The Whale in the Mirror

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I’ve lost 12kg (around 24lbs) since the new year started.

It’s not been easy.  I have pushed my body to its limit:  running,  speed walking,  cardio,  weights, aerobics.  I’ve sweated tears.  I hate working out;  hate it with a passion.  Can’t for the life of me see how someone could push themselves like that every day,  and enjoy it.  Who,  seriously,  likes crunches?  I love food;  I don’t eat to sustain my body,  I eat because it is a passion of mine.  Yet,  I have cut out all of the foods I find irresistibly divine.  I haven’t cheated.  I haven’t taken the easy route and purchased a year’s supply of WW food;  I have simply started to cook everything from scratch.  I no longer eat white flour products,  I bake my own whole-wheat bread,  and use bananas in muffins rather than fat.

It is no exaggeration,  then,  to say that I have felt every one of those ounces leave my body.

So,  you’d imagine I’d feel pretty proud of myself;  that I am flaunting my new svelte body at every opportunity?  Well,  that’s what a normal,  rational woman would do.  Not me.  No, instead,  when I look in the mirror,  I see the biggest whale you can imagine.  A gargantuan,  big-boobed,  jelly-bellied,  thunder-armed woman.  That’s what I see.  I am only a couple of pounds overweight (if you go by the BMI),  but I truly believe that even if I lost 100 more pounds,  I would still see myself in this way.  I hate this part of me – not the body (although we ain’t best friends),  but the self-loathing,  self-critical me.  The one that scrutinises every inch,  and finds nothing of worth.

Rational thought does kick in.  I know that there is a big difference between how I was before I started,  and now.  Sheer biology tells me that I can’t possibly look the same after losing 24lbs.  But, I just don’t see it.  As a young girl I was slim,  but even then found it hard to appreciate my appearance.  I look back at photos now and literally cry at how slim and beautiful I was;  not because I wish I still was that girl,  but for sadness at how my 20-something self was SO unable to see it,  or accept it.  I wonder how different my life might have been,  if I had been able to?  I envy people who effortless glide through life blissfully aware of who they are,  what they look like;  and are happy with it.

When I see myself (especially in photos) now,   part of me just wants to crawl under a stone; even today,  after I have shed all of those pounds.  I am not sure why.  I really don’t know.  I have done a lot of soul-searching in the last few years,  and have been able to fit a lot of random jigsaw pieces together.  But this inability to see me as others do?  I just don’t know.  I have low self-esteem,  bucket loads of insecurity,  that I do know.  Perhaps it is linked?  All I know is that it is horrible.

When I was younger,  this low self-esteem about my appearance was often misunderstood by the people around me.  I can’t really blame them.   When you see a good looking, slim girl stand in front of you,  telling you how ugly and fat she is,  it is hard to not take that as vanity.  I’ve done it myself with friends:  we’ve all got those gorgeous people in our lives who tell us how horrible they look,  and it is hard not to smash them in the face;  pummelling them until they admit that they know they are beautiful,  really.  But,  perhaps,  they are just like me,  they aren’t saying it just so that we stroke their ego,  but that they genuinely believe it?  There’s food for thought.

Even if you told me I looked good,  I wouldn’t believe you.  I’ve been admonished in the past for not being able to take a compliment.  I can’t stand them.  They make me feel squirmy,   and uncomfortable. I appreciate the sentiment,  just don’t believe it.  Ironic, eh?  Here’s me craving confirmation that I am attractive,  and therefore accepted (because acceptance is really the crux of all this),  yet when it is offered,  it is rejected quicker than you can say “low self-esteem sucks”.

This is probably the only part about  me (and my life) that I would change.  Although I have personality flaws (who doesn’t),  I know on the whole that my heart is in the right place,  and I am one of the good guys.  I am a positive person,  one who is genuinely so happy with her life,  and I would not change a second of it.  I am appreciative of everything.  So,  why this one part of me,  a part that I just can’t ease up on,  can’t stop for just a minute and thank myself lucky that I am alive;  to be grateful that I have two arms and legs,  and say bugger to everything else that lies in between?

I am rapidly heading towards 50,  so I’ve kind of missed my chance at being Miss World.  So does it really matter what I look like?  Surprisingly,  I am going to say not to me.  Not even to my partner of 15 years.  If I lived on a desert island,  with just my immediate family for company, I wouldn’t care if I was the size of a house.  No,  I want to look good because it matters what other people think of me.  I want them to gasp at how gorgeous I am,  not snicker at how fat I have become.  I want,  no,  NEED,  to be admired.

