Extra Helpings Of Mental Illness
My body, my body.. wherever I go, she goes… My body, my body and me!
(CW: I’m going to discuss childhood abuse, body dysphoria and mental health issues. Reader discretion advised. Wish someone warned the writer. )
I’ve dealt with a larger slice of the mental issue pie than most. My mom drilled into me that I must finish my plate or else, and we often had issues with food security which lead to appetite issues.
I wolfed down a heaping portion of depression with anxiety a la mode. Lucky me, I also grew up in a culture where parental abuse was nod and winked away, and that bitter dish was common enough fare that I learned to tolerate it. The icing on top, of course, is that delightfully rare condiment of transness.
By the time I entered primary school, I was stuffed with a five course meal of mental health problems and no means of dealing with the indigestion. My folks figured that as one of those obscenely gifted kids, going to a school that was specifically for kids like us would aid in developing my latent talents.
Luckily, my compassionate, intelligent, understanding peers saw my plight and decided on a course of action certain to aid in processing that weighty repast: frequent, repetitive, physical bullying.
Even in a school full of genius kids, there was incessant bullying.
For the next twelve years in primary and secondary school, I had the split dilemma of both wanting to curl up in a corner and hide from the abuse I was receiving, yet being driven to achieve in the hope that many of my Gen X and Millenial peers understand too well, the mythological brass ring of that Perfect Job waiting after university whence We’d Be Living The Dream… with the added overhead of knowing that I was different in some way I couldn’t even verbalize until I was a teenager.
When one is stuck in psychological hell, one desperately seeks escapes. Neurotypical folks also seek escapes, but whereas folks without mental health issues both have other coping mechanisms that are less likely to be destructive and support structures that can share some of the burdens, escapes are likely to have higher elements of risk and destructiveness.
I’m not saying neurotypical folks don’t engage in these escapes; plenty of folks without mental healthy problems will, for example, drink to excess. The difference is that the neurotypical person, at least in my experience, won’t need to go straight to that extreme.
Frankly, there are tons of legal and illegal escapes available. The typical high school kid probably has someone in their school that sells cannabis and hallucinogens, with the probability increasing if the school is richer and whiter. Raiding the folks’ cabinets accesses potent pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and alcohol. Raging hormones leads to experimentation with sex, either with the same or the opposite gender. Access to cars leads to reckless driving.
Of course, if you’re bullied in high school like I was, you are too patently uncool for any of this.
My escape was, and still is, food. It’s there for me. It doesn’t judge me. It physically almost fills that hole that the lack of love and companionship over the decades has carved out of me.
And depending on the food, there’s a joy in it. Sweetness and saltiness are pleasurable sensations. We’re hardwired to crave certain base foods. This vicious cycle demands I keep eating more for that same pleasurable sensation.
Consequently, my body keeps getting bigger.. and bigger… and bigger….
and I am at another breaking point.
My body has been cracking in unpleasant ways. I’ve dealt with severe impacts messing up both of my shoulders and my lumbar stack, as well as cancer where the only risk factor under my control that the oncologist could identify was my weight.
When we spoke, and ran down the list of risk factors for this carcinoma, the only ones I had were my excess body fat…
…and random chance.
Like everyone in Western-influenced cultures, I’m stuck with the endless cultural messaging that fat is teh devil and skinniness is wealth, health, and youth. I can attribute additional heft to that messaging from my abusive home life, where one parent kept stating that the other parent was [insert stereotype of fat person here], with such lovely words shared with particular gusto around the kitchen or the dinner table.
As an Xer/Millenial adult, I know how toxic my home life was, how patently brutal that environment was….
…but I still bear the scars from that place.
And some scars come from wounds too deep to heal.
My BMI is over 40, though “I wear it well,” I’m constantly told in attempts to boost my ego. (As you probably could guess, I wasn’t spoonfed self-esteem as certain Baby Boomers are convinced my peers all are; cheap efforts to boost mine taste bitter.)
I’ve tried dieting, and ended up in the emergency room thanks to complications several times. I’m struggling to get physically active, but most days I barely have the spoons to keep a happy face on at work, much less to go to a gym.
It’s a daily grind, mentally and physically, to keep from sliding into the abyss that seemingly was prepared for me at a young age. With a little luck and a lot of work, there is hope I can keep myself from being digested a little while longer.
We’re all in this together. I’m oozing my heart out here, and I’m sure others could use a few tips in the comments section of you have any methods that could help in dealing with anything similar.
And if you click on the heart ❤, an angel comes round to my place and drops off a nearly invisible tiny emergency spoon for when I need it.
(images: header: “Self-portrait:Patches”, by me; gifs from chrisevans.xyz; butcoffeefirst.tumblr.com;unknown tumblr site via giphy;reactiongifs.me;reddit.com)