Body Image Blues (ED TW- if youre trying to recover from an ED, please go carefully.)

Ok, I know I’m broaching a very controversial topic here, and I don’t do it to offend, but I am starting to wonder when the backlash against skinny people will tip over into mandatory weight checks. I feel like I don’t have the right to be the size I am a lot of the time. It’s getting to the point where I have panic attacks in bikinis and want to wear baggy clothes all the time. I guess this is the unintended consequence of the body positive movement- why can’t every body shape be ok? I guess it’s not cool to be skinny any more, and I feel guilty that I can’t put weight on. Jeans don’t fit and I feel like I walk into most shops and I’m immediately discriminated against for having a size 28 back. It’s upsetting and panic-inducing. It would be great to have a range of clothes to buy that genuinely cover all sizes, not just the sizes retailers think are ok. Body image issues come in all shapes and sizes, and I have them too.

Before some people out there tell me to stop whinging and get a grip, let me tell you that it has been difficult to buy clothes that fit well since being a teenager. Bras used to upset me because none of them fit round the back, and I thought that was because my boobs were too little, inducing a complex that’s lasted to this day and not helped by my ex. Shorts terrify my because my scars are on show- faded though they are, they can be seen on closer inspection. I hate dresses and skirts but like their colours and shapes- at one point, I bought loads I could never wear because of my terror of someone slipping a hand up them.

I have had problems being judged before because of how I look. In ballet school, I was called up twice before the head of contemporary dance and asked whether I had a problem. I eat well, and at that time I was permanently hungry as a side effect of my training. Of course, the weight loss that followed was seen as the start of anorexia or bulimia. I have never felt so ashamed of my size as I did then.

I used to like being slender and healthy, but after these experiences it feels like a crime to be the size I am. I feel like I’ve been shamed because of my weight and because I work out, dance, do Pilates and yoga and Zumba. I feel like people look at me when I go to the gym and think that I’m probably going to go home and throw all my food up, which I’m not.

I wonder if this is partly the paranoia that comes with PTSD or whether it’s society. On the one hand, I’m judged for my body and objectified. On the other, I’m praised and told I have no right to complain.

It’s an upsetting, crazy-making vicious circle.

Does anyone have any advice? I’m going to talk to Dr K about it, and hope that I can finally accept my body without upset or shame.

Therapy is not for the faint hearted- part two. TW- stuff gets intense.

Last week, I went into therapy with my head packed full of thoughts again, singing, buzzing, my heart pounding and my nerves zinging. I let Dr K know I felt weird the minute I got in- before I’d entered her office, I had been flittery-minded and really cheerful, but during the wait to come in my head had started to play games with me again. Dr K immediately saw that there was something wrong and I let her know that my head was doing that panicky thing, where I can’t focus and the panic forces my heart to thunder in my chest.

She let me know that I was safe, and asked whether I would like to talk about what was wrong.

I explained that the mania, I think, stops me really taking in what happened and that I’m frightened that it isn’t processing properly. I explained that I thought there was more that I wanted to talk about from last week, but also that I was feeling so jittery and on edge that I was having a hard time concentrating.

We spent a little time concentrating on calming me down. Dr K helped me visualise my thoughts, swirling as if in a hurricane, and asked me to immobilise it. I pictured a freezing spell from Harry Potter (I love to read, and Potter novels helped shape who I am. I idolised Hermione Granger!) and trapped my thoughts still, so I could organise them into a timeline. Dr K seemed pleased by my quick thinking, and happy that I had managed to control the raging whirlwind in my mind.

She asked me if I would like to try something new today, once my raging panic and my hideous anxiety were manageable enough for me to concentrate. Dr K had said a while ago that she thought it might be beneficial if we tried EMDR, to try and put the shadowy fiends in my head to rest. I’ve read up on EMDR before, trying to understand what I would be in store for, and have found the idea to be a good thing- who doesn’t want to lay these howling, screaming demons low?

I agreed. We moved our chairs to face each other so that I was dead opposite her. Dr K explained what would happen. She said that she would use her fingers to set a steady pace, moving them side to side so that I could follow them, and let me know that whatever I experienced there with her, I would still be safe, and to just let the images or memories come.

I let her know it was ok, and that I was hoping that my torrent of thoughts would calm down afterwards. I wanted the acute anxiety I was feeling to go, and for the reason behind it to be confronted and laid to rest.

