Jenn Hicks

Posts Tagged ‘Self love’

Why I get sad at Christmas

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012
circa 1976

circa 1976

Christmas just doesn’t feel quite right to me. It stirs up a lot. Lately. But it hasn’t always been that way.

As a child, I can remember being so freaking excited about Christmas. I recall being at my grandparent’s house in Ingoldsby Ontario, unable to sleep on Christmas Eve. The anticipation felt magical. And warm, and sound, and nuturing. More than the gifts, the idea that there was this someone who somehow knew me and knew what I wanted (yes, Santa) was astonishing and lovely and almost unbelievable. Even if that was the same someone who was going to be that very same thing for all the children around the world, it didn’t matter.  My desires (albeit material ones) felt as though they were being noticed.

Now I know that it was the idea of being seen that was so alluring.  That’s really all it amounted to.  The feeling of   being attended to, recognized, maybe even known was what was really the captivating part. Somehow the gifts were what represented all that. I know that now.

And too, there was a feeling that, once I got my gifts, I would be happier. Not that I was unhappy, but I’d never been a super cheery little kid. Just kind of quiet, pensive and, well, I’ve discussed reasons for all that before.  Having the latest toy would make me happier. Wearing that new sweater would make me happier. Eating the stocking full of cheap drug store chocolate would make me happier.  I guess you know how that turned out.

As you know, it’s not about things. It never, ever is about the things.

As I got older, of course I learned the truth about Santa Claus and began to realize just how much money my (single) mom was forking out to buy my twin sister and I gifts. At the same time, I discovered this kind of selfish indifference and darkness inside me when I didn’t get exactly what I wanted. It was really a twisted and complicated and confusing place to be. Which goes back to that “being seen” thing. Mind you, lots of teenagers don’t feel “understood”. I’m certain that experience wasn’t unique to me. But it felt so big. And painfully lonely.

Saddest Christmas Picture nominee

Saddest Christmas Picture (Photo credit: MattGrommes)nely.

Again, this had nothing to do with the things. It just felt that way.

Christmases in my teens and 20s were about me continuing to chase this ideal. That someone would know me, understand and SEE me and that would be demonstrated through gifts. I was doing the classic “expecting” thing which never ends well.

It wasn’t until my 30s, when I began receiving help at Sheena’s Place (for anorexia) that I learned about the phenomenon of “Unmet Needs” which, to make a long story short, is at the root of many a dissatisfying life experience.  This whole longing to be seen, heard and understood is something I erroneously held a lot of hope that Christmas would address. But of course, that’s as magical a type of thinking as believing that a fat guy in a red suit  really knows me and what makes me who I am.

Now that I’m aware of that huge fact, the next step is to be there for myself, and to find a way to give myself those things that meet my needs. And while I’m certain that the *key* to all this is somewhere deep within me, it feels impossibly difficult and enormously unachievable, and sad.  But, I have to persevere and be patient, knowing that I’m the one who has to do this work.


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I couldn’t stop: I was addicted to exercise.

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Throughout the fall, I have been involved in a documentary project about addiction (I realize that sounds like the beginning of the TV program “Intervention”, but it’s true). In my late 20s/early 30s, I was addicted to exercise. In preparing to share my story, I came across this piece of writing which I now realize shares my story pretty well.  It was written in 2007 (ish) when I was just launching into my recovery. (You may also wish to see the documentary at the end of this post – it’s called “Running Out”, and shares some of my experiences).

“I nearly tripped over my feet as I frantically raced around the corner.

My steps, like my thinking, were impulsive and chaotic. I struggled to get a full breath. I felt a tickle as the tears spilled over onto my cheeks. I couldn’t run fast enough from the pain. “It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault”.

But I was alone, and there was no one but me to listen to my muffled pleading. By now I was used to talking to myself, though. It was my way of telling the hurtful voices in my head to shut up.


Navigating my way from the street down through a thick wooded area leading to the highway, the only way I could calm myself was to mutter these words over and over. I needed to assure myself that I was not responsible for the downward spiral my life had recently taken.

My body felt thick and my mouth dry as I scraped past tree branches and broke through long undisturbed spider’s webs. Lead footed, I was drawn down the bank towards the speeding cars. I don’t know who or what stopped me, but I chose to turn away, and instead to continue running.

P wasn’t blaming me. He was simply in distress. But coming home that night to find him crying in the living room with my friends put me on the defensive. Instinct told me it was another intervention, and that’s not what I needed. What I needed was to run. Far and fast.

