The Eating Disorder Brain Tries to Strike Again
By Rita Arens on June 02, 2011
The pool opened last weekend. I thought I was ready to go with my new halter swimdress (shut up) and my sunscreen and my baseball hat. Sure, it had been a long, cold winter accompanied by many, many seasoned wedge fries, but last summer I even bared midriff a few times and felt fine about it.
Also, I haven't had a full-length mirror in my bedroom since last summer. And I never go use my daughter's. So I actually don't know what I look like unless I catch my reflection in a store window, which only happens when I am fully clothed.
Imagine my surprise when I went to use the bathroom at the pool and caught sight of my full-frontal while pulling up my swimming suit. The florescent lights bouncing off cinder block highlighted every lump and bump that was not there last year.
My stomach seized up, and I started to feel hot and tingly.
I manage the anxiety that once caused my eating disorder through a combination of medication, previous talk therapy, exercise, sleep and maintaining a certain weight window in which I feel comfortable with myself. I seem to have tipped over the edge of that window this winter, because as I stumbled back toward my seat, I felt shaky.
And that was when I saw her, my new mom friend -- adorable and tiny and right in the path. I stopped to talk to her and knew I was coming off normal, but the entire time I was talking to her I just wanted to wrap my body in a beach blanket and starve until I felt better. I felt like she could see all the flaws and was taking stock, even though she's a delightful person and why would she do that? Of course she wasn't doing that. But I felt it: the shame.
And I haven't felt like that in years. YEARS.
I walked back to my chair and sunk in. The tears started rolling out from under my sunglasses a few minutes later. My husband said nice things, tried to make me feel better -- but I know he didn't realize how seriously I was melting down at that moment.
I sat there telling myself I'm 37. I don't need to look like a 24-year-old. I'm a perfectly acceptable 37-year-old. And isn't that sort of shallow, anyway? And haven't I been writing a novel about a protagonist overcoming ED and haven't I been crusading about ED and taking issue with NYT ballet critics ALL YEAR? WHAT THE HELL, BRAIN?
I took deep breaths. I told myself fat isn't a feeling. And I realized it isn't. My feeling was anxiety -- a severe hit of it -- and I was focusing it on my thighs. I was telling myself that I was a lost cause because I didn't stop working out this winter -- in fact I worked out harder than I have in years -- so it was difficult to stop catastrophizing that exercise no longer worked for weight maintenance, and I would just end up growing and growing from here with no hope. (Because that is the fear that my ED brain wants me to believe.)
My rational brain -- the one in charge 99% of the time -- knows that there is no "always" ever in anything in life, and weight management is just another one of those things. You don't always look great, you don't always look bad. Nothing is absolute, and everything about humans is in a constant state of flux, from our glucose levels to our shoe sizes to our hair length to our weight.
But revisiting that feeling, that download of self-hatred, was really upsetting. It made me hot and then cold and shaky and angry and sad. Thankfully my daughter was in the pool and didn't see her mother crying while staring at her hips.
It's since passed. I am aware that one thing that keeps the wolves at bay for me is staying in that five-pound range of normal BMI that has my clothes fitting without panty lines and me passing full-length mirrors without doing a double-take. I've been more careful this week about what I put in my mouth. But I also know that some parts of it -- the gravity parts, the cellulite parts -- may not be fixable by a sensible diet and exercise program. They may be part of 37. They may be part of my genetic code. I may actually not be able to do anything about the redistribution of what used to be higher on my frame. And I'm going to have to accept that, pronto. I am not going to spend the second half of my life being controlled by that feeling the way I spent the first half.
I AM NOT.
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