Looking in the Mirror: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

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How do you like me meow?

I met with someone today who barely knows me. And while we were talking, she offhandedly said something like: “Don’t worry. Being you, you’re not going to have a problem finding a job and a place, or making friends for that matter. With your personality and energy  you’re going to do well anyway. I’m not worried.” Haha…what?!

I spend a lot of time worried about what people think of me, generally to an irrational degree. I fear they may see me and think: “Someone that ugly does not have a right to show her face without a hat or at least some makeup,” or, “You can just tell that girl is a loser. Plus, how dare she wear spandex. There’s nothing a gym can do about that ass.” And in my mind I’m convinced, just by speaking with me, the barista or Safeway checker will think I’m irritating, boring, arrogant, obnoxious, loud, overbearing, conceited, pathetic, opinionated, naive, pessimistic, and/or crazy. I guess the last one would be right given the paragraph above. LOL.

And yes, I know: others are too self-absorbed to pay attention or judge you. I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one. After all, I spend a lot of time watching people, their interactions, noting their demeanor. I don’t suppose it leads to judgement, it’s more like seeing how the “other side,” i.e. those that are not me, live. I will agree that yes, the fact that I think everyone is looking at me, even if what they are thinking is bad, is in and of itself self-absorbed. Huh.

I am, by nature, a pretty unoffensive person – sometimes to a fault. I try to be kind, patient, and thoughtful to people around me. I show deference to most people, deserved or not. I’m also that person who helps you when you’ve dropped something or ask if you need help if you look confused. I generally can’t help you if you need directions, but I can at least commiserate with forgetting where you parked your car and help you find it. The point of this all being, I don’t think objectively, that my behavior is off-putting. And yet somehow I am convinced that even while I’m helping someone or giving them a smile, they are just disgusted with me. And I think that’s really my inner self telling me I’m disgusting and then I misappropriate it to someone else. It seems the two sides of my brain – the pure and the evil – argue over the most benign things. And yet those are the things that make it so difficult to have the confidence to make a call or leave the house.

And then every so often someone I know, within the context of the conversation, describes me. Now, I take everything with buckets filled with salt, so I recognize that people don’t generally sit you down to tell you what a  loser you are. (Well, they have, but that was during my teen years.) I also know that these are people that love me even at my worst moments, or that they’re people who I pay to help me. I also think that sometimes a person wants something from me, so they say whatever it will take to get it. For example, at a bar when someone wants me to go home with them. It’s curious how amazing I am at that point. ;)

But sometimes, it’s someone I just met at a party, an interview, or a person that I’ve been taking a class with who I finally have coffee with. And the shit that comes out of their mouth. They don’t have to say it; it’s not part of basic decorum. And they usually have known me for a few hours at most and yet they tell me all these wonderful things about myself. (I know this sounds like bragging so please note this is a very, very rare occurrence.)

I don’t know if I have a face that says “I’m insecure, I need reassurance.” Or maybe my self-deprecating humor clues them in. But I pride myself on my bullshitting ability to hide my insecurities (most people assume I am confident,) and I don’t think people are listening hard enough to know that the joke is actually a real dig at myself. Maybe people don’t need much to like you. Or maybe they’re lying. I mean, we all do it: reassure a friend when we actually aren’t sure what we’re saying is true; compliment someone just to calm them down or to get ahead. That’s the politics of human nature and relationships. Maybe it’s from living in Washington, D.C. for a decade, but it’s just the way the world works.

I know that I’m damaged  from my childhood and my internal dialogue of hate, and when I look in the mirror I see someone who is a pathetic fraud. I even know that a lot of people most likely look in the mirror and judge themselves harder than anyone else would. And when my friends are doubting themselves, when they can’t see how amazing they are, it shocks me. How can they not know their worth? Why would they ever doubt that they were special and deserved so much in life,  even if they don’t always get it? But it’s easier to say it to someone else, than to believe it yourself.

I’ve been practicing looking at myself in the mirror. I know, this sounds really odd. But when I’m depressed, I can go weeks dodging myself in mirrors or reflections. There is something so painful in not only seeing the misery in my face, but in the hate I feel looking at this person who has ruined my life. So, I’m trying to practice looking at myself. I’m trying to become comfortable and accepting of the woman I see looking back at me. So far, it’s been really uncomfortable. I don’t imagine I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “Who is the fairest of them all? Why that would be me!” But, maybe I can look in the mirror and acknowledge that there is something there of worth.

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see something different than I see now? I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and not be ashamed or disgusted?

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see what others see in me.

Food: A Necessity and Nemesis

foodThe ups and downs of my mental illness have added additional complexity to my relationships with family, friends, work, and…food – my constant nutritional foe.

