My body. My body. My body.
My body is a temple. My body is a fortress. My body is a dust bin.
My body is a thing I abuse. My body is a thing I neglect. My body is nobody else’s body. My body is nobody’s body but mine.
Bodies are weird. Bodies are squishy bags that we carry around all day. Bodies house the things we need. Having a body is a part of being a person. Bodies are essential.
And sometimes our bodies fail us. We get sick and they don’t work right. Sometimes they never work right. Sometimes our brains inside our bodies make us do strange things to our bodies, like hurting our bodies, starving our bodies.
My tummy. My stomach. My belly. It all starts in my belly. First like a dull ache, then growing to something where it feels like my insides are being wrung out like strands of spaghetti or sausage through a machine. Then it feels like I can’t breathe, even though I can and I can talk but it’s hard and I want to cry or push my thumbs into my temples to keep my eyes from crying and my face from getting hot and achy.
Anxiety collects in my gut like phlegm-thickened water when there is hair in the drain. It sits and builds and gets thicker and starts to smell gross. I can feel it slop around if I move. My anxiety has a personality. My anxiety feels alive.
* * *
For as long as I can remember I have had a nervous disposition. I worried a lot as a child. In grade school I worried myself sick, literally, about tests and the other kids picking on me and any other thing a kid would worry about but a kid with anxiety would blow out of proportion. I would often be sent to the school nurse because of a stomach ache. The nurse could never do anything about my stomach aches except maybe give me a cup of water and let me sit on the bench until she decided it was fine for me to return to class. My anxiety was bad when I was a kid, and it only got worse as I got older.
My body and I have a complex relationship. I guess most people have a pretty complicated relationship with their bodies. My body issues are not at all uncommon.
But these are my flaws, I am fucked up. I have done a lot of terrible things, I have treated people very badly. Actually I am super fucked up.
Past anxieties fuel new anxieties and feelings of guilt from the anxiety and feelings of depression from the anxiety build up and sit in my body. My back hurts a lot. My stomach hurts a lot. My chest hurts a lot. Crying can help and feel somewhat cleansing, but crying can also make me spiral and when I’m spiraling it feels good in a gross, but familiar way and it’s hard to stop.
When I’m depressed or anxious about something, I cannot eat. I can drink juice and sleep and watch TV shows with predictable plot lines that make me feel safe and like everything is in order because everything is always in order at the end of an episode, but I can’t eat. When I got kicked out of my sublet last year following some drama with an ex-boyfriend, I could barely eat for a week. All of my energy was focused on removing my belongings from that place and trying to find another room for rent. I remember trying to force-feed myself a burger after renting a U-Haul truck, my friend sitting with me while I cried into the bun. “I want to eat this so badly, but I can’t.”
* * *
The notion of self-care usually gets discarded when my anxiety and depression gets kicked up, which happens more often than I would like. I do not take medication for these problems, but perhaps I should. The only time I took medication for anxiety/depression was when I was a freshman in college. I was prescribed Lexapro, but I stopped taking it after a few months. It made me feel numb and I still had anxiety. Maybe it wasn’t smart to stop taking the drug without talking to a doctor first, but I remember that doctor and I remember the bored look on his face while I sat in his office crying, cheeks red, pulling tissue after tissue, feeling judged, and him just looking, scribbling a prescription on his notepad. He saw patients on a sliding scale and my family couldn’t afford to take me to a better doctor.
He probably gets kickbacks for writing prescriptions, I remember thinking.
* * *
Reading wasted and spiraling. Wanting inpatient therapy until actually going to a meeting for people with eating disorders and getting scared. Not wanting to feel like I had a problem. Wanting to get better. Wanting to do it on my own. Relapse. Getting better and relapsing again. Always still struggling. Thinking about permanent damage. Bones feeling brittle. Feeling tired. Blacking out. Hurting myself on purpose because what good is a body anyway. Wanting to be free from my body. Feeling like the more I abused my body the purer my soul would be.
