What do you see when you look in the mirror? For as long as I can remember, I have seen nothing but flaws. Most of the time I would deliberately avoid looking in mirrors or shop windows. The house we live in has a long passageway and is dark at the bedroom end, so we hung a long mirror at the end to reflect light: for thirteen years I always looked at the floor when I walked to my room.
It wasn't simply that I didn't like what I saw - too skinny (a long, long time ago) / too fat / too grey / too wrinkly / too big a nose / too big a mouth / breasts too small (again, a long, long time ago) / breasts too big / hands too stubby / finger joints deformed / papery old woman hands / etc etc etc - it wasn't just that I saw all my faults and didn't like them. It was that the sight of myself made me sick, as in nauseous, close to vomiting. There have been times when I have taken that hallway mirror down and stood it face to the wall.
This feeling has been there to some degree since I was five and a half, changed schools, and became known as 'Peastick' for the next ten years. It is tied to the depression I have suffered from most of my life. Like the depression, the self-hate has always been there, sometimes to a lesser degree (that's the time I can go shopping for clothes), sometimes, as I said, to the point of turning the mirror to the wall.
Last year I heard that my GP was leaving to go to a different practice, and I was told that under his contract he was not permitted to tell any of his patients where he was going. My depression was more under control than it had been for decades, but the news sent me straight into a panic attack. In the panic-stricken days that followed I decided that I couldn't cope with finding a new GP - I have had a number of bad experiences with doctors. Consequently, my crazy mind concluded that I would just have to get healthy so that I would never need to visit a GP again. Like that's ever worked for anyone!
Still, off I went to see a doctor who diagnosed leaky gut. He has told me to stop eating gluten, to eat more protein (I've been vegetarian for 40 years) and has given me a bunch of supplements for detox purposes, to heal, and to recolonise my guts with the right micro-organisms. This doctor had recently left his general practice to specialise in this sort of work in private practice.
Without going into detail, I will say that my digestive system is significantly better, my joint pain has reduced to a very occasional twinge, and I have lost a few kilos.
But more important is the change in my mental health. The doctor says that leaky gut is invariably accompanied by 'leaky brain', and that many people find relief from depression when their leaky gut problems are addressed.
To start with I thought that I was feeling better simply because I had been given hope. But it's midwinter and I catch myself singing while I work. I am making books and doing other craft work again. I didn't have even the slightest meltdown when my computer broke down (those close to me know how big that one is!) I suddenly noticed the other day that I no longer count items of clothing and pegs when I hang out the washing. I no longer count my steps when I am walking alone in the street. In fact the only times I'm counting is when I'm doing things like knitting - k23, m1, k1, m1, k23........ There is no hint of even a tiny black sink hole in the back of my head where the depression has retreated but lingered in good times over the past decades.
And when I look in the mirror, even though I still see the white streaks in my hair, the wrinkles, lumps, bumps and surplus fat, I no longer feel nauseous. I just see a smile on the face of a contented, ordinary woman.
Life is good.
PS I found my old GP and have re-registered with him - he had taken over the general practice of the doctor who is guiding me through these changes!