Dr K started to trace her fingers through the air, and I found myself falling back into dissociation, watching the fingers in front of me move through the air with solid repetition. I found myself suddenly seeing flashes of things. A shaft of sunlight across my face, a hollow feeling in my gut, a leaden weight in my arms. A feeling suddenly happened on me- suffocation, my face pushed into a pillow, my lungs straining for air…

And then, boom.

Flashback.

(Here’s where the trigger warning comes in. This happened to me and I had no idea it was wrong, because a sociopath convinced me it was normal.)

I was in my ex’s university halls of residence. It was sunny- his grandparents had helped us move all his stuff in and had left us alone to unpack. I was naked, lying on his unmade bed on a heap of clothes or something. There was a shaft of sunlight falling down onto my face, and I felt leaden. I felt dead. I felt like I was being devoured.

I heard myself narrating what was happening to Dr K, and somehow I was aware of her being there too. I stared at the wall opposite me, seeing things that didn’t make sense. I was trapped between two worlds, helpless to escape but able to explain in a detached way what was happening to me.

The sunlight was really uncomfortable, quite hot. I was leaden. My legs were just immobile. My head was as far out of the room as it could be, detached from what was happening below my waist, detached from the man that was holding my wrists to the bed. I wanted to fly out of the window into the sunlight, fly above my body. I was terrified that someone would knock on the door, but I also really wanted them to. That way, the man would stop and suddenly become my boyfriend again-

His face was a blank nothing. It was a face that was basically devoid of emotion, a face with an agenda. That agenda was not love. That agenda was not pleasure. He had set out to devour me, and that’s what he was doing. I was lying there being eaten alive by something that was supposed to be my boyfriend but had turned into a demon when my clothes had come off.

Suddenly I was on my stomach, kneeling on the floor, my head forced down into the pillow and a hand on the back of my neck. My body suddenly burned. It was on fire. My stomach was cramping and I wanted to scream to stop it all, but my throat felt funny. It didn’t work any more. My tongue was forming words in a dry mouth that would never be spoken. I was gasping for breath, my chest felt like there was a hole in it, and I realised I was without any options.

I started to ask to get out of the room. I was not having sex for the first time with my boyfriend- his body was there but he was not, and he was some sort of soulless shell with defilement as his aim. I was panicking, I didn’t want to be there any more- and Dr K was suddenly talking to me, reassuring me, explaining that I was safe and I was ok, and that all I needed to to was try and think of some way to get out and I would.

I started sobbing: J burst in through the door. He pulled my ex off me, wrapping me in a blanket and scooping me up into his arms. He told my ex that he should never lay hands on me like that again, and I saw in the doorway there my parents and sister. R appeared, looking just as she had done when I was 18, and she had an icicle in her hand. This icicle meant business- it was there to go straight through my ex, to gore him in what passed for a heart.

I let them take me away, persuading R not to stab him, because I wanted to lock the door and leave him in there to starve and die and blow into dust. I was handed the key, and I asked J to melt it into a blob for me, so that I would never have to worry about that bastard getting free again.

Dr K slowly brought me back into the room, helping me remember who I was, what age I was, where I was. I was shaken. I had remembered the first time my ex and I slept together before, but I’d not really made the link between how I felt and my assumption that that’s how sex was. I have said before that I was shocked to discover that sex didn’t hurt, that it was how they said it was supposed to be in film, but now I truly understood why. I had been raped that day.

Dr K and I discussed how horrible it was to have my ex change the way he did in front of me. That face that usually smiled when he saw me had been devoid of any feelings and had become this soulless, evil-looking thing. He didn’t look human. He looked like some sort of nightmare figure, something pretending to be the man I cared about that had suddenly revealed itself to be terrifying- a true monster. No wonder I’ve had nightmares of being devoured by an evil, giant male creature, taking my internal organs for its food and devouring them all into some hollow, cavernous mouth. No wonder I drew the he voice with this giant, sucking maw: that’s what I saw that day in the man who was supposed to love me.

I understand now that he was the evil one. He used my trust and dropped the sociopath’s easygoing, seductive, charming mask and played on my innermost fears. He ate me alive and spat out my bones, wearing the real face inside- the sociopath face, the face that never gets revealed because it literally gives people nightmares. He let the Church tell me I was evil for wanting sex and used that against me in so many ways. He hurt me so badly that day, I’m surprised I didn’t run from the room naked as I was and screaming. I’m pretty sure I bled.

Dr K and I probably have more things to work on using EMDR. It’s not for someone who doesn’t have something they can cling to in order to pull them out of a flashback. I have J and my family and R, and they pulled me out and helped me slam the monster in a room to die. I told him in my memory I wanted him to die. I wanted him to be gone forever and never return.

