Why am I a vegetarian?

I was recently asked by a friend why I am a vegetarian.  And I pondered. When I first became a vegetarian it was because I disagreed with how animals are treated in the factory farming system. This seemed to be straight forward enough, and before I became a vegetarian, I had already switched to free range and organic meats. But the logical step in my mind was then to eschew meat altogether. I still ate fish for a while (pescatarian) before embracing the full vegetarian diet.

Only I didn’t. A good few years previously, I had experienced the deep joy that is gastroenteritis and food poisoning in the same week. This left me with the marvellous dietary constrict of not being able to tolerate dairy, specifically anything that originated from point of cow. So my vegetarianism was a sort of cheese of sheep and goat (but not too much.. else pain and suffering issues forth!) and also eggs. Sometimes I don’t have dairy in any form, thus defining as an egg eating vegan (veggan). I fluctuate on these variables.

Then I watched a film called ‘Earthlings’. It took me two sittings to get through, as it was a muchly wet face experience for me, but it did endorse and inform what I already knew. So in essence, there are many good reasons why I eat as I do, and I appreciate that to some, my diet is difficult. But to me the answer of why didn’t really feel, well, answered, it felt as if there was more.

So I considered the aspect of entitlement. Did I feel entitled to profit from the suffering of other living things? I live in a built up society, I have a lot of stuff, and I know that a good deal of it, not just the food that I consume does derive from the sadness of others. And this is when the decisions in my life started to change, or rather that I noticed that a whole handful of decisions that I had been making all came under the same umbrella. I have been using charity shops and second-hand shops to source new clothing, trying to remember to take my reusable bags to the supermarket, buying ear buds made with a card middle rather than plastic, taking my reusable water bottle out with me, the list went on. It came down to respect for my environment.

When I realised this, suddenly other tasks that I had been struggling with became easier. If I have this inherent respect for my outside environment, then maybe I could start applying that to my house, my inside environment. Tidying up and streamlining my home is becoming easier, my attachment to things is lessening and this has been a most productive and also a kind of scary thing. If I had put all my love in the things around me, and I was letting go of these things, where would all that love go?

The answer was remarkably simple, I love me better.

Map Point. What sadness can I remove from my life?

 

Glorious Food

Food. I utterly love it, I have friends who say that they would happily just take a pill in place of eating, and although this could be exceptionally handy for the times that I forget to eat (more often than I would like, it leads to much hangry), as a way of life, I would find this incredibly depressing.

I find food exciting. From my rambunctiously spirulina green smoothies to roast dinner to pancakes with maple syrup (needs to be available for sale in bigger containers), it is all amazing. I love the variance in colours, the textures and the complete curiosity and joy about trying something new (the only thing I have ever had to remove from my mouth with speed was crab.. this was not an agreeable taste!). Food is a most sublime experience.

When I eat my dinner or drink something fruity, I find myself always savouring the last mouthful, like other people. I started to ponder this. Am sure that there are likely many good psychological rationales for why we do this, but I was thinking of it in terms of how much I love what I am consuming, why do I love the last bit most. Having happily drunk something delicious, it’s waiting for those last bits to dribble down that taste the best. Only in reality they don’t, there is seldom enough for a satisfying amount, so why is this a thing?

Maybe we don’t appreciate something until we can see an end to it. This also feels sort of bleak. Then I was thinking about a book that I was lent many years ago called ‘The Power of Now’ or something similar. In my process of consumption, I am racing, thinking ahead in my mind, about the finish, rather than enjoying the process. If every mouthful felt like the last one, I think that would be a truly divine way to experience food.

Learning to take my time, learning patience is a skill that I often lack. Maybe I have never seen any value in it, or maybe my requirement to know outcomes leads me to not appreciate the journey. Being goal motivated is a good thing, in many different ways, but it does not directly foster appreciation. So, my new aspiration, my new goal is to learn to take my time over things, and maybe (just maybe), I might be able to leave the last mouthful on the plate.

Map Point. Where can I invest more time?

