Fractured Mirror

My husband is the front man for a popular local Blues band. The other day as he was preparing for the latest gig, singing under his breath to make sure the songs on the set list lined up, I said, “I have this fantasy, one day I’ll come to one of your gigs all done up, in spiky high heels, a new hair-do and makeup, and a shiny dress, and strut.”

I don’t get to many of my husband’s gigs, you see.  The place his band plays most often is ninety miles away, and he has to be there for set up and sound check at four o’clock for an eight-thirty show. With the show going to eleven-thirty, tear down, and the drive coming and going, he’s gone nearly twelve hours for every three-hour gig. Since we only have one car, I couldn’t arrive later or leave earlier. Twelve hours is a bit much for me to be hanging around with no place to decompress.

He said, “I’d like to see you strut up to the stage, pull me down, and start dancing with me.”

“The problem is,” I said, “that whenever I try stuff like that it never works. It doesn’t feel the way I want it to feel. I don’t get the reaction I expect, or I get no reaction at all.” I paused. “Of course, people say you should do things for yourself and not in hopes of some reaction.”

I was thinking about this conversation this morning as I did my physical therapy. About how things never turn out quite the way I want or expect them to. And it occurred to me: other people’s reactions, or lack thereof, aren’t exactly what puts me off from dressing up and showing off. It’s the fact that those reactions don’t line up with what I feel inside. That is, I don’t get the confirmation I’d like of my interior reality. The times in the past when I have tried to strut my stuff, I generally feel pretty good about it. If I don’t feel beautiful, or hot, or confident, I can’t make the effort in the first place. But inevitably, because I’m fat (i.e., I don’t match socially accepted beauty standards), or I don’t have the “right” clothes, or some reason I don’t know, people with whom I come into contact don’t react the way they would to a beautiful, hot, confident person. At best, they don’t react as if anything is different or special about me at all. At worst, they treat me as an object of derision, “Look at that pitiful fat woman who thinks she’s all that!”

It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror that, instead of showing me the beautiful, powerful woman I feel myself to be–the one I know myself to be, when I’m thinking properly–shows me a monster, or a Cubist painting with fifteen eyes and ears where the mouth should be. Or nothing at all.

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I’ve also experienced the opposite kind of distortion: times when I’ve gone out dancing just for me, not meaning to impress anyone or leave a mark, are invariably the times when some random, skanky dude starts hitting on me. It’s always the skanky dudes, never the ones you might feel reciprocal interest in. Or maybe all guys are skanky when you’re just trying to have a good time for yourself.

Both circumstances make it extremely hard to trust my perception of reality, and both have led me to armor myself when appearing in public. Worse, they’ve led me to pull farther and farther inside my shell because I can’t anticipate with any confidence what’s going to happen when I step outside. Sometimes weeks pass without my leaving the house. When I do leave, I’m always on the alert, always evaluating: what’s happening here? Is this person going to make some comment I’ll have to respond to? If they do, will it be one I’m prepared for, or something out of the blue? Can I go about my business in peace? Or do I have to be ready for something weird that hasn’t entered into my plans?

Outside my home, I’m never entirely sure what’s real or what’s going on. And I’m sure at least a portion of this is due to my having CPTSD, which got exponentially worse after my three years trying to front a band where one of the members had untreated Narcissistic Personality Disorder (in my opinion, which I think is valid. I had a lot of experience with this person upon which to base my armchair diagnosis). Going farther back, my entire childhood was spent among people who never let me have a feeling or experience of my own, but twisted my every expression to be about themselves.

I don’t know what to do about this, or even if there is anything I can do. Pushing forward in spite of what others might think hasn’t worked. I’ve only succeeded in becoming more uncomfortable and insecure, and the effort is more trouble than it’s worth. When you can’t see your reflection properly, why look in a mirror at all? Letting go of expectation from others and only doing things for myself is…well, I never held much with that advice. Once, when I was struggling with writer’s block because I despaired of ever being published, a therapist told me, “Don’t write to be published! Just write for yourself!” I told her, “Plants don’t live to be watered, but if they aren’t watered, they die just the same.” I think the whole idea of doing things only for oneself can only be valid if you already have a secure starting point. It completely dismisses the fact that human beings are social animals what want and need input from others to thrive. And without expectation of some response, why bother doing anything at all? Some people might have an undamaged core propulsion system, but I don’t.

Basically, right now this fractured mirror epiphany is an idea I need to meditate on and talk to my therapist about. But I wanted to write a little about it, so I didn’t forget I had the epiphany in the first place.

Dysphoria

I didn’t plan to write this post on National Coming Out Day. I didn’t plan to write it at all. But I have thoughts, and you know where that leads me.

After I published the post “Ugly,” a dear friend–one I’ve known a long time, who may know me better than anyone–mentioned that the feelings I expressed are similar to those experienced by many LGBTQ+ and trans folk before coming out and/or transitioning, and that coming out and/or transitioning sometimes helps (although not always). Thinking about that, it seemed to me I’ve been attempting to come out for a while; I just don’t know what as. I’m not gay. I’m not trans. I don’t know what I am. My friend suggested Otherkin, but I have my qualms about that term for various reasons. My husband sometimes says, “You’re not human; you’re Fae.” I don’t know how serious he is, or how I feel about that, either.

Once, many years ago, when discussing social problems with a friend, I pointed out that as a white male he can expect certain things from the world. He replied, “I’m not white.” I pointed to his very pale skin and mentioned his European ancestry. He said, “I’m not white. I grew up poor in a ghetto in Detroit. All my friends were Black. I listened to Black music. That’s my culture.” We argued back and forth for a time, and eventually I conceded: he doesn’t consider himself white. I don’t think that means that he never got any of the privileges that come with white skin in our world, but I understand the internal experience. I know it’s taboo and people of color really, really object to the idea for an overwhelming number of valid reasons, but most of the time I don’t feel white, either. It doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from my whiteness in myriad ways, but it’s another thing that makes it hard to find a place to be.

The idea of my experiencing a similar dysphoria to LGBTQ+ folk interests me, though. It shines a light on many of my body issues. One thing I’ve returned to over and over again in the last years as I’ve put on so much weight is this: I don’t dislike my body because it’s fat. I dislike it because it doesn’t feel like it’s mine. I started out hating myself for being fat, and that continued until very recently. But it’s no longer the case, except tangentially. The more of my body there is, the more I feel it’s not the one I’m supposed to have. I think this is one of the things that makes it so hard for me to find any love for my body or practice any form of body positivity.

Trouble is, I haven’t a clue what body I am supposed to have. My therapist asked me about this several sessions ago. I stammered, at a loss for words–a highly unusual state for me. Finally I pulled out my phone and showed her a meme I’d saved. “This is what I look like inside my head.”

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She asked why, what struck me about this picture. Again, I couldn’t answer, except to say, “She looks strong.” I don’t know what this means, either.