Recently, a close friend and I were discussing our travails with food and he pointed out the key problem with food addiction. So dig: to break free of addictions to drugs and alcohol, you rid your life of the drugs completely. You might have to change the people you hang out with, the places you go, and any other tempting habits you have formed that may lead you astray. (I in no way am presuming this to be a simple or easy task). The point is to never go back, not even for one sip or hit – you must learn to exist without it. The problem with food addiction is that you can never truly “rid” yourself of the temptations – be it situational, psychological, or physical – because you need food to survive. A true catch-22.

For me, around the age of eight, I became overweight and my relationship with food was soon tarnished with guilt, shame, and anger. Every time I ate something, I blamed myself for perpetuating my looks, even though in retrospect, I’m pretty sure it was just the pre-puberty baby cheeks that had yet to disappear. Every time I ate, I disappointed myself because I was convinced I didn’t earn it. At the same time, I would punish myself for my failure by then purposefully over-eating. I never understood why the majority of my classmates were thin and were able to ate more than me or eat candy without gaining weight. I never understood what I was doing wrong, but nevertheless, blamed myself for it.

We had a family crisis when I was in fourth grade, and I think that’s when I started using food to somehow push down my pain. If I could eat enough, I would feel physically sick – something I could capture, unlike my emotional pain. During high school, when both my family and school life felt amiss, I craved not only the attention of boys, but also a way of feeling in control. I would try to gain this control by not eating. And then when I would eventually fail, I would binge, perpetuating the cycle of my unhealthy relationship with food.

I’ve also never been comfortable eating around people. I have always had an overwhelming fear that people look at me, no matter what I am eating, and think to themselves “Well no wonder she is overweight – she eats!” If anyone is trying to argue rationality for this issue, it’s never going to work. I still can’t eat in a restaurant by myself, and am uncomfortable eating around people I don’t know. But trust me, it pisses me off to be my 30’s and still be ashamed and disgusted to the point where I don’t believe I deserve to eat.

Throughout my twenties, I attempted to develop a positive relationship with food. I had been pescatarian, then vegetarian, which led me to veganism. I really liked being vegan because I felt like my ethics/values were finally matching up with my eating habits. I also tried a variety of exercise routines to try and balance the alcohol and food I ate. Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say they also served as a way to restrict my diet and lose weight.

The first year after I had quit my job and moved home, I was living alone and hardly left the apartment, i.e. barely moved for weeks at a time. Because I was alone it was easier to binge and I gained a lot of weight. After a year, when I decided to do ECT, I moved in with my parents, and started my weight loss through Weight Watchers. It was exciting to feel like I could have a sense of control without necessarily starving myself and it gave me realistic goals I could achieve that were small enough to not be too overwhelming.

Unfortunately, when ECT stopped working (thank you bipolar II,) I started trying new (and old) medications again. Within two months on one medication, the 30 lbs I had lost over the eight months on Weight Watchers was back without a change in diet or exercise. It was so sudden: one day, I wasn’t wearing gym clothes or pajamas, and none of my clothes fit. While weight gain is difficult for any woman, mental illness or not, I think because of my insanely deep self-hate, this hit me especially hard.

Lately, while I have been eating healthy and exercising, I have had a few nights of bingeing. I know this happens to all of us. But when it’s three or four nights in a row, that’s a red flag for me. I know it means I am super-anxious and feeling out of control. But I think it’s less the food (though it does not help the scale) and more the process of bingeing and the shaming that goes along with it that’s so frustrating and upsetting.

After all, I spend each day trying to keep my head up, maintain order, patience, and balance – keys to what I imagine keeping myself in a healthy place will require and therefore must be developed into rote habits. So when I binge at night, I’m falling into old traps of self-hate eating. Without alcohol, men, or cutting, food is the last resort of self-harm. And that is why bingeing is more than just knowing I need another 10 minutes on the treadmill. It means I am not as strong as I want to be. I am not as stable as I wish I could be to move forward in other parts of my life (developing a social life, hobbies, and perhaps a job.)

I have started back on the path to losing the weight I gained on that awful medication, but as usual, everything takes longer (thank you aging). I’ve read so many articles about weight loss and gain; loving your body and yourself; whether women can ever truly accept their body, etc. and have been trying to find a place where I fit. (Those articles can blow me.) I’ve known since I was quite young that having a healthy relationship with food would never happen nor would ever really be the goal. I know that when I look in the mirror I will always see the fat, no matter how thin I am.

Given that my relationship with food is more than just about what the scale says, and also knowing that I won’t ever be fully in control of my addiction because I will always need food in my life, makes it even more difficult. But I guess it’s true – it’s a process I have to deal with day by day, and frankly, for someone that is banking so much on her future, I guess it’s just hard to swallow.