I was born four years ago, at the physical age of fifty-nine. My birth was traumatic, full of pain and tears, and it took six months of working with one of the most amazing women I have ever met to reach this point. Finding my real ‘self’ for the first time in my life was life changing.
I’m a child of the 1950’s and grew up as a ‘people pleaser’ and a nurturer, learning to set aside and eventually cover up my feelings and my dreams. I decided I was not of value, not worthy of being seen or heard – not because my parents were bad or because they didn’t love me but because childhood is the time when we create faulty thinking and faulty beliefs as a result of unconscious decisions we make – and these can go on to shape our whole life and trajectory.
By the age of twelve I had developed a very poor body image and an unhealthy relationship with carbohydrates and sugary foods; my body disgusted me, and I hated it. The family doctor put me on a diet and the same appetite suppressant, amphetamines, which he gave my mum. It seems crazy now in light of our current knowledge about what dieting and amphetamines do to our bodies, but this was the 1960’s when the use of appetite suppressants for weight loss was considered ‘cutting edge.’
And so began almost fifty years of yoyo dieting, not a recognised eating disorder but most certainly disordered eating! I would binge eat and then almost starve myself, and congratulate myself for having enough willpower to lose some weight. I would eat normally in public then raid the fridge when I was on my own, finishing off all the leftovers in one go so I could go back to ‘being good’ tomorrow. I lived a life obsessed with my body, food, and the number on the scales every morning which dictated my mood that day. I had joined the rollercoaster of emotional eating and yoyo dieting. I was enslaved by this obsession and I felt as though there was no way out.
I became adept at hiding from the camera, and in group shots, being tall, I hid at the back.
I also experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks as a teenager, something which continued into adulthood. My pain became a deep black hole which I smothered with food; I slowly lost sight of the real ME. I now know that we cannot disconnect from pain and distress without disconnecting from joy, love and happiness as well, but back then I had no idea what was happening and in fact for a long time I thought that maybe this was how everyone felt.
My husband and I met when I was just seventeen, and we dated for almost three years before we broke up because I didn’t want to get married. I was a student by then with BIG dreams and marriage was the last thing on my mind. However, once I graduated, I experienced the old fear and anxiety again, and so I went back to him; I went back to safety and familiarity.
However, that ‘safety’ was far from safe as it turned out – we had a dysfunctional and codependent relationship which was doomed from the start. He made fun of me in public even though I repeatedly asked him not to; he criticised my ambitions, and never ever said he was proud of my achievements, even when I had a book published. I hadn’t realised how much this hurt until the new man in my life said how proud he was of me and I burst into tears.
Two difficult pregnancies and traumatic births by emergency Caesarean section left me with a saggy belly and damaged muscles, vertical and horizontal scars and the inevitable silvery stretchmarks everywhere. When I looked in the mirror, instead of seeing a miraculous body which had survived AND produced two beautiful children, I just felt disgust. Add chronic low self-esteem and severe post-natal depression into the mix plus anxiety and stress, it was no wonder my inner critical voice was on overdrive telling me I was useless, weak, stupid, lazy, greedy and worthless with no willpower.
And so, the pattern of my life was set, with medication becoming my long-term crutch. On the surface, I would appear happy but underneath it I was battling chronic poor mental health, disordered eating bordering on an eating disorder, a deep sense of worthlessness I can’t even begin to describe, and a feeling of numbness I just assumed was normal. However, I had a sense that there was more to life than this and I found myself beginning to search – although I had no idea what I was searching for, I just knew there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing.
At the age of forty I went into ‘therapy’ for the first time and began my healing journey, a journey which continues to this day. I don’t believe we ever stop learning about ourselves and our place in the world. But it was the beginning of my awakening to the power of the mind and our ability to change our reality, if we choose.
And then the perimenopause kicked in, which no one had warned me about. My hair fell out in lumps, my body shape changed seemingly overnight, my weight rocketed up yet again and my emotional fuse was so short that if you blinked you missed the upbeat moments. Each hot flush brought on a panic attack and the depression deepened. Oh, I could wear a mask of conviviality long enough to convince most people that I was ‘fine’, but behind all this I turned to extreme dieting to try and finally lose the excess weight. But the weight bounced back on as I went back to normal food.
So, I decided to train as a Weight Loss Counsellor and Eating Disorders Therapist and began the next phase of my healing journey… the part where I learned just how much damage I had done to my body, that dieting doesn’t work and why, and that food is not actually the issue here. I learned what was in my black hole and how to heal it, why I ate emotionally and how to use the tools I was learning in order to change. Suddenly, the jigsaw pieces of my life started fitting together and as I began to heal, I found I absolutely loved working with other women to help them heal too, and that I was actually good at what I did! For the first time in my life I won a prize. I was proud of myself.
