Returning to the fray

I've thought a lot recently about where it all began for me in terms of social media, where it is now, and where it's going in the future.

When I began blogging, it wasn't really a legitimate thing to be doing. Unless you were blogging for a business, it was odd to have a "personal blog". I felt like I had to keep it separate to my "real life" because I didn't want to have to explain to people what the blogging process was fulfilling for me.

I realise now in retrospect that blogging actually served me immensely. While blogging, I completely changed as a person. Since I stopped blogging... well, of course I've continued to grow and develop but the rate at which I've changed has been much slower. That right there is a lesson in correlation vs. causation though. Just because I've developed slower since I stopped blogging, doesn't mean that blogging was the cause of my accelerated personal development. It's simply a correlation. I suspect that blogging facilitated an increased focus and drive within myself. By writing about what I was doing, my goals and aspirations, I was kept directed and reflective. I would be reminded regularly what I had recently committed to and I felt more accountable to myself. Blogging isn't the only way to achieve that direction, and I have utilised other means of keeping myself striving - talking to close friends, private record keeping, and just processing my thoughts and ideas in my head. It's also not that I want to maintain a huge rate of change - I achieved a lot of the changes I needed to make to be a happy person and that huge amount of change isn't really necessary in my life anymore.

The past few years of blog-free life have been the best few years of my life. I've lived the new life I created for myself with that tough, accelerated period of personal development I put myself through. If you never saw my old blog, you wouldn't really know what I'm alluding to of course. So I'll start from the beginning.

I grew up like your regular middle class girl - firstly on a farm, then in the city, and then back to a smaller city. I liked barbies as a child and I also had a motorbike. I was silly, grumpy, sassy and clever (probably still an accurate description of me). In high school, I started out as a sporty and sociable person. I had a good group of friends, I was doing well academically, and I was going hard in rowing, netball and soccer. At 14, things began to change when I found myself irrationally unhappy. I was tired from training a lot, but more than that was going on. I cried every night and I was desperately seeking something more than what I had, even though I couldn't figure out what was happening or missing. I almost felt like I was grieving, but no one had died. I confided in my parents, who took me to the GP. I was diagnosed with depression and began seeing various psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors. Things went from bad to worse and I was at real risk of becoming a statistic in our country's poor track record of youth mental health. I stopped going to school or seeing my friends. The medications I was on made me sleepy, and I basically stayed in my room and ate food. For a time I was on an anti-psychotic medication, (in retrospect with medical education I can tell you this was unnecessary but at the time I can see why my doctor thought this may have been necessary). I couldn't tell you why I was so depressed, but all I knew was a dark world where everything I looked at was negative, and I could look forward to or be excited about nothing. If you've never had depression, there is no way for me to explain what that world is like. I have memories of just waking up, looking out of my bedroom door, and just being absolutely filled with hopelessness and despair. There was no fixable cause in sight. There was no tragedy, there was no trigger. The medication stopped my worst thoughts, but it also left me in a zombie-like state where I was just flat in all dimensions.

After 18 months in treatment, I had been to rock bottom. My parents admitted to me that they'd had conversations with my care providers about the fact that I may decide to kill myself. Initially this news broke me - I felt like it meant they were giving up on me. However after a few days I realised they were being practical. in 18 months I had stopped living. Initially mum would stay home from work sometimes to look after me. They both took a lot of time off when you added it all up - taking me to appointments and trying to do things they thought would help. They spent thousands on a private psychiatrist who I was seeing daily at one point. But everyone elses lives had to go on. My brothers still had to go to school. My parents still needed to earn money. My friends still had sports to play and things to do. They couldn't look after me 24/7, it wasn't feasible. And if you find yourself thinking "but you could've gone somewhere to be looked after" again - that's not really a solution. In an institution I would've been surrounded by other ill people and only would've learnt more bad behaviours and thoughts. It could have been a temporary measure when I was at my worst but they can't put me there forever. In a serious depression, the risk of suicide is always there and it wouldn't have been a life worth living if I were just sent away somewhere until I wasn't a threat to myself - and that may have never come. One of my worst vivid memories of the entire period was one night around 10pm when I was in bed. Night times were always the worst for me. Being left alone with my thoughts was one of my biggest fears and I hated being home alone - but I still couldn't bear to go out. I wanted someone in the house with me but not interacting with me. I was in bed, and the dark thoughts descended. I felt completely out of control every night. I was afraid of myself. Sometimes it felt like there were 2 of me - the scared version of me who just wanted to get better, and the twisted sadistic version of me who reveled in the sadness and wanted everything to get worse. I went into mums room, where she was reading in bed. I told her I was afraid to be alone. She started crying, and so did I. She told me she didn't know what else she could do. She wished she could help me and fix it, but we both knew she couldn't. I have never felt more helpless in my entire life than that moment. I had to face my thoughts alone that night, and every night.