* * *
The months leading up to getting kicked out of my sublet were full of ‘sick days’ where I called out of work because I could not get myself out of bed. I didn’t want to talk or see anyone or deal with anything. I spent a lot of time watching Psych on Netflix and smoking weed. I got in trouble with my employers who were not happy that I was sick so often. They thought I was playing hooky. I was too embarrassed to tell them the real reason I wasn’t coming into work, so I would lie about having a stomach virus or food poisoning. What kind of person takes a day off when they aren’t physically ill?
You take off work when you’re contagious, not when you’re feeling sad.
* * *
My body is a punching bag for me to beat up and fray. My body is a scapegoat for my anxieties. I used to want to be perfect, and perfection to me meant not needing a body.
I used to follow a girl on LiveJournal who wrote about her eating disorder and smoking meth and working in the shoe department at Macy’s and not wearing underwear under her stretch pants and going to the gym during her two hour lunch breaks that she would take. I met her once—she came to my house. My mom asked her if she wanted anything to drink and she didn’t even want a glass of water because she was fasting. I remember thinking about fasting as cleansing, like emptying yourself to feel more pure when you feel used up and worthless. Like a spiritual quest. Like a pilgrimage through starvation. I still think about her a lot. She liked to use words like ‘penultimate’ and her username on AIM was ‘perfecteuphemism.’
* * *
It’s just a body, so get over it. It’s just something you live inside. Caring about appearance is capitalist, and people selling us things want to break our self esteem so we'll be convinced that we need more things. Like our bodies aren’t adequate as they are.
I broke my self esteem so hard—I let it get broken. I didn’t care what happened to me, so long as I was deemed desirable by someone. No, not even that. When I hated my body most I hated others too. Bodies were stupid.
Having a body made me no better than an insect, a predestined soul hiding inside an exoskeleton waiting to die. The idea of another insect sweating and secreting bodily things on top of me was disgusting to me. But I wanted attention. I liked the distraction of feeling worshipped, the validation of it, even if it meant nothing to me.
I once let a boy drive me around after hosting a barbecue, him popping pills and drinking and I didn’t care. We drove to some house in the suburbs where kids were tripping on acid, the owners of the house—someone’s parents—were away on vacation. That’s all I remember, the car ride, watching this boy eating opioids, feeling warm and uncomfortable and fuzzy—in his car and then his living room—listening to some jazz record, watching his large furry arms wrap around my middle, him calling me tiny and wonderful and that’s all I was really there for.
* * *
“I grow and shrink like Alice in Wonderland” is what one therapist told me on my last appointment with her. I stopped seeing her not because I stopped needing therapy, but because she was expensive and really liked talking about herself. She would tell me about how she was an athlete and the kind of sports she liked to do and the running she does and how many miles and how she also really loves food and puts on holiday weight, which she then runs to work off and I didn’t find any of this to be particularly helpful or comforting. My distorted body image made her seem smaller, more slender than me and I wasn’t allowed to exercise at this point and I felt like she was bragging. All I ever wanted in therapy was for someone to listen to me and maybe give me advice about getting to the root of the issue. Fixing things from the inside.
I knew my body dysmorphia was rooted in my depression and anxiety. I understood what I was doing but I didn’t know why. Body issues aren’t necessarily just that. The issue is not solely with the body. The body just gets the blame. The body is the symptom, or it carries out the symptoms. The body is the embodiment of the problem, but not specifically the problem.
Seeing a nutritionist with my mother when I was still in high-school helped more than any of the other specialists I saw, including therapists and psychiatrists. The nutritionist listened. Tara. Tara didn’t judge. She often stayed late and let me take longer than our allotted time because she actually cared. She was beautiful and happy and empathetic. She didn’t talk about her problems, but encouraged me to find solutions to mine and actually gave helpful advice. She helped me treat the symptoms, made me feel less weird about food. She made me feel like it was okay to eat, like taking care of myself was important. She helped me feel better about having a body.
My body. My body. My body. My body is just a thing I take care of. My body is just a thing that I try to respect. My body is my body. My body is not your body. My body is a part of my self. Self is not a body. Self is everything. The body is just a part of the self.