Mental Illness

Losing Myself

[Discussion of eating-related issues] I know it’s coming, and I brace myself. “Have you lost weight? You look great!” I know that the person is giving me a compliment, is trying to make me feel good. I replay the words in my head, pretend like they said “Did you get new glasses? You look great!”, and do my best to smile and change the subject.

I have lost weight. A fair amount, in a short amount of time, and here’s how:

1) I fell into a deep depression, the kind where my sense of value was obliterated.
2) I took an extended trip, where I was a guest in very cramped quarters, where every decision that could be made about my life was made by somebody else, and I had a very limited ability to get my own space or to recharge my batteries.
3) Said extended trip was to a place where women are very, very thin, and where there is a high value placed on thinness (higher than in America, by far), and where other people’s weight is openly and loudly discussed.
4) I stopped eating.

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I was and am ashamed of the patterns that I fell into, patterns that I hadn’t been at the mercy of since high school. In my brain, I know my self-worth, and I know that it has nothing to do with my pants size. In my brain, I –

I mean, in my brain, I’m healthy. Well, at least about food.

But I needed control, and I needed for people to stop noticing how big I was, and I needed to feel worthy. So I stopped eating.

And I lost a fair amount of weight in a short amount of time.

And when people say to me, “have you lost weight,” it has two immediate consequences: the first is to tranport me back to the emotional state that I was in, to remind me of just how awful it felt to be me, for how long. It’s as though I went to rehab and relapsed, and everywhere I went, everybody said, “Wow, you look like you’ve relapsed!” I don’t want to think about where I was during that time. I don’t want to remember how it felt. I’m clawing my way back up, and it’s tenuous, and the feeling of shame that I have about what I did to my body, the societal standards that I know are bullshit and I bought into anyway, the example that I am setting for my daughter–

Especially the example that I am setting for my daughter. I hate myself for what I did. I tried not to let her see, but she sees everything. I am grateful that it was only going on for a short amount of time. But I am terribly, terribly ashamed.

And the second reaction: a pull. Like somehow all of those things that I hate myself for, all of the terrible moments that I went through, the self-loathing and the shame and the consequences it can have on my daughter – like it’s all worthwhile. I look “great.” That’s what matters, right? The instant the person says it, it’s like there’s a tug at my ear, a whisper, a suggestion. It wasn’t that hard. I could keep doing it. I certainly have a lot of weight left to lose, and it’s the first thing people seem to notice. I must have really looked awful before. I probably really look awful now, compared to what I could be. A few more weeks, a few more months. Twenty more pounds, maybe, and I would really truly look great. It’s all worth it.

My neighbors, my co-workers, they all have the best of intentions. It isn’t their fault that my experience is what it is, and there are lots of people who work very hard to lose weight in a healthy way, for whom such a statement would be wonderful. It’s not wonderful for me. I wish that there were a way for me to convey this – to stop such statements before they are even uttered.

For now, I’m doing my best to pretend like they complimented me on my glasses, and hoping people will stop noticing.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

10 replies on “Losing Myself”

This is why I try not to comment on the loss of weight positively unless I know it’s something the person has been striving for. Heard too many stories about ladies losing weight due to illness or depression and have people compliment them on it. :-(

I’m going through some old eating/body issues right now, too.

I’ve recently lost some weight the “healthy” way, but I’ve discovered that losing or gaining of any weight triggers these feelings, no matter what the reason or method is behind the weight change.

I really tend to freak out inside whenever anyone mentions my weight. I don’t want to share diet tips, I don’t want to talk about weight, and I don’t have a great plan for dealing with those people who do. Forcing a smile, saying thanks and changing the subject is about all I’ve got, and while that’s actually pretty effective for most people, there are a few who hone in on women’s bodies like it’s the only thing we can ever talk about and who think I’m being rude when I decline further examination of my caloric intake.

That tug at your ear? That made me lose my breath a little, because that’s exactly it, when I let those thoughts back in, they whisper like that all the time, and it’s awful.

Thanks for writing this, is my point.

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