I believe the old adage about rock bottom. Once you're there, the only way is up. I had some tough thoughts to process to get out of that space. I made some decisions, I made some new beliefs. Sometimes I realise that those beliefs I formed in that time are still with me, and may not be good for me anymore, but they got me out of that place. One in particular is that "no one cares about you as much as you do." I repeated this to myself like a mantra. Ultimately, no one was going to care if I lived the life I had always wanted, except me. While this is essentially true, carrying this belief so close to my core has probably contributed to my walled-off nature now as an adult. It's hard for me to be vulnerable and trust others. But at the time, I had to drill this into myself to gather up the strength to make a life I wanted to live. I had to believe that no one was going to do it for me. And all of that is true, no one could do it for me, but perhaps I just held onto that idea for longer than I should've.

I stopped taking my medications. Cold turkey. Not really advisable to be quite honest. I decided I would fake it until I made it. I pretended to be happy. I did my best to re-engage with life. One of my friends was worried - she could see through my facade and thought I was being bizarre and manic. Maybe she was right. I continued to fake it. Recovery from depression was 2 steps forward, 1 step back. It was certainly not a straight line. It took years. Recovery took longer than the period I was actually severely depressed. I count my severe depression as 18 months, and I count my recovery as about 3 or 4 years. I could go quite long periods of "normal living" and then a trigger would set me back into a burst of short-term depression again, which scared the crap out of me every time. The last time that happened was probably in 2010.

I didn't get out of depression scot-free. I gained 64kg during my depression and recovery. 40kg of that was in the 18 month depression itself. What I know now, is that anti-psychotic medications have known consequences of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and significant and accelerated weight gain (you can google it if you don't believe me). In most cases, those on anti-psychotics are on them for very good reasons, and I don't begrudge my psychiatrist putting me on them when she felt it was right. I got to keep my life, and earn this life I have now, through being put on some medication that bought me some time to sort my shit out, and the price I paid was significant weight gain. It seems unbelievable that I could gain so much weight in 18 months on medication, but combined with the effects of the medication was my newfound coping mechanism of eating a lot of junk food when I felt bad. I actually didn't even notice the first 30kg. That sounds absolutely ridiculous but I'm not joking. I was in so deep I was completely unaware. I knew my clothes were tight (and basically obscene) but I didn't think much more about it. I was prediabetic with an hba1c of 42, definitely in metabolic syndrome territory, I most likely had PCOS (polycystic overian syndrome), and I would hate to guess what kind of fatty infiltrates my organs were dealing with. Mental illness is an extremely complex interplay between genetics (I have a family history on both sides) and environment. There wasn't enough going on in my life at that point to account for an environment-only type of depression, clearly I had a susceptibility and unfortunately the environment was ripe for that to spiral.

