I can’t see myself properly. It’s frustrating as hell.
I distort what I see when I look at myself in mirrors and reflective surfaces. This is unfortunate; I look at my reflection a lot. I need to because when I haven’t seen myself in a while – and “a while” can mean anything from seconds to hours – the image in my head starts to distort. I no longer know what I look like. I lose any sense of my appearance. I start to feel strange, warped, and abnormal. In my head, my self-image becomes almost cubist. It’s a very strange thing. I need to see myself in a mirror to reassure myself that I’m not really a freak.
Unfortunately, I don’t see myself that well in mirrors either. It’s an eating disorder/body dysmorphic disorder thing.
I see myself oddly. I see myself in flickers. I see myself as I am for moments at a time and sometimes, I even start to like what I see but then the disordered parts of my brain take over and the images become fat and damaged and ugly and wrong. The best is when I come across a reflection of myself unexpectedly. It’s only at those times that I get a clear view. It’s hard to explain what it’s like, this knowledge that what you’re seeing isn’t always what’s there.
I have severe problems when it comes to seeing my thighs and my face accurately. I’ve mentioned my thighs before, once or twice or a hundred times. Dealing with my face and my legs takes up a great deal of my brain and my energy. It seems fair since my disorders tell me that my legs take up a great deal of physical space in the world.
My face is problematic on two fronts. One, I don’t like what I see; I obsess over things that other people don’t notice to an uncomfortable degree. The need for perfection is part of what drove my habit of facial cutting. That’s the other problem. Now when I look at my face in the mirror, not only do I see all the “wrong”, I also see all the self-inflicted damage. Unfortunately, it too, is seen incorrectly. I over-emphasize it in my mind and make it worse than it appears to others.
The way I perceive my thighs has been problematic my whole life. I’ve hated them for what feels like forever. They were always wrong. My leg disgust was one of the first indicators of my eating disorder.
I see them as deformed, fat, ridden with cellulite, not smooth enough, not cut enough, and not symmetrical. I abhor the roundness at the outside on the top, just at the hips. I cannot bear the idea that I might experience the absence of a thigh gap. These are things I have to work on to fully recover from my eating disorder, I know. But it’s hard to learn to love something you’ve hated for decades.
Perhaps forgiveness is the key?
Forgiving my thighs for being imperfect is not the right direction though the urge to continue to malign them is there. Forgiving myself for demanding perfection as a condition of self-love is the better choice. Accepting that a perfect body wouldn’t have helped because of the disordered thinking is a better direction to take. The body is just a symptom, after all.
I still use the mirror to inspect for bones. I’m getting better at not doing it but the behaviour still exists. I just don’t do it every day anymore. I’m also getting more comfortable with the decreased visibility of my bones structure. Sometimes. Other times, the mirror gazing goes bad and all I can see is flesh and all I can feel is hatred that I allowed myself to drift away so far from my pursuit of skeletal perfection and symmetry.
Eating disorder recovery is a lot of trudging uphill.
One of the suggested recovery exercises actually involves mirror work. You face down the beast. Tame it for good. The goal is to spend time every day looking at myself. In the mirror. Naked. This is beyond the simple “I love you” affirmations I’m supposed to give myself when I catch sight of my reflected face. This exercise is the full meal deal. You look at yourself, your whole self in the mirror while you’re naked. You’re supposed to love it. Love what you see. That part apparently comes with time. I’ve tried doing it a few times. I found it to be terrifyingly, horrifyingly awful. All I see are the imperfections. All I see is how not perfect I am. It brings me to tears, makes me panic, makes me want to diet and cut.
Why can’t I get perfect and then recover, the eating disorder asks?
I know the answer. I just don’t like it. I want to have my cake and never eat it too.
Recovery exercises are work. That’s why they aren’t called “recovery vacations”. The unfortunate truth is that while they are hard, they are doable. The older I get, the more I realize that hard isn’t a reason to avoid things. I can even see the value in the exercise. Being able to accept your naked body is a good thing. Being able to really see it is also good.
I can’t see myself without distorting and judging and hating myself and it’s frustrating as hell. It’s my brain. It seems manifestly unfair that I can’t tell it what to do and have it listen to me. It would make recovery much easier if that was how brains worked.