Do you know yourself as well as you think?
Are you as self-aware as you think you are?
I would never have described myself as a perfectionist. I have always been okay with crumbs on the floor, with my clothes being messily stacked in a pile in the corner of my room, and I don’t need everything in my house perfectly arranged. When I was a teacher, I would explain myself to my colleagues as 70%. I’ve always had a pretty good work/life balance; I work to live, not live to work. I have always understood that as a woman, a mother and a wife, I was needed at home, so being comfortably 70% at work, allowed me the opportunity to switch off and be available in the most important area of my life, my home and family.
I’ve always been okay with making mistakes, believing that they’re opportunities for me to reflect and grow, that as long as I learned something from the experience, then it wasn’t for nothing.
Surely all of these things proved that I was far from a perfectionist.
For those of you who don’t know my story, around May of last year, I came clean to my family and friends that I had lived a secret 20 year eating disorder. I had at the age of 22 discovered that bulimia allowed me to eat without control, without the worry of weight gain.
Growing up, I watched my mother battle with food and her body image. She was a chronic dieter, who was always doing something to try and make her body smaller, and she struggled. When I was 8, my mum was clinically obese (despite being at the low end), as a child I was embarrassed by how she looked and I remember promising myself that I would never look like her.
The only problem was, I learnt about food from her. When she was off a diet, she ate whatever she wanted, whether that was plate after plate of white bread lathered in lemon butter, or lamingtons or marshmallow snowballs that she’d bought on her way home from work. When she was on a diet, there was very little of this food to be found, replaced by frozen, packaged foods delivered by whatever diet place mum was following at that time.
I learnt very early on that if I walked to school instead of catching the tram, that I could save my money to buy my own junk food that I could secretly binge on before my mum came home from work. Being an independent, latch key kid as well as being an only child to a single mother had its perks, and I was smart.
I was smart to the point that whenever I went snooping in my mum’s room for her hidden stash of treats, I would examine exactly how far her drawer was open prior to opening it, and everything was left exactly as I’d found it so that I was never caught.
As I got older, bulimia required me to be even more on top of things. I needed to study people’s patterns, I had to know who had already been to use the bathroom so that I could be confident that I wouldn’t get caught when I went.
As a mother with bulimia, I needed to be even smarter. I had to ensure that everyone had what they needed, so I would provide everyone with a bowl of fruit and snacks to buy myself the time to do what I needed to do without interruption.
There was a period of time where I worked as the teacher on the paediatric ward of a hospital and one of the teams I worked in was the Adolescent Medicine team. Often in those meetings, the eating disorder patients were discussed, in particular the perfectionistic pressure they put on themselves in relation to their school work, which was where I was involved.
People with eating disorders are by nature, perfectionists, yet I still didn’t relate this to myself.
It wasn’t until I began seeing an Eating Disorder Therapist last year, that it dawned on me that when it came to the standards I set for myself, that I was a perfectionist, and I almost couldn’t believe that I never understood it before.
Another thing was anxiety.
Had you asked me if I suffered from anxiety, I would’ve laughed in your face. Anyone that knows me, would describe me as calm by nature. Sure, I can get feisty at times when I’m passionate about a topic, but I’m most certainly not a worrier, and I tend to err on the side that most things happen for a reason, and I tend not to stress about things that I can’t change.
When my therapist asked if I had anxiety, I scoffed. “Me? No way!” I said, as I imagined the people I knew who suffered from anxiety. I was nothing like them, that was until she pointed out my anxiety around food and weight gain.
That moment was a major ‘aha’ moment for me, as I realised that perhaps I wasn’t as self-aware as I’d first thought.
It can be incredibly confronting really seeing yourself, but for me it was the key that set me free. I now really understand myself and knowing who I was has given me the strength to be who I really am.
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C.S. Lewis