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My Body Dysmorphia Doesn't Affect How I See You

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Throughout the 11 years I lived with an eating disorder, not one thought about changing my body or shape had anything to do with anybody but myself. I understand that being around someone with this illness can of course be trying (to say the least!). However, I am writing this because I’m a bit tired of people with this very real illness being blamed or further scrutinized for something they did not choose.

Body dysmorphia is a cruel and often less-talked about aspect of eating disorders. Many people in my life would (and sometimes still do) condemn me for how I treated my body, or spoke about my body. They claimed I must think less of their appearance/body shape/weight due to how I spoke about my body. “If that’s what you think about yourself, I don’t even want to know what you think of me!” — this was the one I encountered most often. I must be clear: I never once thought of anyone else in the same way I thought (and still sometimes think) about myself. My eating disorder ensured the self-hatred I felt for myself was reserved just for me. My eating disorder ensured I was so engaged with it, I would isolate myself from any thoughts to do with anything else.

Eating disorders are incredibly isolating. I would spend hours writing out ways to hide my symptoms, just to reassure my eating disorder voice I would keep them safe. Every time I scrutinized my appearance and felt scared by a thought I had, my eating disorder would remind me to focus on it. This served its purpose in a way – it distracted me from my vicious cycles of anxiety, depression and then-undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. Disassociation and isolation were how I got through each day. Viewing myself through the lens of body dysmorphia just amplified my symptoms. Instead of allowing myself to process and feel, I just cut off feeling with symptoms. Eating disorders are insidious and they lie. A lot.

You see, the way I view(ed) my own body, is not necessarily an accurate depiction of what others see. I stubbornly resisted this idea for ages, insisting that what I saw was the truth. This was until I received life-saving treatment almost two years ago. In this treatment program, I learned that I saw my body in a much different way. In a way that was not accurate. This was a result of body dysmorphia — and was a very real symptom of eating disorders.

Here I am, almost two years into recovery, and body dysmorphia is something that rears its ugly head now and then. My body looks and feels vastly different than it ever has in my life. My eating disorder “voice” still reminds me of this on particularly vulnerable days. However, I now have a new perspective on said “voice.” I now have a somewhat newfound respect for my body — although this is still a work in progress. I respect that my body requires nourishment and care. I respect that the way my body looks and feels now is integral for my organs to function properly, for my energy level to remain consistent and — for lack of a better phrase — for staying alive. I respect it, but some days I don’t like it. That’s OK, I know I do not need to be doing cartwheels of joy every time I look in the mirror — but the way I see myself is no reason to engage in symptoms. After all, I see myself in a way that is not always accurate.

My disordered thoughts — although much less frequent than they once were — still try to remind me I should punish myself for certain feelings or thoughts I have. This has nothing to do with anybody else in my life. Zero of these dysmorphic thoughts are directed towards anyone but me.

Recovery is a process, and a conscious choice I make every day, especially when the voice gets a little louder than usual. It is a choice only I can make. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderful support team, but nobody else can pop into my brain and choose recovery for me. So when I say my eating disorder was not and still isn’t about anybody else but me, I hope you have a bit more understanding as to why.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Originally published: September 2, 2016
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