A Fickle Brain
November 15, 2020

The time I have wasted picking apart my body. Like a flock of ravaging birds, jabbing away at my gut, my arms, my thighs, my chins. Incessantly and subconsciously, an attack that I cannot seem to take control of. It doesn’t line up with any of my morals, my self-proclaimed identity, my easy-breezy facade. Does it make me superficial? Judgmental? Or am I just not strong enough to grasp these thoughts in my fist and snap them like I would a wooden popsicle stick?

But I try to catch myself before I insult myself for insulting. Before I scream at myself for screaming. It just adds noise, and I have enough of that, circling like a hamster-wheel in my brain. Layers upon layers of beauty standards that I have picked up and edited over time, ideas of self-love and body-positivity scoured from instagram posts to health magazines, commentary from scrawny prepubescent 12 year old boys, dinner table conversations about celebrities who have gained weight. Whether conscious or subconscious, they have all found their little hiding spots in my brain somehow.

It seems spiteful that the feeling creeps up on the moments I need it farthest away. It’s Friday night, date night. Maybe sexy time later in the evening? I am excited, but not after I squeeze my thighs into my tights and watch how the seam cuts around my tummy, distorting whatever chance I may have had to an hourglass figure, like drawing a marker outline around a charcoal figure drawing — poof, the illusion is gone. And what started as a day with confidence has ended with me being only half there. Who can’t be in the moment because she is preoccupied with her own self-degradation. The heavy weight in the back of my brain, a dark cloud, a cynical cloak. For such a widely-discussed topic, why does it feel like the loneliest struggle.

Maybe because it rears its ugly head in different ways for everyone. My size-two best friend who had been “cured” because she is no longer a size double-zero but still reminisces on how “beautiful” she was a year ago when she didn’t have enough calories to keep her from fainting. My ex-boyfriend who, every time he would drink, would make sure to drink an amount that was suitable for puking it up. Too many calories in beer. My sister who worked through my parents divorce by eating 2 boxes of Annies mac and cheese until the pain in her stomach was louder than my mothers muffled sobs in the other room. I’ve heard her say that she wishes she could be anorexic like Faithe in her history class. Atrocious. As if I haven’t had inklings of the same thoughts myself. Planning out my diet, returning to the “My Fitness Pal” app so I can document every calorie I consume. Not understanding how some people find this “dieting” thing so addicting that their issue has shifted into losing too much weight. Atrocious.

I don’t want to be counting my rolls of belly fat as my girlfriend sucks on my neck. There are  two by the way. And I have recently concluded that two big rolls of belly fat is way worse than three smaller rolls. I miss when I had three smaller rolls. I assume I was happier then. But of course that isn’t the truth. Not that my brain will listen to logic. If he did, then I think he would realize that I probably don’t look all that different in my jean skirt this week than I did the last. And that I’m probably not fooling anyone when I cross my legs in the position that shows the least cellulite. But he is a fickle one, and yes I know why. Unattainable beauty standards, misogyny, toxic media, blah blah blahhhhh. I have heard it all. I have read all the blogs, found all the evidence, written the thesis, published the manuscript. But all the research in the world cannot convert a deep-seated commitment to self-hatred.

I think it was senior year in high school that I didn’t want those thoughts anymore. It was a step in the right direction, to no longer embrace the mean thoughts like fuel. In the military they use verbal abuse to spur motivation. I can verbally abuse myself too, I thought. I pictured my internal voice as a drill sergeant, there to whip my imperfect body into shape. You undisciplined fat-ass mother-fucker, get your god-damn shit together. Sir, yes sir. But they don’t talk about depression in the military, and my drill sergeant was really getting me down. Hard to burn that last ounce of belly fat before prom when you are incapable of getting out of bed.

I am still waiting to find enlightenment. For a seven-month chunk of time, I focused on getting my shit together. Just me and my therapist, picking apart my issues every week. And I wasn’t playing around. No sugar-coated thoughts, no diverting topics. Nope, I wanted results. I approached my sessions like class time, jotting down my homework for the next week. Give me tasks, give me assignments so I won’t feel the anger, the anxiety, or the depression anymore. I wanted to be cured. It turns out that when you are digging around up there, your emotions get really pissed off. I would leave Genevieve’s office with my eyes swollen and my energy zapped and it could take days of recovery to get back to my normal disposition. Surprise surprise, a cure for emotional turmoil can’t be found in 7 months. But we were making progress, and that brought me relief. Week after week, we would uncover tiny calcified stones of past trauma that had been blocking things up for years. Each stone would unveil itself naturally in conversation. I was letting Genevieve sift through my brain cavities with full trust. But in our last meeting, before I was to move to a new city and our work would be finalized, hole-punched and binded, I felt that there was a very large blockage in my brain that had been ignored. That a primary source for my anguish was still buried deep and undocumented, and that I was about to be sent off with a monster in full strength. That a group of savage thoughts were actively forming long strong roots, wrapping themselves around every neural pathway and sinking in their poisonous teeth, and I would be under its spell forever.

I brought this up to Genevieve with anger, accusing her with my unfiltered thoughts, that she didn’t take my body image issues seriously, that NO ONE takes my body image issues seriously, that they are just written off as superficial girl problems that we all have to live with, like period stains on your favorite pair of underwear or hair getting stuck in the bathroom drain.

But I suppose I revealed the answer within my accusation. Despite a commitment to honesty, my deeply embedded idea that I was to hate my body forever had outsmarted me. Perhaps I was so determined to stay on task, to address the “real” issues during my sessions that I would ignore those persistent shit-talking demons in my ears. Because they were whispering superficial girl problems that I had to live with, and no amount of therapy would be able to grant me the access code to a life without them.

But it seemed naive to see a life without them. Because I knew my mother couldn’t escape them. I watched her hate her body throughout my childhood. I watched her respond to every photo taken of her with sunken eyes and tightened lips, as if she just received a poor grade on a test. I watched her shrivel up with discomfort on every beach outing or trip to the pool. I watched her hate her legs, her shoulders, her breasts, her stomach that she gave me. If she hated them, I would inevitably hate them too.

But it just seems like too much pain to accept for life. Too much of a waste of brain space to have the only conclusion be “it’s inevitable”. I want them to go away. I want them to stop slowing me down. Asking for peace is not too big of a request. So I will work for the day where I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window and my demons won’t whisper and my flock of birds rest instead of ravage and my hamster wheel stays still.