Sure, I could understand his anguish. After a 9 year relationship, his wife had suddenly become suicidal, depressed and anorexic. Why wouldn’t he react this way?

Yet there was an erratic side of me that felt anger. And guilt. And shame.

And so I ran.

For 2 hours.

Two years ago it seemed like everything was perfect. At 30, I had it all. A good job as a Speech-Language Pathologist, a dedicated and loving partner, meaningful friendships, and money in the bank. P would describe me as independent and serious, maybe even a bit of a perfectionist.

Then everything I knew dissolved. Nearly, anyway.


I did a lot of running in those days. Sometimes for 2-3 hours at a time.

I’m not sure what I was chasing, but it always felt like going further, faster, and harder meant that I was a better person. Soon enough it wasn’t only running that kept me moving. Cycling, walking, roller-blading, and swimming eventually ‘moved’ me into a deep pit. After I married my beloved P, I would periodically have this weird sense of panic and dread deep in my belly. I could feel it coming on, just like a headache. Only no amount of Tylenol could prevent it from worsening.

It was the same feeling I remember having in grade 8 when the school secretary called me out of class to tell me that my grandmother had just unexpectedly died. Only now there was no reason to feel this way. It took me about a month for me to figure out that this wasn’t right and to get up the courage to tell P.

“Let’s talk to Dr. W. about it”. He was practical and I was stubborn.

“No, I’m sure everything will be fine”. I had learned to ignore my feelings when I was 2 1/2.

How else could I have survived the trauma of my dad committing suicide…with a gun…in our garage? Shutting down emotionally was easier than facing the abandonment. Soon enough the anxiety turned into depression, which turned into anxiety, which turned into depression. Almost as quickly as someone could flick a light switch, my mood would change. Lots of times the signals got crossed and I was both really down but at the same time quite up.

There were the days when I just had to run even though I cried the whole time. Or times when my body ached for a rest but instead I went for an 8 hour bike ride. P pleaded with me to stop, offering to help. But I couldn’t. More seemed better.

I needed to be preoccupied. How did I respond to my teeter-tottering mood? By running. A lot. By exercising more and by eating and sleeping less. It seemed logical. I was taking care of myself by manipulating my biochemistry. Who needs drugs and alcohol when your body is a virtual medicine cabinet?

That distorted way of thinking got me something I couldn’t so easily run away from.

“In my opinion, you are suffering from depression and anorexia”.

Ha. The doctors didn’t know me. A Speech-Language Pathologist can most certainly not have anorexia. And depression is not a real illness.

Avoiding treatment, I soon became a danger myself. It began with unrelenting and unexplainable urges that came from nowhere. Urges to shave my head, to turn into oncoming traffic or to light our car on fire. Urges to scream at my image in store windows, and finally urges to sear my own skin.

When I began burning myself, I lied to my husband and co-workers, saying that I had a virus. It was common for P to see the “hate messages” that I had written on my body. At dance class, I was happy when my shirt lifted to reveal “I’m blue” on my belly. It was a relief to show my pain.

I got good at lying and played dumb when my neighbour asked about the horrible messages written in the snow on my car.

So I ran. But I was getting tired. Tired yet wired. Buzzing while drowning, all at the same time. Compelled to carry on the fury.

By this time P didn’t recognize me anymore. I had become a shoplifter, a reckless cyclist, an eccentric dresser, an obsessive exerciser, a restrictive eater, a clock watcher and an anxious person with a torrid temper. I couldn’t understand how he might be disturbed that I walked along the railing of a nearby bridge high above the traffic below, that I slept on the floor, that I considered becoming an exotic dancer, or that I left the house in the middle of the night to exercise.

Soon enough my absences, behaviour, and attire at work became intolerable.

“We are asking you to take a mandatory medical leave”, my bosses told me. As if they were doing me a favour.

Wait a minute! I didn’t get to decide this. I didn’t agree.

Too late.

I had run so hard and so far that I couldn’t see that my professional reputation was going down the tubes.

It felt like having to stop a race short of finishing it. Being carried away on a stretcher because of heat exhaustion or a sprained ankle or heart palpitations.

It had the scent of humiliation and regret and “what if” about it. Although I was crushed, it didn’t take me long to decide what came next.

This time, it didn’t feel like I was chasing after something in vain.

“I want to go to India”.

It took me some time to convince P that India would actually help me.

I had become quite manipulative, and eventually he caved. It’s almost impossible to explain how I knew – I just knew that something or someone in India would crack me open and help me to help myself.