I am not physically strong. Once I could claim a great deal of physical endurance, if not muscle strength. Now, I can’t even claim that. And of course, there are many deceptively simple answers to building endurance and muscle strength. But in our culture, they all play into modes of thought I don’t want in my life. I don’t like many physical activities for their own sake. Forcing myself to do them is more harmful than helpful. Going to the gym and trying to engage in circuit lifting for two weeks triggered a month of PTSD flashbacks. How do I make myself do something I hate without hating myself? How do I make a change in my body without saying the body I have is wrong? How can a person be present in the moment and still believe in a future where things are different? It doesn’t help that I have no models. As in the meme above, every time I see a picture that “looks like me,” it doesn’t really look like me, because I’m fat and my body isn’t built along the lines currently considered photo-worthy.

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and I don’t know what to do with these thoughts. I just had to write them down, because for a moment something seemed clear.

Body Positivity Has an Outreach Problem

Yesterday morning I was hanging around Twitter, as one does, and I ran into a conversation among some friends about how hard it is to be a woman: How much extra work you have to do, how many expectations you have to live up to, and like that. Most of the participants were women. The few men involved offered rote reassurance: “You’re beautiful as you are.” Often the women replied with denial: “Oh, it’s the filter on my avatar.” The women talked about the need to have flawless skin and makeup and hair, to be a size two in order to have any value. Some mentioned feeling like shit when they admired attractive men, because they knew they “weren’t worthy.”

It broke my heart.

I should have kept my mouth shut, but of course, being me, I didn’t. I acknowledged that the world is rough on women. I said there’s some things that aren’t in our control, but other things that are. Some of the things society says you “have to” do aren’t necessary at all. I said worth isn’t in size or shape or the color of your hair. I said you have the ability to choose not to buy into those messages. To me, all these things are basic, Body Positivity 101. I honestly didn’t expect them to be triggering and hurtful to the women involved. I didn’t expect to get pushback. But I did. I heard that telling women to “just get over it” is like telling a disabled person to get up and walk. I heard that maybe all that is true in theory, but in practice the media portrayal of beauty wins every time. I heard that hearing it’s hard for everyone isn’t helpful.

I heard a lot of stuff that made me think. My contributions, though well intended, were as wrongheaded and ineffectual as the men’s rote reassurances, for much the same reasons. They didn’t validate the pain, and they didn’t address the issue.

In hindsight, as I said, I should have kept out of it. Twitter isn’t the best place, or even a very good place, for deep conversations. What one says can too easily be misconstrued. It’s hard to recognize when someone is venting and when someone is seeking solutions; harder still to offer solutions when they’re sought. The truth is, this is a hard world for women. We are expected to maintain a particular appearance. Photo-heavy social media like Instagram make it all the more difficult to ignore. All social media drives the message home, when non-conforming and non-compliant women are subject to the vilest forms of harassment and physical beauty translates to literal currency. It’s dangerous out there. It’s dangerous for women who do conform; why take the added risk of choosing not to?

And yet. It hurts my heart that for so many of these women the very notion of conformity being a choice is so difficult and painful to grasp, as alien an idea as if it arrived on a space ship from a planet light years away. That they’ve internalized damaging ideas of beauty and worth, and the connection between the two, to the point where challenging them doesn’t enter their reality. It’s just life.

I thought we’d come farther than this. Isn’t that what body positivity is supposed to be about?

I write this from a position of privilege as a married, white women, fat but not “too” fat, and curved in the “right” places, of reasonable attractiveness, who lives in a small town and isn’t subject to the stuff women are subject to in larger cities, especially when they’re single. I don’t worry about attracting or keeping love. I don’t worry about being harassed as I walk down to the post office (actually, I do, but that’s more from my anxiety issues than any sense it will really happen). I’ve never cared about conforming and my personal style can best be described as casual and eccentric. I also have the privilege of not being required to interact with the parts of the world I don’t want to interact with. I don’t watch regular TV. I don’t work in an office. So I can talk a good line about choosing or not choosing what matters. The truth is, I don’t often have to face the consequences of my choices in the matter, and, though when we visit larger places I do worry about it, I’m largely secure and clueless. A lot of my security comes from being the obvious “possession” of a large, intimidating man. I recognize this, and I take every advantage of it. My cluelessness I can’t excuse.

I remember when I was younger and less clueless, though. I didn’t conform then, either, but I heard about it more. I remember being told at one job how much more feminine I’d look if I wore makeup. I remember struggling to fit into even alternative models of beauty, where being a cis het woman definitely put me at a disadvantage as far as finding partnerships was involved. There was always someone thinner, cooler, more punk, more earthy, more whatever was the standard. I remember being afraid of never finding love because I didn’t fit the mold, and, when I did find myself in a relationship, being afraid of being cast aside for someone “better.” I remember being turned down for job after job in California, where it seemed the only qualification I lacked was the right “look.” I remember the hurt of being turned down for roles in plays and dance pieces for not being the right “type.” I should have shown more sympathy and preached less.

Body Positivity has gone mainstream in the last few years, especially through the work of activists like Jes Baker, Virgie Tovar, and others you can read about here (the list skews heavily towards white women, unfortunately). It’s always been a huge part of my personal work and my feminism, mainly because of my history with eating disorders. Mid-treatment or so, my psychiatrist gave me a copy of Fat is a Feminist Issue. I don’t remember much about it except I connected with some of it and not with most, and didn’t find it very useful. Later, as a college student in my 20s just beginning to explore the Women’s Movement, I attended the Sex, Power, and the Media lecture and presentation by former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, Ann Simonton. The experience blew my mind open by pointing a finger at how media objectification of women not only ropes us into a cycle of buying clothes, beauty products, and diet schemes but also does us direct damage by propelling us into a mindset where hatred for our own bodies is seen as normal. It made me think things I’d never thought and ask questions I’d never voiced. And I swore then not to buy it any longer.

That was over thirty years ago. For me, as far as body image and self love go, they’ve been years of struggle. As much as I’d like to be able to say I rejected the media message once I saw the truth behind it, I haven’t. I have good days and bad days. And the good body days don’t look like thinking I’m cute. They look more like being able not to pay attention to my body every second. Being able not to notice that I’ve put on 70 lbs in the last few years. Being able to accept the way my belly gets compressed when I get up from the sofa, rather than despise myself for it. The bad days, well. The bad days, I sweat, I smell bad, I’m ugly, and I don’t fit in any reasonably attractive clothes. I’m lazy and gluttonous and every single stereotype of the bad fatty you can think of.  And I deserve every sorrow ever visited on me, because I choose not to conform.

So, no. When I say you can choose, I’m not saying “just get over it” and I’m not claiming it’s easy. In some ways, it’s harder. From my standpoint, though, I would rather be able to look those feelings of worthlessness in the eye and tell them “You’re a lie.” I may still feel like crap, but it’s no longer about me. It’s something that was done to me, and still is done to me every time I watch a movie or pick up a magazine.

Trying to bring this post around to some kind of point, the interactions of yesterday made me think that a certain set of people, women in particular, are falling through the cracks when it comes to body positive activism. I came to it through necessity, and it seems to me quite a few of the prominent voices did so as well (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong; I’m no authority). Spaces didn’t exist, so they created them. Clothing didn’t exist, so they invented them. Dance companies didn’t exist, so they founded them. My friend, the late Heather MacAllister, combined her love of dance with queer politics and created Big Burlesque, which led to her becoming a speaker for size activism before her death. The people in the movement I’ve known personally have been, like Heather, already of an activist mindset, and the people they reach are already receptive to the message. On some level, they’ve come to the place of “We’re fat and society’s fucked. Now what?”

