The confidence I have in my body and my self esteem are intrinsically linked. It’s always been this way, since I was a child. I can remember before I hit puberty that I was terrified of becoming a woman. The very idea of having breasts and curves filled me with dread. In a way, I wanted to be strong and capable, like my brothers and male friends. I’m not saying that I felt I was in the wrong body, but that it felt daunting to grow up and become a woman. I’ve since learnt that I didn’t have to lose my tomboy characteristics as I grew up; it’s ok to be a woman and enjoy sports and getting muddy, and more importantly to be fiercely competitive and ambitious.
Growing up I was never skinny, but never overweight, until I became severely depressed during my mid teens. I turned to food as a comfort, as so many do with depression and I gained weight. I was mercilessly teased and bullied by a group of boys and the experience shattered my self image. As a result of my fear of having curves and the bullying, I began to despise my body and felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I lost weight slowly and steadily, but never felt it was enough. I still saw that overweight depressed girl in the mirror. The two became one and the same, and in my mind being overweight could only be seen as a negative. I created a warped sense of self value that has evolved and taken over my life, infecting my relationships and self esteem.
As an adult my weight has fluctuated in tune with my moods. Manic me doesn’t eat and exercises furiously, depressed me is lethargic and eats excessively. There has been one constant though throughout my adult life; that I hate my body, whatever size I am. I can’t stand to look at full body photos of myself. I will walk passed windows or mirrors and catch sight of my image and feel horrendous for the rest of the day. My self image is distorted to the point I think I am too fat and ugly to be loved, to be appreciated or cared for. My paranoia is always in full force. I feel constantly judged and ridiculed by strangers as I walk down the street. Some days I can’t leave the house on my own in fear that people are staring at me. If I do go out on these days I will feel so panicked my chest will begin to tighten.
One of my greatest fears is exercising in public. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been going to the gym, which is a huge achievement for me. Even the idea of walking there in my gym clothes was filling with me dread and I have had to talk myself into walking out the door a number of times. What I’ve realised that for the most part, people at the gym are focused on themselves and rarely show me a passing glance. To them, I’m just another gym member. I’m not this freakishly huge monster my mind is always telling me I am.
I have been speaking to my psychiatrist about all of this, and we have discussed therapy a few times. I never thought I was ready, but now I think it’s time to stand up to the invasive and negative thoughts in my mind. I need to relearn how to think about my body and how I value myself. It will be tremendously difficult and I’m sure many ideas I have about myself will be challenged, but it will be worth it in the end.