stress

All posts in the stress category

Broken…

Published October 9, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

I was feeling like crud.  Stomping my way in to work this morning, really fighting with the black dog of depression, feeling like dirt.  And there she was.  An angel in a floral skirt and cream top.  The young woman I had been standing beside at the lights about 10 minutes before – I had been staring at the print of her skirt trying to grasp the one thing that was nice in my brain at just that moment – a pretty pink floral.  I was walking back towards my office having stopped off in the markets to pick up some breakfast, when  she stopped me on the street and told me that she really loved my blog, and that even though I hadn’t posted in a while she still hoped I would.  She complimented my taste in clothes, mentioned that we had the same dress (the hot pink one from Autograph) and that she loved my fatshion reviews.  I was a bit flabbergasted and I forgot to ask her name, which I always do, because it always takes me by surprise.  She made me smile, she thanked me and touch my arm, and we parted.

Five minutes later I was sobbing in the ladies room at work, finally able to feel something.  That’s what depression does to you, it robs your ability to feel.   You might walk around talking and even smiling and laughing, but you don’t really feel it, instead you’re kind of just going through the motions, performing as yourself instead of being yourself.  At least that’s what it does to me.  I wasn’t crying because something had upset me, I was crying because I’d finally felt something (surprise, pleasure, even a glimmer of joy) and that caused the floodgates of all the feelings I haven’t been able to feel for weeks to open and let them all out.  The crying was a good thing.  Embarrassing and uncomfortable, but ultimately good for me.

The past months have been hellish for me with my depression creeping up stronger than it has for some time.  It isn’t just the usual chemical stuff either, usually brought on by hormones and stress, I began to recognise it a few weeks ago.  It was emotional burnout.  It had all got too much for me.  My job is a bigger workload than it has ever been (it’s that way for everyone at my work these days) and I feel like Sisyphus, having to roll the same boulder up the hill every day only to have it roll down again.  (If only it was like Loki, burdened with glorious purpose.)

Add to that the fact that I’d been doing fat activism for over four years, 95% of it for free, out of my own time, pocket, talent and energy only to be constantly bombarded both by general hate as a random fat person on this earth, and deeply targeted hate from really fucked up people out there who cannot bear the thought of an unapologetic and even proud fat woman existing on the planet.  Even still, even though I haven’t posted in months, there are days when I get over 4000 hits via a Reddit hate forum alone, filled with people who spend hours and hours of their lives hating on me and other visible fat people for a hobby.  They dig up old posts, they steal the photos from this blog (and my Tumblr or Instagram, or Twitter, or Facebook), they spend hours and hours and hours discussing my life in minutiae… as a hobby.

One nutter even keeps a dossier on every food post I ever make online and keeps tabs on what I eat (or at least the bits I post online) and then crops up on old articles about me, or anything I comment on online to try to “discredit” me by “proving” that I’m a “liar” because of how “unhealthy” I am using the posts about food as “evidence”.  They send me long, rambling emails detailing how many calories are in every item of food I post, and how each morsel is hardening my arteries and sending me to my grave.   Who has time in their life to do this shit?

As much as I block, spam and filter all of that hate, it still gets through.  I still see bits of it.  I still see the referring links on my dashboard of my blog posts, all coming from a Reddit fat hate forum.  I still see old blog posts targeted by thousands and thousands of people in one day.  I still see the hate comments that I have to delete, block as spam, report as abuse.  As much as I rationally know that their hate is not about me, it’s no reflection of me and my worth, it’s still toxic.  I’m still being bathed in this venom all the time.  Some of it has got to sink through my skin.  I am a human being, I do have feelings and I’m not made of steel.  People can hurt me.  This shit eventually does hurt me.  There is no shame in my being human, and vulnerable.

However, that wasn’t the worst of it.  The worst of it was that all that hate and harassment robbed me of the one thing that is most precious to me – my ability to write.  It did EXACTLY what they wanted it to do, it silenced me.  I was so battle scarred by all of that shit that the minute I started to write anything, instinctively I shut down, as a protection mode.  My brain would simply block any flow of thought, any language out of sheer self-protection against the rightly anticipated onslaught of hate and harassment.  I had the worst case of writers block I have ever had, because it wasn’t just fatigue or lack of creativity, it was like a great big door slamming shut in my brain and locking all the good stuff in to where I could not reach it, and to further the torture, I knew it was still in there but it was out of my grasp.  This is what caused me to spiral further and further into depression.  The more I couldn’t write, the more depressed I got, and the more I felt like I had abandoned my activism, and the more it made me depressed, which then blocked me from writing… and so on.

Yet today, a living angel pops into my life and reminds me just why I became a fat activist.  Who reminded me that what I do matters to more than just me.   Who jolted me out of the bleak headspace and reminded me that by letting all the shit that the haters heap on me STAY on me, they don’t win – nobody with that much hate in themselves actually wins anything, but WE lose.  We lose community, we lose our voice, we lose visibility and we lose strength.   This is how they wear us down, by attacking and attacking individually until we individually can’t bear it any more, which breaks our collective strength.  They can’t break us as a collective, so they work on breaking each us one by one.  You are my strength, my fellow fat community.  You folk are why I stand up and say “I’m not taking this shit any more.”

Individually, it’s really hard being strong in the face of all that hatred spewing in our direction.  But collectively, I believe we are unstoppable.  I believe we are all heroes for each other, even if it is only in tiny ways.  A friendly smile, a kind word, a gesture of support.

