Saturday, 25 July 2015

Damn you, body dysmorphia!

In my early meetings at the eating disorder clinic, the doctors and therapists wanted to know how I perceived my body. They asked questions like: 'Do you think you're fat?' and 'When you look in the mirror, what do you see?' I knew what they were angling at - they were trying to see whether I had body dysmorphia. My answer was always a confident "Nope! I don't think I'm fat. I know perfectly well what I look like and have all my faculties about me, thank you very much!". I knew that saying I was fat would sound silly, and I was not having a bar of it. I felt so indignant, that when I began this post (two days ago), I titled it: 'Pah! I don't have body dysmorphia!'. But the closer I examined my thoughts, the harder it was to deny.

When I look in the mirror, I can see angles in places there didn't used to be. There have been times I would catch a glimpse of myself in a shop mirror unexpectedly, and be shocked at the image of the person looking back at me. Crikey, she's looking a bit rough, I would think. It's not like I can't see what's in front of me, and on some levels I get it, but there is something a bit funny going on.

My concept of body dysmorphia had come from those terrible made for TV movies - the type where a girl looks into a mirror and sees a huge, pulsating reflection of herself, accompanied by nauseating music. Well my reflection is perfectly still. I don't hear a taunting voice saying fat. No, I hear: chunky; solid; All Black*. So no problem here, right...? What I think happens, is that there is some sort of communication issue (I'm a doctor in my imaginary life only, so this a isn't physiological fact). My eyes take information in correctly, but my brain twists it all up into gobble-de-gook. And that becomes what I believe.

It's all deeply confusing. At the clinic, I glance surreptitiously at girls in the waiting room and think Yikes, she's very skinny. So thin she might snap. I feel absolutely sure I have never been like that. Yet the doctors used words like 'emaciated' around me, and I felt very embarrassed, like it was all a terrible mistake. I was a fake, a fraud - those words surely didn't apply, I was way too big for that.

Clothes shopping has been a very odd experience. At my lowest weight, my steps felt light and unsteady. I wasn't fitting my skin properly anymore, and I could see that in the mirror. But somehow that awareness didn't transmit into what I understood about myself. Before all this weight loss, I would flick through the racks of clothing, occasionally pick up the tiniest sizes and guffaw Who could fit this?! It must be for the Oompa Loompas. I didn't know of any actual adult humans that would fit such a size and was certain it would never be appropriate for me. After my dramatic shrinkage, I needed to buy new clothes, so I went shopping. I started trying things on, gradually working my way down the number system, discarding each size as I went, until I found myself confronted with sizes that had previously been unfathomable to me. Well, this is ridiculous, I thought, It's just embarrassing. Clearly, they've made a mistake and screwed up the sizing. But they hadn't. I simply could not accept what was apparently obvious, and still can't. My mind boggles - was I absolutely, horrendously, ginormous before?

Shopping after gaining a little weight (I'm a few kilos up from my lowest weight) is weirder still. Recently I got a call for a job interview - I had nothing to wear, and less than an hour to get ready. I raced down to the shops and into a clothing store. I was focused: Tops. Now. Interview. I grabbed a bunch of items from the rack, hit the changing rooms, and then went out to look in the mirror. The shop assistant came over and scrunched up her face, almost winching. "What size is that?" she asked. I told her. ", that's not the right size. We'll start you off with these", she said, as if to a clueless child, and handed me some much smaller sizes. The clothes I had chosen were far too big, yet I had felt so confident with my newfound weight gain. I really thought I would be my old, regular size - or close enough to it - because I felt and believed I was 'so big'. How could I possibly not fit them?. If I went out today, the same thing would happen. I just can't wrap my head around it, and it really pisses me off.

So I'll say it now: the view I have of myself is distorted, and I know that's what body dysmorphia is. I was reading about its definition this morning, and I found out something else. It is also described as an anxiety disorder, where a person puts their physical appearance under intense scrutiny, and can become obsessively preoccupied with a perceived physical flaw. It was when I read that I thought bollocks, and changed the title of my post.

There is a constant stream of nonsense running through my mind: Why does my thigh look like that? Am I bigger than her? What's up with my rib cage?. It's particularly bad at the moment because I am going to be weighed at the clinic soon. My head is a merry-go-round of paranoia, and no part of me escapes critique. I am constantly trying to get a grasp of what I look like, yet I hate it that I care. Along with all the usual suspects that are scrutinised - stomach, legs etc. there are crucial examinations to be done on less obvious body parts. I am busy, busy, busy, assessing the size and shape of everything, and gauging how each part affects my weight. I rounded up some of these thoughts, and below is some of the actual shit that I am obsessing over.
  • I have a surprisingly large head circumference Indicative of heavy head?
  • My teeth are big: Seriously, these suckers must be weighty
  • Voluminous hair: Even after a vast amount of hair loss due to starvation, I still have big hair. I put it on the scales to check its weight (really hard to do, by the way).
  • I think my lungs are big: Based on the fact I have excellent lung capacity and can hold my breath for a really long time. The bastards are weighing me down!
  • I have two disproportionately large feet: Thorough inspection of all the ladies feet at yoga undertaken. And yep, including toes, mine appeared to be the biggest. 
You see? It's so complex, I don't have time for a job!. Really, I know none of this stuff matters - size, shape and weight have nothing whatsoever to do with the value of any person. Nobody cares what Mother Theresa weighed, or about the size of Jesus's trousers or what Ghandi's body mass index was. It's completely irrelevant. But somehow, I now care about it all - an inordinate amount - and I don't know how it happened. I loathe that my brain is not working as it should - that it is tricking me. It is hard to accept, and very hard to admit to.


*All Blacks are NZ rugby players, and usually very burly.

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