Therapy Session #5: Body Image and Depression

I take frantic notes after every therapy session with the aim of remembering all of the revelations I came to in that 50 minute period. Most of the notes I take are disjointed blurbs that, when read together, illuminate some kind of unifying message or wider theme. Sometimes I have to think about how to connect the dots, but this felt like one big ‘ah ha’ moment.

Bear with me as this is by no means a comprehensive blog post on the topic, but it starts to get at some of the things I am learning in therapy. General topics to be covered in no particular order:

  • Body image / Body dysmorphia
  • Depression
  • Self-talk (negative)
  • Hopelessness
  • Disordered Eating

Body Image

Pictures really fuck with me. Mirrors really fuck with me. Anything where there is a degree of built-in inconsistency (i.e. the quality of the mirror, the angle of the camera, how tall the person is taking your video for you, the lighting in the room or outside, etc.) really fucks with me.

The problem is less about what size I actually am and more about the fact that it seems to vary so much that I can’t grasp what I actually look like to a normal person looking at me. If that makes sense? It’s the lack of control and understanding. It’s the feeling that my eyes are playing tricks on me. I can’t trust what my mind says it sees, for one because there is so much apparent (and frankly impossible) variation between what I see from one day to the next, and two because the evidence is so fucking contradictory. WHO THE *FUCK* AM I EVEN?

And so in the private space of my brain, I oscillate between ‘My body is fat, ugly and horrible. I hate it so much.’ and ‘Meh… it’s not so bad is it? Why am I so superficial and narcissistic? Why does it even matter what my body looks like? No one else cares, so why does it bother me so damn much?

For me, it really is disgust or indifference, with indifference occasionally bordering on quiet acceptance.

I suppose there is the occasional glimmer of body positivity, but it is fleeting. I suppose the true middle ground would be body neutrality or indifference, but that feels even harder to achieve when your emotions swing so intensely one way or the other. So no, middle ground is not something I achieve with any kind of regularity.

The closest I get is nothingness – that space between my dark, more obviously depressive days and the comedown from a day of ‘Fuck it. This is MY life. Let me use food and/or alcohol to make me feel better‘. In the moment, this registers as my attempt at ‘happiness’ and/or ‘intuitive eating’ and/or ‘self love’ and/or ‘self care’ (i.e. insert all of the modern day health and wellness buzzwords), but for anyone who has struggled with depression, disordered eating, body dsymporphia, etc. you’ll know that, in fact, that couldn’t be further from what is actually achieved in those moments.

Food (or any other substance) used under those circumstances isn’t serving the purpose for which it’s intended. At least in my experience, it works a pain killer might. It leaves me feeling emotionally numb, temporarily placated, but also isolated and vulnerable. It also instigates a state of ‘nothingness’. I have nothing to say. I think nothing. I feel nothing. I just am. I exist and that’s the extent of what I can say about who I am and where I am headed.

And last time I checked, that ain’t what health or happiness looks like.

Enter: The Depression Connection

That, in a nut shell, is how my depression manifests itself on any given day. This is probably unsurprising to most of you, but for me it was revelatory – my depression is intimately linked to how I see my body.

On my less depressive, more hopeful days I hate my body a little less. Clothes look a little nicer, I’m bolder with how I dress myself. The urge to drown my body in a baggy sweatshirt and leggings (counter-intuitive I know) is a little less intense. On darker, harder days, nothing looks right on. Nothing feels good against my skin. My clothes are neither new enough or expensive enough. My stomach is protruding and my thighs rub together.

Worse, nothing in the mirror looks the way I remember it looking yesterday, last week, last year. It triggers an endless stream of questions – ‘If I feel this way today, how could what I saw yesterday and felt good about have been true? What version of me should I trust in? How can so many things ‘wrong’ with my body today not have been there yesterday?’

The degree of internal mistrust this kind of thing generates is startling…

The longer my personal war with my body persists, the more destructive my thought patterns, the more sad and intolerable my reality. As much as I feel I can’t take it anymore, I also feel powerless to change it. How do you change how you interpret what you see when what you see is there in the flesh and therefore what EVERYONE ELSE SEES? How do you undo years and years of nitpicking and pinpointing and obsessing and hiding in a way that feels good and true and genuine and lasting?

I don’t know. But I’m here writing about not knowing because I believe that one day I will. And when that day comes, I will look back on these words and I will feel so much compassion and love for the person writing them. I will see her for who she truly is and I will understand that the pain and the hurt and the searching was part of her process. Prolonged, full of hardship, but ripe with value and meaning.

I cling to that vision though my heart feels it’s out of reach. Don’t I deserve healing?

Stepping Away From My Inner Voice

So where does healing begin? The answer to this question has truly stumped me in recent weeks. It has left me at the far edge of my emotional spectrum, quite near the breaking point where hopelessness and frustration and fear feel like just one thing – pain.

My sister seems to have a gift for knowing what I need to hear and when I need to hear it. After a string of seriously rocky weeks, she gifted me The Untethered Soul for my birthday. Although I have only just started reading it, I realised today that it has already answered my question in the first few pages.

Healing begins when you’re ready to find freedom from your inner voice. Healing begins with YOU. It begins with separating who you are as a person from who the voice inside you tells you are. It begins when you realise that your inner voice isn’t you at all.

It may sound a bit philosophical or abstract, but I am already convinced of the power of that notion. Informing everything from the way I see my body to my value as a human life form on any give day, is my unwaveringly critical inner voice that is neither rational, nor well-meaning. She seeks to belittle, demean, confuse, undermine, hurt. She’s a vicious bitch.

As I step back to observe the narrative of my inner voice, I can understand how I could go from self-hatred and body shame to indifference. I can see how I could look in the mirror from one day and feel like a completely different person. I can appreciate how I could feel so mistrustful of my own eyes and intellect.

The book isn’t necessarily the solution to my depression and poor self-esteem. Neither is therapy. But both are tools which I have enlisted to help me understand who I am and who I want to be. I don’t have any answers yet, but there are small breakthroughs, mini epiphanies that give me hope.