Reactions that reflect

My friendship groups have always been quite varied, but I have attracted people with some pretty scary life stories. Children who have grown up in care, friends with mental illness, people with sad relationships. I think we all have this in our lives, but it’s our actions as to how we interact with this that reveal aspects of ourselves.

If we have a friend who talks about the latest argument they have had and our most instant reaction is to empathise and see things entirely from their perspective. Endorsing everything that is said and speaking as if the slight had happened to you, with appropriate outrage and indignation. I have been this person who both offered this sort endorsement and also wanted it from others. It is good to want to feel right, to feel that our actions are just and considered, that the other person was entirely at fault. Post break ups in my life have been a particularly bad time for this. This I feel is sad as it really focuses everything in on the most horrible parts of the relationship, and can be the entire lasting memory of that relationship.

But what if we aren’t right, when we aren’t right? Is indulging this sort of endorsement really a good thing? Possibly it is, in some circumstances when somebody is really low, they haven’t got the energy left to consider the rationale behind why something happened. And when they have, do we still consider this approach to them or do we try something more confrontational?

This is possible as soon as we have identified in our own lives, things that we are not justified for doing, things and behaviours that were very much not okay. At this point, we can recognise in others what we have already learnt for ourselves.

When I have wanted to be indulged (thinking of a particularly bad breakup)I have wanted to be endorsed, because I was too scared to admit that I was flawed. I was feeling fragile and wanted to be looked after. And there have been others times where I have sat with a group of friends where everyone is identifying with the person telling the sad story, and I have called them out (in a gentle way) asking them questions rather than overlaying their words with my replica. It is massively socially endorsing to repeat someone’s words back to them, in a slightly different way, but by doing so, you are keeping that person fixed in the past. Whereas starting to look beyond these situations, asking pertinent questions and moving forward; that is healing.

Map Point. How do react to the issues of others?

Authenticity for the win

Thinking about writing this blog has been an interesting process. It gives me the discipline to write every day, and I know what I want to write about, but thinking about my level of honesty has been interesting.

If I write everything from the point of view of friends that I have known, or people that I have worked with then although I may be saying exactly what I want, it is not me. I understand that these are good masks people use to tell their own stories, but they lack immediacy, they lack authenticity.

There are many things that I have experienced that I have learnt a good deal from. And although I think there is likely a benefit that other people could gain from reading this; there is also the counter weight of how much of myself I want to put into a public domain.

Social media gives us the opportunity to share our lives in terms of immediate thoughts, the music we like, the workouts we have done and the photos that we have taken. This gives us the most amazing ways to communicate with our friends, our peers. However, in terms of authenticity and the honesty of our intentions, the situation becomes somewhat darker. Does the photo of our food in a restaurant really indicate that we need some attention, do ‘likes’ equal endorsement? Do the congratulations on our five-mile run give us the validation to keep going? I don’t know if there was a definitive point whereby our actions needed social endorsement. Maybe this has always been the case, we like approval for our actions, but does this ease of validation from others become a replacement for us doing this for ourselves?

Self-validation, boosting our own self-esteem can be difficult sometimes, but it is a necessary skill to acquire. It gives us possibility. But how does this increased self-esteem link to authenticity? Essentially, the more I am me, the less I want to be anyone else! When I felt low, I mirrored others, I was avoidant, I did many things to avoid being me. But then things changed, or rather I enacted change, and now I don’t want to talk through the words of others. Authenticity is important.

This blog will be harsh and bold. I will be harsh and bold. And there are somethings which will be hard to talk about and that is okay, but I promise myself this, I have worked hard to get to where I am, and I am not going to sell myself short in my words.

Map Point. How can I increase my authenticity?

 

Actual Mirrors

There have been times in my life when I have looked into the mirror and irrespective of how fat or thin I was, I saw nothing but negativity, judgement and humiliation looking back at me. This was a hard place to start my day from and didn’t exactly boost my self-esteem.

