April 8, 2009

Self Image and Solution Seeking

I recently heard it confirmed that someone I was once close to has an eating disorder, something I never imagined I'd have any sort of brush with in my life. Maybe I foolishly believed the people around me were smarter than that, more content and stable and thoughtful about their health. This, I suppose, is what happens when the way you feel about yourself (though it would be oversimplification to say it was just about the way you look) overcomes your desire to live healthy.

I can hardly compete with the support sites out there devoted to eating disorders, and it's a little out of my usual frame of reference. It's foreign, and frightening. I couldn't discuss eating disorders here and expect to be of any use. This is not going to be a post about what to do or what not to do. This blog is not for that--there are websites that do a much better job of it:

Among some of her things--the mountains of her recordings of her weight and the amount she's eaten and the things she feels about herself--there was a note about me. I only heard about this. I never saw it. She wrote that she was jealous of me because I'm skinny, even though I eat whatever I want. And I couldn't help but wonder, immediately upon hearing it--would it have helped her put her self image in perspective if I had told her my own secret?

Yeah. I can eat whatever I want and my weight is not affected. But I have shame about my body. And I think it's certainly easier for a curvy woman to be thought of as attractive, generally speaking, than a bearded one.

I know eating disorders are often not just about appearances. There's a lot of self hate and desire for control in there, too. But I guess I just don't understand how people can get that down on themselves. I suppose some combination of chemical makeup and upbringing render me unable to imagine it.

The thing is, I know what it's like to be disappointed with life, and with myself. I was raised in a single parent home, with all the emotional and financial hardship that implies. I was made fun of at school for getting good grades (and good grades were another pressure to complicate things), or for being quiet (and therefore strange), or for not wearing the right clothing. Friends would suddenly and inexplicably become too "cool" to hang out with me anymore. No one ever asked me to school dances. I would watch helplessly as boys I liked went out with other people. I was heavy as a teenager, but hated exercise just as much, so I would drown my sorrows in cookie dough and freshly baked bread. I had family that picked on my personality. Other children in the family would outshine me. I got frustrated when my mother wouldn't let me do the (potentially dangerous) things I wanted to do.

I've felt under-appreciated and overlooked and judged unfairly. I've felt lonely and ugly and betrayed and stupid... and this was before I developed hirsutism in high school. Even though I had a few abilities that other people seemed to admire, I never felt good enough. I went through periods of depression and anxiety. But although I despaired and got angry at myself for being unable to overcome my problems, I never ever wanted to harm myself.

Maybe I'm just more interested in finding solutions. I have no idea how I could have got that way. Even if there are no solutions in sight and I feel like giving up, I guess I must still figure that someday I might find an answer--"answer" here meaning something unharmful and lasting.

For instance, I used to hate that I was shy. People thought I was stuck up, family members found it offensive, and I couldn't approach those I wanted to get to know. I was so nervous in public that my conversation was laughable. I read books on body language and articles on confidence. But what happened wasn't what I expected. Slowly but surely, I became comfortable with my timidity. I realized that people who were that judgmental on first impressions were not people worth coming out of my shell for. Combined with ending up in a customer service position at one of my jobs, my ability to speak to people has improved, and now I'm a great believer in the saying: "Speak not because you have to say something, but because you have something to say." In other words, I would rather be a quiet observer than an attention-grubbing loudmouth. If people misread that tendency, it doesn't bother me as much. So my answer wasn't necessarily to change who I was and become more outgoing. It was to become satisfied with myself, and through that, I became a little more confident.

Sometimes the answer to the problem is just accepting the problem. Maybe that's partly what this blog is for. I wonder if one day my chagrin at my bounteous body hair will be like that. That I'll just become so accustomed to it that the shame will fade. Whether I would cease trying to hide it is a discussion for another day.

I suppose I feel that sometime in the future, things will get better, whether I find a way to solve my "problems" or I realize they're not as important as I thought they were. Sometimes I hate waiting for that time to come, but I cry or sulk for a while and then just keep ploughing ahead. I have plenty of other things to occupy myself with in the meantime. Perhaps cultivating other interests is key to feeling optimistic about what's ahead. I can think of no other controllable reason why I can do it and others can't.

And if you're reading this and you or someone you love has an eating disorder, my heart goes out to you. I have a feeling that before too long, I'll know a thing or two about it myself.

More shaving medium results next week, everyone. Much love.

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