I read a post by Carrie Arnold the other day called “What’s fun got to do with it?” in which she talks about the attitude she has toward having fun, and how it relates to her eating disorder. The responses are interesting too – all the commenters with histories of eating disorders replied that they relate and add that they either don’t really know what constitutes fun, they feel terribly guilty for having fun, or both.
I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days, and I’ve decided that I fall into the first category. I don’t feel like I personally am not entitled to have fun, I just…don’t have fun. When I was very underweight I seemed to be incapable of finding pleasure in anything, a symptom called ‘anhedonia’ that commonly affects people with different types of mental health problems. Anorexia kills your emotions, and whilst that can be a relief if you find emotions overwhelming, it does mean that you lose the capacity for happiness along with the ability to cry.
Now I’m at a healthy weight again my eating disorder isn’t getting in the way of me having fun, but still, I can’t think of anything I do which meets that description. I find physics and astronomy awe inspiring and I get a great sense of achievement when I solve a particularly tricky problem or get good marks for my assignments (I got my mark for my first assignment back today actually – 85% 🙂 ), but on a day to day basis, studying physics is not fun. It is usually stressful, often monotonous and sometimes interesting. It’s the amazing, fascinating parts that make it worth studying – but being able to understand the incredible parts requires having a very good handle on the basics first. Similarly, I don’t find exercising much fun. Warming up on the elliptical is boring, running on a treadmill is boring and uncomfortable, the step machine should be renamed the sweat machine, the static rower is painful and weight training is some more of the boring. I don’t do it because I feel I HAVE to, for calorie burning purposes, to maintain my weight – nothing like that. I am trying to build up a good basis of cardiovascular fitness so that I can get back to running outside next spring, and to work towards running the London marathon in 2011. The weight training is to improve the bone density of my spine. Kind of like with physics, short term discomfort is over-ruled by the hope of health benefits and pleasure in the long run. When I’ve finished working out the endorphin rush feels great, and it doesn’t hurt my self esteem to feel fit and strong and to know that now I can actually run faster now than when I was training for the marathon in 2007 – but I don’t find exercising fun.
What else do I do during the week? Therapy…that’s not fun. Again, good for me, but not fun. Cooking is more stressful than fun – not for ED’d reasons, more because I get anxious about things burning/going wrong/mistiming things/getting really hungry before everything is done and having my blood sugar go wonky etc. Driving is enjoyable in parts, but being subject to the whims of PTSD means that I get really anxious about people getting in my ‘space’ – if someone overtakes me I imagine they are thinking I’m stupid (yeah, that makes no sense), if someone in front is driving a bit riskily I imagine car crashes, if I get caught in a traffic jam I start feeling trapped, and so on. I do have hobbies, technically, but at the moment I don’t participate in any of them. Making jewellery is nice because I can give it to other people and make them happy, and it is definitely absorbing and appeals to my obsessive tendencies, but it’s also something I do alone in my room and therefore makes me feel a bit lonely. It’s not fun, as such. I haven’t played my flute or recorder for months. I haven’t painted or drawn anything since…probably since I was in hospital in 2007. I used to do ballet, belong to a choir which occasionally performed in great places like Eurodisney and you could find me in the plays, concerts and pantomines at the local theatre at least three times a year. But again, I dreaded ballet practise, I counted the minutes until I could go home during concert band and I was always getting hurt by the clichey atmospheres in the choir and am-dram groups.
I only did all those things because a) I was terrified of not being constantly busy and b) I didn’t want to let my parents and the adults running these groups down. I DID enjoy performing, a lot. I loved being on stage, the feeling of belonging and pride at the end of the night, the in-jokes, the gossip, the, uh, applause 😛 but at general practise and rehearsals I kept tripping over my own self-loathing. I was oversensitive, awkward, painfully self conscious, constantly embarrassed and ashamed of myself, and during periods when my depression/anxiety/ED/SI were more intense than usual it was exhausting keeping up with all this stuff. I think the problem was that I wasn’t doing these things because I enjoyed them, I was doing them because I felt obsessively compelled to. They were part of my routine. My desperate need to stay busy and have everything stay the same so as not to upset my mental state any further than it already was sucked all the fun out of everything. During my adolescence I was constantly in that annoying state in which when I was busy and with people I was desperate for some time out alone, and when I was alone and had nothing to do I panicked and became desperate to find some company and something to do.
