If you were to stop a random person walking down the street and ask them to access my perceived awareness of my body (based on behavior, dress, interactions with others and responses triggered by commercialized definitions of beauty,) they would never suspect that I had issues with my appearance. I am, what most people would consider to be, ‘the average person.’ I’ve been defined as many things—regular, normal, husky, ‘like everyone else,’ well-rounded, with a little extra, big-boned. I personally know that I am not: slim, muscular, thin, fit, toned, in-shape or am anywhere near possessing a body which could be defined by an athletic association (such as ‘dancer’ or ‘swimmers.’) A contemporary lifestyle based around an office job, with a diet consisting of everything from store-bought to fast food, and an as-of-now nonexistent exercise routine due to an ankle injury and depression (because let’s face it: who wants to work out when you’re depressed?) leads to the typical body shape you can find in the nearest metropolitan area.
This is, in all respects, normal.
Because of that, some are surprised when I admit that I have struggled with body dysmorphia since my teens.
Body Dysmorphia (defined by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a chronic mental illness in which the affected individual is possessed by excessive concern over their appearance. This can range from everything to weight, to perceived flaws on their person, to the way they believe others perceive them due to their appearance. It causes those affected to experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and social isolation. It is believed that 1% of adults meet the diagnostic criteria for body dysmorphic disorder.
While everyone’s experience with the condition varies, my battle with dysmorphia began as a teenager—when, on a Thanksgiving close to my sixteenth birthday, I posted a video on YouTube and was almost instantly attacked based on my weight.
I was floored.
Until that moment, I thought those kind of opinions were limited to high school and the peer pressures surrounding it. I’d never imagined that a complete stranger (whom, to my ignorant conscience, believed wouldn’t care) would say something like that to me. I’d never even considered myself fat. I just considered myself ‘me.’
Whether it was due to the onset of various mental disorders or a creation born from the societal concept that being fat is bad, that single comment began (and still continues to be) my battle with dysmorphia.
I won’t go into detail over the events that took place between the incident and the age of seventeen-and-a-half. Naturally, I wanted to do whatever possible to lose the weight, and the faster the better. I immediately took action by cutting out things that were deemed to have adverse affects on your weight (junk food, non-diet soda, fast food, etc.) I lost ten pounds after quitting soda the hard way (and experiencing the withdrawal symptoms en force) and then switched to diet, and over the course of several months continued to practice what I thought was ‘safe dieting.’
What did ‘safe dieting’ include?
Ignoring hunger. Drinking water to ignore hunger. Sleeping to ignore hunger. Eating only 1000 calories a day.
This morbid fascination with losing weight consumed me to the point where I was counting calories via Excel—and not only counting them, counting them by labeled number, if I were to eat a chip or chocolate bar. I began to experience headaches, irritability, extreme anxiety, and suffered sugar crashes which I now wholeheartedly believe affect my ability to tolerate them as an adult. Doctors pale when I mention the atrocities I committed on myself. How do you not have diabetes? they ask. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s especially disconcerting given the fact that diabetes runs throughout one side of my family in a really agressive manner. At the time, I was only concerned with losing the weight. And let me tell you:
I lost that weight.
Eighty pounds of it.
The following is a diagram of my appearance, starting from that period when I first began to exhibit the severe eating issues (in 2007) until 2013, when this chart was last updated.
This is what I look like as of this posting:
Regardless of the affects that puberty have on the body, the physical change is astounding.
Over the past few years, my body has shifted in terms of structure and fat due to growth, hormones, and the varying application and adjustments of prescription medications to diagnose my varying disorders. I won’t lie when I say the medication’s made me gain weight. That can be seen from 2010 (when I first began taking medication) and on. And while I do have the occasional spell in which my weight becomes a pressing concern, it is current not a matter of which I obsess over. The mind runs the body, the body carries the mind: to allow the body to move, the mind must be nourished, and thus for me the mind comes first.