This leaves behind a lot of people who haven’t quite accepted either of those premises. Women who feel bad about being fat (whether or not they objectively are), and maybe know on a cognitive level it’s programming, but don’t have the internal or external resources to combat it. Women so beaten down by media representation that they truly believe no conventionally attractive man can ever find them sexy. People, I guess I mean, of all genders who aren’t going to search the Internet for fat positivity because looking at their own bodies is too painful and hard, and standing up to the system of oppression is plain impossible.

How can the body positivity movement reach these people? I don’t think it’s good enough for any movement to wait for those of like minds to find it. It needs to actively make itself available to those in need, and this is where I see body positivity falling down.

I don’t have any good answers, or any answers at all. But maybe if enough of us start asking the question, we’ll discover one.

 

A Twisted Relationship Part III: Discipline

My dad was a big man who suffered from various kinds of chronic pain most of his life. When he was a teen, he was bedridden almost a year with some genetic disorder that appears from time to time in adolescent males. I don’t know how to spell it, so I haven’t been able to look it up. Otto Shleggerer’s Disease? Auto-Schlegerer Disease? That’s phonetic, but neither have turned up any Google results, so I remain in the dark. He had bad knees, and arthritis, and from what I know now I suspect he also had sciatica. At least, he had some kind of pinched nerve in his back that caused incredible pain. He complained a lot about his “damned left leg.” I may have inherited a little of this. I have a weird numb place in my left leg that seems attributable to a pinched nerve. So far, it hasn’t caused me pain, thank the gods.

Anyway. Every time he consulted a doctor, the doctor told him to lose weight, because if he weren’t so big he wouldn’t be in pain. So my dad would go on one diet or another. Sometimes he lost a few pounds. Inevitably, he’d give up. I’d come upon him in the kitchen at odd hours, “evening off” the pan of brownies or picking at the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. And because I didn’t know what I know now, I despised him for what I saw as a lack of mental discipline. I thought, “Geez, dad, the doctor told you what to do if you don’t want to be in pain; why don’t you just buckle down and do it?” And I hated it all the more when he complained about his physical ailments, because I thought suffering them or not was under his control.

Now, as I struggle with my own metabolic problems, which sometimes cause me to feel like I’m starving to death an hour after eating a full meal, I wonder if he was just hungry.

I vowed not to be like my dad. When I wanted to lose weight, I’d do it, come hell or high water. Never mind physical discomfort, or lack of interest in exercise, or anything else standing in my way. I’d put my will to it, and I’d do it. I wouldn’t give anyone an excuse to despise my lack of discipline. I wouldn’t claim to want a thing and do the opposite of everything necessary to achieving it.

Unfortunately, this attitude, combined with certain other factors, led directly to my becoming anorexic. When losing weight didn’t lead to, for example, a reduction in the amount of bullying I suffered or being able to attract a boyfriend, I decided I wasn’t disciplined enough and hadn’t lost enough weight. So I restricted my food intake and increased my exercise level more and more. And before long, I reached a point where I literally wasn’t in control, though not in the way I feared. I knew my obsessions were killing me (probably long before anyone else did), and I could not stop. When I became bulimic, I couldn’t stop that, either. I kept telling myself, “Just put your mind to it!” But my mind had no influence. Eating disorders are funny like that; I expect all compulsions are. I experienced something similar when I engaged in self harm through cutting. There’s a period before an episode when you’re trying to resist. But the longer you resist, the more anxious you become and the stronger the compulsion gets. It builds to a point where you can’t think of anything else; you just want to get it over with so you can go back to some semblance of normality. So you give in, eat the bag of cookies or vomit or whatever, and then there’s this kind of relief, almost like you’ve had an orgasm. Until the compulsion hits again.

As I wrote that, it struck me how similar this sounds to the classic cycle of violence: A period of tension-building, followed by a violent episode, followed by relaxation of tension and remorse. I think they’re the same, only in relationship violence the compulsion is focused on the other partner and in eating disorders you’re driven to be violent toward yourself. I wonder if anyone else has thought of it this way, and if not looking at it this way is a reason perpetrators of domestic violence have such a high rate of recidivism.

Given my history, I have a complicated relationship with the concept of discipline, which often translates in my head to “forcing yourself to do something you really don’t want to do because ‘not wanting to’ isn’t a valid excuse.” Some of this my mother instilled in me. Inevitably when I expressed a lack of interest in doing one thing or another, she responded with, “Well, you could if you wanted to.” Which is problematic in and of itself; it dismisses lack of desire as a reason not to participate in an activity and at the same time implies that lacking interest is itself a flaw, while also promoting the completely irrational idea that the only obstacle to accomplishing anything at all is not wanting to badly enough. By that reasoning, people living in poverty have no excuse because surely if they really wanted to they could be rich, and making accommodations for the disabled is wrong-headed because if they really wanted to they’d succeed on the terms of the able-bodied.

A lot of cultures seem to place an inordinate value on the ideas of discipline and self-control. We admire asceticism. In a benign form, discipline counsels moderation; “Nothing in Excess” (Greek, μηδὲν ἄγαν) was inscribed over Apollo’s temple at Delphi, and the advice was repeated by philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Personally, I think a little excess at times is healthy, but for the most part (and leaving aside questions of “who gets to define excess?”) I don’t have a problem with the idea. However, taken to extremes, discipline can be harmful, as well as easily exploited. We’ve all heard stories of abused children whose parents claim they were “just trying to instill discipline.” Some religious sects encourage mortification of the flesh, even to self-flagellation (and in groups where this is the norm, the tool for administering blows is often known as “the discipline.”)

Speaking as a Pagan, I do see some of the reason behind these practices. On a purely practical level, if you mean to embark on a long period of meditation, a vision quest, or other observance, it’s good to be able to ignore hunger and other bodily discomforts. Another truth is, asceticism promotes an out of the ordinary state of consciousness, wherein one can better access wisdom and information not apparent from or on the physical plane. Self-inflicted (or other-inflicted) pain can act as a catalyst to a shamanic experience. Pagans often share food after a Circle not only to be social, but to aid in returning from magical consciousness. Eating and drinking is one of the best ways to ground and recenter.

The problem lies not in the practice itself, but in the fact that discipline is seen as morally superior to the lack of it. I could write an entire different essay on why this came to be the case. It would include things like religions and philosophies of transcendence, which favor the upper classes, superseding religions of immanence, which tend to spread power more evenly, and the way religions of transcendence privilege things of the spirit over those of the flesh as a way to reinforce oppressive systems. But, as I said, that’s another post. *winks* The result is that the ability to endure unpleasantness has become a good in and of itself, rather than a temporary means to a particular end.

