Article by Jessica Morris
As a very boisterous child, I loved ballet. I wanted to learn all about dancing and wear pointe shoes, perform and be admired on stage. I was told I was too big to be a ballerina. I shouldn’t have listened, but before I could fathom a reasonable decision, I was singing in a choir instead. In the background, because I had a crushing feeling that my size meant I wasn’t supposed to be in the spotlight like I wanted to be.
As a pre-adolescent, I was in a difficult family situation. My father, no longer able to put up with my mother’s unreasonable demands, moved overseas. My mother pushed herself to work full time, and couldn’t take care of us. She never had time to eat, and what few meals she did have were completely void of nutrition; a terrible example to an 11 year old. My time was spent either at school, or at home with a fridge full of pies, pastries, meat, sweets…you name it, I had access to it, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the house when my mother wasn’t there. She didn’t like how I was, even though I had no real idea of how else to be, and she told me so. I was severely obese, hidden in consuming everything that I could, trying to fill a gaping hole formed by a brother who was angry with the world, a father who couldn’t be there for me, and a mother who wanted me to be the perfect child…something I could never be; expectations I could never fulfil.
As a teenager, I took it into my own hands. My boisterousness came back to life and I wanted more for myself. I got a job. I had less time to fill with food. My father came home. I grew a foot and I lost weight, and my mother seemed appeased. It seemed to me that the more weight I lost, the more she loved me. I chased it, thinking that if I pushed myself a step further, I would prove I was a good kid and I would make her proud. I spent so much time aiming for something bigger and better, and eventually I was no longer content with what I had; there was always more energy to be spent. I can’t count how many months I did this for, but I know when it stopped, when my whole world fell in a heap. I spent three days driving friends around, enjoying some ‘holidays’, forgoing sleep or food and living on stimulants. On the third morning, in a state of total absent-mindedness, I ploughed my car into a van and immediately fell into a dark world of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.
As an adult, I dealt with the pressure I felt, the anxiety I was buried in by hanging on to the only thing I’d learnt how to control over the years: my weight. I clung to calorie control with a single minded, reckless addiction. I convinced myself that I had the accident because I was a failure. I cried for help many times, left clues everywhere that my insides were burning and that if somebody, anybody, would tell me they loved me I would stop and start taking care of myself again. It didn’t come soon enough, and my mother encouraged it. She loved it, complimented my clothes hanging off my bones, my small portions, my self-control and motivation. Eventually, someone stood up and told me to get help. I didn’t deny I needed it; I just went. Somewhere in this process, I figured out how much my mother had contributed to this dreary, low opinion I held of myself, and in the effort to revamp this, I left her.
As a 20 year old, I needed out. I was recovering, but it was slow. In my desperate efforts, I removed myself from my comfort zone, and enrolled to study overseas. I ran away from everything I controlled and immersed myself in a new way of living. My first week there, I was approached to give a sport a go. It flipped my world upside down. I learnt the art of listening to my body, pushing its limits towards something positive and fulfilling instead of deprivation, depression and deficiency. It was enlightening, and I felt an energetic, adrenaline filled surge of satisfaction with my life.
Whilst living in Canada, I got a tattoo across my left foot. I pulled a quote from one of my favourite books, pretending I loved it because it seemed insightful. When I paid the parlour a visit, they’d written it out wrong. I decided to go with it anyway. What was supposed to read ‘before my wandering feet’ read ‘before my wonder, before my wandering feet’.
It seemed poetic; it seemed unique, though I couldn’t explain why it resonated.
The relationships I have with my body, mind and soul are challenging, versatile and difficult. But what it comes down to is that I always trust my feet to lead me in the right direction. I used to think I was running away from something. Running away from possibilities, from anything I couldn’t control. As I grow up, I feel like I’m running toward something. Toward an awareness of the things that don’t serve me anymore, things that I don’t want in my life; the things that pepper my otherwise exuberant personality with doubt, fear and anxiety.
I feel like my feet hold my courage, my sense of self. Every time I wage a war with my body and all the things that are ‘wrong’ with it, I get moving, and it brings a sense of happiness so strong it floods my bones, my heart, my hair, my fingernails. I feel lucky to be equipped with some very strong emotional experiences, all carried by this blessing of a body, that have taught me self-love doesn’t come from a number on a scale, or how you look in this skirt or that skirt, or whether you ate ten French fries too many.
I learnt to appreciate the oxygen making its way through my lungs every three or four seconds, keeping me breathing, moving, seeing, loving…living. I’ve seen angles of my body many people never get to see; I’ve seen it fight, tooth and nail, to be one way or another, and I appreciate it for surviving everything I’ve wanted it to be. Now, I choose to concentrate on that appreciation taking one step, every day, away from a toxic, all consuming hate of everything my body isn’t.
Image attribution – Flickr: Charlotte Astrid