Which leads me to my reason for writing this entry:
As of the past few months, I have begun developing what many consider to be symptoms of anorexia—not wanting to eat, refusing to eat, ignoring hunger pains, substituting them with water. I even have developed food aversions which leave me incapable of eating (or even thinking about eating) certain foods without becoming ill. Please note that doctors (primary and specialists) I have seen have not diagnosed me with an eating disorder, nor am I of the mind that I can label myself in such a manner when my situation is far different than any I’ve seen associated with such labels.
Food is necessary for my wellbeing. Besides for the personal nutrition that each and every one of us need, I must actively manage when and how much I am eating in order to take medication that, taken improperly, would leave me with uncomfortable stomach pains. Prescription changes have fixed the abhorrent starvation I’ve imposed upon myself at times (and have, to a degree, helped settle my food aversions,) but they’ve not been able to stop one underlying and subconscious effort I’ve only recently identified.
I concern myself with food over its cost, its longevity, and how long I can eat it before I get sick of it.
This in itself is a quagmire of uncertain resolve—mainly because I have such a solid support structure around me that I have no need to worry about going hungry. I’ve been told Eat. Threatened to eat (who’d’ve thought that?) Told explicitly that if I didn’t eat and ended up in the hospital for lithium poisoning/malnutrition/anything else associated with it, that they would be so mad they wouldn’t know what to do with me. In this regard, I’m perfectly content. Yet every time I go to the store, I have a little voice in my head counting the dollars, waving them over a pit in which they will never come back out. Can the food crawl back? it seems to ask. Will just some be enough to satisfy your gluttonous desires?
I can only contribute this to childhood insecurities regarding money.
I came from the average family, average income, beautiful living, a childhood in which I did not have to worry about where food came from, how it got there, or what exactly it cost. Until financial difficulties hit my family around the age of seven, we lived very well—modest, though well. But when various factors came forth and began to affect the flow of income and the cost of modern essentials, it wasn’t uncommon to hear talk about money, even in my extended family (who also suffered what appeared to be a chain reaction.) Can’t buy that. Gotta watch our money. Can’t buy that. We can’t afford it. I sometimes see parents say this to their children while I’m out in public and I cringe—because in the back of my mind, I’m wondering if down the line they will be plagued by commercial specters such as mine. While I imagine my GAD is likely a heavy contributor to said anxiety, I can’t help but wonder if such intonations are spoken in passing if only because the speaker doesn’t believe it will extent beyond the present mindset.
As of now, this complex has become so apparent that I am forced to consider changing medication (a terrifying aspect unto itself, if you know of, are in relation with, or have even seen my own struggles regarding medication.) Lately I’ve been bouncing between fast food chains (because my subconscious impresses a toll upon assembling food, and that foods easily made like corndogs and sandwiches are disgusting because I’ve eaten them to the point of lunacy.) Even frozen meals (Stouffers Baked Cheesy Potato, Drive-Thru Cheeseburgers, Hot Pockets) have become so undesirable that I’m resorting to whatever I can stomach in order to take my medication, which more often than not come at the point where I am forced to eat because my body demands it.
The last time this happened (in a far worse degree, around November and December of last year,) I was literally eating only protein bars and shakes, with only the casual henpecking of regular food on the side.
Sadly, I realize that necessary medical change can’t reasonably come until after my disability hearing with a judge. Mental health medications are brutal on the mind and body. From stomach pains, to vertigo symptoms, to manic highs that keep me awake for three days to depressive lows that make me sleep for two—it’s no wonder people don’t admit themselves for adequate treatment, and even the consideration of the projected detox, introduction of new medication and then the recovery and stabilizing lengths are enough to make even the most stone-hearted veteran shy away.
While my situation and healthcare through the city of Austin allows me a far greater financial luxury than most could even dream of, the physical and mental strain is nightmarish.
Sometimes, when people ask me what it must feel like to even consider admitting oneself to antipsychotic and antidepressive treatments, I can’t help but describe it in the following:
You know how people complain about being stuck in tight places—somewhere they fear they can never get out?
I tell them they’re lucky.
In most instances, claustrophobia is temporary.
They can get out.
In my case, it’s completely different.
I can’t get out of my own head.