Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Body Politic

I keep rewriting this post. I can't seem to find the right words. The right focus.

It feels narcissistic to write about myself in a way that's not self-deprecating, but actually revealing. Which is pretty ironic when you consider blogs seem to thrive on the internet equivalent of verbal diarrhea. And I've talked about this before, but, I've never linked to those posts or made much of an effort to make them available to more than a handful of people who already knew.

This sounds really cryptic. It's not, really.

So, here goes (and here I will declare an official TRIGGER WARNING): For the past year I've been in treatment for an eating disorder, mild depression, and body dysmorphic disorder.

The eating disorder in question used to be Anorexia before it became restrictive, disordered eating. Mild depression is part of it, and pretty self explanatory. Body dysmorphia is often a close friend to ED (short for eating disorder). It basically means you obsessively, and often exclusively, notice a flaw/flaws. The flaw takes on an exaggerated amount of importance that usually doesn't match reality. A person with BDD will not view a zit as a zit. It's a giant tumor that has taken over your face and you can't be seen by other people or they'll be disgusted. That's not hyperbole in the sense that a person with BDD really and truly believes that.

Mine isn't limited to one body part, but it does mostly manifest around my weight. I often feel "too big". As in, taking up too much space. In reality, I'm quite short. But when my BDD is acting up, kind of like a trick knee, I feel nine feet tall, as though I have just expanded to overflow whatever space I'm in. My skin will crawl. My clothes will become unbearable. I will want to scream, yell, claw my way out of myself. A lot of things can trigger it and what I've mostly worked on the past year is finding ways to manage it better.

It's not fun. And it can be really serious, depending on how severe the BDD is and how far the person with it takes it. Some people have unnecessary surgeries because of it. Others can become too anxious to leave the house. Others commit suicide. I'm lucky in that it's never been quite that bad.

Unfortunately, my BDD is connected to my ED. It started around age seventeen. I stopped eating more than a really limited amount of calories most of the time, carefully measured any food I did eat, frequently "forgot" to eat altogether. Obsessively exercised. Weighed myself ten, fifteen times a day. I dropped over twenty pounds in about a month. And then did whatever I had to to maintain it. I somehow managed to never lose so much weight that anyone thought I was sick. Which just shows you how much people value thinness. They don't really care how you achieve it so long as you never lose control enough to actually fall over the edge and look ill. I'm still a little bitter about that. Just like I'm bitter that people who had never thought I was worth talking to suddenly wanted to be my friend after I dropped weight. Clearly who I was as a person was less important than what I weighed. I've noticed this is often true outside of High School, unfortunately.

Over the years I've had times that were more restrictive than others. College was restrictive. And I'd do things like walk over 100 blocks in NYC in a week, walk 4 miles when I got home, and do over a thousand jumping jacks at night in my room. It was easy to hide how much I wasn't eating because I spent all day at school, and since I was a poor college student, it was easier to drink coke and pretend I wasn't hungry to save money. I'd tell myself I was saving money when I'd walk in below zero weather instead of the subway. Or in the driving rain and wind. Or sweltering NYC summer heat. But really, I couldn't bear the thought of not walking the magic number of 40 blocks per day. If I didn't do that, the world would collapse and I'd be "fat".

After college it got a bit better for awhile, and then I started working. One of the first ways I deal with stress is to stop eating, and as you can imagine, publishing is not exactly a calm and stress free environment. I excused it for mostly the same reasons. We had no money, I could live on an apple a day, I was being "good". What eventually snapped me out of it, at least to the degree that I become more disordered than just restrictive, was when I blacked out in my office one night while working late. Spots appeared and I just...don't remember a whole lot. For about 20 minutes. When I came to or whatever you want to call, I felt profoundly ill. And realized that something was deeply wrong.

It was. I had managed to starve myself into a vitamin deficiency. I was bruising all over, constantly, just from touching things. The inside of my mouth was frequently lined with sores, ones that took far too long to heal. I was tired all the time, prone to crying for no reason, and I started getting migraines for the first time in my life. I would sleep but never feel rested and I had nightmares most nights of the week.

So I "treated" it, on my own, up until about a year ago. And I was lucky. I'm lucky it didn't get worse and I was able to manage on my own for so long. But then we moved and I realized it just wasn't enough anymore. I was slipping into old habits and I was tired of the cycle of self-loathing.

Eating disorders are deeply personal. No two people will have the same triggers, the same "reasons", the same emotional cocktail they're trying to cope with. The one thing you will have in common is control. And the rituals. We all have those. Eat this, not that. Eat exactly this amount and never more than that. Only these foods are "safe". Exercise for this long, every day. The amount of my life that revolved around counting calories and fat grams and miles was epic. And it all boiled down to: if you don't do these things you will be fat and disgusting and no one will love you. Not that I thought I deserved love. But I could keep that thought down somewhere dark if I just stuck to my rituals and my emptiness.

I suppose that's the thing I miss most. That euphoric feeling of being empty. Fasting will do that. And you equate it with being "good", so full becomes "bad". That emptiness takes over and fills all the awful places in your head. It replaces feelings with just one feeling. It simplifies everything down to this one little act: Do. Not. Eat. Everything will be okay if you don't eat.

But it never actually made anything okay, and while it did make me thinner, it also made me sick and it never made me happy. I didn't feel any more worthwhile. I did manage to accomplish things in spite of it, but even that stopped being true after awhile. I was always struggling with it, always fighting it. It was always there, limiting my life and strangling anything I desperately wanted to do or be.

What's really scary sometimes is how much I identified (and still identify sometimes) with my ED. Who am I without that? How do I cope without it? Who was I before it? Who am I now?

It's still a struggle. I have some really rough days when all I want to do is shut myself in a dark room and never eat again. A huge driving force in my restricting was to shrink. To take up less space. To be smaller. Less. To disappear. What right do I have to be here? Who am I to claim any space in this world? The answer was usually: no one and nothing.

These days I feel like that less and less. I'm not sure why but sometimes that's even scarier. I'm here and I can't keep avoiding that. I can't keep denying myself the same things I'd freely give to anyone else. I'm here and I take up the space I take.

At some point, I may even become okay with that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fix Me

an alien in human skin
i could pass for
nothing so much as
not like you
never like you

i sit in my skin and
struggle with old years
long dead and distant
but the ghosts
they feel more solid
than i do
a whisper of who
i might have been

looking at you
at your perfect skin and
perfect lips and
smooth flat belly
the perfect, only kind

i know that i'm an alien
masquerading in
too much human skin