HEALTH so much so, more than anything else maybe, dictates how we live our day to day lives. Our physical and psychological status have a huge impact on how we spend our days and what we are able to accomplish. Likewise, our relationships with food, drugs and drinking, and sleep all influence our capacity to function in massively powerful ways. I have long struggled with these three fundamental aspects of life.
I was a huge baby, and I mean physically huge. Ten pounds and two ounces to be exact, and even as a toddler I was quite pudgy. I started playing sports quite young and was a very active child and don’t remember having an issue with my physical appearance until I was a tween when my mum told me it was okay to gain a little weight, but not too much. This was the first time I felt self-conscious in my body. Growing up, us kids were always in different places: soccer, hockey, rugby, basketball, and other extracurricular activities, (such as the very regrettable after school program “funky dance” I partook in,) that we never sat down at the dinner table for family meals. We were always eating on the go and helping ourselves to whatever we could find in the fridge and pantry. The only time we really had a meal together was on holidays when we would take out the fancy china and nice cutlery and eat in the dining room that was otherwise reserved for special occasions. I think our family would have survived together much longer had we been an active part in each others’ lives and sat down at the end of the day and had a conversation over a meal.
Even now I struggle with eating. I have to force myself to eat breakfast and binge on takeout more often than I should. At moments in my life I have conditioned myself to eat until I wasn’t hungry anymore instead of eating until I was full and I called it portion control to help me lose weight, when really I was only eating enough to conceal the hunger pains and often went to bed hungry. I have both dramatically gained weight and lost it because of cancer treatments, side effects of mental-health medication and a combined either total obsession with or total disregard for exercise.
I hate cooking. It was one of those things I never had much interest in. I never think about food until I am hungry and by then I don’t care to put in the time and effort to make something worthwhile. My high school sweetheart got into cooking when we were dating and I enjoyed the quality time we spent in the kitchen together. I was mostly on cleanup duty but I made an excellent sous-chef. I guess after we broke up I didn’t have any interest in doing anything we used to do together alone because it just brought back painful memories. I manage a relatively healthy diet now even though I don’t get too adventurous in my recipes. I was always more of a baker anyway.
Food can turn dark and into awfully painful and harmful behaviour patterns. So can substance abuse. I have a complicated relationship with drugs and alcohol. I smoked my first joint at thirteen years old and even though I wasn’t too heavily into it at that time, about five years later marijuana became a big problem in my life. I developed a close relationship with a few friends who were using regularly and I was smoking up to five joints a day some days. I remember the first time I got high with one of my closest friends and just laughing uncontrollably on the couch together, so consumed with the hilarity of it that we couldn’t even say a word. This seems innocent enough but it started to interfere in my life in major ways. I started skipping school and the drugs often made me feel so out of place. I stopped when that group of friends drifted apart and have smoked weed twice in the last ten years since and not at all in the last five years. I don’t like it anymore. The last time I got high I asked a friend from work to acquire me some and drove over to his place in the late evening. I was so out of it after consuming the drugs that I had to ask him to drive me home in my own car and on the way I felt so overwhelmed and out of control that I asked my coworker to take me to either a hospital or a church to be exorcised. He told me to go home and sleep it off. In the morning I couldn’t remember where he had parked my car.
I am not a healthy drinker either. I don’t quite like the taste of alcohol and therefore never drink it in moderate amounts just for the sake of it. My sole purpose in drinking is to get drunk, or at least a little tipsy. I tell my psychiatrist that I call this “shelving it” which is just the concept of removing your consciousness from your body and putting it on a shelf for the evening. There goes a period of time without drinking that I eventually I crave to just shelf my brain for a while and evade my thoughts and emotions. Even if temporarily, I want to avoid being trapped in my body. Drinking takes me somewhere and even if I feel double the guilt and shame and emotional turmoil the next day, it always seems more than worth it in the present moment. Sometimes I just want to escape and a bottle of wine is an easy, but harmful, way to do that. I could read a book or watch a movie or go for a run and all of these serve as a distraction but not quite the elusion I so much desire.
Like alcohol, I often have trouble balancing my sleep consumption. I’m either getting way too much or way too little. I have found that having a schedule helps a lot. I am much more disciplined to get to sleep at a decent hour and forcing myself awake keeps me from dozing in bed for hours, contemplating and dreading the emptiness of my life. When I wasn’t working I was involved in all sorts of communities and activities to help reintegrate, and eventually I was pushing the job search into full gear and going on consecutive job interviews, some that went so well I was surprised to not get, and others I left in tears without so much as a follow-up email to thank them for the opportunity. It’s always hit and miss. You never know how it’s going to go until you’re right in it. I feel the need to know I am doing something productive with me life, even when it feels as if it were on hold for longer than I hoped.
I have taken all kinds of medication to help regulate my sleep, even natural supplements like melatonin, but most of their effects wear off after regular use. I have tried creative visualization and deep breathing. Currently when I fall asleep I put on a podcast and even if my thoughts drift elsewhere it helps to have background noise to not be overthrown by them. I can’t remember many recent nights where I have been able to fall asleep soundly without some kind of distraction.This scares me. This makes me feel like my soul, my spirit, my essence is at unease and what must be wrong with me, what must I have done or not have done to not even be at peace in my own presence in complete darkness and silence? For me, if there was one measurement of how happy you are, it is being able to fall asleep without assistance and really feel like you are satisfied with who, where, what, why and how you are. During the day it is easier for me. I often prefer things quiet but I dread falling asleep to silence just as much as I hate taking a shower without the radio on. As much as I am at times not one of them, I am very weary of people who can never sit in their own company in silence and be at ease.
Moderation is key with all food, substances and sleep. It’s a balance everyone has to find for themselves and keep in check everyday. Sure, we slip up from time to time or even occasionally let ourselves off the hook as a reward or special treat but all sorts of disorders and illnesses arise if you consume any one of these three things in the wrong way and they are often intertwined in one another. It’s important to monitor ourselves and seek help if any of these things becomes a preoccupation or addiction. I strongly suggest you set limits for yourself and stick to them the majority of the time. Especially for those with a mental health disorder like me, any one of these elements going out of control can cause significant problems in other aspects of our lives. I know mood disorders are particularly sensitive to your circadian rhythm so please pay particular attention to your sleeping habits if you are afflicted with one. They could make or break your treatment. All in all, less but better is more, and too much too often is definitely not a good idea all around.