Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not Invincible

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 should.

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."

"Why not?"

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.


Anonymous said...

It's kind of funny (weird funny, not haha funny) how your anorexia and exercise kind of works as a drug or alcohol. I can kind of understand it, even though I've never been anorexic.

naturgesetz said...

When I was in college, I weighed about 120 pounds and was 5'10". Now I weigh about 180.

A couple of years ago I went to dinner with some college classmates and their wives. I hadn't seen one classmate since a year after graduation, about 45 years earlier. He remarked that I looked better than when we were in college. Back then, he said, I was too thin.

So I think 129 is okay, but you don't really need to lose weight.

If anorexia can help ease your pain, it may be better than more destructive methods — although at some point it could itself be very destructive. But it would be good if the therapist can help you either get past the low self-esteem or find a better way of coping with it, that will be good. So it's not a matter simply of getting you not to give in to anorexia; it's more a matter of removing the impulse behind it by giving you a better handhold to escape the pain.

Perhaps you already know that, but the post sounds as if a reminder is in order.

Hang in there.

laura b. said...

I always appreciate the raw honesty of your blog. My first impulse is always to think - what can I say that would help? And then I become sure you've heard it all from far more qualified people than me. But what I can say is that across the country, you have a friend who thinks you're awesome.

jo(e) said...

I'm glad you're writing this all down. Writing is a great way to sort this stuff out.

I admire your willingness to go to therapy and work through all of this. It's hard work, and you're courageous to do it.

Just me said...

I love laura.b's comment.

Thank you for sharing this. And I'm glad you had this experience today - it doesn't exactly sound like a whole lot of fun but I think in the long run it will have been a good thing.

Zephyr said...

Reading your posts brings out the mother in me. I am sorry that you weren't supported by yours as you should have been.

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

You know, I think many people your age have issues and insecurities. Some just hide them better than others. My guess is that those you think are so "perfect" really feel insecure at times too. Maybe there is someone watching you who feels that they will never measure up to you. You carry some pretty heavy baggage with you, but I really do think that eventually you will be able to set it aside (not forget) and feel more comfortable in your own skin.

Arizaphale said...

This sounds like it was a good session with your therapist. You have identified some really important issues here. I agree with naturgesetz; I think the issues of control around food are less important (at the moment) than the need to engage with the root causes and exorcise them. I once told my therapist that I put some of my childhood issues into boxes because I didn't like looking at them as they were too ugly and painful. I described my therapy as making it easier for me to look in the boxes and she said "and one day, you won't need the boxes anymore..."
That blew me away. I hadn't thought that was possible. But she was right. Keep workin' on it BB. We are all victims of victims. Parents are some of the most imperfect people there are. Be yourself proudly, despite them.

Aunt Snow said...

Here's an interesting story about a young woman experimenting with an idea about body image.


I'm not suggesting you do what she did, but you might be interested in reading her story and her blog as she went through her project. And maybe you can think about your own body image differently if you consider what she experimented with.

I do wish you well, BB.

BrightenedBoy said...

SilverThoughts2: It certainly is quite a bit like drinking away one's problems.

Just Me: I agree.

Aunt Snow: I'm not in a place where I could do that. I have made quite a bit of progress since writing that post, though.