A Surprise In The Mirror – Anorexia Recovery And A Huge Step Forward

My journal entry for December the first, 2018

Today I looked myself in the eye, I paused and looked at my face, and I looked well.

Breathe – I look well.

This was a very special experience for me. When my eating disorder ruled my life I loved feeling my bones. Rightly or wrongly I got joy from doing so, it was as if I was touching my essence. But to do so I was killing me, harming me, putting my life at risk of serious injury, illness and death. I wasn’t in denial. I knew that I was doing so, and I didn’t care.

Today I had a sober day in my eating practice. I had three meals and three snacks. Other than the occasional over-eating I have followed my meal plan for three months now.

And today, I looked myself in the eye and I looked well. I CAN lovingly nurture my body and look and feel well – even if I’m not happy with my weight gain.

This morning I dropped off my 30 inch waist jeans at a charity collection point. I would love to keep them. I still want to fit into them again, but not as much as I want photography, travel and study. I cannot keep one foot in anorexia and one in recovery. I am not willing to let go of my passion, photography is of more value to me than chasing the impossible, unobtainable anorexic goal post of the ever decreasing number.

Responding To A Theme

Self Hatred – Self Love

Disclaimer: This article covers sensitive subjects, including a photograph of the act of self harm, which may not be suitable for certain audiences.

Self-Hatred-and-Self-Love

The theme of self-hatred and self-love felt like a natural progression from exercise 4.12 Presence/Absence (here). Self-hatred was a prominent aspect of my life for many years. With lots of practice and the development of new skills, self-love and self-care have become important actions in my life. 

My initial plan was to create three photos which represent self-hatred and a further three for self-love, and to display them on opposing sides of a cube, as if they were a dice. Often it has felt like pot luck as to how I feel about myself.

My initial idea developed after speaking with a friend, and I opted to use a Rubik’s Cube. The self is not dualistic, different traits are apparent sometimes, and we can have many elements present at the same time. Using a Rubik’s Cube, and moving the images so that they mix with each other, would highlight the spectrum of love and hate. Moving the cube would provide a dynamic interaction between the photos and the representation of self-harm and self-care. Sticking the photos to the cube was almost impossible with super glue and PVA, which made the Rubik’s Cube unworkable. Because of this I stuck with the original cube idea. Presenting the photos in grid format (above), with space around each photo, was an idea developed because of the feedback of OCA photography student Andrew (Andy’s Blog). I have been able to move towards self-care and love by allowing my self-hatred to be surrounded by the love of the universe. Allowing it to exist in the vastness of space has meant it can be loved and nurtured. 

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Although my assignments are presented on-line, I wanted to feel and interact with my photos. Too often they are left on my hard drive, and I want more than that with my photography. Art is nebulous, sometimes flowing and at others grating. I want my art to be more than a visual and mental act.

I also wanted to over-sew two photo’s in the style of Gerhard Richter’s over-painting. Mixed media art has become important to me, and I am eager to experiment.

I’m quite disgusted with the photo of myself. I struggle to look at any image of myself, so I chose the worst photo and with poor image quality, and I then stitched over the top. It’s a tricky process and overall I’m not impressed with the results, but I do like the lips, and the white dots from where each stitch manipulated the photo paper. The needlework looks like medical stitches, and I’ve previously had many self-inflicted injuries sewn up in A and E, the correlation worked well. However, over-sewing a photo was awkward. If stitches were too close the paper would tear, which meant I couldn’t produce the fine work that I wanted to produce. I chose not to apply this technique to a second photo because it’s too cumbersome. However, I am going to practice this in future. There is a saying that shame is about who I am, guilt is about who I am. The colours of the over stitching are about shame and guilt. The guilt is represented by red thread, I’m a guilty sinner who requires a blood sacrifice for salvation. The purple and black represent shame. They are dark colours, heavy, dreary and dirty.

I chose to create the photo of the cross with blood because it has religious symbolism, which reflects the shame I have experienced just for existing. The shame that springs from my childhood experiences was exacerbated by the religious upbringing I had. I could never live up to the expectations of those in religious power, nor of the scriptures. Apparently I am a sinner, and not only are my actions sinful, but so are my thoughts. I’ve paid for my sin’s in blood.

Self-harming has not been an easy or enjoyable behaviour for this assignment. But as it was a daily behaviour for many years I felt it was a justifiable action to take even though I hadn’t self harmed in over two years. I used to cut derogatory words into my legs, and I chose the words “fat cunt” because there are times that I internally call myself this. It’s hard having an eating disorder, and it’s correlation with body-dismorphia it’s obvious within me. However painful these thoughts are, I am proud of the changes that I am currently making. I often find I am in a place of nurturing myself in response to a cruel inner monologue.  On the whole the self harming for this assignment has been a positive experience. It has affirmed that I’m no longer in a place of self-hatred, and I was able to naturally practice self-care for a couple of days afterwards.

