I sat with my legs straight out in front of me, arms crossed lightly over my chest, looking into space, and with careful nonchalance, asked her “So… I don’t suppose you were able to understand from that report what exactly it is I’ve got?”
“Oh”, she replied “you want a label?”
Fuck! Busted WIDE OPEN!
“Umm yeah, I guess so”
I tried (and failed) to withold a shamefaced grimace.
“Well, it says here ‘unspecified eating or feeding disorder’, and some numbers from the classifcation system they use to determine these things. You don’t binge and purge [I shuddered involuntarily, thinking “HELL NO!”] and you seem to be rather more into the ‘exercise too much and restrict your diet’ end of things. But terms like ‘anorexia’ are rather outdated these days – we don’t use them any more.”
Bastards! They’ve copped on, these oh-so-clever, psychologically clued-up doctor-types. A label. Something to hang your issue on. Isn’t that all anyone hopes for? Especially after going through such a rough time with it – to not even have the ‘reward’ of a label – some kind of validation that you’re doing it right. Shit! I’ve been cheated. I am now an ‘officially typed-up’ Person With A Common, or Garden Variety, Non-Specific Eating Disorder.
I’ve also been prescribed some medication for anxiety on account of the panic attacks I’ve been having lately, and the sudden, inexplicable fear that I’ve done something terrible, or fucked up somehow, and it’s all about to explode in my face and everyone will know I messed up…
Anyone who knows me well enough (or who has been around here long enough) will probably have seen it coming. Not the messing up – that’s just BS my (terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad) brain is churning out to make my life complicated – the other stuff. The stuff I’m struggling with. The stuff which, if it weren’t for the side-effects of this weird moodstorm I’ve been going through for the past while (inexplicable ups and downs and feelings of bulletproofness and then reversion to spun-glass fragility) I would be writing up in a touchy-feely way, trying to make you feel sorry for the pathetic mess that I am. The stuff I still refer to as ‘stuff’ rather than ‘eating disorder, because frankly it’s ridiculous and I find it utterly laughable (not in the good way) that at 31, I can come down with something more commonly diagnosed in teenagers.
Okay, I know, mental illness isn’t bound by age. Which this is. I do at least know that. Because in spite of all the abject self-loathing I can’t seem to shake, if I stop for a minute and check the facts, I *know* that I am physically healthier and slenderer than I have ever been in my entire adult life. And even if I include my teenage years, I’m still better now. But none of it makes me less repulsed by my appearance. And none of it is mitigating the guilt which is welling up inside me like bile about the second bowl of cereal I’ve had on a day when all else I’ve eaten is some fruit and vegetables because I’ve done no exercise, because I was stuck for over an hour waiting for the damn doctor, and I haven’t earned it…
I wrote a while ago, in a post which hasn’t been (and may not be) published, about how my biggest hang-up is my fat. How much I hate all the wibbles and wobbles and sticky-out bits which cover me in a layer of squidgy blubber. I wrote it while I was in the middle of a dark, dark mood, when even remembering my name caused me anguish because I associated the name with the image of the person I see.
Because, the person I see is (apparently) not who other people see.
I’ve gotten stuck, somewhere along the way, in someone else’s twisted hall of mirrors, where the lasting impressions are ones of ugliness and worthlessness and “Gosh, you’re getting a bit fat” and “We could park the Queen Mary along one side of your nose, and the QEII along the other” and “Um…you’re sturdy” and “Well, you’ll never be one of those *skinny* girls…”, and last weekend I saw photos of me from a mere seven years ago, and felt sick with disgust at how I looked.
No matter that I was smiling because I was holding my newborn Neff, and loving being an Aunty for the first time.
I was ugly. Fat. Hideous. Stupid. Repulsive. Vile. Abhorrent. Awful. Huge. Worthless. Terrible, Horrible, No-good, Very Bad YUCK!
And I stood there, struck dumb, with Husby’s arms around me as we quietly absorbed the slide-show of Neff’s first day out in the world, and I marvelled that this man had ever found it in himself to even be interested in such a *thing* as me, then. And I vowed I would never go back to that, even as a little voice tucked away inside my brain tried to yell at me that it was a damn good thing he’s not as shallow or screwed up in the brain as I am, or then where would we be?!
But that’s the image I still carry inside – who I feel as though I am.
I’m embarrassed about who I was then, and if I’m perfectly frank, I’m ashamed of who I am now. Because I’ve learned that an eating disorder isn’t about strength of character, nor does it mean you’ll be skinny. In my case, it’s about weakness of character and it’s surprisingly little related to how I look (the smaller I’ve gotten, the worse it’s become). It’s about a mental imbalance and a fundamentally disordered view of my own self, and the only way I feel able to control it is by stopping the calories from going in, for as much and as long as I can bear it, without *actually* damaging myself, in an arse-upwards way to try to make the outside bit of me okay enough to make the taunting voices stop for long enough to let me fix the inside bit.
So I restrict what I eat. And I exercise. And I’m not happy. And I’ve been having these anxiety attacks, and finding myself inexplicably on the verge of tears, and getting ten kinds of worked up and unnecessary about it, and thinking that it’s some Big, Bad, Awful, when in fact it’s really quite…not.
Lots of people have disordered thoughts. Lots of people have difficult or unmanageable relationships with food and their self-image. Lots of people take medication and have therapy.
I’m not special.
But I don’t like myself. I fall into comparison traps very easily and end up unreasonably down because I’m not the ‘whatever’-est it is. And even if (somehow) I’m more ‘whatever’ than the person I’m comparing myself to, I find I can instantly discredit myself because they’re probably not doing the stupid ‘throttle-yourself-on-your-own-hang-ups’ thing I’m constantly doing. I’m my first and worst critic (from a long tradition of getting in there immediately, because it hurts less than if I’m the second (or third) one with a jibe at my expense). I hold myself up to very high (and
probably okay, definitely unrealistic) expectations, and when friends have heard these things from me, they’re incredulous, and ask me whether I’d expect the same of them, in a similar situation. I wouldn’t – because I wouldn’t ever ask that of someone I like.
But those friends of mine – they matter. They’ve been very generously shoring me up through this. And they’ll continue to do so. And when I’ve taken a deep breath and told them of this mess of crapola, and my embarrassment and my shame at being such a pathetic excuse for a human being, they’ve smiled indulgently and told me that they already knew this was coming, and that they care not one JOT less about me, and then they reinforce that they care about me because of who I am, not how I look.
And sweetly, they all think that who I am is rather wonderful. Which baffles me, most of the time, but I won’t argue the point (right now).
I *will* do as I’m told, though, and I’ve been told to say, Out Loud, one thing which is good, and true of me: I’m funny.
I make people smile, even if I do it as a defense mechanism or at my own expense. Even if I do it to hide the hurting. Even if I do it to shock or get a reaction or to be a pain in the ass. Even if ‘Adorkable’ is the best I can ever hope for. Because I can also do it to entertain and to enhance and to bring joy and happiness, and it *is* good.
I’ll get past this. I’ve got ’til I’m 41 to have this kind of thing all sorted out [self-imposed goal of ‘the age to have things worked out by’ – we’ll see]. I got time. And I wrote this because today I’m in a ‘fuck it‘ kind of mood. I don’t know why, but I’m rolling with it. Tomorrow I might hate that I did this, and be back to cowering embarrassment and wishing I’d never said anything, and could somehow learn to have a damn boundary!
But for today I don’t really care – it’s my blog, I’ll tell what truths I want to, and I’ll keep finding those silver linings. And here’s a HUGE one: the people who matter still (somehow) think I’m okay.