Look, I’m just the pilot; I don’t have any control over what meatsuit I was assigned. I didn’t get to pick the make or model or color or any of that, I just operate the damn thing. It’s a machine, you know? And this one came off the factory floor full of design flaws and defects so it requires even more work than some others to keep it functioning. I try my best to maintain all the parts, I even call in a mechanic when a task’s above my skill level, but I didn’t choose this 24/7 job and I’m really not that attached to it. The meatsuit doesn’t define me. I don’t identify with any of its individual components or the composite whole. I’m the operator, separate from that which is operated. Try to remember that when you look at me; I’m stuck inside this unit but that doesn’t mean you should judge me by its appearance. After all, what am I supposed to do – trade it in for a new one?
Of course this body has never felt right – not because my gender identity clashes with its appearance, though, but because my body has never been a refuge. How could I recognize the discomfort of dysphoria when pain, anxiety, and exhaustion dominate my senses? How could I discern whether this disconnect between spirit and flesh is caused by a lack of gender or by all these years spent trapped in chronic illness? When it comes down to it, I’m not sure I’ll ever know whether I’m unhappy in my body because it looks “female” or because it has only ever been a burden requiring constant care. I can change my appearance all I want, slick back my short hair, cover my skin in tattoos, but that won’t stop the migraines or the stomach aches or the OCD. Even the clothing I wear is always half aesthetic and half will I be too warm in this or too cold, will it make me sweat too much and cause a panic attack, will this hat keep me from picking my scalp bloody or will it give me a headache instead? It’s always something; between the faulty wiring in my brain and all the other aching, breaking bits, I don’t really have tools sensitive enough to scan for undercurrents of dysphoria. My body’s never been a home and maybe it never will be, no matter what colors I paint the outside or what interior walls I tear down.
It’s “the holidays”, so let’s talk about… eating disorders! (Wah wah.)
I’m about to throw a big ball of crazy at you, so fair warning. Possible triggers: eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, and chronic illness.
I don’t want to bore you with my whole life story, so I’ll try to give you the relevant highlights. I have always had stomach problems: cholic as a baby, a lactose intolerance diagnosis in elementary school, and an IBS diagnosis in high school. Add to this an anxiety disorder that makes my stomach rock and roll whenever I’m nervous, excited, angry, or upset and you have a bad, bad combination. Basically, my stomach hurt all the time when I was a kid and I rarely knew why. Food became dangerous and untrustworthy; something that was fine the day before might upset my stomach the next day. I was miserable (and frequently still am).
In college, I added to all this a healthy dose of body issues. I was a chubby child but it never bothered me, as I eschewed most of society’s expectations for the female body. Sometime in college the bad body vibes hit me, though, despite my best efforts, and I’ve never been able to shake them. My food anxiety and OCD combined with the shiny new body issues and morphed into a stronger, faster, meaner obsession. I counted calories, carbs, portions, and anything else that was trackable. About a year out of college, I had managed to get my body, which likes to be between 132-135 pounds, down to 111. I had even managed to cease my menstrual cycle completely, which was awesome but not super healthy.
Nowadays I’m back to a proper weight, but still in a weird limbo where my anxiety-ocd-body-issues monster is constantly at war with my queer, feminist side that strives to cast off all the gross social conditioning and love my body exactly how it is. Every single day I expend so much energy worrying about my weight, my IBS, what I should eat to be healthy, what I should eat to be skinny, what I should eat to be comfortable and happy and not-crazy that I exhaust myself. If I have one cookie on the weekend, I mentally berate myself for it. If I take a day off from exercising because my stomach hurts, I swear I’m already a pound heavier. Even this very moment, while I write this, I’m craving Chex Mix but no, it’s so many calories, what if it makes my stomach hurt, I shouldn’t! Rinse and repeat forever.
All of this is to explain why Thanksgiving and Christmas have gone from being my favorite holidays to ones I dread through all of September, October, and November. See, I love eating and the winter holidays have the best food – pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, candied yams, mashed potatoes, honey rolls, hot chocolate, donuts and cheese danish on Christmas morning… mmm! More than anything, though, I love eating my mom’s stuffing. It’s soaked with butter and chock full of dried and fresh fruit, and I would eat it every day of my life if I could. But stuffing isn’t a good food according to my OCD brain. It’s bad for my stomach; it’s high in calories; it has no nutritional value. How dare I have even one bite?! So for the last ten or eleven years, the holidays have involved far more anxiety and internal panicking than enjoyment of the dishes I love. I drink water to fill myself up to the point of pain, and I eat a big, healthy breakfast so I’m not tempted by the Christmas donuts. When I have one anyway, I then spend the day wondering how I can sneak away from the festivities to work out. It’s pathetic, honestly, and majorly depressing.
I am going to change that this year. Or at least, I’m really going to try. I want to eat a nice dinner without worrying about my stomach beforehand and hating myself afterward. Wouldn’t that be nice? It really would. And I deserve that. I deserve to enjoy the holidays with my friends and family. I deserve to nourish my body with food that is healthy and good, and to not feel guilty for giving it the fuel it needs (or the treat I want!). I deserve to live free of anxiety and obsession. I deserve to live my life, to be present in every moment, and so does everyone else in similar situations. There are so many of us hurting out there, starving our bodies and souls to meet impossible ideals, and there’s just no reason. We weren’t put on this earth to make ourselves suffer.
I think this will be my goal for 2018 – to be kinder to myself and to love myself, not despite my various burdens but because of them. Maybe 2018 will be the year that I get to know my body again. We’ve been at war for too long.