Body Dysmorphia: A Weight On My Mind

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I’ve not discussed my weight loss journey here for some considerable time. This is not by accident – I simply have no progress to report!

If anything, since I plateaued in June 2018, I have regressed, though there are some damn good reasons for that: I suffered a bereavement during that winter, it was a poor time of year to consider diet and exercise but ultimately I wasn’t in the right mental headspace.

Plateauing dented my confidence to continue to stick to the plan, and dealing with serious illness and bereavement in my immediate family over the cold, harsh winter months did mean I ended up spending very little time looking after myself as I attended to duties I felt the need to.

This gives me no pleasure to write as I feel, even with that context in mind, that I am excuse-making. It’s now been a long time and I can’t deny over 2019 my weight has not been a factor that has crossed my mind. I’ve regained the weight I managed to lose in 2018, which is a great shame.

My current diet is largely unplanned, and far from healthy; I’d say my junk food itch these days makes me happy but that’s a complicated factor I’ll approach later; but it is simple and relatively cheap to maintain.

It’s easy and trite at this time of year to make a pledge to “shape up after Christmas” – why not now? Again I have reasons – they feel like tepid excuses – a new job, and new routine – a big step for me, a lot to learn which occupies some of my mental headspace as it’s change which I find scary.

And even a simple factor such as the inclement weather of a British winter doesn’t inspire me – I feel very strongly that being in the right, positive mental game for fitness or weight loss is largely the key. Starting on a new regime and making it stick means making that initial outlay of effort to start at the right time, both mentally and seasonally.

Why seasonally? Humans are creatures of comfort and I’m no exception to this – starting a new routine, especially one that involves physicality, is hard enough to will yourself into without  having to wrap up in six layers because the biting winter wind is chopping your legs off – it doesn’t inspire sticking power. Us creatures of comfort will, instead of making that express effort to carry on with a new regime we may not be familiar with or comfortable with, make excuses to stay indoors where its comfortable.

Again this comes back to headspace and being in the right mindset – procrastination (and a lack of accountability) is borne out of that uncertainty in oneself.

But none of this is really what I’m wanting to discuss – this is just setting the scene if you will, because I want to talk about why I am unhappy with my body, all the previous things considered, and more importantly how  I’m feeling about the very near future when I want to action a plan to conquer my own… lack of faith in myself.

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the last year, or certainly for the majority of 2019. I’m not happy with my body, and my weight loss journey at least gives me some important tools to understand perhaps the context why (and a possible way out) but it doesn’t change the here and now: I very likely an experiencing Body Dysmorphic Disorder – I know why and I know perhaps some pathways out but it doesn’t change the here and now that I am quite unhappy with my body.

532581This is quite difficult, I’ve found, to talk about without feeling that I, myself, am being vain or self-centred. Just saying you feel fat seems like you’re wallowing a little in self-pity, wanting attention for it. But I do feel I’ve had a number of occasions this year when it’s had an appreciable impact, both in some acute cases and a general overall detraction: I want to go into both.

For the acute case it’s easier to tell the story: I went to visit a good friend who has in his back garden a hot-tub; however I can’t deny I wasn’t anxious about having to get in it, especially when it involves undressing in a somewhat public (or at least, very much less private) setting. I was aware that I was being extremely harsh on myself – my friend wouldn’t have judged me on my appearance – but it did bring up some anxiety, just waiting for it to be mentioned. It wouldn’t have been an enjoyable experience throughout the background – yes I could’ve masked my anxiety to the whole scenario, I expect, but it would’ve been an undercurrent throughout. That’s not fun.

On researching BDD for this post, the NHS definition  of the condition states:

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.

I feel that my thoughts and feelings about my appearance qualify. In a way I do “notice” other people’s sizes and I do end up wondering how “thin” people manage to ever stay that way, which is a harmful way of comparison.

My weight is a big part of my potential for experiencing body dysmorphic disorder but the definition is wider-ranging and I find myself noticing not only other people’s “sizes” but also their hair; for I am gradually losing mine (hopefully not completely) and I’m aware of it, and a few careless comments from former co-workers haven’t helped me there – again this all boils back down to confidence and my lack of it with regard to my body as a whole.

With the hot-tub incident above, I feel this qualifies. I was extremely anxious about the perception of my appearance – yes I am back to an overweight state but that doesn’t make it “noticeable”, to counter the last part in that definition.

