Anxiety: Coming to terms with your anxious vulnerabilities

Disclaimer: I would be talking about a leadership position which I was very privilege to attain in school. I hope this does not come across as boastful. I know I was very privileged and not many people got the same opportunity as me. However, I must explain to you that there was more to it than met the eye. Thank you loves xo

Some of you have come across my writing on my Eating Disorder which I have overcome, and my anxiety which haunted me as the aftermath of my ED. With my physical restoration, I no longer experienced intense palpitations and crippling fear. But what I want to talk about was that period of time when my anxiety was better, but not exactly over.

I had high-functioning anxiety. This was something I wouldn’t have been so open to honest declaration, because of the fact that people around me expect me to be a completely strong little chap that can summon the strength of three buffaloes to do what I want to do. I used to be rather ashamed of the fact that I was still being gripped by anxiety. Paint this mental image within your mind- I was the chairperson of a youth humanitarian society in school and my love for service and for humanity was all but hidden from sight. I had the reputation of undeniable passion and an incomparable inclination to service.

That’s the truth. But in my view there are always multiple layers, textures and nuances to one common truth. Throughout my term in the humanitarian society, there has not been a moment where I was able to evade even a slight hint of fear and hesitation. I still remember the time when I was running for chairperson of the society. I was TERRIFIED. At that time, I was still struggling along in my physical recovery from the Eating Disorder, albeit already in a much more secure place than before. My life at that period was a tug-of-war between (almost defeated) ED thoughts and my passion to change the world. While I so intensely longed for the chance to serve the poor, needy and vulnerable, the demon in my mind still jabbed at my brain and told me, “get your priorities right”.

Eventually, I overcame my ED (another story, you could refer to a separate blog post J). On Election day, I delivered (to me) the most genuine speech of my life and got elected as chairperson. When the result came out, I cannot even begin to describe how grateful and intensely humbled I felt.

You see, my election made me feel inexplicably empowered indeed- but with my appointment, fear only loomed larger. For the first time in my life, I was thrust into the realm of leadership which I had not ever dipped my toes into before. With utmost veracity, here I go:

When an appeal for volunteers for a charity event came out, I would hesitate for 10 minutes (What if I can’t perform? What if I don’t make a difference? What if what if?), and my mind would be sent into a miniature whirl. Then I would sign up for it.

When I knew that the board had to gather for a meeting to discuss something crucial, which I had to chair, I would be gripped my tension for 30 minutes, and my mind would be sent into a full-blown court-style dilemma. Then I would send out the notification.

When I had to make my way to the community service centre to help needy students every week, I would listen to uplifting music on the bus to stave off the excessive worries, stand outside the centre’s front door, take a few deep breaths, tell myself “MY WORK MATTERS TO THESE CHILDREN” and head right through the door with a bright smile and liveliness in my voice.

You see, fear did not spare me at all even through my term as chairperson. But could you detect another striking commonality between the three situations I described above? I never let fear define the course of my actions. In fact, I was out to oppose it every, single, time.

And just to clarify, when I say that I didn’t let fear define the course of my actions, I do NOT mean that I was able to completely chuck fear aside and not let it AFFECT me AT ALL. I’ve cried, gone quiet, and had to take multiple “bathroom breaks”. So you see my loves, when I say that I opposed my anxiety, I do not mean that I had this magical ability to jam it out of my consciousness entirely with the snap of my fingers and a moment’s go-against-your-fear-determination. But the very fact that I pushed my very physique out there into the unpredictable world no matter how I felt that morning or how I thought I looked that day or what I did before setting off to school or what I thought others would think of me or… this very fact shows that I have won. And when I was able to do that, no matter how hard my day went, I got the chance to experience the world in all its capriciousness, insane expectations but also, its limitless beauty.

This brings me to my next point. You do not need to conform to a series of expectations that are placed on you. Take me for an example. I was an introverted leader. I enjoyed speaking before my club, but there were so many times when I preferred to let my other board members take the lead. I loved my club and our work with all my heart (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever loved something so much in my whole life), but not every time I got the chance to verbalise it. Instead, I conveyed my deep love for my club through my actions. Every single time I went against my anxiety to deliver an entire English lesson to a needy child, every single time I held the hand of an elderly auntie or uncle and conversed with them despite anxious thoughts trying to bombard my brain cells, every single time I stood before my entire club to deliver a convincing, spontaneous appeal for volunteers for a charity event despite my anxiety telling me “WHAT IF!!!!!!! you look like a total mess in front of them right now!!!! WHAT IF!!!!!”. Every single time I did my best to ignore my anxiety and focus on my goal, my undying love for my club and the community revealed itself. I was a designated leader, yes, but not one who would be commanding and yelling 24/7. I was a leader who spoke yes, but more so through the powerful touch of the human hand.