Producing photography that involved the act, and results of self harm is pushing the boundaries of what is graphically acceptable. Because of this I have posted trigger warnings on my blog a few hours prior to posting any images. The truth is self-harm is a part of my history, and I am a visual artist who uses photography to explore and express myself. Personally I believe that my photography has been authentic, as tasteful as possible for the content,  and I have presented it within an appropriate context.

My self-love photo’s included macro photography, the side of my bath, and a card that I wrote to myself.  Macro photography is pure enjoyment and a spiritual connection for me. My bath has many fossils, rocks and minerals, and I always have a multitude of shower gels. Having difficulties with body image has made it necessary to have a safe bathing space. I regularly write myself texts telling me that I love myself.

Love is not a feeling, it’s an action, and I need to practice loving kindness towards myself on a daily basis. I cannot afford to wait until I feel better about myself in order to take affirmative action. I have to act my way into feeling better about myself.

The lighting was a combination of daylight and incandescent. I opted for the ambience provided by natural daylight, and I didn’t feel that it was necessary to use flash or additional light sources for this assignment. However, I changed the white balance on the photos of the bath and the card to add some warmth.

My execution of this assignment has, at times, been emotionally challenging and also rewarding. I feel excited about the use of the cube and the over-sewing. It’s wonderful to push myself, to learn new techniques and experiment, and to play with physical photos.

The biggest joy has been the realisation that I love myself, I may not like how I look, but hey, progress is progress.

Photography is so much fun, and it has helped me to take care of myself, to connect with Goddess, and it has improved how I feel about myself. It’s hard to convey the extent of how photography has changed my life.

The Individual Photos

Self Hate

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Self Love

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The contact sheets can be seen here

Rubik’s Cube Update

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Following feedback from OCA Foundations in Photography student Jonathan Kiernan (here), I made a second attempt with the Rubik’s Cube. This time I cut the photos into cubes prior to sticking them onto the cube, and tried to stick them into place by using double-sided tape. This technique was better, however, cutting the tape was a nightmare as the tape kept sticking to the scissors. Making use of a five by five cube meant the photos were divided two small to be neat, and didn’t provide a large enough surface area for the tape to stick the photo’s. The solution would be to use a larger Rubik’s Cube which is also only three by three. I think the best technique to glue the photo’s to the cube would be to use PVA on the cube and photo as a surface primer, and then to make use of super glue as the adhesive.

 

I always welcome constructive feedback and critique. Please feel free to comment and explain either what you like or don’t like, and why. 

 

 

 

 

My Anorexia Recovery Update

The ups and downs of anorexia recovery

The ups
Eating public is highly uncomfortable, I don’t like doing it. But it was time for my snack. I reminded myself that if anyone notices they just see a person eating. For many people this is so normal they wouldn’t even notice. If they had noticed they wouldn’t see an anorexic eating, they would just see a guy eating. Do I identify myself too much as an anorexic, rather than a person with a mental illness? The seagull was the only one who noticed.

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Two hours later and I’m now in a cafe and am about to have two chicken salad sandwiches. My meal plan for today is two ciabattas with jam, but I can’t get that in a cafe. I took advice from somebody who is further along in their recovery than I am. As chicken is on my plan (day 5) then I can have the chicken, I’m used to it, and it means that I’m not introducing a new food unplanned. New foods are tricky and are best eaten at home. It feels like everyone is staring at me.

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The downs
I purged on Wednesday. It’s irrelevant how I purged, but I did. That’s a relapse. It left me feeling distant from the people who love me and my support network. Purging brought up feelings of shame, guilt and worthlessness. I felt useless and had thoughts of not attending my self-help group. Addictive behaviour makes my world smaller, and hand on heart 💓, I deserve better.

The love
Despite fearing rejection I got honest. I told people that I have built trust with, my long-term friends, and I also shared about it in a self help group that I attend. I was treated with love, gentleness, kindness and understanding. People called me after the meeting and helped me to explore why I did it.

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The why
I have so many thoughts about food, about bingeing, about starving myself. Its obsessive, it dirsturbs me. I hate those thoughts. The way that I purged isnt important. It takes those crazy food thoughts away from me and brings some relief. But it also puts me at risk in so many ways. My paranoia and anxiety increase.

The solution
Shopping is a trigger for me. I need to stop walking around shops just to be around food. I need to either shop online or just shop at the co-op. I know where everything is in the co-op so I can go in with a list and shop quickly. As shopping is a trigger I could message a friend before hand so that I can remain accountable, and to have someone else that cares about me aware of my discomfort.