As a society we’re seeking to reduce the burden of so-called “fat-shaming” – a phrase I’d never before thought I’d be using, being someone who rejects a lot of the “snowflake” culture that’s loaded behind that term.

Sometimes shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though perhaps a less biting term should be used: I am not using my shame to try to will myself into doing better once again, I am using my regret at letting myself down because I’m aware of the long-term health effects if I do nothing – my confidence and my anxiety are important, yes; but I have to consider the risk I am putting myself at serious illness later down the line borne out of my weight.

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Cancer Research UK’s 2019 publicity campaign which attracted national attention (I thought it effective)

There’s too much scientific proof to say that being overweight leads to legitimate health concerns that can be mitigated by, yes, addressing weight problems. It’s a fact of life. While I think that “fat-shaming” is regretful – I don’t necessarily see being personal and rude as being effective motivators to get people to address their self-confidence through their weight, but I am using my displeasure or lack of confidence to try to find that will to make the first, hard steps.

Sometimes a shock is all one needs to make effective and lasting lifestyle changes – I wouldn’t say nagging helps me, but I would say that being accountable does.

Like most people, I shower at least once a day, sometimes multiple times because it’s nice and, on a writing-related tangent, it’s oddly a place from where I get inspired. On a private level, all I need to do is glance in my bathroom mirror before and be dismayed by what I see. That dismay does cut deep, but in a way it does steel me a little, with my previous experience that I must do better.

But my body dysmorphia does manifest itself throughout my normal life: it changes how I choose to dress and perceive myself; for work (my old job) I used to have to wear fairly unflattering nylon polo shirts that would be completely unflattering to one’s spare tyre around the stomach; I wear festive jumpers not because I’m particularly festive but because they can be quite baggy and conceal what I know is there – a symbol of my inner shame.

D5Q3W-WXkAEARJuI’m extremely wary of photographs now, though that is just an extension of a general feeling of being unphotogenic. But currently I do have to be careful; if you observe this photo from April, I feel my noticeable overweight frame slightly mars a great experience of the day, and a lovely photo with a good friend (it was nice to meet Sam for the first time in real life!).

Again, going back to the definition of BDD, it may simply be just me that picks up that flaw or imperfection, but being aware of it, it makes me wary and careful with photos, which can degrade some of the spontaneity.

What does this lead to? Unhappiness, and entry into a vicious cycle of “eating my feelings” – I feel good because I eat, say, a big old carvery dinner but then I feel the guilt not just because of what I’ve done but, being totally frank, the bloat and feeling of fullness that, once the satisfaction of a good, tasty meal subsides, just leaves me feeling thoroughly crap.

It might seem dramatic to define my body as something I am ashamed of but to not do so even to a slight degree would be deluding myself a bit. The feeling I get when I look at where I am – especially compared to where I was in 2018 – the photo I’ve used from a summer photoshoot is one I’m extremely proud of. I’ve never looked that good (it was a fun day out) and, in a way, I don’t want to think I won’t “look that good” again; I just have a latent desire to put that effort in again.

But a surprise to me in the research and conversations that led to me writing this post is that body dysmorphia is not simply the domain of the overweight or obese; indeed careful reading of the NHS’s definition does not mention it being solely linked to being overweight, though that is by and far the “default” assumption. I was most surprised to hear that my friend Chris Kenny has suffered a similar crisis of sorts, but from the opposite end of the spectrum to me. I’ve followed his Instagram for a while and he should be really proud of his fitness progress but I was surprised to hear that he seemed to have a similar lack of self-confidence in what his body looked like.

We strive for perfection, always spotting flaws that need to be adjusted. Some rounder delts, thicker traps etc. To your question, in the past I was aware of my skinny frame and indeed made aware of it by work colleagues (“work place banter”) and it hurt.

Read Chris’ responses in full on this page.

Of course I approach my understanding of Body Dysmorphia from the conventional “overweight” perspective but it’s an important distinction to make that this isn’t solely a condition based on one’s weight; though a big part of it, BDD is more about one’s lack of confidence in their appearance and the harmful cycle that this leads to.

The NHS page on the condition lists Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a potential treatment for Body Dysmorphia and I’d wholeheartedly agree – my own experience with CBT in relation to depression – these conditions can and do overlap, body dysmorphia can be a powerful feed into depression – would back up that it gives great tools to deal with the negative thoughts and emotions. It’s worth checking out.