So what does this have to do with my eating disorder, my relationship to my body, and fat phobia in general? Short answer particular to me: It makes it really easy for me to beat myself up and get stuck in a loop of bad thoughts. Although I have, at various points in my life, been highly capable of doing things I find personally unpleasant to achieve an end, I still see myself as lacking in discipline, especially as regards my body. It goes back to the prevalent mythology that some body sizes are bad, even harmful, and altering the shape of one’s body into one better and less harmful is a matter of simple math, calories in vs. calories out. This is a view that people cling to despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Even medical professionals, who should know that multiple factors affect body size, promote it. When combined with the idea that self-control is morally superior to lack thereof, it perpetuates stigma. After all, people think, much as I thought of my father, if you know the equation, what stands in the way of working it? Nothing but your determination and will. And the idea that those of us who don’t fall into a narrow definition of physical acceptability–and worse, don’t or won’t work to get there–are in total control of factors like how our metabolisms process food and how much activity our bodies require to effect change excuses all kinds of stigma, from public fat shaming to financial penalty.

In our culture, fat symbolizes laziness and excess. Any student of history should know this was not always the case; fat once signified prosperity and the ability to withstand periods of famine. In a country where most people have enough to eat and a significant portion of wealth is inherited, prosperity is tied less to hard work and more to the concept of leisure (much in the same way middle class people like to have lawns surrounding their houses, because a large area of uncultivated ground shows you don’t have to grow your own food). For those to whom it doesn’t come naturally, maintaining a small body size implies you have both the time and resource to devote to it: Joining a gym, hiring a personal trainer, shopping for and preparing the appropriate food or having it delivered. Where celebrities, whose jobs may depend on their looks and who are actually paid to maintain an image, are the equivalent of royalty, it’s easy to dismiss the difficulties of the poor, the overworked, those living in food deserts, and those who simply aren’t interested in spending every moment of spare time in an effort to make their bodies comply with and idealized concept of health and normality. Far easier to condemn them for lack of discipline than challenge the prevailing wisdom.

I suffer a good deal of guilt over my lack of discipline. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I wish my body were different. I wish I didn’t get hungry as much as I do, or that someone could at least explain to me why this is the case. I wish it didn’t seem to take me three times the physical activity to achieve half the results others seem to. I wish my lower arms didn’t flap in the breeze and my belly weren’t so large and my back didn’t have obvious rolls. And, of course, I always have that little voice in the back of my head asking, “If you really care about those things, why don’t you get up off your fat ass and do something about it?” It’s a question I have a hard time answering, but I think a lot of it has to do with the role of discipline as a measure of worth.

When my friend offered me a free gym membership, I thought a long time before taking her up on it. I decided, from a completely rational place (or so I thought at the time), that I could try it without attaching some weird agenda to it. I thought, “Twice a week is okay. I can do that. It isn’t unreasonable.” I set goals unrelated to weight and body size; the first was, “I want to be able to walk to the gym, do a circuit, and walk home without wanting to die.” I kept the commitment for two or three weeks, and then I got sick, and I got triggered. I started telling myself, “There, that’s over, and you don’t have to do it again for three days.” Which begged the question, “If I have to console myself with the idea of not going to the gym, why am I going to the gym at all?” I didn’t have an answer. I slept badly one night before a scheduled gym session, and decided to postpone it, just one day. I castigated myself for weakness, and lack of dedication. I fell into a spiral of guilt and justification: “You know sometimes you have to do things you find unpleasant to achieve goals,” to “But I really don’t fell well! Besides, I don’t get any immediate reward for doing it, and I have no guarantee it’ll change anything.” to “Well, then, stop complaining about your body because you obviously aren’t willing to do the work.” Over and over. It’s a cycle I’m all too familiar with from my anorexic days, and I don’t want any part of it now.

On social media, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t see one friend or another engaged in this same kind of self torture. “OMG, look how gross my body has become, I can’t believe I’m in such bad shape, I need to stop being lazy and get back to…” The treadmill, the gym, the Zumba class. Whatever. And I have no problem with a true desire to get into better physical condition (although the definition of this eludes me; it seems ever-changing). I don’t have a problem with people who really like to exercise, who’ve been ill and unable, or gotten out of their routine for one reason or another. Some people find it uplifting. For some people, the daily walk is their favorite personal time. I am not one of those people; if I ever was, I can’t remember it. My relationship with exercise is too loaded, with gym class bullying, with the toxicity of my eating disorder, with the politics of the dance world. I don’t like that all forms of movement are overwhelmingly emotionally painful, but there it is.

I just wish people would stop with the self hate in the name of discipline. Shaming yourself into doing something never is good, no matter what the result. But as long as society promotes self-discipline as a moral imperative, I fear that wish will go ungranted.

Part One Here

Part Two Here

 

 

A Twisted Relationship, Part II: Desire

When I saw my therapist last, we talked, among other things, about forms of movement I might engage in given my lack of motivation and poor health and stamina. She suggested T’ai Chi. I admitted I’d considered it, and had thought about getting a DVD. She said, “I bet the library has some.” I said I hadn’t thought of that–which was true; I always forget the library has DVDs. I said I’d look into it.

That part wasn’t true. I knew it wasn’t true when I said it. I have no intention of looking into it.

For those following along at home, yes; I intend to bring this up next session. My twisted relationship to diet and exercise is an ongoing theme, something I very much want to explore. Or, I want it as much as I’m capable of wanting anything. But therapy is tricky. It isn’t linear. Things come up in the moment, and things may have happened since you last met that take a while to process. And I have a lot of thoughts I need to put down, and I meant to write this post anyway. So.

It’s hard to describe my experience of desire. Except at rare intervals, it’s not something I really feel. The closest I get is a kind of vague interest, followed by a shrug. Or the idea that I should be concerned about this thing, except, in my heart, I’m not. I barely remember what desire feels like. I remember that I have experienced it in the past. I remember wanting my husband, enough to proposition him in a Wendy’s even though I was seeing someone else. I remember, long before I met my husband, when I was trying to get over a break-up, asking myself, “What’s something you’ve always wanted for yourself but have never done?”–the question that led me to enroll in dance classes at the community college. But I don’t remember the sensation of wanting. Instead of desire, I feel pain and fear.

There are a lot of reasons for this. When I was a kid, my personal desires were coded as selfish, for example. When I expressed a desire for something, I was often told, “Oh, you don’t want that,” along with a list of all the reasons I couldn’t possibly. Or I was told not to want what I wanted because someone else didn’t want it, or someone else would have to take trouble over it. Desire was reserved for the adults in my life: Go to church because your father wants it; excel at school because it’s what we want for you; go to THIS school because our fears are more important than your desire to get away from a toxic environment. Desires about my own body were dismissed or ridiculed. “You’re too young to care about that; you look stupid that way; why should you care about having the kind of sweater the other girls have?”