Despite what I’ve said,  I am sure this reads as vanity.  Sure of it.  But believe me when I say it isn’t.  Not really.

I might sound like a lost cause,  but I do fight it.  I fight it for the sake of my children.  I don’t put myself down in front of them;  I tell them how gorgeous I think I am,  and how well I am doing to lose some weight (for fitness, and to be healthy, not because I feel fat).   I don’t want them going through life disbelieving what they see in the mirror (or more importantly, to help them understand that it doesn’t matter what they do see in the mirror).  And who knows – if I keep going at convincing my children,  a little might rub off,  and I may be able to convince myself.

Here’s hoping.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A day in the life of a HSP…..

Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) certainly feels tough some days. 

Like today, for example. The whole female population is currently posting pictures of themselves on Facebook without make-up, to support and raise awareness for cancer. I can think of nothing worse than showing my bare face for all to see; which is good, because nobody has “nominated” me. 

I am sure that most people wouldn’t have given this another thought, other than possibly to feel relief that they haven’t been recruited to do it. However, I am not most people. I actually feel hurt. I’ve seen so many friends post their au natural look today, all giggly with girlie camaraderie over who they are going to force to go naked. But no-one has included me. 

I am guessing that for the non-highly sensitive people reading this, your first thought may be somewhere along the lines of “get a life!” Only, as a HSP, this is my life. At times, it is hard being this way. Every conversation (especially my part) is scrutinised and re-hashed; every reaction from others is observed and analysed; and every decision is questioned a million times, and then some. I am so aware of others, and their reaction to me, that it sometimes makes social interaction incredibly difficult; to make matters worse, HSPs are intensely intuitive, and I am rarely wrong when interpreting a reaction invisible to others. I know when people don’t like me; even if their words are to the contrary. And I always knew when boyfriends were cheating on me, even without any tangible evidence. 

Thankfully, life-experience allows me to throw reason into the mix sometimes: in the scenario above, I know that it doesn’t mean people hate me, or even dislike me. I am sure that my closest friends probably aren’t participating, and that’s why I have been missed. I know all of this to be true; however, that doesn’t stop the evil whispering voice in my ear saying: “They don’t like you. They don’t like you”. Which, to a HSP, is simply devastating. Our inherent need to be liked, accepted and praised over-shadows everything else. 

Over the years, I am sure many friends have mistaken my behaviour for self-absorption; that my need to be liked is vanity. It’s not that at all. It goes no deeper than a fundamental need to fit in; to be the same as everyone else; not to feel that there is something just a little skewed.  Research has discovered that the HSP trait is only found in around 15-20% of humans, which makes us a minority group. Therefore, when we feel different, it is because we are different.  

The most noticeable thing about a HSP is our ability to feel; every emotion we experience is on a grand scale. We don’t ever feel slightly angry, or mildly happy. Neither do we laugh demurely; it’s a full-on bull’s bellow, or nothing at all. We are the ones that cry at soppy adverts, feel the pain of a bereaved parent, and become enraged at social injustice. There are just no half measures; our dial is cranked up to maximum all the time. This is a mixed blessing. I love my empathy, the ability to really feel the emotions of someone else; I love the deep connection, and understanding I have with my children; I love my kind heart and generous spirit; and I love that I always take other people’s feelings into consideration. However, I don’t love how criticism feels like a knife through my heart; I don’t love how people can trample on my feelings without noticing; and I don’t love that it takes me forever to decide on something, only to regret my decision as soon as it is made. 

Things have come a long way since I was a child; back then, I was miss-labelled shy. HSPs are not shy; we are wary and careful, finding our way gently. We are not over-emotional or highly-strung either; names that were (and still are) pinned on us, screaming negativity. If anyone ever described you as highly-strung, it was not being used as a compliment. Yet, researchers say that HSP is a necessary trait factored into evolution, and that it plays a vital part in the success of our species. To survive, all animals need members of the group that are sensitive, cautious, and intuitive; those that deeply feel their surroundings. 

Sometimes living as a HSP is a curse; life would be easier caring just that little bit less about what people thought about me. And although I know I would be happier if I could move through life without doubting every single move I make; deep down, I know that I would not want to be any other way. 

Check out the HSP self-test and see if you are in my exclusive gang:

http://www.hsperson.com/pages/test.htm