However I approach my own conclusions slightly differently, and it goes back to my earlier statements about stalling on my weight loss journey. I know that my lack of body confidence stems from my weight, and it’s something that will clearly be a long-term issue for me to deal with, especially as I age and my metabolism slows. I need to accept and be at ease with that fact – and my previous weight loss success means that, like with cognitive behavioural therapy, I am now equipped with the tools to better understand what goes on under the hood.

The struggle exists now as I feel I have regressed a lot – though perhaps regression is the incorrect choice of word for what’s happened because contextually based on my personal circumstances I have a lot of reasons why I’ve lost my way.

But I have a burning desire to regain that progress in 2020. It’s surprising because I’m using my shame and displeasure in my own body to drive myself to make positive changes – the best way of breaking the vicious cycle is to use that momentum to divert. I think I can use my knowledge of what I can achieve, given gumption and determination to do that again and smash past the barriers I saw before.

It’s also a good time of year to reflect. I want to spend the rest of the year really considering how I’m going to effect some decent change in my life, and I want to give myself some time to let those ideas percolate.

Rushing into things usually ends with just a flash in the pan – I want to effect a decent, lasting change and that starts by adapting a new way of thinking. I mentioned a lack of accountability before and one way I’ll aim to address that is to write about my progress – positive and negative – more regularly, as this is only the start, I feel, and there may be more to say as time goes on. Stay tuned, and I hope it helps!

Creative Writing in Your Lunchtime

20190605_153747887_iOSI’ve generally been trying to use my local library – Sutton Central Library – more as a workspace that inspires concentration as one of the worst traits I know I have is that I procrastinate like mad at home. Over the weekend I spotted a poster in the lift for an upcoming series of free creative writing workshops taking place over the summer. Intrigued, I signed up, and went along with Gary Thomas. The inaugural session took place on a couple of days ago.

I had previously attended a creative writing-themed session at Sutton Library some time ago, talking about self-publishing, which I still maintain an intrigue toward, despite my plans for my work-in-progress novel The Thaw to be traditionally published. That session was a bit of a let down as the speaker didn’t seem to have much faith in the aspects of self-publishing that I, certainly, held most interest in – their work was self-funded and the lack of an expression of faith in editors, or any discussion of online marketing, left me leaving underwhelmed.

Nevertheless I approached this new session open-minded. And I was pleasantly surprised! Walking away I was feeling, honestly, quite reinvigorated. It was a casual affair that took place in the library’s new Family Lounge and was hosted by Sutton Library’s writer-in-residence Rachel Sambrooks. We had a good group chat discussing why we write and that writing can be, and indeed is, an extension of ourselves. The conversation was good – there was a decent turnout of a diverse range of writers – from myself and Gary who are fairly experienced at the craft to people who’d read but never written.

I applaud them for having the courage, frankly, to come along as it can be daunting, even to someone like me, to face a group of people when it comes to one’s writing. Also in attendance was vlogger Aridja Kals – who came a fair distance to attend! – who made some great points in the discussion that Rachel led that we shouldn’t be afraid to fail at creative endeavours. The theme of the first workshop was based around a quote from Bennie Brown: that the search for instant perfection is the enemy of innovation. I definitely agree that that feeling is a barrier to writing that people seem to unfairly place upon themselves – there’s an expectation with creativity that things will emerge from the forge of one’s imagination perfectly formed, when it’s really not the case, and it’s absolutely fine! It’s so important to not reject one’s work off-hand and I was glad that was one of the first things Rachel imparted upon us – I certainly appreciated the refresher! But also I feel it was a good piece of advice to perhaps “mythbust” the craft of writing to those that might feel daunted at the prospect!

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Aridja made a good point in the discussion that it might be useful to see the word “fail” as a retroactive acronym for First Attempt At Learning. I agree and Rachel made an important point that “failure” is perhaps not the best term for attempting something – which to some in the group proved totally new – and realising that a particular piece isn’t working. We as writers need to be willing to throw an idea against the wall to see if it sticks in order to create and develop from that.

From my own perspective as a writer I feel that’s really key, and I was pleased that this was discussed at the workshop. Sometimes it’s too easy to psyche oneself out of writing, especially if it’s either outside of their comfort zone or a totally new endeavour – but I try to counter that in my own mind by reminding myself nothing ventured, nothing gained. And it’s an important tool in all aspects of learning to attempt new things and then identify weaknesses and strengths and work on those areas. Sometimes a story or a piece of writing just won’t execute well and that’s fine; it doesn’t all boil down just to skill – identifying that a piece didn’t work is a skill in itself.