But I think, most of all, I’ve just experienced too much disappointment and I’m worn out. I’ve never actually fulfilled a desire, not the way I envisioned, at least. Or maybe, the ones I’ve managed to fulfill haven’t changed anything. The path doesn’t lead where I think it’s going to. And some of this is normal. You marry a man, it’s never what you think, but the marriage still has value. Or it doesn’t, and you fix it or compromise or move on. But some of it isn’t what I think is the regular course of life. Shouldn’t you be able to map out a path and follow it somewhere you intend to go without random weirdos putting up irrelevant roadblocks? Some people seem to manage this. I never can. I plan out my course for the New World, make sure all my navigation instruments are working, plunge ahead, and next thing I’m not even sailing; my boat has vanished and I’m fighting Martians or something. Like applying to a Master’s program in Dance Therapy, being interviewed by two people from a completely different department, who asked about my spirituality (since I mentioned its importance in my personal essay), then derailed all my attempts to answer my questions with “We’re not interested in that,” and ultimately told me I wasn’t mature enough for grad school and I should go away and get more “life experience.”

So then I try to reconcile telling myself things like, “Well, maybe it was better I didn’t pursue that anyway” for this, that, and the other reasons, and try to find a new path. But the same thing always happens. Maybe I’m a shlemazel by nature, or maybe it’s just life, or, I don’t know. What I know is, pursuing any kind of goal is difficult when you have no real hope of achieving it.

Anyway, my inability to feel true desire or passion for anything is problematic, both personally and in relating to others. When I don’t feel things, they become unreal to me. They exist in a theoretical realm, so far removed from primary stimuli and comfort they may as well be mythical. So I want and don’t want. This, as I kind of said above, makes self-motivation almost a moot point. Also, talking about desire with others is difficult, because they understand it to mean something other than what I understand it to mean. I assume that to others “wanting” something has some kind of feeling attached to it, which it doesn’t have for me. So I often have to answer questions like, “If you want to be in better shape, why don’t you do what you need to get in better shape?” And any response I make is interpreted as an excuse to be lazy, or recalcitrance, or something of the kind.

My last psychiatrist was especially bad about this. Actually, the entire psychiatric profession is pretty bad about this. For all that they’re allegedly treating mental illness, practitioners have a serious disconnect when it comes to what that means. So they say things like “You know what it takes to lose weight; if you want to lose weight just do it!”I have a HUGE problem with “just do it” rhetoric in general. I mean, we all know how “Just Say No” to drugs, to sex, worked out. “Just Do It” erases real obstacles like mental state, physical ability, marginalization. It presupposes that we have control over all those things, and failure to “Just Do” is due to a lack of will. Or of true desire. If you don’t get what you want, you must not really want it. It’s an attitude that allows people to shame those in poverty for not working hard enough to get out. For not wanting to change badly enough. It excuses the cruelty of not offering people the help and empathy they need with the idea that if you don’t jump through the proper hoops, you’re too comfortable. It requires people always to sink lower to prove they need help, and however low you go, it’s never low enough. I despise it.

(Related: Another thing that’s happened a lot in my interactions with mental health practitioners–and I wish I could think of a specific example, but I only remember my reaction to it–is, they’ll make some off-the-wall suggestion, like, “Have you thought about such-and-so?” And when I tell them I don’t really care about that, they say, “Well, if you don’t care, you might as well try it as not!” Like they’re trying to prove some weird point. And it makes me want to strangle them while banging their heads against the wall, screaming, “Not being able to care about something does not equate to being okay with it one way or the other!”)

There’s a mindset among adherents of certain types of spirituality that passion is an obstacle to be overcome. Passion leads to action, which leads to an accumulation of karmic points, which prevents one from attaining enlightenment (those are layman’s terms). This is based on an understanding that enlightenment is a dissolution of self into the All, and your passions, with their resulting actions, anchor one in the Wheel of Samsara, so one has to incarnate over and over until one achieves the proper level of detachment. It follows very handily upon the first “Noble Truth” that All Life is Suffering, from which one might understandably want to avoid.

I don’t buy it. I don’t believe all life is suffering (unless you use the archaic definition of “suffering” as “allowing,” in which case life would be allowing things to happen as they happen while maintaining some amount of detachment). I don’t believe passion and desire are bad things, and I think they have as much place in the human experience as any emotion. I think without passion there’s no motivation and no cause to challenge oppressive systems. I think without desire, there’s no impulse to change one’s self. That being said, I do understand how culture and society can instill one with desires that don’t benefit anyone but those in power, and it’s hard to separate those from the true desires of the heart.

11755516_491618064334370_5643494184422161174_nThe Tumblr screencap above popped up in my Facebook feed recently. It resonated not only because I’ve struggled with depression since I was seven or so, but also because I’ve fought just as long to be allowed to want what I want, to like what I like. The two are inextricably bound for me, because if you don’t know what you want, how can you know who you are? And the depression itself occludes all the sense of wanting things, and diminishes the ability to imagine joyful outcomes. Everything turns into a wasted landscape of pointless drudgery for little or no reward.

As I try to confront the lasting damage having an eating disorder has done to me, I’m recognizing more and more how few of my actions over the course of my life have sprung from a true desire to do them, and how many from a need to be “right” in other people’s eyes. Be thinner, be more conventionally attractive, be active, be involved. It all boils down to trying to gain approval by being something I’m not instead of learning to be okay with the person I am. Even when I went back to college to finish my BA, my choice of major was less about me than about appearances. Yes, I loved dancing when I studied it. And I thought at the time earning my degree would improve my life–though now I wonder how much of that was due to societal expectation and the idea that a person of my class background and intelligence should have a college degree. But I also thought, “Given the state of professional dance, I am not the ‘right’ type to be just a dancer, and going into Dance Therapy will keep me active (because we’re all supposed to be active, and especially large people are supposed to be active).” I wasn’t happy in California, but I did have a pretty good life with a decent job. I wonder sometimes if maybe I should have just stayed and taken dance classes at the community college and worked in the shoe store. Maybe that would have been more honest.

When I started writing this post, I felt genuinely bad about the fact that I don’t like exercise. I don’t like moving much, not anymore. Over the past few weeks, I’ve gone through a significant depressive episode. It started with this guilt, but recently I’ve thought maybe the trigger was that I once again pushed myself to do something I did not want to do–in this case, going to the local gym. It sets me into a downward spiral, for I genuinely would like the body of someone who goes to the gym, but engaging in movement is too loaded and upsets me. And that causes me to beat myself up for a lot of different reasons.

I still have layers upon layers of shit to deal with. I hope, at the bottom, I’ll find the passions I’ve lost. I’m afraid there’s nothing but emptiness.

Part One Here

 

 

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A Twisted Relationship: Part I, Doctors

When my mood dipped into this latest low on Sunday night, I thought the news of the local clinic closing had triggered it. Since then, I’ve heard a great number of my connections are having an especially hard time this week, both with physical and mental illness. So, it may be something in the air. Something cosmic. For me, the clinic closing is still a factor. Let me explain:

I’m fat. (This is all the explanation many of you will need.) My family comes in two types, fat and not fat. I got the fat genes. I’ve been fat, more or less, most of my life, from the time my pediatrician first said “chubby” and I understood what he meant. For the last twenty-four years, I’ve been a patient at our rural medical clinic, which has been staffed with doctors who don’t care that I’m fat. Yes, they weigh me on every visit (I understand you can request they not do this), and no one has ever made an issue of it unless I’ve brought it up first. Which I have done from time to time. I don’t like being fat. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in my life struggling not to be fat, partially because it doesn’t feel good to me, but probably mostly because I got the message early on that fat is the worst thing I could be. I wonder sometimes how I’d relate to my body size if I’d never got that message, but that’s neither here nor there. Every time I stop trying not to be fat because I recognize on an intellectual level that the message is bullshit and body modification through weight loss requires me to engage in activities that I don’t enjoy almost to the exclusion of everything else, I end up displeased with the result.