I think that I’m finding the connections between things that I previously split apart, things that I pushed into separate corners of my mind because it was all too much to deal with. Now I have started to make the connections, I’m seeing things that I wasn’t safe enough to be able to see before.

What I learned from that EMDR session is that my ex probably dropped his mask that day on purpose and let me see the scavenger within, the thing that hungered to split me in two, raid my body for my bones and drink down my life. I saw a real monster in that room. I saw a sociopath unmasked, without pretences or airs and graces, without the lies and the charisma and the front. I saw the truth, and it terrified me. However…

He has not won and I was able to beat him quite easily. I added into the memory of that horrible afternoon something that will always help me remember that I got away, I left him, I am in control now and there are some wonderful people here to help me. I will never forget the gratitude of being rescued. I know logically that they never entered that room, but I see that wonderful rescue party now as if they really did… and, in a sense, they were there. Had they all known that little eighteen-year-old me was being completely torn apart in that room, they would have been there. J has wrapped me in his arms to comfort me- it makes sense that he would wrap me in a blanket. My parents, tough though my relationship with my mother can sometimes be, have never let me down and have always stood up for me. My sister has never left my side and pines for me if I’m away. R will never leave me- she’s essentially another sister.

I am so amazed by the power of the EMDR session we did. It found a dark secret, let it out into the light, and I can now see it without the terror being quite so present. It is, thank the gods, nothing more than a bad memory now.

A bad memory with a shaft of light running through it.

A shaft of light that pulled me out of the void.

Still worrying, still wondering.

I’m going to go to therapy tomorrow and talk to Dr K about the last post I wrote. I still feel like there’s more to talk about with it. I think it’s still bothering me because I feel like the mania is clouding my real feelings. I want to cry but I can’t. I want to get upset and hide in a ball but I can’t, because I get distracted and suddenly I’m laughing for no reason and feeling cheerful, but it isn’t real cheerfulness. It’s some sort of bubbled effervescent fizz, tasty but short-lived, and there’s the speeded-up-ness and the irritation to contend with. I get worried when I’m like this because it’s dangerous. If something catastrophic was to happen I would be energetic and capable enough to do something drastic. I don’t want to not be happy, I just want to not be this frenetically speeded-up.

The thing that’s been bothering me today, apart from my mania and the thing I wrote about last time, is my scars. I know that compared to others, they are not big. I know that the ones on my legs and hips are pretty small compared to some. The problem is, the UK has been experiencing a lot of warm weather recently and I’ve been peeling off my customary, long-sleeved layers. I am seeing more of my scars, and I still can’t like or accept them. I know that J calls them my battle scars, that Dr K says that they’re not big or visible, and that scars are good things in some cultures. I want to believe that they are acceptable and that I am not this shredded mess. The scars on my hips actually disgust me still. I hate them.

J has never criticised my scars. He has never criticised anything about my body. He is always lovely and sweet about me, and he would never make me feel uncomfortable- so why am I making myself feel this way?

I’ll start again on the vitamin E oil again, and I am going to talk to Dr K about these feelings too. My mum might have hit the nail on the head- she said the reason I might feel so bad about my scars is because I have a lot of horrible memories that surface whenever I see them. The ones on my arm remind me of that time I wrote about here: https://battybeth108.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/bad-day/ That day, I wound up in A & E because of my self harm. The ones on my hips remind me of the early days of my depression, of the later days just before I met J, and the later days than that just before I went into hospital. The faint ones left on my calves remind me of being thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. I hate the fact that each set of scars throws my mind back in time to when I was at my worst. I hate how they look and what they make me feel.

If anyone has any suggestions about how to help myself come to terms with what I’ve done to my skin, and maybe some help as to trying to reduce the appearance of my scars, it would be welcome. I feel so guilty and upset when I think of them- and then, worse still, I get distracted all over again and when I next think of them, I haven’t dealt with what I’m feeling so I go back into those feelings again.

Apologies if some of this makes no sense, but I’ve taken over an hour to write this because I’m just so distractible and my head is everywhere. This is what I hate about mania- can’t concentrate for five minutes solid.

Therapy is not for the faint hearted.

EDIT: PTSD has screwed up my timelines. I was fifteen, not fourteen, when this all happened- still, I was a child.

I have held off writing about this because I have not wanted to. It’s too much. It validates some of the weird almost-phobias I have about certain things and the anxiety that comes with them.

MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING. I’m going to talk about some really upsetting stuff. I was FOURTEEN when it happened and I’m still struggling to really process it without dissociating and feeling weird.

Ok, on with this.

I’ve been neglecting my WordPress account as of late. I have been overwhelmingly happy. That sounds good, but I’m actually realising that I’m hypomanic. It’s the first time I’ve caught the feeling so early, the first time I’ve realised that I’m starting on the rollercoaster of mania again. I am praying that I don’t get too far ahead with it and that it doesn’t make me ill again. The crashes are almost more than I can bear. J spotted my mania for what it was, and actually, Dr K picked up on it, asking me if I felt speeded-up when I was in therapy on Thursday. She was right- I felt like my head was buzzing and the thoughts were just zooming round, three thoughts a nanosecond. She encouraged me to take some deep breaths, massage my temples, try and breathe through the rattling, zinging thoughts bouncing in my skull.

I kept thinking that there was something I wanted to tell her. I was trying to pin a thought down to tell her about, but the overlying detritus in my skull kept distracting me. I’m horribly distractible at the minute- it’s awful, I feel fragmented. Happy, loud, joyful, but all over the place.

We kept talking. I felt irritated with myself, annoyed that Dr K must think I was wasting time. We started talking about the Church again, that I might be feeling manic because it’s just been Easter and I used to get so manic at Easter because of Spring Harvest, the Christian event I used to go to. I was talking about how the Church often made me feel dirty, guilty, wrong, for enjoying sex or thinking about it even, but then something stormed into my mind and I was swamped by it.

Here was that elusive thought I had been chasing. Here was that thing that had been evading my grasp in the darkest corners of my psyche- a shameful memory that I’d pushed away every time I’d thought of it. I suddenly remembered- and I told Dr K about something that happened when I was newly in that six-year relationship with my ex.

I’m having problems writing this now. I am actually shying away from it again, shying away from the awkwardness, the upset, the hurt and the pain of a fourteen-year-old girl. I’m trying to quell my anxiety and tell it that I was not to blame, that I was fourteen and I was innocent. Dr K and I talked about that, my innocence. She called me a lamb to the slaughter. She was right.

I was adventurous with my ex, at fourteen. I was in love and full of hormones and trying to control them, because the Church told me I was a sinner if I didn’t stay totally pure… problem was, my ex was good at flattering his way through my defences. I succumbed gladly, letting him in, and I would deal with the guilt later. I didn’t want the Church or my parents to find out that I was enjoying getting close to my new boyfriend. I wanted to enjoy our teenage make-out sessions, I didn’t want to let the guilt swallow me or be banned from seeing him.

That time, we were round at his grandparents’ house. He had been sent to live there at the age of eleven, ostensibly to attend the nearby secondary school, but I remember him telling me that he had hit his sister when he was younger. I suspect more than hitting happened to that poor girl, but I will never know. At any rate, he treated his grandparents as second parents, and they idolised him, particularly his grandfather. D was a tall, stout man, loud and cheerful, often ready with a glass of wine for me and my ex and a home-made dinner on the table. His wife was sweet and kind, quite quiet, and an excellent cook with a nice smile. I took to them pretty quickly.

I’d been to my ex’s grandparents’ house before, but this time when the two of us went off upstairs, my ex left the door open a bit. I was confused. When I went to shut the door, he explained that he needed to leave it like that so he could hear if his grandfather came upstairs. I was nervous and uncomfortable, but my ex soon stopped those feelings with well-placed seduction, and soon, I wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. He had most of his still on.

I didn’t hear anything to start with, I was too distracted, but there was a squeak of floorboards and I noticed that my ex’s grandad, D, was walking away from the door down the hall towards the room next door. I jerked upright and asked my ex if he had seen us. He told me that he was sure he hadn’t seen anything, and tried to get me to resume what we’d just been doing. I still felt uncomfortable and weird and asked him if I should put some clothes on. He still said it was fine and that I should get back to what we were doing. I slipped into the bedcovers, pulling them up above my breasts, and asked him if D could hear us. My ex said no, he couldn’t, he was on the computer in the other room and would be there for a long time. Eventually he persuaded me to get back to what we were doing before, but I now jumped at every squeaky floorboard and didn’t feel comfortable in the slightest.

Dr K asked whether I wondered whether the two had talked together about this, and I explained that yes, they had. My ex had casually told me over the phone the very next night that his grandad had seen us together and next time I went there to visit, we were to keep the door shut and he would knock if he wanted us.