You do not need to fit a certain mould. You are you, with your own history, struggles and vulnerabilities. These characteristics are highly individual, and if you are willing to see it, they are what make you so beautiful and unique. It doesn’t matter what anxieties you face today which nobody seems to know about (and which nobody seems to expect from you), it only matters that you work hard to ignore the voices in your head and believe that your struggles will only make you better, stronger and kinder.

So you see, often the most unlikely people have anxiety. You could be the biggest genius in the entire world and you would not know the kind of trials and tribulations another person is going through. Often, the biggest challenges a person would face are invisible, but ever so real.

I have grown to embrace my vulnerabilities. Yes, sometimes I do feel the undue pressure to be “strong” at all times, without an inkling of struggle. But today, I have learnt to redefine strength”. To be “strong” is to push forward despite fear and anxiety, and not without it.

In fact for all of you out there facing these problems, you may even find that you grow stronger because of your anxiety.

Human vulnerability is beautiful. It is also profoundly enchanting and very, very normal. But embracing it requires courage. It requires strength to accept our vulnerabilities as something that builds us up, and not as something that tears us down. The moment I embraced my vulnerabilities, I embraced my experiences with all their flaws and uncertainties.

I embraced life in all its glorious potential and possibility.

Lastly, to those who are struggling with anxiety, I appeal to you to never give up. Try this method: whenever the anxious voices come up, ignore them. Yes, ignore them. It sounds hard but it’s possible. Ignore them and do what you do as if they weren’t there. Ask yourself “what would I do if the thoughts never came?” and do it despite the anxious thoughts.

Keep hoping, keep doing, and keep loving. You are already such a strong person, living with anxiety. Keep believing, and things will get better, you will get stronger. I promise.

My Eating Disorder

I am a survivor of an Eating Disorder (ED). And I’ve learnt so much which I hope more people will be educated about. I’ve written my ED story several weeks ago and I’ve only recently plucked up the courage to post it. So I decided to take the leap of faith and broadcast it here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s so hard for me to post this; it’s been in cold storage for weeks. But if I help someone then it’s worth it.

Much love to everyone who’s suffering, seeking to gain for insight or just passing by. You’re amazing xoxo

Celeste

My Eating Disorder

Everyone has a story. But not everyone realises that.

Despite bumping around as an awkward teen, I was blessed with a reasonable first two years of high school life. After those two years, however, I began to change. When I was 14, “diet talk” started to seep into my consciousness.

It started off so innocuously. I often said to my friends, “I think I need to go on a diet”, words that were commonplace in our thinness-oriented world. So I thought, there was nothing exceptionally harmful about wanting to be slimmer, right? I still ate, because I loved food too much and did not have the ability to count calories, so I was fine, right? Wasn’t it healthy to be mindful of what I ate?

When I turned 15, my personality took an unexpected turn. Previously a bubbly, passionate girl, I noticed myself drawing back. Hanging out with friends felt more like an obligation than a respite, and I started to compare myself with other girls- a lot. As all these shifts took place, it did not occur to me that I had gained an evil soulmate named Ana.

As a 15 year old, dieting ideals had become so entrenched into my subconscious, I was not even fully aware of them. This gave Ana the chance to tear me up from the inside. Oftentimes, the most subtle means of destruction turn out to be the most devastating. I remember being obsessed with comparison to other girls. After a period of time, I began to take to the scale- something I never thought I would ever be bothered with. I weighed myself periodically, hoping, praying that the scale would show me what my heart desired. As I previously mentioned, I was a food lover, and I was well-known for my hearty appetite. So even though the weighing scale became my bible, I still ate, because I just couldn’t help it. Because I was still eating, Ana told me that I was a worthless waste of space. Ana would hold my hand and remind me, that because I was still eating, I had to try to restrict myself. I had to exercise self-restraint.

Never would I have known that subscribing to Ana’s plans would force me to sacrifice any ounce of control I had over myself.

When I believed that Ana had my best interests at heart, it was too late. I was trapped within her cruel dictations. I was bound by the fear, starvation and isolation that she inflicted upon me.

Looking back on my life as a 15-16 year old, I will never forget the pain and self-hate I subjected myself to, because they are just too vivid and terrifying to be forgotten. As a 16 year old, I had dropped xx pounds on the scale, but Ana would not stop. She refused to say “enough”, but instead, she whipped me into a vicious cycle of eating, crying, not eating, feeling faint, desperately wanting food, eating, crying, not eating, crying again…

This is not the kind of life befitting of any human being. Apart from losing xx pounds, I also lost all my friends (I became severely isolated socially), my outlook on life and my greatest childhood passion- service to others. I had been an avid volunteer at volunteer and welfare organisations (VWOs) before Ana’s arrival. I derived joy from giving and helping people. When Ana, she snatched all this empathy away from me. One day, in the depths of my disorder, when I realised I had not been doing community service for a weirdly long time, I tried to research about an association for the blind where I used to help out at. I scrolled through the volunteer webpage. Then the most frightening sensation of all struck me- nothing. I was an empty shell. At that moment, I became so confused, I tried to force myself to feel empathy, to feel just anything at all, but not a single feeling could be generated. Ana had ripped my passion and all possible feelings from my heart, broken it through my ribs and tore it out of my soul. At that moment, I cried. I cried every day because of Ana, but this time I cried much more.