But as I was on the way up, my husband was on a downward spiral into depression and alcoholism, partly due to chronic stress about money (he was a tenant farmer) and on Christmas Day 2008 he walked away… and I fell apart again.
When I think back I can see why I went back to him in my twenties, why I craved security and why I feared the unfamiliar, even though it’s what I craved in my heart. And why these fears were the reason I stayed with him when he became an aggressive and nasty alcoholic. Seems stupid now, knowing all I now know and having broken free of the patterning.
There followed a long period of severe stress and deep depression, adrenal fatigue, bankruptcy, and eighteen months of homelessness – although thankfully I was never actually on the streets.
Looking back, they were very dark times indeed, and at one point I did consider checking out, for the second time in my life. But my daughter talked me round and for that I will always be grateful.
So, how did I get through it?
Initially, with sheer bloody mindedness and determination; I was not going to be beaten!
I researched adrenal fatigue, followed the programme I found and got better. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I had no other choice. Now I use what I learned to help other women.
I actively engaged in a collaborative form of counselling which was offered to me by my doctor and I was fortunate to see her weekly for eight months. With her help, I was able to dig deep and do the work necessary to come off most of the medication at last.
But life was still hard, money was very short, and in addition, I was bullied at work; I was still on an emotional rollercoaster fuelled by anger, disappointment in myself and others; and a deep, deep hurt.
Then Wendy, an amazing woman with whom I had previously done some healing work, contacted me and my six-month journey with her began, from pain to my rebirth. I know that might sound over dramatic, but it is the only way I can describe how it felt to finally release forever the years of depression, pain, stress, and anger, and to finally learn how it physically felt to really feel feelings and emotions, to experience real happiness and joy every day whatever was happening in my life; for the first time I was actually waking up full of energy and enthusiasm. I finally learned what love felt like in my body rather than to just have a ‘knowing’ in my head.
I began learning about the power of respecting and honouring the body I lived in, how to be compassionate and accepting towards myself and to stop comparing myself to others. I learnt to tune out all the noise and replace it with actually living.
The faulty body image I developed when younger which was full of cultural, societal, family and media influences, was honed over time, so it’s not something we can fix overnight. However, I have begun to learn the value of nurturing and valuing my ‘self’ and my body, with all its ‘imperfections’ and despite not being my so-called ‘ideal’ weight. I am now able to say that I am happy in my skin for the first time in my life and I have effortlessly released over 40lbs in weight that my body no longer needs, without any dieting or food restriction of any sort.
I eat mindfully and intuitively, for example, I’ve learned how to tune into my body and the messages it sends me about the food it needs, how much rest or sleep it needs, how much time I need alone to re-energise myself versus how much time with other people which also energises me. I have managed to take the emotion out of food and I finally feel calm around food for the first time in my life.
I have finally learned to ask for help when I need it – this wasn’t easy initially as it meant admitting I couldn’t cope, and that equalled ‘weakness’ in my mind.
I have the most amazing, loving and supportive friends a woman could ever have, friends who just appear without being asked from all over the country. Friends who just know intuitively what I need in the way of emotional support and physical help; friends who helped me pack each time I moved and brought boxes and bubble wrap with them. Friends who cooked for me and made me eat; friends who took me to the supermarket and paid for some food shopping; friends who helped me paint my flat; friends who are always at the end of the phone and who message me every day to reassure me that someone out there cares about me; friends who have given me, and continue to give me, so much love.
I feel tremendous gratitude towards all those women who formed a safety net around me when my world fell apart, who held the space for me to heal, who gave me their spare room to sleep in when I had nowhere else to go, and who continue to be there for me to this day.
I learned that I was not alone after all and that it’s ok to show vulnerability, because those who love you will still love you. Shame and fear keep us isolated but I found that sharing my fears brought arms to hold me and love to keep me strong.
Despite what we may have grown up experiencing and thinking about ourselves, we all have the power and strength to change our thoughts and behaviour with knowledge and support. We create our own reality, and if we don’t like it we can choose to change it. We can choose our mood, we can choose how we react to people and situations, and we can choose to eat the food our body actually wants and the amount it needs. We can choose how we deal with stress, we can choose how we view our body when we look in the mirror, and we can choose to be happy.
I have not reinvented myself; I have become the woman I was always meant to be. And I accept myself just as I am, in all my power.
Carol May is a Transformational Health and Lifestyle Coach who uses a new understanding around the nature of the human experience, together with The Four Pillars of Lifestyle Medicine, to help midlife women suffering peri and post menopausal issues around weight, stress, brain fog, hot flushes, overwhelm, anxiety and sleep to feel happier, calmer, more peaceful and full of energy and vitality.
In her spare time Carol enjoys performing with Rock Choir and a Classical Choir, swimming, Fitsteps, watching live music and going to the theatre.
carolmay54 (at email sign) live.co.uk