Growing up, math was always my favorite subject. It came naturally to me, and I liked that there was always a right or wrong answer. It was black and white. It wasn’t ambiguous or gray. It either was or it wasn’t. Plain as that.
I went on to study business in college, breezing through various statistics, economics and finance courses. Yes, I minored in journalism, but this was more for fun (sorry!) and pleasure, an outlet to express my love of writing. (Yes, I do acknowledge, embrace and love the fact that I am fully fledged nerd. No shame in my game).
Even now, I work in finance. I stare at numbers and spreadsheets all day long, and I feel an utter sense of calm and joy when I find my answer and my numbers tie out. I like to solve problems and I do not like ambiguity. These are facts.
This love of numbers and disdain for chaos and unknown, though, doesn’t just end with my academic and professional life. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that it seeps out of my every pore, and is a part of my very existence. I like answers. I like order. I like structure. I like black and white and nothing in between (although I will say I love gray clothing, but that’s it).
And, I guess, this is either the root of, or an offshoot of, my anxiety. I am a perfectionist to the core, and anything less than perfect (for me) is wrong and stressful. Anything that strays from my routine or plan sends me into a tailspin. There is no calm (again, for me) when there is no order. My solution, then, has been to create order to find calm. But, more often than I’d like, life doesn’t allow me to stick to my plans. And it drives me nuts.
The most prominent way my “need for structure” has reared its ugly head is through food. If you know me or if you have dug deep in my blog archives, you know that food and eating are a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love food. I share recipes here (mostly healthy) that I’ve loved and enjoyed and that make me feel good. And, I feel it important for you to know that I would never share a recipe here that I haven’t eaten or wouldn’t eat (unless it’s an amazing dish I was able to eat pre-celiac that I think needs to be shared with the world). No, the recipes here are all ok in “my world,” but I will say my food world can be a bit whack.
Why is it whack, you ask? I’d say because I put an insane amount of pressure on myself to eat with a routine, to eat within a certain set of parameters that are absolutely made up.
My made up parameters? A daily calorie goal arbitrarily set for myself on the My Fitness Pal app. I don’t have a damn clue as to how my “goal” was calculated, but my God I’d better stick to it OR ELSE. The app, for whatever reason, soothes me. I can log my food and weight and keep myself steady and afloat. There’s no unknown. Everything I’ve consumed is “in writing.” It’s black and white. There are no questions. My eating is not a guessing game and I don’t have to wonder.
The problem, though, arises for me when I stray from this “goal” or my “food plan” for the day. Again, in reality these goals and plans are completely arbitrary, but in my routine loving, control freak mind, they are virtually law, and breaking them would lead to utter havoc.
So, I find that on days where I eat an unexpected treat,or grab a fun size snickers at the office, or go to a party and eat some chips after I’ve already reached my “goal,” I feel I’ve failed. My black and white brain tells me I’m done, and my day is shot. I go to my all or nothing mode, which is “well I’ve already eaten one terrible thing, so I might as well eat all the terrible things in the world.” Which, inevitably leads to a binging and purging episode. Which, makes me feel fat (and typically gain weight), which makes me feel terrible about myself. And on and on this vicious cycle continues…
What’s crazy about bulimia is that it really does make you (or me at least) gain weight. Try as I might to right myself of my “mistakes,” it never fully works, and on the pounds come. It’s quite the paradox considering the primal fear that even led to my eating disorder struggles was/is the fear of gaining weight. This crazy dichotomy alone is why eating disorders are so hard to make sense of or understand for people who don’t have them. Hell, they’re even hard to understand for people who do have them! My rationale is that they just don’t make sense, and they probably never will. They’re completely irrational and they’re a full blown disease. They are not caused or kept by choice. No one would choose this lifestyle (at least in their right, rational mind).
So I revert back to my love of math and numbers here when I say, for me it is about the number. I so often read that for people on a health journey, it’s not about the number it’s about how they feel and how their clothes fit. I’m here to say truthfully that for me it’s about those things…and the number. If I am being frank.
It’s about the number of calories I consume and the number of pounds I weight. It’s about these numbers because these numbers are symbolic of my routine and structure, and ensuring that I stay steady to this structure keeps me calm. The numbers are an evaluation of sorts. They tell me how closely I’ve stuck to my plan. The control behind all of this keeps me calm and brings me peace.
But, it’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. And it’s a totally sick and unhealthy and irrational way to live. Hell, it’s not even a way to live. Because real life is full of unknowns and interruptions and craziness that will hinder plans and inhibit routines all the time. That is life. And it’s how we react to these changes and curveballs that matters, and for me (clearly) I don’t react well and am sent into a tizzy. And that’s no way to live because it’ll drive me batty (and it does).
You might ask why I’m writing this. Selfishly, airing my feelings makes me more aware of them and reminds me that they’re just that, feelings. They’re not facts or the end of the world as I perceive them to be. They’re silly little thoughts that creep in and that I ruminate on unnecessarily and can’t get rid of. Writing them or saying them aloud helps me feel that I have power over them, and that I’ve tossed them aside.
Writing here, too, is a reminder of the many things I need to work on and work through, both in my daily life and with my therapist. And, TBH, it’s 2017. Don’t be ashamed if you have a therapist. And, if you feel like you might need one, don’t be afraid to seek one out. They’re trained professionals who don’t judge and can help you work through your feelings. They’re basically magical wizards and they’re awesome.
Most importantly, though, I am sharing this because I know I can’t be the only one who feels and thinks like this. Often it seems I must be, but I hate the thought that anyone else might feel isolated in this similar anguish. You are not alone. I am here. I get you. There is help. There is hope.
And, I want you to know that while I struggle with and wrestle with anxiety, I am extremely happy. I have a great life. I have great family and friends, a great job, and so much joy. I want you to know, too, that being riddled with anxiety and being happy are not mutually exclusive. You can be both. But, I am pretty darn certain you (and I) will be even happier as we further conquer our anxiety. It will be a lifelong battle, but opening up and being vulnerable gives me strength. It reminds me that my voice is bigger and more powerful than my anxiety, and it helps me put these thoughts at bay.
So if you, like me, struggle with a need for constant need for control, you are not alone. Together we can overcome.