I had never felt quite as ashamed of myself as that moment. His grandfather had seen me naked, in the throes of passion. He’d seen me giving myself to someone I thought I could trust. In that moment, I was completely humiliated.

That’s not the worst of it by far.

After that incident, the door was kept shut sometimes, but other times it ‘somehow’ crept open again. I often bumped into D when returning from the bathroom. The hugs D would give me got longer, and he had added a kiss on the cheek to his greeting to me. I was often the subject of discussion at the dinner table- or maybe, should I say, my anatomy was the subject of discussion- my ‘nice legs’, the top that showed too much cleavage and resulted in D fanning himself with a large hand. I felt permanently uncomfortable at that house, always watched, always observed and commented on. My ex and D would banter back and forth over the table, D sometimes slipping me into conversation in a really inappropriate way, usually under the guise of congratulating my ex that he was going out with me. D’s wife and I would sit and laugh, or at least, we’d pretend to. That woman was as much under the thumb as I was, and I feel awful that she’s still there.

Dr K then voiced the awful link that I’d been trying to deny.

She wondered aloud whether my ex and his grandfather had set me up between them.

All of a sudden, the feelings I was flooded with in Dr K’s office were the feelings of a hurt, scared fourteen-year-old. I sniffed, child-like all of a sudden, and I said, “But that’s not fair…”

I cried like a child then. My bottom lip wobbled as it hasn’t done since I was about that age. Dr K gently explained that if this was true, I was being groomed, at that age, to take whatever my ex wanted to dish out on me next. I was certain of it, I explained back to her- why the hell would you leave a door open if you wanted to mess about?! Why was D in the room next door for so long when there was no computer up there?! Why was I always the butt of the jokes, the object for admiration, the target of the most awful shame I’d ever had then? My hurt, fourteen-year-old self convinced it was her who was the dirty one, that it was her who should have been better, purer, that she should have said no to sex. She stopped wearing skirts and dresses because of the boy she was dating sliding his hands under them at every opportunity, in the wrong places, in front of his fucking grandfather at the dinner table…

Dr K let me sob for at least fifteen minutes, talking to me as I grieved for a piece of my past that should not have been that way. I was fourteen. Fourteen-year-olds should not be displayed like a piece of meat as a favour to some perverted old man. I feel disgusted even now, thinking about D, and I still look out for him in the supermarket, in the street, driving in his car…

Dr K was amazing whilst I sat and let it sink in that truly, it was NOT my fault that I ended up so badly abused whilst with my ex- he was only copying what he’d seen his father and grandfather do. Dr K thinks the whole family is riddled with abuse and pain, and he was passing on what was normal- although, he saw the whole episode mentioned above as a joke, so Dr K agrees with me that he KNEW it was bad and awful, what he did, but my ex did it anyway because that’s who he is.

I thought about the messed up, mixed up kid I was then and let her know (that part of me that is her, who’s hidden this memory’s awful consequences deep inside her) that I didn’t blame her or think she was bad. I thought the Church was bad, that D and my ex were awful, that Dr K thought I was ‘an innocent flower’. Someone described like that could never be wicked or bad, or deserve what they got. I managed to calm down slowly, realise where I was again, let Dr K ground me and help me to remember where I was and what was happening today and now.

I am shocked that this happened to me. I know that this memory is completely true, because I kept shoving it down into the darkness in my head whenever it came bouncing out again. I need only see a certain front door or see a certain car and I’m back there again, on that sunny day where he and his pervert of a grandfather robbed me of my dignity.

I was aware that therapy would not be easy, but I never knew that it would be this tough.

I hope that I can, one day, tell this to my parents, but I doubt it. I will have to put some other spin on it to make it more palatable for them, because they’re still Christians and I broke every fucking purity law in the book when that happened to me. I know that part of them would be horrified for me, but I wonder whether part of them will be horrified with me for doing what I did. I hope not.

I’ve hinted to J that I remembered a bad thing, but we haven’t had time to chat tonight- he’s had a bad day and needs to rest. That’s ok. When he can be strong enough again, when he feels ok, I’ll tell him. That will probably be tomorrow. If I can’t tell him directly, I will send him this post to let him know that although this happened to me, it can’t affect us. I refuse to let two scumbags even impact in any way the amazing thing I have with J.

I cling to the fact that he has seen me at my worst, that he was one of the first people I confessed the first rape to, the person I rang at three in the morning in fear for my life and the person who quelled a panic attack in fifteen minutes flat, fought my voices and won, and loves me for the person I am under all my issues.