i am posting this picture because i need to see it like this. me how i am right now. today. i’m not sucking it in or covering it up. this is my body. it is what it is.
notice how quickly we start to make a judgement. i do it too. don’t talk to me about weight or pounds. i mean it. don’t tell me that i am fat or not fat. skinny or not skinny. that i am beautiful on the outside. if you think anything about me is beautiful let it be my honesty in writing about this difficult topic.
because i don’t feel beautiful but i do feel honest.
since getting really sick with depression, anxiety and ptsd, my relationship with my body has gone through many changes. superficially my medication caused me to gain almost 30 pounds when all was said and done. my hair fell out for a while and i had terrible breakouts. it truly sucked. but my physical appearance was the last thing on my mind when i was sick. i was almost detached from my body – the source of my illness. on a deep down level i felt that my body had betrayed me by letting me become so unhinged. i couldn’t trust it anymore.
as i began to recover and stabilize i came out of the fog and began to notice myself again. “oh my god,” i thought, “who is this fat version of me?” i’ll be honest – i was totally mortified about my weight gain. it sounds superficial but it is very, painfully true. the change in my appearance made it hard for me to see people again – on top of having to own that i had spent time in a psychiatric hospital and then quit my job, i had to top it all off with 30 extra pounds.
does it sound like i was being hard on myself? i was. and to some degree i still am. it’s common to experience guilt and shame after an episode of severe mental illness – about many aspects of our lives, including how we look. we do the best we can at any given time and self loathing was the best i could do. i wasn’t able to give myself a break or tell myself that how i looked was ok. because it wasn’t ok with me and i felt that i had to work so very extra hard to recover from how bad life got – and how bad it made me look to myself.
i got motivated. i changed my diet completely and restricted carbs and sugar. i started working out all the time, pushing pushing pushing myself to drop the extra pounds. walking running lifting biking. and while i think that exercise and healthy eating are critical to my wellness, i wasn’t doing it entirely for my wellness. i was doing it in large part for my clothing size.
i started to drop weight – 5, 10, 15, 20 pounds. i got so many compliments: “wow you look amazing!” or the ultimate praise: “have you lost weight?” but i still felt fat. when i looked in the mirror i saw my size and it looked no different. even though i came within 5 pounds of my pre-breakdown weight i felt ten times as big. i asked my husband, my mom, my sister, over and over and over again, if i looked ok, bigger, smaller, better, worse. constantly checking to see what they thought. but no reassurance will be good enough if we aren’t prepared to accept it and if we can’t reassure ourselves.
in january i had foot surgery and wasn’t able to walk for six weeks or exercise for three months. the weight came back – 5, 10, 15 pounds. and i lost my resolve to honor my restricted diet. i felt like i was watching myself let go of all the progress i had made. once again putting myself down. once again feeling inadequate. and always feeling overweight. maybe not fat to you but fat to me. my own kind of fat.
i’m sick of caring about this. i’m sick of looking in the mirror and criticizing myself. i’m sick of feeling guilty when i eat something i like. i’m sick of comparing my body to somebody’s else’s body. i want to do better. i want to see myself differently when i look in the mirror.
but i can’t just snap my fingers and become body positive. (i totally wish i could). so i am forced to ask myself why i put so much energy into disliking my body, into criticizing myself. does it go back to losing my dad and the abandonment i felt as a 13 year old girl? it is the impact of the trauma on both my body and my mind, teaching me to distrust my instincts and the world around me? how much of this is cultural – our fixation on the skinny, perfect female body? let’s not forget mental illness – the lies that depression tells me about never being good enough and my anxious focus on what other people think. it’s all of this and more, more more. all tangled up in one messy self conscious knot.
i find it hard to just look in the mirror and tell myself i’m beautiful. it feels fake. like i am glossing over how hard this is for me. so instead i ask myself what my body has done for me. it carried me through a childhood trauma. it has allowed me to travel all over the country and some of the world. it alerted me when i was heading into a mental health crisis and gave me an opportunity to learn how to take better care of myself. today i use my body to cope with difficult symptoms, finding peace in deep breathing and physical movement. my body took me to spain on my bike journey last may – riding 200 miles in honor of the 20th anniversary of my dad’s suicide. these are things i can hold in the balance. things i can appreciate. connect with. feel proud of.
maybe loving my body has more to do with trust than it does with appearance. because right now my reflection lies. maybe it is just this first step, this awkward conversation that doesn’t have a happy ending.
one day i want to be body positive. right now i’m just body.
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