By giving a spontaneous moment of kindness, this lovely woman jolted me back from a dark, painful place.  It let me get out all the anger and hurt and frustration.  It’s like her kindness broke the crust of hate that had formed from all of the abuse I’d received over the years.  Which means I sit here in my morning tea break (and again in my lunch break) with all of this stuff pouring out of me at last, onto the page, finally able to write again. I can’t say I’m back to my old standards, but I have taken that first step, and it feels like a huge one.

So thank you to the lovely young woman on George Street (do leave a comment and identify yourself, I won’t publish it if you don’t want me to!) in the floral skirt and cream top – you can’t know just how important you are right now!

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Time for an Experiment

Published December 7, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It’s that time of year again Heffalumpies.  You know, the silly season.  For those of you in the northern hemisphere, you’ve already started with your Halloween and Thanksgiving and stuff.  The “holiday season” is really hitting it’s straps now that it’s December, there is Christmas schlock in all the shops, the carols are already worming their way into my brain and I’m seeing everyone’s stress levels steadily climb, what with family stuff, trying to find the perfect gifts for everyone and going to all the holiday events that happen at this time of year.  Not to mention how expensive this time of year can be.

Unfortunately, all of that stress and running around tends to mean that we let our self care slip by, because we’re too busy to really focus on making sure we are ok ourselves.  Often we drink a bit too much, eat a whole different way to the rest of the year (all that rich holiday food) and don’t get enough sleep.  Not to mention the self esteem crushing that can often happen when one is visiting family.  The exact reason I DON’T visit my biological family, this time of year or any other!

It’s a tough time of year for a lot of reasons and our self esteem is usually the first thing to get battered and bashed in the process.

So how about a little experiment?  Are you all up for trying something fairly unobtrusive but that I believe is pretty powerful, to keep that self esteem ticking along strongly for the rest of December and into the new year?

It’s pretty simple, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy.  I’ve had to learn it myself, and it did take some time to pick up.  What is it, you ask?  Well, just this:

Every day, for the rest of December, whenever you talk to someone in your day, find something about their outfit or their personality or actions that you like, and compliment them on it.   Everyone.  From the people at your bus stop, to the folks at your work, to waiters or servers in cafes and restaurants, even if it’s someone making you a sandwich or selling you a drink.  Your colleagues, your family, your friends, anyone that you encounter during your day.  If you find yourself sitting next to someone on public transport, or in an elevator with someone, have a go at finding something for them too.

I know, I know, it sounds kind of cheesy and Pollyanna-ish when you write it down, but I have noticed something.  It started with a woman I work with, who every time she speaks to me, compliments something about me.  It might be as simple as my earrings, or my shoes, or my dress.  Other times it might be a task I did at work, or how I handled a situation.  Or sometimes it’s just something about me – my laugh, my knowledge of trivia, my phone manner.  Every single day, without fail, Wendy finds something to compliment me on.  I started taking more notice, and discovered that she does it to everyone around her.  Every single person in the office.  Anyone who comes in for a meeting.  People she encounters during her day, no matter how brief.  If she speaks to them, she compliments them on something.

At the same time I was noticing that she always complimented people, I noticed that she is one of the calmest, most joyful people I know.  She is joyful of countenance and seems to cope better with stress than almost anyone I know.  This is not simply because she looks for positives, but also because by just being who she is, she makes people feel good, and they like working with her.  They return the joy she puts out into the world.

So I started trying to do the same.  It was really hard at first, because I either felt so hard on myself I cast that onto other people, or I was too scared I’d make a fool of myself.  I started with friends and people I felt comfortable with.  Every time I see them, I pay them a compliment.  Then I progressed to just finding things that I could compliment other people with, even though I was too scared to voice it yet.  I’d think to myself “Her earrings are so cute!” or “He always makes me laugh.”  Eventually it became habit, second nature to find things about people that I liked.

Then something interesting happened.  As I paid more attention to the positives in other people, I started to pay more attention to the positives about MYSELF.  I started to feel more confident, and yep, my self esteem went up and my stress levels went down.  I started voicing those compliments to more and more people.  The more I did it, the more I noticed people’s demeanor changed around me.  I noticed more smiles.  The general stress levels dropped in everyone, not just myself.

I’ve even started doing it to strangers.  If someone at the bus stop or in the elevator has a nice dress or shoes, I’ll say “I like your shoes.” or “That is such a cute dress.”  It’s amazing how someone lights up when you pay them a compliment, and it’s amazing how good it feels to light someone up like that.

Of course, there are some caveats to this exercise.  Let’s see…

  • Keep away from comments about anyone’s bodies, since I have found it’s rarely (if ever) acceptable to comment on someone’s body, and besides generally speaking, ones body is deeply private anyway.  Remember our motto here at Fat Heffalump: If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.
  • Be genuine.  If you genuinely can’t find anything about someone, then skip it.
  • There will be times you forget, or you’re in a crappy mood or you just have other things on your mind.  That’s ok.
  • If someone is a douchecanoe – don’t waste your time on them.  Move on to someone else.
  • Don’t load your compliments with baggage.  Instead of saying “That dress highlights your shape.”, say “What a beautiful dress.”  Don’t load the compliment so that it casts judgement on someone’s appearance and it can imply that they aren’t as “worthy” other times.  Just keep it simple –  I love your earrings.  You handled that difficult customer so well.  Cute shoes!  Your laugh is so infectious.  Fab handbag, where did you get it?
  • If you aren’t bold enough to say it, think it.  Start with the people who are close to you that you feel comfortable with.  Challenge yourself to add another person each day.

So, do you think you’d like to give this a try for the rest of December?  Are you up for an experiment?