Disclaimer: The stories on this blog touch on difficult issues and experiences.
I've struggled with body image issues for...surprisingly not my entire life, but most of it. When I was really little, I would fight my mom when she would tell me things like, "One day you're going to want to wear makeup! Wear sunscreen so you're not wrinkly like me one day!" After that over time weighs you down.
Body image issues when you're "thinner" do not go over well and are less accepted. And that goes hand in hand with how my mental illnesses affect my relationships. My mother has significant Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and she weighs like 108 lbs soaking wet. She was a bit bigger, like maybe 20 lbs heavier, not actually big, and she lost 20 lbs around the time I went away to college. She had always been body and looks oriented, and eventually it kind of did a number on me. I had been basically the size she was before she lost the weight, so listening to her talk about how she was so fat, eventually you just kind of see yourself that way, even if she wasn't talking about me.
And then recently I lost 20-30 lbs. So I'm experiencing life differently. It was not a healthy loss of weight. I started a new ADHD medication that significantly cut my appetite, and when I graduated college I started working jobs that had me walking a lot more. So I lost a bunch of weight and now I'm getting treated differently. I worked at a restaurant that offered bottomless fries, and women would say things all the time like, "Oh don't do that to me, maybe I should get a salad," and I would banter with them back and forth and say something like, "Yeah, try working here, they're free for me! Can you imagine?" And they would look me up and down and be like, "What are you, a size two? What are you talking about?" Meanwhile, I'm sitting there thinking, "First of all, I've gained eight pounds since I started working here, and second of all just because I'm a size two doesn't mean society doesn't tell me that I'm still not perfect."
It doesn't matter what you actually look like in real life, you could look like a fucking Kardashian. Society is still going to tell you there are imperfections about your body. We're never good enough, no matter what. But when you complain about what society thinks is more acceptable...if you call yourself anything other than pretty, if you admit that you're uncomfortable with the way you look, God forbid you call yourself fat to someone who may be bigger than you, because then you're the devil.
That has significantly affected my relationships, the change in my physical appearance - how people befriend me and begin conversations or relationships with me has changed based solely on what people now call a "glow up." I learned how to do my makeup when I lost the weight, and I learned how to dress better and so I objectively am being treated like I'm more attractive even though I still see the same person in the mirror. It's a really weird feeling looking in the mirror and seeing something that doesn't exist. And knowing in your brain that what you're seeing is something that doesn't exist, but not being able to actually see that.
I am aware that I'm still seeing a person that used to exist, but it's a dysmorphia. So, I can't tell when I lose weight unless I step on a scale. This morning I stepped on the scale for the first time in a while, and if someone had asked me what I weighed, I would have guessed ten pounds over. I just can't tell by looking in the mirror, by the way my clothes fit, but I can't tell where I actually am. There's a disconnect in my brain that has unfortunately been caused by many things, including society not being okay with thin people not being happy with the way they look. No matter what, society tells me I could be skinnier - but also do it the healthy way!
Outside of you and my mother, no one has asked me if I lost the weight in a healthy manner. Everyone has just been like, "You're so tiny! You look great!" Even one of my best friends, who knew when I started eating disordered, said that. And I was like "...I'm excited about it but why are you?? I'm not healthy!" So it's just weird. It also teaches me how differently society people that are deemed "attractive." I can get jobs I wouldn't have gotten before. I am a server, and now I can't get out of bed anymore and go to work without doing my makeup. I notice a difference in my tips when I wear different lipsticks, when I wear different bras...I noticed a difference in so many different things when I did my makeup and I am 100% sure if I went in without any makeup in at all my tips would go down.
My senior project in college was a study on attraction. I did a lot of research on attraction to prepare for it. I had to create a project and research it, define it, run it, the whole thing. It was actually really cool. I particularly focused on non-heterosexual attraction, but in order to do that I had to do a lot of research into attraction in general. And the things I learned....attractive quarterbacks get paid significantly more just by being attractive, men get paid more if they're over six feet...it's ridiculous. There's not just a women's tax or a wage gap, it's basically like a "not pretty tax." Like, if you're pretty, you make more money. It's wild how society treats you when you look different.
Body image wise, it's been weird. I love food, but I would still fall into a "not otherwise specified" kind of eating disorder, not strictly anorexia or bulimia. I grew up and I've always loved food, and I thought my love of food would carry me and keep me healthy. But it doesn't matter how much I love food, that's kind of the problem I guess. I'm not sure how much the weight loss changed my relationship with myself, because I've always had a complicated relationship with myself. But it changes the way people befriend me and the way they interact with me.
