My mood is linked to my appearance far more than it should be. On days when I don't look my best, my self-esteem plummets, sometimes to the point that even talking to other people is difficult. Conversely, when I'm able to pull my look together nicely I ride high on a wave of confidence.
Today was one of those days.
With my weight low (129 pounds on my 5'10" frame, which I would consider "good"); my skin clear, clean, and smooth; my long golden hair falling fluidly down my back; and my clothing relatively fashionable, I strode across campus feeling invincible.
It's funny what an illusion that is.
Even when, as today, I can muster faux swagger, the strength is never real. It's never rooted in a foundation that isn't itself the shallowest of facades. The front is always barely sustained. Don't I know that?
I walked into my therapist's office in high spirits. He's heard, often, how I love the days when my body is the way I want it to be and I can coast on self-assuredness. I wanted him to see this poised, collected BB.
The relationship between my physical attributes and my self-valuation is, of course, unhealthy, and so it followed that the intersection of those two things was one of our first topics.
"It can be really hard to be here," I said in an uncoaxed burst of honesty. "We're all so young and there are just so many guys who are so beautiful. I could never talk to one of them. I would feel unworthy."
I was probably more surprised than he was when I suddenly started crying.
What had happened? I'd been so untouchable, so strong and triumphant just an hour before. Wasn't today supposed to be my day?
The tears didn't ease, though. They grew stronger.
"Tell me what you're feeling right now," my therapist prompted. His tone was full of gentle encouragement.
"I guess..." I hesitated. "That I just want to be like them. Not just with the way they look, but the way they are. It seems like they're always laughing, like they're always having a good time. They have tons of friends. They don't have to think about everything. I would like to be like that."
I paused to collect myself.
"I'd like to be like them. But I don't think I ever will be."
This brought us around to the fundamental issue of my chronically low self-esteem and the root cause of its deficiency. I told him how, whenever I attempt to feel cool or stylish or sexy, I immediately hear my parents laughing at me the way they did when I was a child of five and my unconscious projections of gay behavior provided grounds for the harshest of mocking. Whenever I want to move beyond a place where I instinctively deride myself, I become that little boy again. I'm as vulnerable, as shy, as demoralized and lost as I was back then.
"You know, when you're a little kid, your parents are the entire world," I said, waving away the tissues he offered. "When they turn on you, you feel that the whole world has turned on you. They're like gods when you're that age. If they're suddenly saying and doing all these mean things to you, you think, 'Wow, I must be an awful person.' And you don't know that that's what you're thinking, but it is. It's exactly what you're thinking."
Maybe that's why I become frustrated with my doctor. As unhealthy as anorexia is, as harmful as it can potentially be, it's something that makes it easier for me to get by. Should I be doing it? Of course not. But I'm going to take whatever kind of handhold out of this I can get, and if periodically skipping some meals helps alleviate the pain then periodically skipping some meals is what I'm going to do. If exercising on top of that gets me into a better mental place, then I don't mind. Right now, in this moment, it helps me.
I don't really know why I'm writing this down. It just seemed like I should.