I have body dysmorphia.
I hate the way that sounds. I sound like a f*cking victim. But I can't stand my body. I don't think I've ever met a girl who's 100 percent satisfied with the way she looks, and it'd be fine if I were just one of those girls who complains about it and then writes it off. ("Ugh, you guys, I'm SO fat," that girl would say, taking a swig from a beer bottle in her right hand while scarfing down cookies in her left.)
But I'm not that girl.
I don't live with my body in the back of my mind; I let my body control my life. I see the beer and cookies and make an Irish exit. My figure has this strange, mystical power over my soul.
Body dysmorphia is a mental disorder. It can mean different things to different people, and I could supply you with the textbook definition, but it means more to me than just being unhappy with the way I look.
It's about feeling like a stranger to my body. I don't see in me what other people see when they look at me. Sometimes, I look down at my toes, hoping a bird's-eye view will give me a better sense of how I fit into my clothes, how big I am in relation to other people, how much space I take up on your average crowded subway. That doesn't really help.
Sitting in my office chair right now, doing what I get paid to do, I'm taking turns staring at the laptop screen and looking down at my thighs. Those f*cking thighs. Thinking about the way I look hardly leaves room to think about anything else. My work suffers.
But despite spending nearly every minute of my day ruminating on what I used to look like, or what I want to look like, I have no idea what the hell I actually look like.
I know I'm not fat. At 5'5" and 115 pounds, I'm exactly where I should be. My co-worker, Alexia, once described me as "stick-thin." People think I'm effortlessly skinny, that I was blessed with "perfect" genes, that I couldn't give two f*cks about what I'm putting into my mouth. They couldn't be more wrong.
The mirror is my worst enemy. Sometimes I'll stand in front of it and scrutinize every little ounce of fat on my body. My reflection in the morning determines whether I'll get to go out that night. Other times, I'll go weeks without even looking in a mirror because I'm too ashamed of what I see.
There's no winning. It's either a staring contest with myself, or it's an aversion to facing myself altogether.
When I look in a mirror, I don't see a whole body. I see only parts -- specifically, all the far-from-perfect parts. And those parts aren't just parts. They're defects. They're everything that's wrong about me, and they minimize everything that's right about me. My intuitive soul, contagious laugh and bubbly personality? None of that matters.
My body is flawed, so I am flawed. My entire self-worth revolves around what I look like. I know how sad that is.
Sometimes, I stay cooped up in my apartment an entire weekend, punishing myself for not looking the way I want to look. In fact, this very weekend, I'll be going to my family's house out on Long Island because I've convinced myself I can't "afford" to go out in the city and gain any more weight.
I've lost a ton of people in my life from blowing off plans one too many times. They think I'm self-absorbed -- and they aren't wrong -- but I'm also deathly afraid and wildly insecure. This stupid sickness has me strung by the heels and hanging upside down.
So I turn down social invitations because I'm afraid of the food, the alcohol, the judge-y, up-and-down looks I imagine coming from everyone in the room. Anxiety paralyzes me into sitting in my room by myself for days.
I know my friends and family will always love me. But living with body dysmorphia keeps me from getting too close to anyone romantically. God forbid someone I like spends one day too long with me and realizes how f*cked up I am about food, my body, the way I feel about myself.
One time, my ex called me at 7 in the evening asking me to dinner. I had to say no. I'd finished my allotted calories for the day by 6 pm, so I had two options: I could go to dinner and make up some excuse not to eat, like having the stomach flu, or I could just stay home. Staying home was just easier.
Going to dinner and actually eating dinner wasn't an option. He didn't understand, and he never would.
Once upon a time, in a land that seems impossibly far away, I was that beer-guzzling, cookie-devouring girl. I don't remember how this monster living inside of me took over me. I have a vague idea of when it did -- it was sometime in college, when I was desperately out of touch with my emotions and trying to find my purpose in life -- but I don't know why it did.
I hate this world I've created for myself. I want to break free. Frustration over it consumes me. Time spent dwelling over my self-imposed problems is time wasted. There are so many more important things happening in the world outside my body.
I wish I could remember what it felt like to be one with my body. I wish I could remember why it's important to love yourself instead of pick yourself apart. I wish I could remember why being healthy means feeling nourished, not looking thin, and that there's more to life than just my body. There's more to me than just my body.
I wish for all that, but the possibility that I may never get it haunts me every day.