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I also need to be patient, loving, kind and gentle with myself. Recovery is a process – it’s not an instant fix. Some days I will struggle, and some times my thinking will drive me mad. I’m going to have to learn to sit in discomfort. Many of my peers in the self help group have been recovered for years. I can’t force myself to be at their stage. I need to give myself permission to be where I am, and to keep moving forward. Hope will help me with this. Knowing that others have been through this and come out of the otherwise is inspiring.
Richard, I love you. Richard, eating is the loving thing to do. You’re so worth it.

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The last half of the sandwich was so hard to eat. It looks to much for me. But my therapist, nutritionist says this is the right amount for now.

UK Based Eating Disorder Charities

BEAT

Men Get Eating Disorders Too

Men and Boys Get Eating And Exercise Disorders Scotland

International Eating Disorder Charities

United States

NEDA

Canada

NEDIC

India

The Minds Foundation

Australia

NEDC

Peer Support groups

Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous

Smart Recovery

Over-Eaters Anonymous

Eating Disorders Anonymous

Two vlogersI have found useful who are in recovery or recovered

Megsy recovery

Tabitha Farrar

Exercise 3.10 – A Formal Portrait – Planning – Self Portrait -Gender – Identity

Self-portrait-2

This is a scary one for me because I am going to need to make this a self-portrait. As you are aware I do not have anyone that I can work with on this, and although I had initially considered working with one or two people who I know who are homeless, my mental health currently leaves me unable to approach people.

I have anxiety about revealing myself, so I am going to build upon my tutors feedback with regard to assignment two. She suggested that I explore identity by making portraits of people and by using masks where possible.

The brief is quite specific about what a formal portrait is, and I am choosing to break away from it a little, otherwise I will not be able to complete the exercise. I hate my face right now, so I cannot create a formal portrait of myself in which my face is revealed, it wouldn’t help my mental health.

So I am going to create a multi layered approach that will include the use of masks, clothing, and current books and camera, to explore questions around gender identity along with practice representations of my current lifestyle. The use of masks will mean that I am breaking away from the brief and also respecting my needs with regard to keeping my mental wellbeing as well as I can.

The photos in this post are self portraits that I have taken in a manner that I can cope with sharing with others.

Richard Keys

Mental Health Awareness Month

Just because I don’t live in the US doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t nurture myself.

Everyday provides the opportunity to do something that demonstrates kindness and compassion towards myself. How easy it is to demonstrate those qualities towards others, and how challenging to practice self care.

I brought some flowers yesterday as a prop for a photography exercise. They were good enough for the photo shoot as they were laying flat, but they were too limp for a vase.

When I meditated this morning I decided to buy myself a bunch of flowers, however why buy one bunch when you can treat yourself to two.

Neither bunch had the right colour balance on their own, and that’s the reason for getting them both.

When I write my gratitude list tonight it will include – I am grateful that I treated myself kindly today.

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Blogger Appreciation Award – Mental Well-Being With A Mental Illness

Blogger Appreciation Award

I have just received the blogger appreciation award from  Nash Christmas (link).

Nash is an author who believes in self expression, and he writes about all things human but especially relationships. He is a Serbian national who writes his blog in English.

guidelines for the Blogger Appreciation Award

1.Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link back to their site.
2.Write a paragraph of something positive about yourself.
3.Nominate and notify as many bloggers as you wish.
4.Use the Blogger Appreciation Award image.

Something Positive About Me.

What is mental health?

Often when people think about mental health they think of mental illness rather than being mentally healthy. My slant for today is that it is possible to have a mental illness and still be in good shape mentally.

I am diagnosed with several mental illnesses, and life has certainly had its ups, downs and hospital admissions. However, I do my best to live a lifestyle that is positive for my mental well-being.

Mediation and trying to live mindfully are the mainstay of my health. I meditate for an hour each day. Living mindfully takes a while to get used to. Mindfullness – paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgementally. This way of life is teaching me to just let circumstances be. Allow my feelings and thoughts to be there, without trying to chase them away with distractions, behaviours or addictions. Whats the worst that can happen if I’m feeling paranoid, having a panic attack, feeling depressed? The only way it can affect me is that I don’t like how I feel, or what I am thinking, and that I feel disturbed.

There are times that I sit watching a movie with my hand resting on my heart, this releases oxytocin, which has two effects, it’s a happy hormone, and it lowers the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin. I write five things down in my gratitude diary, things that have happened or that I have achieved during the day. It may be as simple as having hoovered my flat, spoken to a friend, or completed a bit if study. Making sure that I have breaks, and rest are important to me, as is being involved in my community. My community is my friends, my fellow students, and fellow bloggers. Giving back is also a vital component of my life. Giving back doesn’t have to be a big demonstration, holding a door open for someone, speaking to a homeless person, commenting upon someones blog, these create a sense of value and belonging.

Having a mental illness and being mentally well is not an either/or situation.

The bloggers who I am nominating are.

Jade from Crescent Raven

M A R I A

misschauhan from Shoot Me With A Camera

Cinnamon Buns and Roses

Old Boy from Movies From the Silent Era