I worked at a restaurant recently just for like, a month and a half, and I had every, except maybe one man and two women, if I was single. And when I said yes, they would say, "Good." And I was just like...this is not even question I got asked before, much less received the response of "Good." It's super uncomfortable. Like, why would you say good to that? Men don't understand that if they're saying it, they're probably not the only ones saying it. Everyone at work hitting on me makes work an uncomfortable place. So it definitely changes my friendships, changes the reasons people get to know me.
I'm hearing myself talk and I feel like I'm talking like I'm this gorgeous person, I'm not. By any stretch, by even societies standards. But it's more the difference of what I looked like before and what I look like now that I'm focusing on. That difference is strong to me, and that's so wild because I can't imagine what it would be like to be actually gorgeous and walking down the street.
I started at the restaurant, and this is going to sound like a dumb little thing, but I started there and I knew I needed the cooks and the bartenders and everyone to like me. I also made an extra effort with our dishwasher. He didn't speak much English, and was very touchy with everyone. I don't generally like being touched, especially by people I don't know and especially by men I don't know. But he would hug and he would do cheek kisses and I just kind of let him because it was a new job, I was trying to get along with everyone, and I'm still not used to people trying things. There was a night after I had worked there for a month or so, we stepped outside to get some air.. He's middle aged with children, he has a family...we go outside and we're just talking and there's this fenced in portion out back that's only for employees and you can't really see it. And he pulled me into a hug..and tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I was immediately like, "No, thank you," and tried to push him off. He didn't let me go, he stopped trying to stick his tongue down my throat for a moment, and then he started to nuzzle my chin. And I kept trying to push him off and say no and he kept trying again. Eventually he stopped, I guess he realized I was serious. And it felt like a minor thing...he didn't do much and he did let me go, but there was a moment where I was concerned that I was going to have to try to fight him off.
And I know that sexual assault is not about attraction, it's about power. And you don't have to be "attractive" to be assaulted. But I am noticing a higher...I guess interest rate now. And that isn't really something that wouldn't have happened before, based on who I was before and what I looked like.
My body image issues significantly have destroyed any of my relationships, but my mental illnesses in general do a number on relationships. I've touched a bit on my family and the influence they had on how I turned out, but I was not an easy child. I was medicated for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which basically means you're really stubborn, you don't like listening to authority or doing what you're told, and adults can't get you to do what they want. I don't know if I actually had ODD, I think I was just depressed. I was eight...and I remember the feeling. It's weird wanting to be dead before you even know suicide is a thing. Instead of wanting suicide, I just wished I had never been born. All the time. That was my mantra. And when you're eight, that's heavy.
At around fourteen, I started to self harm. I had been on the same SSRI medications since I was around eight. That year in particular, I think did a number on my entire family. I remember, I'm pretty sure it was that year, I think I was like thirteen, and I can't for the life of me remember why or what happened, but I remember trying to...run away? Except running away wasn't actually running away. And then my dad wouldn't let me and I threw a fit. So my plan was to grab the knives, which obviously my dad wasn't going to let me do. My dad, who is the most empathetic, caring, compassionate, lives-for-other-people kind of person I know, had to physically restrain me and hold me down while I was basically begging him to let me die. I have brothers, I was my daddy's little girl. And now, I can't imagine that as a parent. I can't imagine. That's heavy for any parent but that's also particularly heavy for a father who lives for his kids. I've never talked to him about it. I could even be wrong about the time frame of it happening. I don't know if he remembers, but then again, how would you forget something like that.
Eventually, I attempted to kill myself by trying to take all of my antidepressants. I had a dumb trigger, I had a terrible night. I took whatever was left in the bottle, and my friend had convinced me eventually to tell my dad. So I went and I told him, and he called poison control and took me to the hospital. I had to argue with my parents to get them to let me go to Sheppard Pratt. I had just tried to kill myself, and they wanted to just take me home, despite the fact that I had been clearly trying to get help from them for a long time. But like I said, they didn't understand. Now I can theoretically understand that as a parent, accepting that your child is that broken is really, really hard. So accepting that your ten year old kid is that depressed, or that your fourteen year old kid actually wants to be dead, I now get why it took them so long to accept it, but it made me a worse daughter.
I was angry at them, not for that, but for everything. My mom and I butted heads. We had always had a very complicated relationships. M dad got stuck in the middle of it a lot. My mom frequently handled our fights, which would get intense don't get me wrong. And I struck to hurt. I was good at that - figuring out the one thing someone doesn't want me to say to hurt them. And it's something that I've worked on for years to stop doing. But at eight years old, the things I said to my mother...I don't know how I would have handled them either.
