Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Body Image and ED-From an autistic perspective

Last night I participated in a Twitter chat about eating disorders, body image issues, and how they affect me as an autistic woman. I didn't find Twitter to be as accommodating to my long winded style of writing as I'd have liked. I thought that maybe it might be a good idea to do a blog entry on this topic, as it does seem to be a popular one that needs addressed.

After the chat I had so many thoughts swirling around in my brain. I am not sure how to organize them here to share without this entry turning into a small novel! The questions, and answers brought forth memories long forgotten. There is something about looking back on certain things in one's life as an older adult, and having a different POV, and appreciation of things that only time, and maturity can facilitate. Some things shifted into place, while others still remain tangled within my odd personality of contradictions.

As a young child I do recall not having a very positive relationship with food. How much this contributed to my body image issues, I don't know. I know it didn't help. I was always a very thin, underweight kid. There were always more interesting things for me to do than eat. I don't think I find the same enjoyment out of eating as other people do. Most of the time I would eat just enough to make the annoying hungry feeling go away, but not enough to be very full.

I had a certain way I would eat, as well. Things on my plate could not be touching, and certain textures were not okay with me. I would eat only one thing on my plate at a time.

I don't think I can stress this enough to any, and all parents
of "picky eaters"; do not force them to eat foods they don't want to eat. There needs to be a sacred understanding that a person (young or old) has the absolute right to decide what goes into their body. Trying to override that personal right is so damaging that there are few things I can think of that are worse. Eating is a very intense experience with all of the flavors, and textures. No one has the right to force this experience onto others. It's a very private thing, our sensory world. It's different for everyone. When we take away a child's right to navigate theirs safely it can sometimes cause serious anxiety problems later on. I know this from experience. There's a million different ways to make sure your child is getting their nutritional needs met, but making them eat food they dislike is not a good one.

As I grew older I became aware that looks seem to matter quite a lot in the world. As a matter of fact, I became quite convinced that if I looked perfect I'd be better liked. Maybe this came from the bullying in school, or the emotional abuse from my family, I don't know. There is no one thing that I can pinpoint that caused me to begin to hate myself, and all that I was from the inside out. All I know is that I recall feeling very unliked. I felt like nothing I did was right, and that I was a huge misfit.

This is probably what was the beginning of my lifelong battle of depression. It started when I was quite young, and kept going for years undetected by anyone. As the gap between myself, and my peers grew I became more, and more unsure of myself. I had no self confidence. I didn't like myself, and it seemed that I often got the reflection back from others that they didn't either. I just kinda turned all of my pain inward.

These distortions of my size, and shape often influences my eating behaviors. They would come, and go in severity. Popping up in response to anxiety. Or if I failed to do something correctly I would/do often feel like I don't deserve to eat, because I am a bad person.

My self-image is a mystery to me. I don't really know what I look like to others. In the same way that I am face blind with other people, I find that I am to myself, as well. This unstable self-image causes me great anxiety. Not in the way of personality. I find that who I am, what I like, and my code of ethics have always been very strong, even in the face of adversity. This part of my self-image has, and still is unshakeable. My appearance is a whole different story.

When I was a in my late teens I learned a technique in therapy that changed the way I dealt with my emotions. Of course, it took me years to become proficient at it, but it pushed me along in my journey toward a better life, one more emotionally sound. I'm not sure what it is called, but it was a technique to label emotions. It was taught along with some mindfulness techniques, and relaxation exercises.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't easy. It was actually very, very hard. At first I found it impossible. I didn't feel anything! Or, I'd say I felt angry, because the counselors obviously made me angry, and I was! I had meltdowns, and I even knocked over a chair, and swore at them. Trying to learn how to identify my emotional state was incredibly difficult for me.

But with practice it did get better.

Then, inevitably I'd find myself in another rut, or another therapists office a few years later. I'd grab a few new techniques to build onto the old ones. I'd get books about mindfulness, and CBT. I'd learn about psychology, because it IS one of my special interests, anyway. I'd try different things, and toss what didn't work.

One thing in particular that did not work was any kind of group therapy. I loathe group therapy. I don't like talking in front of a lot of people, and I especially don't like making my private life public like that. I am not terribly social, so I don't need a lot of the fluff that happens in group therapy sessions. Some people do, and that's okay. I just don't.

On the same token, I really don't find talk therapy very helpful, either. I always found that I had different views on what to do, and that I knew myself better than anyone. What worked best for me was teaching some new techniques, and coping skills, and letting me apply them on my own.A strict program of this or that never has worked. I adapted each technique to meet my needs, and to work for me. I found that long therapy sessions just annoyed me as the therapists always had an agenda that wouldn't, or didn't work for me. I am just someone who does best with some direction, and not in need of someone else to set the structure for things. I'm very independent.

This is not to say that today I am free of all of my disordered thinking. I think that for myself, this road to recovery is never ending. I don't mean that to sound discouraging. I am so much happier now, than I used to be when I was young. I just mean that I still have to remember to apply the self-help techniques when my anxiety is raised, or negative self talk comes around. When my triggers are pushed I still fall backward at times. Sometimes this event will be 5 minutes, or 5 days. There has been quite a lot of trauma in life. I used to think that I would be able to fully recover from it all. I thought that I could find a place for it, and put it away for good, and that is what healing is. Recently I have realized that sometimes healing is learning to successfully manage your demons, but all the while accepting them as they are.

So, that is my story. Demons and all.

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