It was also good fun to have a go at a few writing exercises. Based on the earlier theme of “failure”, Rachel asked us to come up with a list of ten “failures” that might happen in life – an exercise that I found surprisingly difficult on the hoof! We used these scenarios to then have a go at some free writing – again, something I’ve not done since my university days! I was refreshed to see how quickly the words ended up flowing, and when the time was up I did want to continue!

We were urged to not necessarily rely on laptops for writing. I’d brought mine but had also packed a notebook and pen, almost foreseeing this. Writing freehand did feel a bit more personal and artistic, as if the words flowed in a purer sense through into my scrawl. It was definitely refreshing, even if my wrists were a little sore! I’m buoyed by what I had written and I may even continue it! Certainly the session reaffirmed in my mind that it’s fine to write pieces just for practise and not all pieces need be ones to submit or get out there. Writers need practise too – and if good ideas result from that practise, all the better.

20190603_125024187_iOSThe session ended with a game of lateral thinking that I found more useful than I’d otherwise expected – word association. Initially we started with a group effort but split into individual attempts and I found it a refreshing challenge – the most challenging part of both exercises being the plucking of ideas and snippets from thin air, though I will persevere! It’s a useful and key skill to keep supple in my writer’s arsenal.

Honestly on reflection now I found the exercises hard as it does tap into that ethereal ability to conjure ideas on the hoof out of thin air. This is always the hardest, but arguably most rewarding part of writing I find, and I appreciated having to stretch myself!

I was certainly glad that I went to the session at the end of it – it reminded me very positively of my university days where my peer group would workshop ideas together. Those were arguably the most valuable sessions from university. I’m definitely going to keep going to these sessions at my local library – they’re free and it’s no real trouble to get to, and it’s nice to be surrounded by like-minded writers again! Excited for next week now!

Mech-ing a Comeback

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I’ve recently been quite privileged to have been invited into an exclusive group of people testing out a new incarnation of StoryMechs, which my good friend Sam Richards previously ran as Tweet RPG back in the heady, halcyon days of Twitter in 2012 – the days with 140 character tweets and before GIFs and Emojis. A simpler time!

StoryMechs – and its predecessor, Tweet RPG – are a really innovative new spin on the choose-your-own-adventure story, utilising the utility and convenience that technology allows to really allow for dynamic stories. I have fond memories on playing some of the early Tweet RPG stories, and indeed met some cool people I still talk to regularly today.

I’ve previously written about StoryMechs when it was brand new – but alas, this came at a bit of a busy time for Sam so the project’s been dormant for a long time; however it was great to hear from him about re-energising the project for new stories. He’s got some really solid ideas and I’m eager to see how they develop.

So, very recently Sam invited me and some others as part of the StoryMechs Focus Group to participate in a brief new adventure to test out the waters. This was a good idea; Sam by his own admission hadn’t run something like this for some time, and considering his plans for the future, this was wise. The week-long adventure, My Valentine, was good fun, so Sam should be reassured that his ability hasn’t waned in the interim.

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My experience in the focus group did, however, get me thinking: previously, I think Tweet RPG was almost ahead of its time, existing in a time before Twitter polls and Facebook feeds. I can only imagine how much admin this would’ve added; indeed, now with these features extant on platforms like Facebook and Twitter it makes both the playing of the game a simpler process and I can only imagine how much easier it makes the game to administrate behind the scenes, so it’s a win-win in terms of infrastructure.

However Sam brought up an interesting point in the group chat – that as players using Facebook for a platform, we seemed less willing to add our own spin on our choices – in the old format, where votes and decisions were made through hashtag, it would be accompanied usually by the player’s own comments or point-of-view; with Facebook separating the voting and the comments quite distinctly, it’s almost harder to do that organically; however I feel that wherever there’s a comments field, players will find a way to put in their own spin on what’s happening.

But on reflection, also, I felt there wasn’t as much need – in the case of the mini-adventure Sam ran to test the new format out, cyberpunk yarn My Valentine – to add my own commentary as I think that certainly Sam’s writing has become more filled out and he’s clearly given the story a lot of thought in each permutation. My strategy in the focus group, in my mind, was not only to test out the infrastructure of using a Facebook group to run the game but also in a way to test how Sam’s writing had evolved. I was pleasantly surprised and I feel his work remains strong and enjoyable.