I cried so hard, but Ana was not a Good Samaritan. She lived off my cries, like a sadistic abusive partner.

In 2014, as a 16 year old, I had hit rock bottom. Never in my whole life had I felt so despondent, so hopeless, so alone. Ana had promised me happiness in thinness, but all she gave me was self-destruction. As a 16 year old, instead of hanging out with friends, I would hide in my house and pretend I had “something on”. I lost all interest in boys. My heart would palpitate so hard whenever I had to meet someone, it was debilitating. (Social Anxiety came with my ED) When I absolutely had no choice but to meet someone for lunch one day, I desperately Googled the calories in the food they offered at the café and planned my order a week in advance. At home, I secretly weighed out all my food including rice and tomatoes. I remember feeling so downright exhausted every morning when I woke up because every new day meant nothing for me. The only thing it signalled was another laborious day of fretting, eating then crying, starving and counting.  Yes, my friends, this was how I lived my life for a very long time. The only thing Ana helped me achieve was to waste away in hell.

At the end of 2014, I came across a Tumblr page, Let’s Recover, founded my an Anorexia survivor Amalie Lee who dedicates a large part of her life today educating, informing and inspiring. This webpage changed my life forever. On Let’s Recover, I found out about the most ground-breaking idea I have ever heard of (at that time) – that fat is not unhealthy. I read about the beauty of our bodies in internal regulation such that no matter what we ate, it would fight to maintain our weights about an optimal set point unique to EACH body on this planet. No one body is the same. Likewise, there is NO such thing as a “healthy” weight. You can be xxx (insert any number here) pounds and healthy. Reading all these articles which are, by the way, grounded in science (whereas a bullshit indicator BMI is NOT), was a magical experience. Remember, my friends, fat is not unhealthy. Please get rid of the mind-set which society has programmed you to adopt. Fat is beautiful.

Please don’t get me wrong, my life did not change immediately after reading those blog posts. There is no “ED recovery fairy tale” (i.e. girl eats more with the support of her family, cries occasionally, but after some time comfortably settles at her weight, and she officially recovers and feels awesome blah blah blah). Recovery hurts like a bitch. But that’s what makes it worth doing. Challenging your mental demons can make you feel like breaking down, but if you pull yourself back up again and FORCE yourself to move FORWARD (i.e., gaining weight, body positivity etc) and NEVER lose hope, you have won.

They say that you are never the same person you were before you walked into the storm, and with this statement I can concur. I am evidently a vastly different human being compared to the crazy little girl at the age of 13 or 14. After conquering my ED, I have become a thinker. I daydream more often, and think about the meaning behind what people do. But more significantly, I love myself today. I have apologised to my body for beating it up, but thank it profusely for never letting me go, for persevering until I decided to let Ana go. Today, my body is as strong as ever, and I thank it for preserving this life which I once thought was not worth living.

As morbid as it sounds, I am grateful for this challenge that I was presented with. This episode that broke me down also helped me acquire, albeit very painfully, pieces of enlightening wisdom. Eating disorders, I have learnt, comes in all sizes. EDs do not discriminate. When I was at a “normal weight” (as dictated by the very inaccurate BMI), my abnormal behaviour was perceived as that of a teenage girl making steps to a healthier lifestyle. It was only when things began spiralling out of control, when people became convinced of a serious problem. Why do people need convincing? Does understanding, help and extra sensitivity really need justification? My ED took root when I was at a “healthy weight”. Ana took advantage of the stereotypes surrounding EDs to consume me from the inside.

Most of all, I have learnt of the widespread discrimination that does not derive as much attention as it should. That is fat phobia. I am a slim girl and I know it. Privilege is being able to write a long story about your experience because you can be sure more people will applaud you for your courage than not. Many fat girls, on the other hand, are being mocked and derided, including those who have recovered from, or are recovering from an ED. So as a girl with a body deemed acceptable by society, I need to be constantly aware of the fact that the people truly bearing the brunt of society’s “body ideals” are the people who are actually fat, and not those who think they are.

Life is still bumpy today. I face challenges, and I am in the process of gaining back the remnants of confidence I need to face the world. However, I know I have a strong mental foundation grounded in my unconditional self-love and unshakeable purpose. I want to empathise with more people and to dedicate a part of my life to changing what society understands about health and beauty. People of fat bodies, thin bodies, all skin colours, all heights, all ethnicities, with disabilities etc… are ALL immeasurably beautiful, society just needs to be prepared to see that beauty.

As a survivor of Anorexia, I can tell you with conviction in my heart that life is worth living after all. And to all the people struggling with EDs or who feel driven to hate themselves in silence, I am here for you. Never give up.