“I won’t be able to exercise so much in India … I can’t be so picky about eating in India”.

At first I used that as a bribe to get myself there. Later I discovered it was true. For the first time, I couldn’t run.  Either it was because of the pollution in Smelhi (my affectionate nickname for Delhi) , or because there was simply no room amongst the cows and bicycles and beggars crowding the streets.

When I finally found a place to run, I baffled the rickshaw drivers who pestered me to stop. “Rickshaw ma’am? Good price, veddy good price…” So the running stopped.

And the listening started.

I heard and felt the pain fully for the first time.

A kind Indian woman asked me why I had traveled to her country. “To find my dharma (my life purpose)”. The words tumbled out. Only when I said it did I really understand why I was there. She listened and wisely reminded me to stay true to myself and follow the wisdom of the healer within. And when I did that, I found that the holy river Ganga held a gift for me.

Beside it, I found a spiritual mentor and learned Reiki. My special guide – L – she knew all about my pain. She got it. Like no one ever had before. Her best advice to me was to “act as if….”. As my body oozed raw and tender emotion, I would let those words wash over me, trying to “put on a happy face”.

I can still see L’s head shaking in disapproval as I practiced new self-destructive tactics. She was perplexed. Why would anyone want to drink unfiltered water or consume unwashed produce in India? Remaining passively suicidal, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Her knowing laughter, night-time pep talks and faith in me led me to learn to trust and love myself.

Despite my devilish ways, I was still immersed in learning about myself in a way not possible elsewhere. The energy once wasted on body numbing runs was now turned inwards. I left India with answers. I left on a mission. I returned home fresh.

“I’m going to take a Nia teacher training program” I told P.

“What the hell is Nia? You can’t afford that…you’re not working, remember? You already sold your car to go to India.” When I explained that Nia is a body/mind/spirit/emotion fitness practice that focuses on finding pleasure in movement, P was sold. He knew better than me that my hours of pounding the pavement had taken that away from me. P knew all too well that movement needed to be part of my life.

But instead of running away, perhaps this gave me something to run towards. “You’re right. Forget the cost. This sounds right for you – another good investment in the Jenn fund.”


Still, it was pretty edgy and risky. A woman with an exercise obsession taking a fitness teacher training program… But who knew that I would fall in love? With myself. With my body. And that I would learn how to eat to nourish myself. Ironic. Loving being and moving in my body gave me a new relationship with food and a long overdue divorce from my eating disorder. I had turned another corner, away from disorder and into discovery.

With that I embraced a new teaching career and an entirely new lifestyle. Less uptight. Less rigid. More soothing. The running slowed to a gentle stroll, a pace that my body desperately needed. So Nia dealt with half the problem. Now I still had my mood to contend with.

Eyes and ears perked to find someone who could really figure me out, I ended up at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. I walked into that psychiatrist’s office and sensed that this woman was going to help me. I knew it because I sought her out and she accepted me. Despite long waiting lists, she thought I was important enough to listen to. She was intense, and her focus was all on me. “You have Bipolar Disorder. You had a traumatic childhood. You have a serious and legitimate illness”, she said calmly and with certainty.

Finally I exhaled. It was like I was holding my breath until I heard those words. It just made sense. Suddenly there was no more guilt. Instead, I felt relieved. Acknowledged. Listened to. So now the medication experimentation began. It took life-threatening side effects to get to the key. It took fits of hysterical laughter mixed with agonizing tears to find my new friend. But now this pharmaceutical friend helps me to wake up and face the day and stops me from going overboard.

I used to think it was such bullshit when people said they were happy that bad things had happened to them. But now I understand. While I wouldn’t choose to grow up without a dad or to have anorexia or Bipolar Disorder, I get that it was all part of the plan for this to happen. Without those experiences, I would never have truly learned to love and trust myself and my potential.

You know those awards they have, I think they call them “The courage to come back” awards? They’re the ones that are given to people who endure pretty big life challenges and resurrect themselves after the fact. If people are “coming back”, where the hell did they “go” in the first place? And what’s this about courage? To me, it’s really about making a choice and sticking to it. It’s true, living through hardship makes one stronger, but you know, the process itself is a powerful one.

I didn’t go away. No, instead what I did was I went towards myself for the first time in my life. So now I am a new woman. Not the one that P married. Now I’m even better. And there’s simply no reason to run anymore…”

Running Out from jennifer hicks on Vimeo.