I surprised myself with just how calm I was when my health worker had to get the bigger sized cuff to take my blood pressure. I didn’t blink when my size 14 jeans were uncomfortably snug after a turn in the dryer, even though the last time that happened, I had a fairly solid two-day nervous breakdown. I went shopping with my mother and bought not one, but two suits, and didn’t even cry once. It’s not like I thought all my body image woes were over, but I assumed that the catalyst for my next serious setback would be something obvious, predictable… catalyst-y.
But nope. It was merely this: catching my reflection in a mirrored surface in the middle of the deli section of a Whole Foods market on Friday night. It was the end of a long day. I was tired. I was wearing what is probably not the most flattering outfit I own. It was still unseasonably hot outside.* My feet were blistering even in my trusty Dansko clogs because I had done a lot of walking and a decent amount of sweating and wasn’t wearing proper socks. And I looked hot and tired and not particularly well dressed. Plus old. Plus fat.
And with the force of a storm swell breaking a dam wall, all of the awful terrible self-destructive things that the mean little voice in my head likes to say came pouring forth into my conscious mind, starting with the voice’s favorite term of self-assessment: What a fat piece of shit. The voice went on to berate me for ever thinking that I could be healthy and a size 16, for thinking that I could dress stylishly (or at least in a way that pleased me), for thinking that I could be attractive, for thinking I could quit dieting and still have friends, for thinking that I could have both food and love in my life, for thinking that I could be a professional, for thinking that I could be successful. How could I be any of those things, when what I really am is a terrible, awful, disgusting fat person?
It’s the voice of my particular personal brand of depressive episodes and it’s fucking insidious. I want to talk about it, but when I think about the effort it’s going to take to explain it all to my husband, I just feel overwhelmed with exhaustion. I want to ask for some extra attention and affection but when I open my mouth to speak, the voice warns me of the dire consequences that inevitably befall emotionally needy women. Besides, it says, he’ll just reject you so isn’t it better to sit quietly, being dignified and sad, than it is to let on how bad you feel?
For whatever reason, Sundays tend to be my breakdown days of choice, and yesterday I was right on time. I almost ruined a baseball outing to the Cubs last home game with my inexplicable tears (actual, I could explain them if I had the energy and the courage, but lacking both of those things is all part of the fun of the depression merry-go-round), but instead gambled by self-medicating with Old Style and, this time, I won. At least until I went to bed and, despite being well-dosed with Advil PM**, found myself unable to fall asleep until close to three in the morning.
I feel a little better today. I’m crazy tired and I chipped one of my front teeth at work today*** and I’m still waiting for an employer who offered me a job to come through with the salary info so I can make a decision****, but I went to the dentist for an emergency tooth filing and took the rest of the day off, and bought two sweaters at Old Navy*****. Then I came home and, after removing half my work clothes, called and spoke to the potential employer and engaged in salary negotiations while not wearing any pants, which made me feel kind of badass because I’ve never not just accepted whatever a potential employer wanted to pay me, much less in a state of pantslessness. And I’ve got therapy tomorrow and I start a yoga class on Wednesday, so there are positive, helpful events in my immediate future. And even though it’s going to be a nasty 80 degrees tomorrow, Wednesday is going to be 70, and highs will be in the 60s by the end of the week.
It’s as if my sleeplessness was symptomatic of the final fevered throws of an infection, and by giving the voice free reign over my mental state, I gave it enough space to burn itself out. The voice is still in there, yammering at me, but I don’t feel like I’m in thrall to it’s damaging brand of warped logic anymore. In fact, it sounds really stupid and shrill, and I’m able to drown it out by mentally yelling “POSITIVE SELF TALK! POSITIVE! SELF! TALK!” over it’s boring old litany.******
As a last ditch tactic, the voice is telling me to start dieting again. Actually, what it’s whispering is the seductive phrase, “Restrict. Restrict,” which was my particular favorite mantra during those times of dieting “success.” It’s telling me that Weight Watchers isn’t bad at all, and that this time I can really do it. I can lose weight and keep it off and have my picture featured in their dumb magazine, and that I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray is a perfectly reasonably and edible substance. And that, ultimately, is that insipid little voice’s downfall, because I may very well be crazy but I am definitely not stupid.
*I think I have some sort of bizarro seasonal affective disorder, in that I dread summer, and get seriously depressed (like depressed depressed, not just kind of bummed out depressed) when the blessed onset of fall is interrupted by a bullshit week and a half of 90 degree days. Like now. God dammit.
**My cokehead college friends used to take this stuff to put themselves to sleep after a particularly enthusiastic binge so you’d think it would put me to sleep after a day of drinking beer in the sun.
***On nothing. I was looking for a highlighter and I felt this AWFUL crunching feeling and a little V out of the middle of my left front tooth just pulverized in my mouth in a truly nightmarish explosion of grit at which point I nearly passed out because I am a champion vasovagaller.
****Which is a whole other issue, because even though it’s kind of awesome to get a job offer as the result of my first and only post-graduate job interview, I don’t know that I actually want it. I only applied because it’s related to my area of interest and concentration, and I only went to the interview because it seemed like good practice. And now look what I’ve done.
*****I hate being so shallow that buying two sweaters would actually improve my mood, but there you go.
******I suppose I’ll really be on the road to mental health at every size when I drown out with voice with actual positive self talk, but you know, baby steps. etc.