On particularly bad nights she would pack a suitcase and stay at a hotel, sometimes she would take my brother with her. I didn't realize it at the time, but it messed with me. Like...your parent up and leaving because of how difficult you are? I knew she was coming back, but still. I know I was difficult and I'm not faulting her for that. But it messes with you, and there are things that I fault my mom for, like the way she handled things later. Because that turned eventually into more resentment and more problems.
I guess my point is that no one is okay. Everyone is a little broken. And mental illness is exhausting. It's taxing. For the person and for the people in their lives. My relationships and friendships have all been affected by my illness. People can try, but if their heart isn't in it, into fully understanding and accepting all of the pieces of someone, good and bad, and working through it. But people don't understand mental illness, and people leave. Now I get a lot of, "Why are you single?" And I'm just like, "Why do you suddenly care?" I can't say, "Because I'm crazy."
I am terrified of abandonment. That also comes from, like I said my mental illness has always caused issues in friendships. I was never great at making friends as a kid. I always felt like I was on a different wavelength. And I think I was...I was more rational and logical and I was more intellectually focused than most eight year olds, I was a little weird and I could tell that people thought so too. I was in very religious schools, and I was six and already didn't really believe in God, and it was a lot and kids aren't great...I don't know. I've had a lot of friendships that have just ended and I didn't know then and still don't know why.
All of that kind of piles up. I can't trust anyone anymore. Not a single person that has come into my life in my adulthood is someone I believe won't walk out of my life. And recently I had someone I was very close to walk out of my life. And it's because of my mental illness. She was my best friend from high school. She had saved my life in high school. And I really genuinely thought we'd grow old together. We moved in together last year, we both kind of knew it was a bad idea, but we both needed a place to live.
She was dating this dude. There were things that made me not trust him with her in their relationship. When they started dating I liked him a lot, but as I got to know him I got more uncomfortable around him. Eventually, when he would come around, I would feel judged. I'm a messier person than they were and I always felt like he was judging me. Like...I'm depressed as fuck. Cleaning is hard for me. I know that sounds lazy, I know it sounds like an excuse but it's not. It's a symptom. And that was something that neither of them tried to understand or learn. But so eventually it got to the point that him coming over made me so anxious that I would have panic attacks. And it wasn't just because of him, there was a lot going on in my life and I was kind of spiraling. But when he would come over I would feel trapped. I would feel like I couldn't get out of the house and I would just like curl up in a ball in my bed and wrap my pillow around my ears and try to drown them out. And literally just...try not to kill myself. Which sounds like a hyperbole, but it wasn't one. And I think they thought it was, and I think that's what most non-depressed people hear. Because the idea that someone is actively trying to not kill themselves is so farfetched.
It was unreasonable that he was triggering such a visceral response and I recognize that. But she was my best friend, so I talked to her about it and I said, "Look, I'm not there yet, but I may get to a point where I need him to not come around for like a week." And she panicked and said the only reason she moved out of her parents house was so he could come visit, which wasn't true. I understand her panic, but it wasn't ever going to be permanent. I reiterated that I wasn't there yet, that I was just trying to communicate with her.
A lot of shit happened, and I had another episode. I asked her to keep him away for a week and she agreed, but she shouldn't have. She worked overnights and she worked the next three days, and didn't have him over. The first night she could have him over I woke up at 2 in the morning to the sound of his voice. And I lost my mind. Not on them, but he had already been triggering panic attack episodes and he wasn't supposed to be there. I said nothing. I left. I got in my car and I drove to the hospital. When I got out the next morning, I wasn't going to say anything, wasn't even going to bring it up. But I got out of the hospital to a text basically telling me that I was a selfish person and a bad friend and a bad roommate and that I didn't give enough of myself to my friends. And that asking her to do what I had asked of her wasn't fair. And just like...her reaming me out. Having, in her defense, no idea that I had just spent the night in the hospital. And like I said,w hen you say I'm trying to not kill myself to someone who's never experienced it, they think you're exaggerating. But that was the first thing I saw when I got out of the hospital. I almost turned around and went right back in.
We never really recovered. We were both too fucked up to hash it out and things just kept getting worse and we would put bandaids on them we'd pretend were okay and then something else would happen. We didn't survive it.
Nearly ten years of a soulmate friendship. And all of it just came down to my mental illness. It was so many misunderstandings and symptoms getting in the way. So many of my friendships and relationships have been damaged because of my inability to communicate or trust people or my inability to let people lie to me. It's just like a never ending cycle of my mental illnesses messing up my relationships and that making my mental illnesses worse.