Inside of Me
Written for Mental Health Awareness Week theme on Body Issues
I’ve written many articles on my mental health struggles, but this theme is the biggest challenge so far, because there’s so many complex issues and, if I’m honest, they’re still very deep and I still struggle today.
This is me, aged 26, which was taken on a beautiful beach in the Maldives on my honeymoon. I was tiny and in a dress size 12 and when I look at it now, I can’t believe how much my brain lied to me at the time. It’s the only photo of me without my sarong wrapped around me during the whole holiday. I've lifted my leg up to try and disguise how big my tummy and thighs are. I still remember exactly how I felt at the moment 25 years ago. I was convinced I was the size of a whale, and every other girl in that resort was skinny and beautiful and I was HUGE and ugly.
To be fair, I had put on ‘lots’ of weight (or so I thought, it was actually only two dress sizes up) – up to a couple of years earlier I was a kid’s size 27 (now a dress size 6 which they didn’t have back in the day). I hardly have any photos of myself from being about 14 years old to my early twenties, because I used to avoid the camera like the plague. I was about 24 even went to see a hypnotherapist about me not being able to lose enough weight. She obviously saw that there were underlying issues and started digging in my past to see what was underlying this insecurity and it was actually the first time I’d spoken to anyone properly about my Dad’s death 12 years earlier. Even in 1994 mental health wasn’t really talked about and I felt a bit embarrassed about crying about my Dad when I should have been ok about it after all that time and anyway, I wanted to lose weight not talk about that.
The year that followed that picture was probably the worst year of my life, my annus horribilis, which included my Mum being sectioned with hypomanic psychosis, my Niece taking a massive overdose and almost dying, going bankrupt on my business and a few other family upsets and deaths, oh and I split up with my 'soul mate' after only 9 months of marriage.
There’s little wonder that I ended up on anti-depressants and what followed was the colossal and very real weight gain. Not just a pound or two: literally from a UK dress-size 12 to 22 within 18 months. I wasn’t consciously aware of what was happening, but I had stopped going to the gym, not working regularly and became totally isolated; I was also comfort eating to the point of making myself sick – to clarify I wasn’t purging myself, but I was literally overdosing my body with food which resulted in constant IBS and headaches. I also remember feeling a sense of ‘relief’ that I didn’t having to worry about dieting or being too big anymore - I could just get ‘fat’ and enjoy feeling full.
Since then there has been a succession of various diets, fasting, stuffing and stopping my meds (and I always lose weight when I’m manic!). During a thinner time I met my baby daddy and along with life’s rollercoaster my weight and body size also followed suit. On and off the scales, on sometimes an hourly basis, up and down the scales constantly, yoyo dieting and the social anxiety of having a wardrobe of clothes that I feel fat in and cancelling plans last minute. The last time I really tried to lose weight ‘properly’ was about 4 years ago after seeing a psychiatrist about my general mental health (Bipolar/BPD) and he acknowledged that there was a significant history of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and I was eventually referred to a psychologist.
Although the DBT was helpful at the time, it was limited and I still don’t feel as if I’ve properly addressed the underlying way that I feel about my body. It’s very conflicting and I wonder if I’m using my ‘fatness’ like a comfort blanket. It’s something I need to get a handle on because I’m actually struggling to walk now because of arthritis in my knees and I have become quite reclusive again because I hate having to go through the whole wardrobe debacle every time I even think about going anywhere. It’s also been one of the underlying reasons that me and my partner split up, he couldn’t understand why I just couldn’t start exercising and dieting, and I resented him for saying anything even when I knew he was worried about my health. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to me and until recently it's not something I've really faced up to. I need to unravel the complicated reasons of why I keep sabotaging myself, and then hopefully I can move forward, which is why I'm writing this.
From joining some online support groups I've learned that posting pictures of ourselves is a no-no and I understand that; it seems very contradictory to post a selfie clearly looking for assurances or validation from other people. But, for me it's necessary for me to refer to that photo because I can clearly see that what was going on in my mind at the time and that it wasn't right. I did try to contact an eating disorder organisation but they couldn’t ‘advise’ with the body dysmorphic issues which seemed a bit contradictory as I think the two go hand in hand – I’d even go so far as saying it’s like self harming. I know what I’m doing but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself.
Today, I’m almost 16 stone and I really hate how I feel and look and I desperately need to sort this out, for my own self worth and general health. I post selfies on my social media as a kind of 'feel the fear and do it' kind of thing, and for my son. How many of us hate our photo being taken and when looking back in our old photos see the absence of ourselves in them.
I don’t know if I will ever learn to like seeing myself in a photograph or mirror, but I long for the day where I can ‘feel’ happy inside of me. The validation and assurances need to come from me, from deep inside of me and I'm not sure how to get to that point yet. By sharing this story I hope it helps others, because I know I'm not alone.