In cleaning up the house, I saw a picture of me from twenty-five years ago. I picked it up and stared at it as if it were an artifact from a different lifetime. I was in the middle of my first anorexic stage, and I had a perm and was wearing makeup. I searched my face for anything recognizable, and there it was in my trademark smirk. I don’t smile easily, and I always feel fakey when I do, but when I looked at the picture, it wasn’t terrible. Only I could see the pain behind the smile because I was pretty good at masking it while I was out and about.
I can’t see much of the current me in the earlier incantation, but it’s more the mental and emotional changes. Even though it wasn’t readily apparent in the photo, I was at the depth of my depression, and I struggled to get out of bed every day. Those were the days when I exercised seven hours a day in order to support my ED, but then I didn’t do anything else. Once I stopped exercising so much, I spent a lot of time on the couch, wallowing in my depression.
It’s hard to overstate how much I loathed myself at the time. My head was constantly filled with negative voices, the main one whom I dubbed The Dictator because he was always telling me what to do, and calling me horrible names in the meantime. I would never call other people the things I’ve called myself. It’s not even just the epithets. I was so cruel to myself. Telling myself I was worthless and not fit to live. I really thought I was toxic and the world would be better off without me. I called myself ugly and fat and lazy, and it was a constant narrative in my brain.
I believed that every day I was adding more poison to the world, and any good deed I did just moved me one step closer to neutral. But, because the negatives were more numerous than the positives, I was losing ground every day I lived. I have no idea why that belief solidified in my brain, but it was firmly intact by the time I was twelve or thirteen.
I was a numb shell of a person, empty of anything other than overwhelming depression. I couldn’t feel anything because a thick layer of ice was sheathing my body and my heart. I tolerated each day, just waiting for the endless seconds to tick off until I could go to bed, toss and turn for a few hours, then get up to do it all over again. Speaking of sleep, I used to get none of it. When I was in college, I slept three hours a night my first semester. Some of it was because my natural rhythm is to go to bed late at night. Even when I was six or seven, I didn’t fall asleep until well after midnight. In college, I had a 7:30 a.m. class, which meant getting up at 6:45 a.m. I rarely went to bed before 3:30 a.m., so I was a hurting unit on the days I had that class. One day, it got so bad, I woke up late and couldn’t find my (portable) alarm clock. I searched my dorm room, but I couldn’t find it. I shrugged my shoulders and opened my mini-fridge to get my morning Diet Pepsi, and there was my alarm clock. I moved it across the room to the sink after that.
Speaking of Diet Pepsi, it used to be my pop of choice, but I can’t stand it now. I used to be loyal to Diet Coke only buying Diet Pepsi when the latter was on sale. Then, I discovered the wonder that is Coke Zero, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, they recently changed their formula, and now it’s sweeter and flatter, and the can is no longer black. Plus, they changed the name to Coke Zero Sugar because apparently, there are a lot of people too stupid to realize Coke Zero is a diet pop. Put it all together, and I dropped Coke Zero (Sugar) like it had the plague. I picked up Diet Coke because it was on sale, and it was like going back to an ex with whom you had just drifted apart. You didn’t break up for any real reason–just, the spark wasn’t there any longer. When you think of them, you remember them fondly and hope they’re doing OK, but you have no desire to really reconnect. Then, you run into them in the co-op, and you haven’t had sex in a long time, and they’re taking good care of themselves, so you give them a tumble.
That voice in my head is now gone. I don’t know when it left or how I got rid of it because I’ve only noticed it in absentia. I’ve mentioned before that for me, working on my issues diligently never got me anywhere. It’s only when I put it on the back burner and work on other things in my life that I made any progress with my issues. Recently, I was trying to remember when I lost The Dictator from my head, and I couldn’t. I remember the time when he was firmly ensconced in my brain, and I know he’s not there now, but I don’t remember the in-between time.
Sometimes, when there’s a quiet moment, I marvel at the silence in my brain. It’s hard to tell you how amazing it is not to have that voice constantly putting me down. I hate meditation, but I have to wonder if this is a byproduct of having done it for many years. I’m pretty sure my ability to let go of negative thoughts more easily is because of meditation, so grudging respect to it. I guess it’s pretty meta in that I keep doing it even though I hate it, trying not to dwell too much on how much I hate it. I write blog posts as I meditate*, and while it’s probably not the best use of my time, it makes the meditation less tedious.
When I was in my early twenties, I didn’t see a life past thirty. I had no concept of a future because I didn’t want one. When my mom was fifty-five, I became fixated on the idea that I would die when I reached her age. When you’re in your twenties and deeply depressed, that seems like a ridiculous age that you will never reach. Now that I’m less than ten years away from it, it’s not enough times. I haven’t done anything notable, and there are so many things I want to do. I wrote a post about the things I probably will not do in this lifetime, which saddens me. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can’t do while I’m still on this earth.
Roughly five years ago, I reached the point where I no longer believed I was toxic simply for existing. I had reached neutral, which was a huge milestone for me. I didn’t think I was a net positive either, but that wasn’t the goal. It was just to not feel like a burden on the earth, and I remember when I first started feeling that way, it was so bizarre. Yes, it was a liberating feeling, but it also felt like I was missing a limb.
In the absolute depths of my despair, I used to burn myself with cigarette butts and cut myself with a knife. Mostly shallow cuts, just to feel, but I would cut ‘F’ and ‘U’ in my belly for two reasons. One is obvious, and the second is that they stood for fat and ugly. I hated myself with a passion that knew no boundaries, and the absence of that hatred is still not something I’m used to yet.
I still have some habits that sprung from that time that I haven’t gotten rid of yet. One is not looking in the mirror. I used to think I was the ugliest person in the world, and I became quite adept at getting ready while not looking in a mirror. I still don’t like the way I look, though I can acknowledge that I know others may find me attractive, and I still don’t like looking in the mirror. The one thing I haven’t shed yet is my feeling that I’m grotesquely fat. It’s hard because I’ve dealt with a variety of eating disorders all my life, ranging from overeating to bulimia to anorexia. I have body dysmorphia issues, and while it’s better now, I still hate the way my body looks. I would like to lose weight, and I’ll fully admit it’s for purely vanity reasons. I cringe when I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror. I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s true.
I’m a work in progress. I’m afraid I’m losing my creativity as my depression is alleviated, and I’m not sure that’s a trade off I’m willing to make.
*In class. We do it every class. I never meditate at home.