The absolute worst time in my life for doing this was when I was in my twenties. There were a round six months of my life where I found that I was actively choosing not to eat. I was a student at the time; my mum lived close by, so some evenings I would go and have a proper dinner with her, and that felt nice. But for the rest of the time, I drank black coffee and ate a couple of biscuits here and there. My weight tumbled off. A healthy weight for me is around eleven to eleven and a half stone. I was around thirteen when I began this endeavour and when I began eating normally again, I was down to ten stone. I am a tall person with a large frame, all of my bones were visible. I was incredibly unhappy with a variety of issues in my life, a relationship had ended, a new one had begun that was problematic in some ways, my uncle was slowly fading with dementia, my grandad had died. I don’t think that it was any one of these things that made me take the actions that I did, but likely a combination, I regained control of my life by limiting my food intake.

Any addiction or denial gives us back the control that we feel is missing, and for me, lack of food was empowering. I found that feeling hungry made me feel alive, made me feel good. I would stand in front of the mirror naked, pinching bits of skin, deciding that I could go another half stone. I didn’t see beauty or anything positive, just something that I could control. I was also getting many compliments about how skinny I was becoming. I guess this must have been nice, as it further endorsed the choices that I was making. It was truly one of the most unhappy periods of my life.

As I began to deal with my sad experiences, I became a healthy weight again, and I found myself naked in front of the mirror, telling myself and utterly seeing myself as beautiful. Maybe this was to self-endorse, maybe I needed the reassurance, but it occurred to me a few day ago that I don’t do that anymore. I am now around a stone above my ideal weight, so maybe my level of self-love has dropped, but although this is a possibility, I don’t think that it is true. I think that I have reached a stage in my life where it no longer matters. I eat really well, I exercise, meditate, socialise with exceptional people. Viewing myself in terms of how my body looks is no longer relevant. I still like to look nice, but I no longer tie my emotional state to my physical one. If I receive a compliment, I have immense gratitude to the person giving it, but it doesn’t further endorse me. I have self-endorsed, thus I have left the emotional weight of the shape of my body behind.

Map Point. How do I feel about my physical state?

 

 

Judgement

It is too easy to judge the lives of others. We live in a society that sometimes feels conditioned to do so. I remember hearing a close family member talking about his girlfriend, and how nervous, and then how excited she had been to get a job in a cafe. And he spoke about this with pity in his voice. If that was her highest level of aspiration, that can’t have been a good thing? It is too easy to make criticisms of someone else’s life without ever having any idea of how they have got to the place they have got to. I remember once after being treated in hospital for stomach pain with diamorphine, and feeling how terrible that felt on my mental state, my overriding thought was that if this is a high point of someone’s day, then that makes me humble.

Every time we make a judgment on someone else, we are expressing an aspect of ourselves that could be useful to examine. The more extreme things are easier, but what about the passing judgment of his clothes, her hair, his weight, her music choices, his books .. the list goes on. If I judge someone’s weight, what does that say about me – am I scared that my shape might change? Do I perceive laziness or starvation because that is what most closely resonates with me? So rather than addressing my own issues, it feels easier to criticise those that I don’t know or even those that I profess to love.

I guess this could be a perceived entirely as a negative thing that we sometimes engage in, but what if that is flipped, and we use the judgments that we make to question ourselves and why we are making them.

When I first met Robert he was incredibly judgemental of how people looked, which for me was actually a boon. I have generally found it difficult to consistently make myself presentable. It wouldn’t occur to me to recycle my clothes with holes, throw out old makeup, wear makeup differently, take more care of myself physically. It wasn’t that I didn’t do any of things ever, just likely not as often as should likely be recommended! (I now know about the little symbol that ‘suggests’ when makeup is out of date!). Through Robert, I developed a greater confidence about the sort of shops I could shop in (all of them, apparently) and the kind of clothes I thought I could wear (more than I thought) and that has been utterly tremendous. Conversely, Robert’s judgments come from a place of insecurity, but as with all things, he is turning this into a positive that can enrich him, rather than a weight that makes him smaller. Judgments can help us to grow.

Map Point. What things do we judge most harshly?

