestones are simply ideals we believe we must live by. This pressure of expectations in our lives can only set us up for disappointment and furthermore, self punishment. Why would we put predictions on something we simply can’t predict. Yes, the past happened, but that doesn’t mean it writes our future.
Comparing what others are doing to what ourselves are doing is just as destructive. Your mind will only filter what it wants to see, for example, we will get fixated upon the things others are doing which we are not. “She has a brilliant job and is earning money whereas, I’m doing nothing and living off the government.” This is how I may interpret others’ lives in comparison to mine in a bid of self punishment but this is how it might look from another perspective: “I’m working so hard in smashing my recovery to make my life better so I’ll be able to have a future.” That statement is personal and important to me; what others are doing is completely irrelevant to the life I live. We must also remember that what others portray isn’t always the real picture. See Give Your Feed a Deep Clean. We dictate our own lives and that is the only important thing we need to worry about.
Rewrite the present
We can’t control the things that happened in the past however, we have a choice in how to live in the present. Having a bad memory of my 21st doesn’t mean all my birthdays after that need to be an anniversary of the difficult time I was having. It is a brand new opportunity to create new memories and celebrate the person you are at present. Although I find it very difficult to accept the progression I have made during this past year, I will look back on my 22nd birthday and think “that is where my life really began to turn around.”