when I am…

photo credit: Shari and Mike Photography

Warning, by Jenny Joseph (1932-2018)

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

 

Another inspiring writing prompt from my monthly subscription package – but perhaps not in the way that was intended.

The prompt is to take the gist of the poem above and talk about “some point in the future that holds a lot of energy for you” and think about what it would mean to you.

Your prompt: When I am _______ I shall…

For me, as soon as I read that line I thought of the countless promises I’ve made to myself regarding my weight.

When I am thin, not overweight (pick your poison), I shall be….what? Better? Happier?

Weight has been a thing for me since grade six. That’s a whole lot of times stepping on a scale, a whole lot of times when I made and broke promises to myself.

My heaviest was when my father in law died in 2009. The lightest adult weight I’ve been was in 1994 – after I was overly successful at weight loss and went far below ‘my goal weight’. Equally unhealthy.

You might say, I’ve lived a life where I have over loved food and under loved myself. Or you could say that I have had an unhealthy relationship with food. I’d say it’s been more complicated than I imagined.

My mother used to call me when I came home from school and ask how my day went. Often the answer was not well. As mothers do, she wanted to make it all better and she would send me off to engage with two of my favourite activities: eating cookies with milk and reading a book. (I am not mother blaming here; I put on my grown up girl pants everyday and have full agency over what goes in my mouth.)

I did not associate food with comfort then. But somewhere along the line, I did. Maybe comfort isn’t the right word – maybe escape?

In my life, I’ve read hundreds of books and eaten hundreds more cookies.

When I was diagnosed with celiac, in 2016, I felt confident that the restrictions on what I could eat would be a way to help me gain that illusive self-control when it came to food.

For a while, it did. But I missed what food, especially comfort foods like cookies, brought to my life – that feeling of escape. When the going gets tough, I turned to food.

What I’ve since accepted: it wasn’t about what was going in my mouth, but it was why.

Writing has helped. A lot. It is a new way to deal with stress and anxiety. It is a good way to confront the why.

Writing is a good pairing with meditation. And reading about other people’s struggles with life – and body image – has been amazing. Roxane Gay’s Hunger has been helpful in getting a clearer view on my relationship with food in the context of abuse.

As I started to think about writing this post, I considered who has a great relationship with food and realized that would be my children. And my hubby.

They all love food, but they don’t love it in an unhealthy way. And that made me realize, I haven’t been in love with food. I have loved the anesthetic it has provided.

***

Recently, I started physiotherapy due to knee pain. The therapist is around my age and is wonderful at putting the responsibility for my care in my hands. It’s been a very empowering feeling. I have to decide if I want to be able to access those very necessary joints in my lower limbs; it’s not up to her. This was not stated to me in some sort of shaming way; it is a fact that I have to want to do the exercises for the gains it will achieve.

When I make my short walk home from the GO train, music playing in my ears, I know that I miss long distance walking and so, physio exercises are an easy priority.

Yesterday, we went to a great gluten-free bakery and got some (very expensive, very tasty) bread. When I taste a good, squishy bread, I know that having a true love affair with food is possible. One where I am engaging with the tastes, not the momentary disconnect from whatever negative feeling I am having.

I mean, this is really good bread.

Lately, I have been making note of when I want to grab food that I shouldn’t, that I don’t need, that will mentally and physically weigh me down.

Boredom is the number one culprit. Anxiety is now second.

That is a very big shift in my mental health.

I can deal with boredom – the second part of my mother’s cure for a bad day is reading and that is truly a wonderful thing to exchange for cookies and milk. Those long walks, a good movie, all good remedies.

Having anxiety fall to second place as a reason to eat, well, that’s a good thing. I’ve enriched, enhanced and broadened my meditation practice. I’ve engaged in some good old deep breathing in public places and elevators. Learning to watch emotions and thoughts drift down a river of calm, acknowledging them but not engaging with them (mostly), is a beautiful feeling of success.

***

Another big shift over the past few years is about weight versus health. It’s a tough habit to break, focusing on weight. When my doctor stopped weighing me a few years ago, I slowly began to think about what that had meant – the number on that scale – in my way of judging me.

Success vs failure. Weak vs strong. Good vs bad.

***

I went back to university at 51, in anthropology (“the degree that makes you question everything”) which is proof positive that it’s never to late to change one’s thought patterns.

I’ve always said my biggest takeaway from university was the knowledge that I can do it, whatever that it is. 

There are two parts to being able to be successful here: prioritizing oneself and being able to ask for help. That’s another thing that university taught me – the journey is so much easier when you let others walk with you.

***

My answer to the prompt?

when I am ready to love myself enough to do the work, I will do the work. 

I’m ready.

when I am unable, I will ask for help.

I’ll let you know.

 

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