A close friend and I went to Paris a year ago last month and booking our trip to Portugal in June 2015 was the result of some serious post holiday blues and my dire need for sunshine and warm weather.
Holidays are the perfect time to relax and get away from all the hardships and stresses from home. What I hadn’t considered, until a few days before I went away was that one of my biggest stress factors is my mental health and the reality is, I cannot take a holiday from that. Mental illness is like a leech: it sticks onto you and sucks and fun and life out of everything. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, or how sunny and warm it is, mental illness will still rear its ugly head and remind you of who’s boss.
All things considered, I throughly enjoyed my holiday. The biggest issues were around body image and anxiety. Despite my bravado about wearing a skimpy bikini and feeling body confident, it didn’t happen. For the most part I was able to wear and walk about in a bikini top, but the skimpy bottoms only had one outing. The rest of the time I resorted to the tankini shorts or a skirt/shorts over my bottoms. There were times when I felt angry with myself, for not being able to strut about and feel confident. It wasn’t that I felt people would stare or make comments; most of the time we were by the pool at the resort, everyone was friendly and probably wouldn’t have noticed what I was wearing. Hiding my body away was more down to a deep rooted hatred of how I looked. I wasn’t tanned enough, my boobs weren’t the right size, my thighs were enormous, my spine curved (high five for being a scoli!), I have scars, I’m not tall enough. In my head I was comparing my body to every woman I saw: establishing whether I was smaller or bigger and rating myself against them. I judged myself at every meal, trying to count calories in my head, feeling ashamed of myself for stepping away from my usual safe foods.
On one of the days, we went to a water park. I think out of all of the days, this was the most challenging. I loved it and ultimately had a brilliant time, but I felt very exposed. Everywhere I looked there were women and girls smaller than me. The point at which I realised how unhealthy my thoughts are and the grip body dysmorphia has over me was when I was looking at pre-pubesent girls, all limbs and bones and wishing more than anything I looked like them. Europeans do have a clear advantage over the English, they don’t walk around looking like albinos or the living dead for most of the year and that alone makes them look more stunning.
Obviously part of me recognises that it would be incredibly unhealthy to be that size; the girls I was looking at were just that. Girls. I am a developed woman, I should have boobs and hips, I should have a curved shape, that is my body shape and I need to learn to love that. Some girls/women are naturally very slim and that is also okay: all body shapes and sizes are beautiful. I can recognise the beauty in every other people, but I can’t see it in myself.
The water park also threw up the challenge of dirt and not being in control. The changing rooms in particular were a challenge because the floors were grim. It wasn’t anything major, so it wasn’t like I was wadding through faeces or vomit. Naturally, given the aqua-surroundings, there were puddles on the floor, which were dirty. There were also grippy mats…the two combined would have been festering dirt and they made my stomach turn. I was aware that there was nothing I could do, so it was a lesson in keeping myself calm in a situation that I didn’t have control in. I couldn’t run off and scrub the invisible dirt molecules off my skin. And I survived. Nothing terrible happened. My feet didn’t fall off, I didn’t contract some terrible water born disease, I’m not covered in warts or verrucas and any dirt was later washed off. And actually, I ended up even dirtier completing a high ropes course. An absolute must for any thrill seeker!
I’m aware that from reading this, it sounds like I had a really miserable week. That isn’t the case at all. I guess I’m trying to highlight the reality that mental illnesses don’t disappear just because you’re in another country. A few people I’ve spoken to have said similar things to me and found that things can get worse as a result of a holiday. I can see and understand that, it’s a massive change from the usual routine and surroundings and there are a number of challenges to contend with. Being able to spent a week purely relaxing was very much needed. Swinging from trees and having my friend sing Wrecking Ball at me when we were doing a high ropes course was a brilliant experience. But I am glad to be back in normal surroundings and letting my body physically and mentally recover.