Sam plans to run forthcoming stories using Patreon as a platform for players to reward and incentivise his work, which I feel is an excellent idea. I was pleased to become Sam’s first official patron; I’m more than happy to support him as a fellow writer and friend in developing StoryMechs. Overall it’s a really innovative spin on a classic form of storytelling that I can tell Sam is a natural fan of, and it’s an intriguing and engaging spin using new technology. We’re all prone to mindlessly scrolling on social media so why not add in the opportunity to engage in something truly fun with the medium!

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I do however identify some areas I feel that need addressing or considering going forward. I think there’s a genuine market for compilations of completed adventures – even some of the legacy Tweet RPG stories too – to perhaps be sold under the StoryMechs brand; perhaps including author’s notes for a more behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the story? Certainly there’s scope to create wide-ranging universes to tell multiple stories within; the key there would be keeping these worlds malleable – multiple adventures spanning different genres would give StoryMechs a broad appeal to a variety of fiction fans. Sam’s writing is strong and I think StoryMechs is a great vehicle for him to get his narratives out there through an innovative and imaginative medium.

I’d also recommend that Sam look into setting up a StoryMechs website that is platform-agnostic where players are able to sign up, read some of the reviews or previous adventures and learn about the system and story behind StoryMechs before jumping into an adventure through Facebook. At this early stage I realise that Sam is going to have to rely on Facebook or Twitter for infrastructure but the sky’s the limit, though how he combines those two distinct social networks is going to be interesting; we all know people who “aren’t on Facebook” (and likewise with Twitter) so I think Sam needs to be resolute in which platform he chooses to use. My personal view is that Facebook’s near-ubiquity and utility make it an obvious choice.

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Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Sam in real life at an event (more on that in a future post!) and it was great to finally put a face to the name I’d known on Twitter for some considerable time. His enthusiasm for what he wants to now do with StoryMechs. I’d strongly suggest that if you’re into interactive fiction you give StoryMechs a good look. It’s so refreshing to see a writer in his element, and innovating in telling stories he’s clearly passionate about, and is passionate in sharing. I’m certainly feeling pretty inspired! For more information follow the StoryMechs Twitter and Sam Richard’s personal page now!

A Welcome Return!

Hello! It’s nice to be back! Unfortunately I had to take a hiatus of a few months from before Christmas to now to deal with some important personal issues but I’ve resolved to get  myself back in the game as my site was starting to collect a few cobwebs!

I’ve already got some new work in the pipeline but instead of jumping right in I wanted to discuss briefly my plans for March – the weather’s getting good again and the creativity is finally flowing once more!

  • I’ve been working on a new short story, a horror piece I’ve provisionally titled Entrance of the Gladiators, though this may change or it may not, we’ll see how this goes! This is a short story I’d initially planned to write and release around Christmas time but because of things that were going on in my personal life I wasn’t able to commit the time to, and honestly, I wasn’t in the right place to either.

    Nevertheless, I’ve decided to resurrect the idea. I had initially hoped to have this piece ready to submit on 11th March to the BBC National Short Story Award but while I’ve been enjoying writing the draft, in my heart of hearts it’s far too rough at this point and I can’t see myself, barring some kind of miracle, being able to finish it to a standard I feel comfortable submitting it to. I’m disappointed to not be able to submit it but I’m being realistic. However, I will be finishing the piece and sending it off to a couple of wordsmith friends for some commentary and I will be researching some other competitions in the very near future to send it to.

    I will say that I have really enjoyed writing it so far, I think I’ve got some really cool horror ideas going on and I’m enjoying the experience of being a fledgling horror writer! Also, I’m going to persist with writing shorts for competitions – even if I don’t win or get shortlisted, these are good exercises for working to a deadline I don’t have the liberty of being able to move!

  • I’m going to be posting a couple of pieces of short fiction from my university days on here, and I’ll reorganise the short stories menu thing at the same time. I can’t guarantee (indeed, I can say with almost total certainty that I won’t be able to) making this available as a print-on-demand book like The Landlady but the stories will be freely available in full on my website. So you will have to make do with staring at your phones on packed trains for reading them!
  • I will be posting a couple of book reviews this month also! I know no-one seems to really read them but it’s a good exercise to be getting into for my critical thinking and feedbacking abilities.
  • I’m also literally on the cusp of starting the next edit on my novel, The Thaw. I had a very productive chat with a fellow writer friend (and university classmate) that helped me focus on what I need to work on for this particular editing pass. I’m hoping it’ll be a lot less gruelling than the first edit, and my intention is to have The Thaw ready for submission to a professional editor, and maybe even agents, by the spring. So stay tuned!