Going to the doctor is problematic for fat people. (If you’re fat, you no doubt already know this.) Many, many doctors are as fatphobic and have bought into as many myths about the relationship between fat and health as those not in the medical community. In fact, when studies show that body size is not nearly the determiner of health many believe, they dismiss the studies. They call such findings “The Obesity Paradox.” They cannot accept it’s not a paradox; they’re just wrong.

When I was in a college dance program, engaged in vigorous movement 4-6 hours a day, at a weight of 180 lbs, one doctor told me I had to be lying about my diet and exercise habits because “if you really moved that much, you wouldn’t be so fat.” A friend of mine has spent over a year in intense pain because a series of doctors told her it was caused by “excess belly fat” and she needed to lose weight. She finally found a specialist to order scans, which found a number of issues completely unrelated to weight. But when the scans got back to her regular doctor, they claimed they “couldn’t see anything.” Because of the way her insurance works, she needs a new referral every time she needs to go to the specialist, but her doctor won’t give her one even though the specialist diagnosed her. A close friend of mine died of ovarian cancer because doctors said her pain was about her fat until it reached stage IV. I could go on, but you get the idea. In my opinion, if there’s any relationship between fat and health, it’s more likely to be that fat people are so reluctant to go to doctors and be shamed and/or ignored that they put off checking out symptoms until they can’t bear them anymore. So I’ve counted myself extremely lucky to have doctors who treated me like a person rather than a sack of lard the last 20+ years.

And now that clinic is closing. Their last remaining doctor is staying in the area, but he’s going to be working in Surface Creek, which is about 30 miles away. I’m not attached to this doctor (though he was the one to diagnose my gallbladder), and, due to unreliable access to transportation as well as being unable to predict when a migraine so bad I need a medical intervention is going to hit, I’d prefer not to have to travel 30 miles. I might as well go to the ER in that case; it’s about the same mileage. The hospital runs a family practice with a woman doctor in the next town over, just 10 miles. I’ve decided to go there.

I’m scared. After 20 years of compassionate doctors who don’t make a deal about my size one way or another, I’m scared this one will. I didn’t grow up here, so things may be different in the younger crowd, but there are a lot of confident fat people in this part of Colorado. Size doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, but maybe for this doctor it will be. Maybe the hospital running the clinic has an agenda around the “War on Obesity.” And yeah, I’m at a point in my life where I can give a doctor who focuses on my size a piece of my mind, but I don’t want to have to do that. I want to be able to go and have a physical like a “regular” person. Most of all, I really don’t want to have to explain my difficult relationship with diet and exercise. That’s what this post was supposed to be about. I didn’t expect to take 1000 words to explain doctors’ treatment of fat people.

The thing is, I’m not healthy right now. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have spent the bulk of the last six years not moving. This came shortly after my last foray into weight loss, when I got sick of myself and joined Weight Watchers for a couple years. I followed the menus; I counted points and exercised daily. I lost weight…at first. I never achieved my “goal weight” (which in retrospect I think would have been much too low a weight for my frame), and after a while I started having trouble not gaining weight even on the weight loss program.  Shortly thereafter, I went through the “this is bullshit” phase. I was tired of doing exercise I didn’t enjoy. I have never enjoyed exercise for its own sake, and it’s even more problematic now for reasons I’ll get to later. I don’t mind walking to get somewhere, but in my small town, there’s nowhere to go. The loop downtown and back is about a mile. Besides that, everything is out and back, which bores me. And I don’t often have a reason to go downtown. I was also tired of regulating my food intake, of modifying recipes to make them more “healthy,” of pretending the food was good and satisfying. Some of them were, and some of them were downright disgusting; I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I dunno, for people who eat a lot of “junk” food WW might be a guide to healthier menus, but I never have eaten lots of chips or drunk lots of soda and whatnot. So I didn’t have much to change nutrition-wise in the first place. Anyway, I’m not on board with labeling food “good” and “bad.” The body wants what the body wants, and sometimes it wants chips and ice cream, and fat people are allowed to have them. You don’t have to earn the right to eat anything by being thin.

I have become quite fat and less healthy than I’ve ever been (excepting when I was dying of anorexia, which I’ll also be going into later). Going for a two- or three-mile walk on the spur of the moment didn’t used to be an issue for me. Now, I get tired after a couple blocks, and in a half a mile I have to sit down and rest. Due to chronic sinusitis (and maybe my increased weight; I’m not ruling it out), I’ve developed asthma. I have two different inhalers, and I have to use oxygen at night, which I hate. I have myriad gastrointestinal problems no one can diagnose.  I don’t feel good about any of this, and I think being fitter would be to my benefit.

Therein lies the problem, and it’s also linked to my current depressive state. A few weeks ago, after the blog post I linked above, a kind woman I know offered me a free membership at the local gym. I think she may be the co-owner, or is on amiable terms with the owner, who’s an ex. And I thought about it, and decided I’d give it a try. We met and she guided me through the machines, none of which were unfamiliar; I’ve done a little lifting long ago, and it’s not rocket science. The gym itself is entirely unpretentious. It used to be a laundromat, 800 square feet or so packed with equipment and surrounded by cinder block walls. I’ve only ever seen three other people there. No one poses or makes comments. They come in, do what they came to do, and leave. Utilitarian.

So I thought, “This is okay. I can do this. I can commit to twice a week.” My mood was in an upswing then. And I did do it twice a week for a couple weeks, and then my mom died, which threw me off. I went back to it for a week, and then this low hit. I haven’t been to the gym all week. I’ve stayed at home, being mainly sedentary. I haven’t even wanted to work in the garden. And it bothers me. In my head. In my mind. I believe I should be bothered by the fact I haven’t gone to the gym all week, so I am, if that makes sense. My body and emotions don’t give a flying fuck; they would like to stay in and watch TV, thank you very much. Meanwhile, my brain is giving me all these messages about being a lazy fat person, and “just pushing through the resistance,” and “you have to be disciplined about it,” and similar bullshit, which does not make my depressive state any better, I can tell you.

Now, a lot of people might, at this point, be saying, “Well, if you feel bad about not going to the gym, just go to the gym; what’s the big deal?” Or, “If you’re depressed because you haven’t gone to the gym, then why don’t you go to the gym,” which is essentially the same thing. And both of them, as well as being completely dismissive, totally miss the point. I’m not depressed because I don’t go to the gym. I’m experiencing a depressive episode, during which I literally am unable to go to the gym, and furthermore, I’m berating myself for my inability to do so. The fact that I have so little control over and so little say in what I am and am not capable of on any given day adds to the depression. You wouldn’t tell a person with two broken legs who felt bad about not being able to go to the gym just to suck it up and go anyway. It probably wouldn’t even come up, because broken legs, however inconvenient, are temporary (more or less), and that person would not be likely to have my same issues with physical activity in the first place.