 

 At some point during the period of ~5 years when I was obese

At some point during the period of ~5 years when I was obese

 

So it was 2012 when the new journey began. I had been recovered (fully - with an arbitrary line in the sand where I felt "normal") from depression for 2 years. I had been living in Auckland for 1 year. I was morbidly obese and reclusive. I was no longer desperately unhappy but I also wasn't happy. This next point is embarrassing but important in the story. I moved into a nice apartment with 2 friends. I felt super metropolitan and cool. Except... I had no social life to speak of, hadn't dated in... ever, and I realised I was not living the adult life I had imagined for myself. I was listening to the Lana Del Rey album on repeat (this is the embarrassing part) and her lyrics basically killed me, because I had no experience in the things she sang about. She was singing about sexual freedom and men and questionable female roles and while I didn't want that for myself, I wanted to at least know what she was talking about (this makes me laugh now, I wish I didn't know about it now that I do). The life I wanted for myself as an adult was me happy, with friends, dating, successful at work, smart, achieving my goals. While I don't want to support the idea that you can't have all of these things while being obese, I knew for me, I needed to do something about it. But it was never all about the weight. I knew that as a person, I needed to seriously change. I felt I was selfish, angry, withdrawn, manipulative and entitled. I gained a lot of these traits during my depression but because my depression happened in a part of my life where I would have changed a lot as a person anyway, I couldnt tell whether I would have become this person regardless. I wanted to be more confident, bubblier, hard working, resilient. So, Lana Del Reys album launched me off on this crusade of self betterment (cringe).

I can tell you the exact day I decided to change. 12 March 2012. 5 years ago exactly, almost. Why that day? I have absolutely no idea. I had sworn to myself (and embarrassingly, others) many times before that I was ready to lose the weight I'd gained, but it never actually came to fruition. But this time, it did.

I did what I knew, which was to google diets. Remember back then, lifestyle change wasn't necessarily as huge (or I wasn't exposed to it). I found an outrageous diet which was way too restrictive and set off with all the gusto everyone sets off with when starting a new diet. I lost weight, as you'd expect. But what made the difference was that I found a forum associated with this diet. I talked to others doing the same diet, posted pics, discussed challenges, and it all kept me so excited and driven that before I knew it I had lost 10kg. I had lost similar amounts before, but this time I just kept on going. At this point I realised the diet I was doing actually wasn't healthy or maintainable, so I set about transitioning to something that was. I discovered the world of paleo/primal eating. I loved Mark Sisson. Everything he said about eating less processed food, as nature intended, made sense to me. He encouraged an 80/20 lifestyle where perfection was never the aim. Through his website, I learnt real lifestyle change. I ate veges, meat, eggs, nuts, fruit, dark chocolate, and I tried not to feel guilty about the odd cheeseburger or chocolate bar (/block #onceafattyalwaysafatty). I lost a further 25kg, bringing me to a 35kg total loss. During this time I also started blogging. I wrote about new things I was doing, what I was doing in the gym, how my love life was developing, how I was trying to be a better person. I followed others doing the same. I learnt a lot and I feel I helped others a lot.

At this point I started doing keto. It was essentially a continuation of eating the whole foods I was already use to, except with a low carb and high fat spin. It was a miracle and to this day was one of the most insane experiences of my life - to wake up and see my body change literally overnight. I lost a further 10kg with keto eating, now at a 45kg total loss. My favourite resource for keto is http://eatingacademy.com/ if you're interested. He's a doctor who has done extensive research and self-experimentation in keto.

At this point, 45kg down from my highest weight but still about 20kg heavier than when I was 14 (which I mean, lets be honest, I probably could never get back to as an adult), my body decided that's where it wanted to stay. No new amount of exercise or calorie/macro manipulation took me much lower than that weight over the next few years.

Today, I'm about 9kg heavier than I was at my lowest weight of recent years. While I'm not proud of that, I also accept that in general my weight fluctuates within a 5kg window (most peoples weight will have a window). I've gained weight over the last few months as a result of going on holiday, having to take 2 months off the gym due to surgery, and several other factors. I have confidence I will lose a bit of weight again and get back into my regular weight window. Maintenance is difficult, as any formerly-obese person will tell you. I still cannot eat entirely intuitively and if left to my own devices and told to just eat what I wanted, I would inevitably gain a lot of weight back. While I'm no longer pre-diabetic or have any symptoms of PCOS, I believe that unfortunately whatever changes have happened to my metabolism while I was on medication and eating terribly have not been fully reversed. Perhaps in time they'll continue to change, but for now the reality is that my weight is something I am actively managing.

