When I read Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones (the first of many, many times), I was taken with her description of "monkey mind", a Buddhist term for all the mental chaos that keeps us from focusing or hearing the our true heart. I knew immediately that she was talking of my inner critic. You know the one - that little gremlin on your shoulder that whispers negative comments in your ear, makes you doubt yourself and overall, causes general chatter in your mind?
I have always had a very active monkey mind. I look at pictures of myself as a child, and I wonder when M.M. showed up. I was a wild child until I entered school. Very silly, full of energy, ornery, hair never brushed, and probably very loud.
I bossed my then shy brother around and believed he was my personal doll baby. Then arrived my school years and I became very serious, quiet, disciplined and dutiful. The transformation didn't happen overnight, but at some point I became the polar opposite of my younger self. I'm guessing this is about the same time that Monkey Mind began having a field day.
I work hard to silence, or at least ignore M.M. on a daily basis. As someone with an anxiety disorder, I probably experience an excessive amount of M.M. babble. It's a sort of chicken and the egg issue. Do I have anxiety because of relentless M.M. banter, or is M.M. exceptionally noisy because I'm prone to anxiety? A bit of both, perhaps.
Lately, Monkey Mind has been super critical about my weight. I've blogged many times about my battle with my weight. I went as far as having a gastric bypass three years ago, and successfully lost nearly 100 pounds. Bipolar medications, poor eating and little exercise have assisted me in gaining back almost half that. I spent a lot of time in denial. I lie to myself by pretending an issue doesn't exist to delay having to deal with it. I can only deal with so much at once, and I get pretty overwhelmed, so denial has be my poor coping mechanism.
The problem with denial is that one day I wake up and I can't lie to myself anymore. I'm slapped in the face with the truth and it can be fairly disruptive to my emotional well-being. Denial is definitely where I've been with my weight. It started about six weeks ago through the course of two events, one minor and one significant.
The first was my breast reduction surgery. I awoke from anesthesia and was sitting propped up in bed. The surgeon came in to see me and my comment to him was "My stomach sticks out further than my chest." I was slightly amused by that at the time - perhaps it was the pain meds making everything amusing, but it didn't bother me then. Over the course of the next few days, though, when I would look in the mirror I would be more and more bothered by the fact that my stomach obviously was a lot bigger than I had previously noticed. By having a smaller chest, my stomach seemed magnified, even though it was no bigger than it has been for the last few months.
The second event that brought my higher weight to my attention was the changing of the seasons. I dragged out my storage bins of summer skirts and capri pants, and the clothes that were nearly too big last year can barely be squeezed into this year. Ugh. Monkey Mind went crazy. She started to berate me immediately.
"How could you gain back so much weight?! You're so lazy! After all you went through to lose weight, and you let this happen?" And those were the nicer comments she had for me. Normally I might sink back into denial and become complacent or resigned to my situation. This is one of the difficult symptoms of depression for me. I'm sometimes too emotionally exhausted to deal with a problem. I have to pick my battles, so to speak. Taking care of myself physically has not often been a priority in my life. It comes and goes depending on all the other chaos and life requirements.
Let's be honest. Lack of self-esteem means I rarely feel worth the effort it takes to make a difference. I've lamented my weight for six weeks and looking in the mirror lately has been agony. Monkey mind didn't forget any of the old way of speaking to me five or ten years ago when I was nearly 300 pounds. She picked up right where she left off when her voice faded after weight loss surgery. It never went away, but now it's back as loud as ever.
The difference is, this time I'm putting up a fight.
More tomorrow about that!