A new perspective (I no longer need this heavy suitcase)

When I was becoming so well practiced with my five amazing memories, other thoughts started to occur to me, firstly although I knew that I was no longer flooding my mind with unhappy (and replacing it with happy), I still wasn’t actually ‘happy’. This led me to consider what had triggered such a negative mindset to begin with. Now I guess this is different for everyone, but essentially could likely be summed up with ‘sad stories that we couldn’t get past’. So I thought about my sad stories and tried to rationalise them, see them objectively, and for all intents and purposes, this is a really hard task!

If I have been holding onto to an unhappy memory for many years, then that sad story has become a familiarity, and mostly, we don’t like losing what we consider to be ‘ours’. Even applying fresh eyes to a situation can feel somehow traitorous to our sense of self. But at the same time, I recognised that feeling this level of sadness over something that I cannot change does not lead to happy! Events, I reasoned, can’t be changed, but maybe my thoughts about them can. So I proceeded. Cautiously.

Throughout my teenage years, I experienced anxiety, manifesting into the form of panic attacks. At the time these were scary, isolating and I felt that nothing, not even my own body, could be trusted. I lived in this state for a long time, and went through the usual channels of medication and therapy, but never seemed to make any genuine progress. This I can relay as a sad story. However looking at this as an adult, I can apply a whole new set of parameters. I experienced the anxiety because of the environment I was in, and I didn’t have the confidence or vocabulary to be able to express my needs. It wasn’t anxiety I was suffering from, it was repressed anger, rage at the situations that I was unable to control. And then perhaps the hardest bit of looking back on these memories. What have I gained from these experiences?

I am compassionate with those around me, and I understand that what a person is trying to express is not always the words that they say. Language can become muddy sometimes. I have also learned that to confidently express my needs is a truly empowering thing and I am utterly allowed to do that.

Sometimes it feels that a situation will just keep reoccurring until I work out what I can gain from it. Which feels quite frustrating for the most part, but if I can learn from things that have hurt me, maybe I can let them go. And that feels enlightening.

Do I experience anxiety as an adult? On occasion, absolutely, but as a weekly or monthly feature, absolutely not. For me, recognising and understanding the causes of my anxiety was the first stage, but then learning to let go of the memories that I held so dearly was quite another, a much more difficult challenge. We choose the weight that we want to carry with us.

Map Point. What am I carrying that is no longer serving me?

No more funeral thoughts

So with the realisation that my inner monologue was something less than happy, I embarked on a program of self-conditioning. This occurred to me whilst riding the top deck of the road based public transport (I had been busy visualising my own funeral) and I decided at that point, enough was most certainly enough (It was sad, there were canapés). So rather than judging and berating myself further for my negative talk, I would force myself to relive five entirely awesome memories. Now these have changed over time, but if ever I find myself in a negative headspace, these are my current go to happy memories

1) My daughter being born, specifically after the birth, when I got my one on one, alone bonding time with her, and the first words I spoke to her ‘Gas and air, it’s really good’. She was so tiny, curled around with her head on my shoulder.

2) Kissing my daughters dad (a now long since ex) in a quirksome funky little bar where he was performing. Our friends were all there, and I had to clamber over a big leather settee to get to him before he went on stage, so I was standing maybe a foot above him (on edge of said settee) and he was standing on the floor (logistics are important) and we kissed (proper kiss) and all of our friends cheered. Much smiley moment.

3)Sitting with my Mum when I was around four years old. After lunch, which for the sake of this memory is always tomato soup and a cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread, we would always snuggle up on an armchair together. We would then watch two shows, Pebble Mill at One and The Sullivans. I felt safe and warm and entirely loved.

4) Walking on the beach, through the shallow waves, watching the sunshine cascade over the water, seeing treasures (sand rounded glass), feeling the cold of the water and the texture of the melting sand on my feet.

5) Playing guitar and singing with my friend Robert. There is such a genuine joy in singing with another human, it doesn’t matter if our notes are off or one of us misses a chord (especially if there is a bar involved), it creates the most divine bubble. A space to lose yourself in.

