Mollie is finding the other side of normal
Finding 'the other side of normal’- Mollie Mendoza
Everything, from the outside, would have seemed in order. Education, opportunity for growth, privilege, and a loving supportive family. The unpredictability of my own story definitely contributed to my lack of acceptance that anything was wrong at all.
After attending boarding school from age 13 onwards, I developed an intensely judgmental relationship to my body. I observed those around me loose and gain weight like yoyos as together, yet in secret, we all struggled to find our place within a society of ideals and image-centred consciousness. Ingrained in my character is an immense will power, an ability to put my entire effort into something and succeed. Unfortunately, with a warped perception of what it was I truly yearned for, I put my energy into waging war with my body and my health: so the battle began.
I moved through laxative abuse, to bulimia, to anorexia nervosa over a period of 5 years with varying degrees of severity.
I lied and denied my bulimia to others, I lied to my friends about what I had eaten, and I lied about still having my period, which in fact had not come for 18 months. I snuck to the gym close to my university often twice a day, and I hid the unwanted hair which grew on my body (as it struggled to keep me warm). I had panic attacks before eating, and overwhelming anxiety if caught in the same space as others who were eating.
Malnourishment soon led deep into depression, which is inevitable given the state of my gut function and hormone balance. The consequence, as for so many, was to be put on antidepressants- which accelerated the numbing of the connection between my body and mind, and led me to believe I could never relieve myself of pain without a mind altering medication. I did not feel confident enough to communicate openly about how bad such helplessness was- not with friends, not with family, not with a therapist.
Orthorexia soon accompanied anorexia: an unhealthy obsession with what it meant to eat ‘pure’ and ‘healthy’ had me convinced that a raw vegan diet was the ONLY way to eat. An intense discomfort and anxiety began to accompany being around anything other than this type of food.
At the weight of 88 pounds, my Mum looked me in the eye and told me “you are anorexic, and you simply cannot see it”. I told her she was mad. Denial of the problem is definitely the first hurdle; I could not admit it at the time, but her blunt communication really sunk in. Consequently, I am now a strong believer in being really honest with those around you who are in denial and suffering.
I look at my recovery as beginning the moment I started to spiral ‘downwards’. I explored parts of myself that I never would have if this compulsive disorder had not taken over. I moved through cognitive behavioral therapy, craniosacral therapy, and ABA (anorexics bulimics anonymous) as well as OA (over eaters anonymous) searching for a magic wand to make it all go away.
This process was immensely challenging, and immensely healing. Most significant was ABA and OA, as well as having many close friends who had moved through recovery. This support system contained an understanding of the anxiety and fear. There was no need to small talk or minimize what we were feeling. It was an immense part of me coming back into a sense of self-worth. I no longer craved to be ‘normal’. I had found a sweet spot, diving deep into the parts of myself which needed healing. Now residing on what I call ‘the other side of normal’; not necessarily moving about life in the same way as those around me, but also not necessarily wanting to, as I defined what 'normal' meant for me and how I could live at my optimum.
I stopped any form of substance or alcohol use ((which had previously flowed in and out of control)) as a result of the orthorexia. I have maintained this commitment today as a healthy tool of continual recovery, keeping my mind clearer, and not putting my body under added stress. Coming off anti-depressants was also a hugely beneficial decision for me: I deeply believe that there are tools which can be trialed for long periods of time before resorting to pharmaceuticals.
I went deeper into my already existing yoga practice (at the time, I could no longer go to the gym or run). I slowed down, began to hear how unhappy my body was, and began to listen to the teaching that the practice is one of self love before anything else: this was now my goal. I no longer abused the practice for exercise, but delved deep into how it made me feel, how it helped manage the panic attacks and prevented me from returning to self harm.
The culmination of my practice was Yoga Teacher Training, which I completed in 2015 at 22 years old. Now when I teach, I experience so few who come to yoga class and have the confidence to break down on the mat, or communicate what they are going through- but I feel the suffering and strength combined that pushes people to turn up to class.
Through teaching, practicing, and creating spaces of open communication and vulnerability, I hope to encourage each of us to accept and love our light, and our dark, and to seek help in finding the tools for recovery.
Alongside yoga, seated meditation also became a powerful tool for slowing down and observing the words of depreciation I spoke to myself each day. Yoga and meditation were not a quick fix; I went through extreme phases of both practices before coming to a balanced medium within which I found a sense of stability. But I promise, it is worth the time and energy: patience is part of the practice.
Dance was something I found a little later; An ecstatic dance community when living in London gave me an outlet and space of complete non-judgement to enter into twice a week, to move my body, fall in love with movement instead of seeing it as a chore to burn calories- and it was a meditation like no other. I continue to believe dance, along with yoga, can be key to self exploration and release of trauma.
I still sometimes fear the next meal, and sometimes I have days in which I restrict my intake of food. However, these moments become more rare each month, and my faith in life-knacks (the little tools I have developed to help myself), my human support systems, and contemplative practice allow me to stick with the inevitable ebb and flow that recovery brings. One step at a time: patience and practice!
I am now based between California and London, and I acknowledge the continuous journey of healing. During recovery, a large realization was the extent to which emotional and mental conditions are pushed under the surface and so rarely spoken about openly. I simply found it so hard to speak up, and so I spiraled down.
I am passionate about creating a safe space for expression and story telling- of suffering, healing, and the tools this community has found for recovery. My partner and I have recently begun an online platform called moonfolk, a space to share vulnerability and bring awareness to all sides of our ‘humanness', including struggle. This project is the first step in using my experience to fulfill a new passion; allowing space for our dark and our light, both for myself and for others. If this resonates with you, I would love to hear about your struggles and tools, past or present.
Find me @ https://www.instagram.com/moon.folk/