The other problem with having fun is that I am so easily overstimulated. You know how toddlers get irritable and exhausted by half way through Christmas day? I am, rather embarrassingly, the same. I can blame the anxiety and the PTSD but that doesn’t give me any hints on how to solve the problem. My ex was a bit of a theme park enthusiast, and more than once he was very disconcerted to find that I went dead silent half way through a rollercoaster because I was so overwhelmed I’d dissociated. My fellow blogger Katie Green Bean and I went to Eurodisney way back in the days of yore (I was coming off of seroxat at the time and was suffering from horrendous withdrawal effects so remember very little of it, but I was probably a complete nightmare), so she could vouch for the fact that my favourite rollercoaster was the Aerosmith one, which was all the in dark. I LOVED that one, there was so little visual stimulus that my nervous system could cope with it without getting overloaded and I could actually enjoy it. Historically I seem to be incapable of enjoying holidays. When I went to Barcelona a few years ago I was spaced out and grumpy the whole time, because it was tiring and boiling hot and overexciting. I felt numb and flat.
When I’m happy it never takes long before I get freaked out, because all types of physiological arousal feel the same way to me – scary and uncomfortable. Happiness feels far too close to anxiety or mania. When I was a teenager I tried so hard to go to and enjoy parties, pubs, clubs etc, but I always just ended up feeling sick. My ex used to play at open mic nights all the time, and more than once I actually left in tears because the music was so loud I physically couldn’t stand it – although no one else seemed to have a problem with it. Similarly, I am incapable of shutting out painful or repetitive stimuli. This is a PTSD thing – people who have been through traumatic events commonly cannot ignore things that other people would get briefly annoyed by and then stop thinking about, because any external stimuli that intrudes into their consciousness registers as a threat and sends them into fight-or-flight mode. I have a huge problem with repetitive noises, they drive me insane and my family could never work out why because I grew up in a three bedroomed house with seven people in it – I should have learned the art of blocking irritating crap out! But my brain won’t let me. I’m always on guard. And this is true whether the problem is a repetitive noise, being a little bit too hot or too cold, being tired, being hungry, having someone get a little bit too close to me, wearing clothes made from slightly uncomfortable fabric, being able to see something dirty out of the corner of my eye, having a headache, stomachache, blister – I am completely unable to shut out anything unpleasant. This makes it very, very difficult to let go enough to find something pleasurable.
Ack. I’m 25 years old and I don’t know how to have fun. This is quite sad. I set myself a goal the other day to make a list of fun things to do and try to do one every day, if only for five minutes – I think it would be good for me, everything else in my life is so bloody serious. But…my mind is totally blank so far. Any ideas? Fun really shouldn’t be this hard…
Three good things about today:
1. I made highly calorific soup for dinner and it was wonderful! I love having soup in the autumn.
2. Having mentioned the autumn, it’s actually still pretty warm here – the temperature hits at least 15 centigrade most days, which is just odd for late October! (Please don’t kill me for saying that Fi 😛 )
3. This was technically a bit of a crappy day – this morning I was upset about Daisy and feeling hurt that I always seem to get forgotten or left out when it comes to family things. I was also feeling lonely and sad because all my favourite people from oop North had planned a bit of a get together today and I was 300 miles away on my own (woe is me, lol). But I coped pretty well with feeling rubbish and it didn’t turn into anything overwhelming or scary. Practise? Perspective? Don’t know, don’t care, not complaining 😛