Sometime last autumn the wheels came off and I found myself sinking into depression once again. Not being a stranger to the way its tendrils grip me and start to pull me under, I went straight to the Doctor’s once I realised what all the symptoms were pointing to. I’m glad I did. Back on medication, life and clarity returned and I am grateful that I had the good sense to stand back and look at what was happening to me. Anxiety and burnout were the triggers and although I have made an effort to be better at resting, I still haven’t successfully dealt with my anxiety. Depression affects the way I think about things. My usually positive and open-minded approach gradually declines into a place of negativity. Instead of responding to situations I react to them, adopting a ‘slash and burn’ approach to coping. It’s not helpful.
One of the things that I have been getting increasingly more anxious about is my weight. While the diet industry would like you to believe that all your problems will be solved when you reach your perfect weight (with the help of their programme), I can categorically tell you that most of the problems that you have when you’re a size 26 will still be there when you’re a size 12. For people like me, food becomes a way to deal with the pain; to smother it as we fill the gaping holes in our soul with things that really aren’t designed to fill it. Let’s be honest, although we may think it might, eating an entire multipack bag of crisps is not going to do a single thing to address the pain you feel about being unemployed. Believe me, I have conducted extensive tests into this and can confirm that no lasting benefit was received. As well as not having a job, you’re now even more unhappy, probably guilt-ridden and going to end up even fatter than you were. There is not a food that can get rid of emptiness, despondency, pain, grief, despair or any other emotion you’re feeling. True, a nice big cream cake will probably be very delicious, but all it’s going to do is make you feel temporarily more alert as the sugar courses through your blood. The only way to start to deal with the emotions is to stop using food to mask them so that you can know what it truly is that’s affecting you. It’s a hard thing to do, I know, because I’ve done it. I also know that looking at the knotted mess of yourself is not a pretty sight and I don’t think there’s a quick fix.
It’s probably taken me the best part of 15 years to get to where I am now. For many years nothing external happened, but gradually I managed to unpick a few strands and understand the hurts in my formative years that were causing the distorted view of myself. For a decade there were times when I had my food issues under control and times when they raged like wildfire. Food was a daily battle that I fought and that I still fight to this day. I could never tell anyone that food issues go away entirely, I think you just get better at managing yourself.
When I am fit and healthy and not under too much stress, my relationship with food is at its best. When I get anxious, stressed or start to feel under the weather, the fragile peace is disturbed and ‘incidents’ become more frequent. I have to accept that there will be a point in any given month when I find myself bingeing. I can’t explain to you what sets me off, but something/someone will and it happens. I pick myself up, dust myself off and try not to dwell on it. Any increase in that frequency and I know I’m heading for trouble. Having been eighteen and a half stone at one point in my life, to find my weight drifting upwards is to induce a sense of terror that all my hard work has been for naught and I’m heading back up there again.
By last autumn, my relationship with food was in a bad place and my relationship with God was in a bad place as well. I am grateful that experience has taught me that anti-depressants work and can restore a much needed sense of order while you tackle the wildfire that’s broken out in your life. I chose to deal with my spiritual worries first, by allowing myself to ‘drift’. I stopped my daily Bible reading, read only what I felt drawn to (if at all) and investigated other spiritual paths, to discover if I was still on the right one.
By early December, the medication was working and my thought processes were clearing. After thinking about how best to tackle my food, I decided that I would go back to what I know worked and I returned to doing Cambridge Weight Plan. I don’t have very much to lose but as soon as I hit my stride I realised that I’d forgotten something very important about the way I thrive.
It’s ‘boundaries.’ The reason why Cambridge Weight Plan works for me is that it’s very defined. There’s the plan, you follow it and the weight comes off. There is no ‘wiggle room,’ there are no grey areas. It’s the same with work. If I set good boundaries, then I don’t end up too tired, too stressed and causing myself problems. Spiritually, God sets boundaries and within them there is the freedom to live without worrying that I’m going to end up in some ecclesiastical ditch. But the key was did I still want to live within his boundaries when some of them were causing me issues? After an awful lot of thinking and looking at it from various angles, I reached an observation. The boundaries were indeed causing me issues and I no longer wanted to live within them. That was because I’d drawn them, not God. Of course it wasn’t going to work.
Christianity is a relationship, not a religion and my relationship with God is not the same as yours because I’m me, you’re you and God isn’t in the business of making robots. All of us have our particular strengths, weaknesses, talents, gifts and completely baffling bits, so it stands to reason that we’re all going to start from different places. There are no starting blocks in Christianity. We are where we are and God meets us right there. Neither is God a neatly defined, easily understandable concept. He’s God, not an iPod. He is far above anything I can comprehend. He brought into being the entire universe and there’s no way that that’s going in a box with a label on it. Neither is God just a Bible. Although God reveals himself to us in the pages of that book, he is far beyond anything that you could get two covers and a spine around. So I’ve stopped defining God. I’ve stopped trying to stick God in my own boundaries. Amazingly, this has made me emphatically say yes, that I’m on the right path. With God’s boundaries in place all I do is follow his plan for my life (not yours), and the spiritual weight comes off.
“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’ “ Matthew 11: 28-29 (NLT)