For me, physical activity is a punishment. I don’t think it always was so. I remember playing on the monkey bars as a kid, learning to Skin-the-Cat and all. I remember learning to ice skate and liking it. I used to hang out with the middle school gym teacher when my mom stayed late at work, and swing back and forth on the rings like a monkey. It was when competition came into it, and I wasn’t good at it in the right way, that it became abhorrent. It’s not any strange coincidence that around the same time kids really started laying on the fat shame. Fat + bad at sports + being bullied for both = hating sports. Later, at the beginnings of my anorexic period, the self punishment through exercise escalated. When I felt bad or something bad happened, well, it happened because I was fat. In fact, I deserved it because I was fat. If I exercised more, if I weren’t so lazy, I wouldn’t be fat and would no longer deserve these bad things, so they wouldn’t happen. I would do endless sit-ups chanting “fat bitch” to myself. Of course, getting thinner didn’t take away the bad things or make bad stuff stop happening. So I decided I must not be thin enough and must not be exercising enough. I did it more, and more, and more. Even when I had mono. Even when I grew so weak I could hardly climb the stairs from the cellar where my stationary cycle lived to the first floor.

The treatment for eating disorders at this time was less than stellar. Right now, I even question calling them “eating” disorders, because SO much else in involved. No one cared much beyond making sure I cleaned my plate at every meal and restricting my activity level. No one delved into what this syndrome was all about; what I know, I’ve pieced together for myself, from my own experiences and those of others like me. No one ever taught me to have a healthy relationship with exercise. They barely touched on having a healthy relationship with food. They didn’t look into why certain personality traits and mental predispositions manifested in an overwhelming, morbid fear of growing fat. My psychiatrist at the time once told me, “You don’t have to worry about getting fat; people with this disorder never get fat.” If my 67-lb self saw my 250-lb self, she’d give up on the spot.

On top of all that, not forcing myself to exercise to death was such a vast relief, I can’t even describe it. Being given permission to stop, to sit down and be quiet, for an overachieving girl with demanding parents and a lot of expectations on her, it was like a drug rush. It still kind of is, to be honest. It’s the best self care I know. Exercise never feels like self care, even though I know in my head that it probably is at this point in my life.

It’s hard trying to explain this to medical professionals. The last time I was seen at the clinic, the PA, whom I actually quite like, was concerned about my cholesterol. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell him I had higher cholesterol when I was dancing, but oh well. He asked if I exercised. I tried to explain it to him. I told him I was depressed. He said, “Exercise will help with that!” which is not always true. I told him exercise is a punishment, that I used it when I was anorexic to punish myself for being fat. He said, “But if you were anorexic, you didn’t need to punish yourself, because you weren’t fat.” Something like that. I dunno; I let it go. Most medical professionals simply do not get that, for some of us, it will never feel good to exercise. I’ve heard story after story of people saying, “I used to hate exercise, but now I love it! I’m going to run a marathon!” and virtually none like mine. Yes, I used to walk at least three miles a day “for my health.” It never felt good. I hated it more and more every day. Why in the world would I want to continue with an activity I hate?

I want to be healthy. To be healthy, I CANNOT focus on weight loss. It frustrates me because I’m fairly certain that a certain amount of activity on a regular basis is necessary to physical health, and I can’t count on doing anything regularly. I also have to take it nice and slow, do what I can, when I can, and explore new ways of relating to my body. If I tell my new doctor this, will she hear me? It’s twisted enough in my own head.

Part Two: Desire

 

War on Multiple Fronts

CW: Body Image, Diet & Exercise, Possible Sizeism & Healthism, Body Dysphoria

Disclaimer: I’m writing this post in the hopes of clarifying and untangling very personal issues. I’m writing it in WordPress because I think and express better through the keyboard, to an imagined audience, and also because, as always, my experience might resonate with others. You are not obliged to read.

flute 1Today, Facebook Memories showed me this picture from six years ago, and it raised a lot of issues for me.

I remember the photo shoot. A few months previously, I had gone through one of my most manic periods, during which I completed two manuscripts. I was just beginning to go public with my Caitlin Ross Series and explore self publishing avenues. The shoot was ideas for a sample cover of She Moved Through the Fair.

It was a cold, grey, rainy day. Later, I would attend a New Moon ritual. I intended to wear this dress, but while I was sitting down, my cat Luna peed on the trailing skirt, so I had to change.

I cannot wear that dress now. I’m too fat. Both things make me sad.

July 2015These pictures were taken a little less than a year ago. We were on the way to an event at a tattoo studio in Grand Junction. When I posted them, people commented things like “You look adorable!” and “Beautiful!”

I can see only my large, shapeless arms, my saggy knees. My giant waist and hips. The tiny feet holding up all my bulk, and the way they have flattened and roll in at the ankles.

My reaction is actually a little less extreme than it was at the time. I’m beginning to see that maybe some things about me look okay. Maybe.

This is always the way it goes for me, when I see pictures of myself. The closer I am to the day they were taken, the worse I look to myself. Later, I see maybe it’s not so bad. Years later, I may even see a kind of beauty.

kele fluteThis picture is from fifteen years ago, give or take. Probably a bit more. At the time, I hated it, as I hate all pictures of me at the time. Now I look at it and think, “Why? What made me see this smiling young woman as horrible and disgusting?” Now I look at it and feel nostalgia for that person. For that shape. At the same time, I remember the self-loathing, because the self-loathing never leaves. It infects every present moment. It sabotages every attempt to find acceptance, let alone self love.

At the center of my being, a Greek chorus chants over and over: “Not good enough. Never good enough.” Not just in my body, but in everything. My body is often where the struggle plays out, though.

I’m so tired.

I can point to a lot of intellectual reasons why “Not good enough” is the central theme of my life. Being born into a family that had serious issues with women’s worth and women’s identities and the bodies of people born female. Being targeted as Other for the first half of my life, beginning at a very young age. I can point to those things, but they have no impact on a visceral level. Maybe because it started before I can remember, maybe because the messages came along with a mental illness no one wanted to acknowledge and no one had any idea how to treat–a mental illness I still have trouble believing in, too many days–in my gut I believe the problem isn’t with my family’s sexism or society’s attitudes towards those who don’t fit within narrow definitions of “acceptable,” but with me. Me in particular. My being. There is something wrong with me that can’t be fixed, because fixing it would negate everything I am. This is what I believe.

Or something like that. It’s all very confusing. When I think I have a grip on it, it slithers away, like silk, like sand. Truth is nebulous, hard to pin down.

It’s hard to write this without crying. And yet, it’s also easy. A couple of times so far, I’ve felt tears constrict my throat. Just when I notice them, they slither away, too. Like some wizard has placed a “Don’t See Me” charm on the pain at my core. I touch it, and it’s somewhere else. I notice it, then forget a moment later. I get this must be some kind of defense mechanism. I survive; I get on. I swallow the razor blades and the hopelessness and the burden and the “I can’t do this any more,” and keep going, living with the things I don’t believe I can live with. Probably if I saw that thing behind the spell clear, I wouldn’t be able to.

