For a long time I thought anger and anxiety were bad things. Looking back I can see that this negative belief led to me losing sight of appropriate anger and I turned it into sadness. I didn’t understand my emotions, I didn’t know what to do when my body felt a particular way – it felt out of control. Bung puberty and hormones into the mix and my brain didn’t know what to do!
Feeling hot and sweaty, tense and alert with an increased breathing and heart rate etc. we are probably experiencing anger. To most people this is obvious but I didn’t used to understand this; these feelings felt dangerous and I would automatically feel sad and even tearful. I came to understand that tears are more likely to be comforted, angry outbursts were not appreciated by anyone! The numbness that resulted from pushing down my feelings and converting them into others became clinical depression – the anger, dealt with by self-harming. It is common for females to turn their anger inwards… “everything bad that happens is my fault”.
Through a lot of support and therapy I have developed a language to explain (at least to myself) how I feel, I can step back and consider the situation rather than letting my thoughts, emotions and behaviour run away without me!
It’s been a long journey but I can now see that a full range of emotions is ok and even good! I have learnt to recognise anger for what it is…
An appropriate emotion that says “this is important”.
It is appropriate to get angry when someone wrongs you, if you are blamed for something that isn’t your fault or if someone you love has been hurt. I used to think everything was my fault but now I recognise the feeling and I am now able to say “thank you anger, I recognise the importance of this and I want to respond with words” (not actions that will hurt). I have spent 16 months in a job that has damaged my health, I am rightfully angry about this and I am directing this at explaining to my ex-employees what has been going on and asking for an explanation, assertively, not aggressively or threateningly.
My weight has been a great source of anxiety. An appropriate worry/concern/anxiety about our weight is to feel concerned about the risk of heart disease or cancer if we eat too much, don’t exercise and are too heavy. This concern enables people to find the motivation to eat more healthily/eat less and move more. But (put very simplistically) I took this too far and equated weight with everything being ok or not ok! If, when I got on the scales, the number had increased, this was bad, this caused high anxiety and resulted in behaviours to ensure the number went down tomorrow.
The double whammy was that if the number went down, it hadn’t gone down enough so weight reduction behaviours followed anyway! I believed an increasing number, or a number that didn’t decrease enough meant that people would stare at me, everyone would think I was greedy, no-one would like me and I would generally fail at everything thing I tried. Of course, a life consumed by eating disordered behaviour is generally a cold and tired one with low confidence, poor concentration and low self-esteem so my fears of general isolation etc. were realised (not by my weight but by my beliefs about my weight).
Listening to my anxiety
I have a voice, a girl my age, who tries to protect me, she is called Ana (she represents anorexia). She has been so intense at times she has told me if I walk down certain aisles in the supermarket, I will put on weight. For a long time I just did as she said, I felt anxious and she provided answers to get rid of what I felt was the unbearable, dangerous anxiety. But I have learnt to recognise her, say “thank you”, take a deep breath (to consciously lower the anxiety) and consider the situation rationally. For example…
Day 1 – we choose pizza for dinner – Ana is not pleased, she raises my anxiety levels and tells me I am lazy and will get fat. I do not need to listen to her because pizza is ok once in a while.
Day 2 – we are late in from work, very tired and we choose pizza again. Ana gets angry, saying I am already fat and I’m useless, especially since I did not listen to her the first night. My anxiety rises, I even ask Steve if it’s ok that we’re having pizza again. I take a deep breath, calm the anxiety and decide on balance, pizza is ok.
Day 3 – we have a vet appointment after work and consider pizza again…Ana says “you shouldn’t have had it the 1st night, let alone the 2nd, a 3rd would be unforgivable, you will end up the size of a whale, you won’t get through the doorway and your life will be over…you’re lazy, greedy…” etc!
“Thanks Ana for trying to help me make healthy decisions but I do not need to blindly give in to you…”
Deep breath…do I need to feel this anxious?
“I’ve already eaten pizza for 2 nights therefore I cannot do anything about that…” there is no point in feeling anxious about that…
Deep breath…it is ok to be concerned about my health, it’s important,
“I could have pizza again, but it would probably be a good idea to eat something healthier tonight, a veggie chickpea salad will be just as quick and easy to prepare.”
(”and by the way, 1 more pizza would not make me too fat to fit through the doorway, it doesn’t matter how loudly you shout!”)
Thank you anger, thank you anxiety – you are not bad emotions, I do not need to fear you, I can listen to you, learn from you and respond appropriately and healthily.
I didn’t make it to the cinema but I can’t wait to see Inside Out when it comes out of DVD!