Losing a large amount of weight is a strange experience. I don't believe you can lose a large amount of weight and not cross the boundary into an unhealthy mindset at least temporarily. The dedication, the obsession, that it takes is actually extremely unusual. As humans, we are designed for homeostasis. That is, our body wants to keep things the same. The state of losing weight goes against what our body wants and knows. That is why I struggle to believe in the concept of losing weight intuitively. If you ate intuitively, you should maintain your weight. It is not intuitive for our body to choose to eat less than what would maintain it's current state. To override this takes mental games. I know I've had periods of time in my weight loss journey where my thoughts were not the healthiest. I had "bad foods". I was scared of carbs. I would flip shit when the scale would go up. Nowadays, I'm back in healthy thought land, or as much as I think I can be given my need to maintain my weight (and currently, my need to lose a few kg again). I don't weigh myself, as a general rule of thumb, because I don't think knowing my weight helps me on a day-to-day basis. However, I will have to start weighing myself to lose this weight I've recently gained. I can generally eat at a level that maintains my weight, but I do have to think about it a bit.

So where was this story going?

Right, my social media presence.

Basically, I acknowledge that blogging was a huge part in getting me to where I am now. 2017 jasmine is an entirely different person to 2012 jasmine. Depressed jasmine feels like an entirely different species. Through blogging, I made my dreams a reality and started myself on a trajectory to being the person I wanted to be. That sounds super fluffy and weird but it's ultimately true. In 2012 I was a morbidly obese recluse who had no social life, and in 2017 I'm a fit soon-to-be-doctor with too much of a social life that I have to actively make myself socialise less. I could talk for hours about who I've been and who I am now, but I think you get the gist of it.

If I've painted this picture of where I am now, perhaps you're wondering why I'd want to come back to publicly writing. Because if I've really figured it all out, I shouldn't need to, you may be thinking. But there's several reasons for why I've been thinking about "returning to the fray":

1) I miss helping people with weight loss. I regularly use to hear from readers who felt I had helped them and the satisfaction I got from that was immense.

2) I definitely do not feel like I have "it all figured out". There's still a lot of areas of who I am that I want to work on. And as mentioned above, I need to make some changes to my lifestyle currently to address the weight I've recently gained and this gives me a good opportunity from which to start writing about effective lifestyles for weight management.

3) Basically, I feel some desire to share some part of myself/my experiences with the world and I think I need to figure out what exactly it is that I want to share and how.

My career choice has left me in an interesting position. We are warned about social media in medicine and obviously patient confidentiality is assured. However, we're also warned about our personal lives. In general, oversharing is probably frowned upon. Many doctors I've worked with and gotten to know have learnt about my blogging past and have encouraged me to return to it, because they see the value in helping people on a freely available platform. We see people in the hospital as individuals but clearly obesity is a large scale problem, and if there's a way to make a difference widely, why not pursue it. But there are so many elements to being "out there" publicly that don't always mesh well with the medical profession. It is that boundary that I'm going to struggle with the most. What I consider to be something I'm willing to publicly discuss may not be the same as something my colleagues consider appropriate to publicly discuss. My old blog was a stream of consciousness. I blog as a person, and not from my position as a medical student, but there's no way to draw a definite line in the sand there. I've seen many medical blogs. You can google them. People write about medical school; they write about being a doctor. A lot of it is quite anonymised, a lot of it is de-personalised. The experience is separated from the person who experienced it. I can't do that with my journey. People will inevitably read what I'm saying and combine my personal and professional stances, regardless of whether that is my intention. So I'm thinking long and hard about this. Conclusion awaited.