I meant to write about body issues in particular, and I’ve already veered from the point. I’m so far off course, I don’t know how to get back. That’s the defense mechanism at work again, I suppose. Issues link to other issues, again and again, and before I know it, I’m somewhere else. Somewhere safer, if not exactly safe.

I’ve addressed body issues on this blog before, from time to time. I’ve written about my eating disorder and about body positivity, and about other things. Not much. Not as much as I’ve written about writing, or mental illness. Writing about body issues is apparently a huge challenge for me.

Several times over the course of our relationship, my husband has told me I have a stronger body-mind connection than anyone he’s ever known. We’re about to mark our 20th wedding anniversary, and we were together four years before we got married. This makes him the person I’ve had the longest and most consistent relationship with in my entire life, so I guess he’d know. And it’s true, I think, that I have a particularly strong connection between body and mind. Stress makes me physically ill. Negative emotions manifest in migraines, and digestive complaints, and muscles that set like cement. Mental illness comes out in my body. Which is one reason, maybe the main one, that I developed life-threatening anorexia in high school. One day, everything drained out of me. I’d had a lot of ups and downs before, but until a particular incident (which isn’t important except to my therapist), they were passionate ups and downs. Then passion went away. I was empty and small. Not long after, my body followed suit.

And here, the threads become very tangled. Would my mental illness have taken the form it did if I hadn’t heard all my life that I was fat and disgusting, unlovable and worthless? I don’t know. How much of that was internalized attitudes about size and how much was simply feeling I should be punished for existing in a body at all? I don’t know that, either. And how much of feeling I should be punished for existing in a body was tied to my existing in a woman’s body? Beats me. I do know my inner voice berated me for being a “fat cow” because the idea of worthlessness and the idea of fatness were inextricably linked in my mind. I do know I lashed out at both worthlessness and fatness with extreme diet restrictions and extreme exercise patterns, to the point where, now, considering any diet adjustments or any patterned exercise triggers feelings of being punished.

This is where I meant this blog post to go.

I don’t like my body right now. Trying for years and years to practice some form of body positivity has made no impact whatsoever on this. At the same time, I have never liked my body. Maybe back in the dim and distant past that I don’t remember clearly I did. I think it more likely that I had no opinion then, and when I learned to have feelings towards my body at all, the only feeling I learned was loathing, which became ever more extreme as time went on. It’s still there. Mostly, I try not to feel it, because feeling it is debilitating. I don’t know how to deal with this or overcome it. When I was anorexic and other times I’ve pursued active body modification, I’ve thought being a smaller size would make a difference. It doesn’t. I learned that thirty-plus years ago, and yet, I go back to it again and again. I still hate myself no matter what size my body is.

People who promote body positivity often say “start small.” Start with acknowledging and appreciating the things your body does for you. It breathes. The heart beats. It digests your food, all without your asking or trying. In my case, it carries me from room to room. I can walk. I can stand or sit without aid. My body grows flawless skin and beautiful hair. I don’t have joint troubles, or an immune disorder, or any of the purely physical impairments a person of my age might have cause to expect, that other people my age suffer.

(Now I am crying.)

And none of those things matter. “Not good enough.”

I want–and please note, even the word “want” is problematic for me; it’s another feeling/experience the “Don’t See Me” charm obscures–I want to fit in that green dress again. I want to be able to get my blue, embroidered sun dress over my boobs. After a walk or a couple hours in the garden, I want not to hurt because my muscle tone is so bad. I want to be able to dance more than half a song without getting out of breath and having to sit down. I want my husband to say “You’re a beautiful woman,” and not, “You’re a beautiful round woman.”

I fear all this makes me Not Good Enough at body positivity.

I’m almost totally sedentary right now. I have been since around the time that initial picture was taken. For a while, on my last determined skirmish with body modification through weight loss, I forced myself to make exercise a priority. I walked three miles six days a week and I did an hour of Pilates most days (I’m sure I’ve referred to this before). Now I rarely move. Only recently, since my latest med adjustment, has leaving the house for an hour of gardening ceased to be accompanied by innumerable mental contortions: Can I do this? Do I want this? Am I forcing myself? Is it safe? What’s the point? ad infinitum. Right around the time my last medication manager suggested we try Pristiq and it started working, I just stopped moving. (This may have happened before then, around the time I was last hospitalized.) I’d been following Weight Watchers and dropped almost 50 lbs. It started coming back before I ever achieved the fabled “goal weight,” and I couldn’t track food in the hospital, so I stopped. Then I started eating more. Then I stopped moving except to get up from the couch to pee.

I’m so tired.

How much is Bipolar Disorder and Depression? How much is laziness? Yes, I think of myself as a lazy fat person. I think, “If you just made it a point to move…” But moving for its own sake hasn’t been fun for me since I was seven years old; it’s always a duty. Something I make myself participate in to be less worthless. Even when I was studying dance, yes, I loved dancing, but I also loved the idea of myself as “someone who moves regularly.” I never, ever enjoyed those three-mile walks, and never came to that magic place where exercise transforms from a burdensome commitment to something you look forward to as part of your day. On a regular basis, I cried doing it. How do I participate in joyful movement no matter what size I am when movement isn’t joyful? When it’s acutely emotionally loaded and painful? When I don’t believe there’s anything on the other side of that pain but more pain, and more, and more? Maybe the momentary comfort of sitting on the couch surfing the ‘net on my phone is the best I get.

You know, I believe we opt into the lives we incarnate in. More and more these days I think, “Why the hell did I opt into this mess?” Why did I pick, or at least not refuse, a life so hard, where nothing ever turns out the way I want and I always have to settle for “The best I can get?”

As far as my body issues go, I feel like I’m constantly fighting a war on multiple fronts. I go back and forth between them, never winning more than a skirmish, and never with time to breathe. As soon as I have one under control, shit flares up at another. Try to shape myself to be more what I want to be, maybe succeed for a time,. Then all the restrictions and so called “lifestyle changes” begin to wear on me, and I think, “Hey, body size and weight have no bearing on my personal worth, so eat a goddamned hot fudge sundae and sit down for a change!” Relax into my body and try to accept myself in my natural state, and in a few months none of my clothes fit. Clothes that aren’t simply rags to cover my nakedness, but symbols of my identity. I can’t win. There’s no decisive victory.

I want to wear that green lace dress again, so badly. I want to sit still and watch serial genre on Netflix. I don’t know how to find any kind of resolution.

ADDENDUM: I posted this comment on a Facebook thread, and it seems like I should add it here:

“If you’ll forgive my gooey therapy-speak, I think my core wounding (ugh, that just sounds so pretentious and gross) is around worth and the right to exist, and the fatphobia and sexism got piled on top of that. Both have made it difficult to get to the real issue. And the real issue is awful and painful to acknowledge because of all the gaslighting I experienced around it. So any kind of positivity becomes impossible for me, because I lack any sense of myself as valuable, though I believe in the inherent worth of everything on an intellectual level.

And I think this is a place I was trying to get to in the post, but didn’t.”