Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lies My Mirror Tells Me

A few weeks ago, I was chatting on Facebook with a dear friend who is living in South America right now.  In case you need to brush up on your earth science, this means that she's surviving the dead of winter (that is slowly changing to spring) while we enjoy the shift from summer to fall.  Months of living in snow and ice have worn her down, as has the need to constantly be building, tending, and maintaining a fire in her woodstove, lest she freeze and go hungry for lack of cooked food.  I asked how she was doing and her weary reply, "Tired, cold, the usual," came all too quickly.  She returned the question, and I, with a similarly bleak outlook, answered honestly, "Tired, hungry, the usual."  Thousands of miles apart, we both laughed.  The truth is often ironic, sometimes a little crass, and always hard to wrap your head around.  Does being perpetually hungry or cold mean that neither of us can be happy too?  Certainly not.  But feeling like you're fighting a losing battle against a seemingly endless winter or a seemingly unrelenting eating disorder can be a bit disheartening.


On my flight home from California, I had the incredible fortune to become fast friends with my two seatmates, G. and K.  G. is an artist and teacher based in Brooklyn. His passion and aptitude for both were readily apparent as he talked about his students and his most recent paintings.  K. is a director of photography based in LA and similarly, her passion for portraits that catch a glimpse into the lives of those around us was inspiring to me, an amateur photographer.  Never have I enjoyed a flight so much as I did those five and a half hours it took to get from LA to Baltimore.  The three of us talked constantly, covering topics from childbirth, to html coding, to the pets and children in our respective lives.  While none of us were parents, it only took an hour or so for us all to whip out our cell phones and begin showing off pictures of the kids we knew and loved.  Admiring the sight of G.'s chunk of a nephew in his mother's lap, K. laughed at his Buddha belly so big that his t-shirt had ridden up to his armpits.  "I love when babies are so big and their mothers are your size!" she exclaimed, looking at me.
Stricken, I looked back with a mixture of confusion, incomprehension, and utter terror.  What did she mean, "my size"?  Size huge?  Why is that cute?  Why is she saying that?  What the hell is she doing, noticing my size?  
 Seeing my look of confusion, she continued, "You know, tiny.  It always makes me wonder how they managed to have such a big baby when they're so small."
The conversation moved on between G. and K. for a few minutes while I attempted to collect myself.  You are NOT, in the slightest, by any stretch of the imagination, tiny, my mind reminded me.  As I took deep breaths to combat the anxiety that had rushed through me, I tried to be calm.  Any comment, no matter how benign or well-intentioned about my body sends me into a panic.  I literally cannot handle the thought that other people look at, notice, or pay any attention to my body.  It terrifies me.  It floods my brain with the message, FAT.  It confuses, baffles, and overwhelms me to hear people contradict what I feel I know to be true about how I look.  How can it be possible that other people see something different than what I see when I look in the mirror?


During my trip to California, my friend and I did some outlet shopping.  Clothing shopping is as terrifying to me these days as jumping out of a plane without a parachute.  There are just far too many opportunities to fall apart.  I was doing okay though, even mildly enjoying myself as I tried on shoes and scarves.  Gathering my nerve, I tried on a few pairs of pants in a style I liked.  They were all too big.  I tried a size down.  Still too big.  Finally, I put on a size of pants that I've never been nor have I ever considered it possible for me to be.  They fit.  My mind reeling, I stood frozen in front of the mirror, seeing everything I hate and not understanding how it was possible for me to be wearing the size that I was.  Driven to desperate frustration by my lack of clothes that fit, I bought the pants.  As I got dressed yesterday, I dreaded pulling them on, convinced that this time, they would surely be too small.  Nope.  Still fit.  Far from making me feel good, this fact only serves to send me into a panic similar to that brought on by K.'s innocent comment on the plane.  Why, oh why, can I not see what others see or what the facts seem to show?

Some days, it takes an hour for me to get dressed.  I've very nearly been late to work because of it.  Near tears, I will try on literally hundreds of combinations of clothes, only to reject them all into a towering heap on my bed.
Then, there are days when I do better.  Days when I manage to resemble normalcy, when the food isn't as scary, when I cook something healthy, when I eat with a friend and keep it down.  Still, it's hard not to feel like it's constantly one step forward and three steps back.  The frustration, fear, and weariness of the whole shebang often bring me to tears.  I know that I can't fight this alone.  It grows more obvious to me by the day that this is a war whose battles I cannot always win by myself.  Seeking help for this will certainly be one of the hardest things I have yet to do, but I know it's necessary.  With the support of friends and family behind me, I can only hope for the best.  Because I would desperately, more that anything, like a day to come when this doesn't crowd my every thought.  When I don't feel like I'm fighting to hold my head above water.  Hopefully, that day will come.  Soon.


Margaret said...

Caitlin, here's to hoping that day will come soon! I think you're right, asking for help when we need it is about the hardest -- and most mature -- thing there as. As to your friend in South America, I think she has a tendency to exaggerate about the cold and the fire when she gets a chance to complain. It isn't that terrible, and now, it really isn't because of spring!

Cait said...

Thanks for all your support. I'm glad it's *finally* turning to spring down there! New England winter is anxiously waiting your return...