Definition: “continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship.”
Synonyms: remain alive · sustain oneself · cling to life · pull through · get through · hold on · hold out · make it · keep body and soul together · continue · remain.
Definition: “grow or develop well or vigorously”.
Synonyms: flourish · prosper · grow vigorously · develop well · burgeon · bloom · blossom · do well · advance · make strides · succeed · shoot up · expand · go well · grow rich.
In between the photographs on the left and the right I have:
Gained a beautiful baby niece · worked at an eating disorder outpatient center and charity · deadlifted 85kg · ran the Manchester 10k · been on a wine tour in Venice · deleted MyFitnessPal · spoke on the radio/local television stations about eating disorder recovery · started blogging for Huffington Post · I made new friends · joined the Girl Gains community · spent time with my family · been to secret cinemas with my mum and sister · let myself cry in front of people · had many afternoon tea’s with my dad · finished my final year Psychology dissertation · gambled for the first time (in Las Vegas of all places) · drunk copious amounts of wine with my best friends · went to Ibiza alone to work at a yoga retreat · shoulder pressed half my body weight · fell in love · eaten real Spanish tapas with my family · baked for the first time since my ED · hitchhiked · went to a meditation ceremony · been to my first ballet ·visited two cities I’ve always wanted to go to (Venice and Amsterdam) with my favourite person · sung with my best friend in front of an audience · ate foods I had previously been terrified of (crumpets, bananas, bagels etc).
This is me thriving.
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 is “Surviving or Thriving?” and I think it’s an important question to ask ourselves. How many of us are merely surviving? How many of us are going through the motions of everyday life, have adequate mental health but still struggle frequently, yet because we are surviving and functioning we don’t voice these issues? It is not enough for us to merely survive – life is for thriving.
I personally got only so far in my ED recovery before saying “that’s enough now, I’m going to stop here. I’m healthy-ish, I’m not a danger to myself, I’m surviving”. Is healthy-ish good enough? Is partial recovery good enough? No. Because it stops us living the big, full lives we deserve. I stayed in this state of partial recovery for a good few years, standing at an adequate weight but still plagued by the demons I had not fought, the control I still held, the calories, the macros, the exercise, the cardio, the intense fear of weight gain. My body image was getting worse every day, I was still binging and purging through exercise frequently, and there was this constant undercurrent of anxiety buzzing through me at social events, particularly those involving food (hence the copious amounts of alcohol in an attempt to squish this anxiety). Yes I was functioning pretty well, but I still wasn’t living or thriving. There was no passion or love for life. I just existed in a state of neither happiness nor unhappiness.
So I made a commitment. I started talking to people for support. I made myself accountable for my behaviours. I made other people make me accountable for my behaviours. I listened to hundreds of recovery podcasts and read mounds of recovery books. I challenged myself every day. I shared my story. I educated myself on concepts such as Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. And slowly but surely those inbuilt neural pathways that controlled the negative thoughts/body image/destructive behaviours started to weaken, and I replaced them with thought processes that were actually there to serve me in a positive way. “I look fat today” became “I have fat, and that’s okay”. Temptations of food restriction or over exercising became “I need to sit with this and think about what the deeper issue is” (because it is never ever really about the food). I stopped crying when I ate too much or had to miss a workout, I stopped exercising for the sole purpose of burning calories, and I learnt to open up to the people around me who were willing to listen when I was (and still do frequently!) struggling.
It is still a process, one in which I’m learning more about myself every day. But learning to thrive rather than just survive is the best thing we can ever do for ourselves, and it’s a process which we should all put our energy in to.
What makes you thrive? Are you sleeping enough, eating enough, feeding food that fuels and nourishes your body, moving in a way that feels good? Are you spending enough time with the people that you love, doing the activities that you love? Our lives are so so so so short and so precious. I realised I didn’t want to be remembered as the girl with abs, or the one who made it to the gym every day – think about what you want to be remembered for and learn to let go the things that don’t serve you. Be gentle and be compassionate with yourself, and only then will your life begin to flourish, prosper and thrive.
Lots and lots and lots of light and love and smiles,