Louise O’Neill: ‘Should I challenge myself, push myself further when I dont know where that road will take me?’ – Irish Examiner

Posted: November 7, 2020 at 3:55 am

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In those brief, glorious summer months when lockdown was lifted, I returned to my gym classes.

Id missed them more than I thought I would; as a writer, I spend most of my time alone and while I enjoy my own company, the other members were often the only people Id speak to someone outside my family.

During one of the last classes I took before Lockdown: The Sequel began, I noticed that the kettlebells I was using suddenly felt too light. It was strange, I thought, as they had been the perfect weight for me the week before, heavy enough to be challenging but not enough to cause an injury.

It seemed as if this new-found strength had literally happened overnight but the truth was it was a culmination of weeks, if not months, of hard work, building up my stamina until I instinctively knew that it was time for me to move on.

Thinking about it afterwards, it seemed like the perfect analogy for my own recovery. The easing of eating disorder symptoms felt almost miraculous, as if I had woken up one morning and decided that I was finally ready to heal.

Ready to let go of something that had been a part of my life for so long at 33, Id had an eating disorder for more years than I had not and I became doubtful that I would ever be free of this affliction. Looking back now, I can see that the day in June 2017 that I mark as my anniversary wasnt a bolt-of-lightning, St Paul on the Road to Damascus moment of metamorphosis; my healing had been a long time in the making, it just took a while for me to see the proof of it.

Ive been in full recovery now for over three years and, like that day in the gym, there comes a time when the work begins to feel light. Things I struggled with in the beginning now seem easy, second-nature, and Im faced with a choice.

Do I keep using the lighter weights? Ive been happy with my results and I feel comfortable, I know Im not going to get hurt here. Or should I challenge myself, push myself further when I dont know where that road will take me?

My therapist says the next step in this process is fully inhabiting my body. Settling into my bones and feeling all of my feelings. There will be no more dissociation if I take this route, no numbing out if I feel anxious or sad or hurt.

Ill sit with it all, no matter what. It sounds hard, I say to her, and worse, it sounds boring. But I know from previous experience that it will work. The key to success is consistency, the baby steps taken every day, the plodding determination to get to the finish line.

We dont want that though, do we? We want to drop a dress size in two days, we want a face serum to make us look ten years younger overnight. We dont want to hear of slow, steady progress. I see it when hands go up after an event and someone in the audience will ask, how do you write a book?

Its obvious they want you to tell them The Secret and they are visibly disappointed that you have none to share; the only secret to writing a book is to sit down at your computer every day and write the book. One word after another, over and over again, even when its hard and boring and you want to quit. You just keep going.

In my search for wellness, I have done past-life regression and hypnotherapy, I have had angel healings and Reiki, I have tried crystals and acupuncture and homeopathy and yoga and meditation. Some were more helpful than others (acupuncture and Transcendental meditation, take a bow) but none were the one-stop cure I so desperately wanted.

I would google Ayahuasca ceremonies with shamans in Peru and personal development courses that offered the equivalent of thirty years of therapy in one week and cost ten thousand-euro, money I didnt have. I wanted a miracle but one without true faith. Faith would have required turning up and doing the work with no guarantee of success. I was looking for a quick fix, an easy-way out. I was searching for a shortcut when there was none. I understand now that theres a reason why thirty years of therapy in one night is a bad idea, if not dangerous. Real change requires work, and its often tedious and painstakingly slow.

In our desire to rush through it as fast as we can, we dont stop to consider that maybe some things in life should be slow. That we need to take our time with the process in order to let it become a part of who we are.

Louise Says:

Read: Yaa Gyasis Homegoing was one of the best debuts Ive ever read, and her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, confirms her incredible talent. Centring on the American children of Ghanaian immigrants, Transcendent Kingdom tells the story of a PhD student grappling with the legacy of her brothers Opioid addiction. Deeply moving.

Listen: I missed Conor Behans now-defunct Popsessed so much that I was over-joyed to hear he has a new podcast. In Housewives and Me, he is joined by some of his favourite people to talk about their shared love for the Real Housewives franchise.

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Louise O'Neill: 'Should I challenge myself, push myself further when I dont know where that road will take me?' - Irish Examiner

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November 7th, 2020 at 3:55 am