It isn’t enough to just say the words, or imagine the pictures to them, this has to be an involved procedure. Imagining the sounds, the way you felt, how hot or cold it was, all the details that make this a memory that will genuinely make you smile and uplift you. Now at this stage of my life, I was putting myself down a good deal, and the effort, upon realising that I was being negative about myself to think of five amazing things was immense. I occasionally wonder if I literally scared my brain into not talking down to me, because the effort of thinking of five good things all the time was exhausting.. Or I was simply reminding myself of all these amazing things in my life, that I no longer had any reason to be unkind to me. I was amazing too.

Map Point. What are my five most amazing memories?

Looking at others to see me

Thinking about people in your life is mostly quite a hard task. It’s easy to group them by gender, or occupation or a myriad of other easy classifications, but to define the exact role that they play in your life is something quite different.

I used to have a friend called Louise, we were close friends for an exceptionally long time, very supportive of each other, but then after a relatively minor falling out, we stopped talking. And the strangest thing was – I did not miss her. It was only after not being around her did I realise how negative she could be sometimes, how critical. Her idea of funny was finding some way to demean me or to remind me of times in my life where I had made poor choices. I had lost my objectivity about the relationship, it relied solely on familiarity and ritual.

Let me explain, when we are in a relationship, any kind of relationship, it is incredibly difficult to see a person clearly, without all the nice things that they do fogging over their more negative traits. We all know the negative traits are there but it is easier, it is nicer if we just concentrate on the good bits. The days out. The unexpected gift. Their support for a new job. We are subjective in our view of them. Trying to take an objective viewpoint of our friends gives rise to two issues. 1) We disturb the familiarity of our lives and 2) What do these friends negative traits say about ourselves?

Using the people in our lives as a way to reflect ourselves can be an interesting task. It occurred to me, post-Louise, that I demeaned myself and spent hours contemplating past poor choices, thus she was only doing what I was far more proficient at. In feeling the weight that lifted after my friendship ended, and the relief that brought, if I stopped doing that to myself, would that increase tenfold? A hundredfold? More than that? And this was something that I wanted to explore further. How could I reach a place in my life where putting myself down didn’t come so naturally?

I guess there are myriad ways in which each of us put ourselves down or have negative ‘self-talk’. Through harsh experiences, through relationships, through our work and so many others. At some point, we have gently decided that we are not enough (whatever that is) and that we should berate ourselves for it.

Map Point. For what reasons do I put myself down?

The Five Closest People

A few years ago I came across a theory that seemed like it might be fun to try and apply to my life. The theory stated that we are the culmination of the five people that we spend the most time with. Okay, I thought, this sounds straightforward, I know who these people are! So I began

1) My daughter. I see her as a wonderful cadence of creativity, inspiration, adventure and laughter. I knew that she also had a hard time, not by not being able to state her wants, but she has a hard time is accepting things that were out of her control.

Hmm, I  thought, this could be slightly deeper than initially anticipated.. so I continued

2) My Mum. My Mum is a woman of intense fortitude, resilience and strength. She is compassionate, kind, resourceful and ever supportive. She also judges herself really harshly and doesn’t always state her wants clearly (this stating and getting was becoming something of a theme..) which can give her a tendency to criticise.

3) My friend Robert. Robert is exuberant, noisy, supportive, vain, is able to retain much knowledge but also is often entirely crippled by insecurity, anxiety and self-esteem issues. He hates asking for things but has a massive heart. He finds ‘unfunctional touch’ uncomfortable and doesn’t like my cat (likely related to the previous point).

4) My friend Maggie. Maggie owns her own house, has her own income and works in the creative sector. She mostly always seems to be somehow on edge and anticipates the very worst outcomes in many situations. She is kind, generous and talented.

5) My friend Kate. Kate is married (curiously the only one out of my ‘top five’ who is), has a dog (who I also get on well with) and is entirely beautiful. She is innovative with her children, she is courageous and her tenacity is almost unbelievable at times. I sometimes wonder where she gets all her energy from.

After some curious digesting of this information, it occurred to me that I was neither fully playing to my strengths or acknowledging my weaknesses. Everyone we encounter likely has something to offer us, even if only through their indifference. But the people who truly inspire us, or aggravate us or a host of other stronger emotions, these are the people we need to watch, these are the people through which we can learn most about ourselves.

My journey begins.