Knowledge without power

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I work my way through people like a well-oiled machine. I know the pattern.

I get very close very quickly. And then it’s good for 6 months to a year. And then I very slowly, but unstoppably, start to lean on the self-destruct button. I put strain on relationships insidiously, but effectively. I find the weak point and apply constant pressure. And it always breaks.

I know myself. I know I do this. I know all the signs that it’s happening, but I still can’t stop.

It’s happening again. It’s happening now. And all I can do is to balance the books.

Clearing all outstanding debts. Buying every drink we said I’d pay for “next time”. Returning every kind gesture and favour. Making good on every promise. Winding up my affairs and evening things out.

It’s a sad process, but it’s the only thing which makes me feel less powerless. Because once I’ve broken the friendship, I can’t come back and settle the scores. I can only try to leave things as untouched as possible. As if I’d never been here. As if we’d never been friends at all.

I think I am unwell

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My symptoms:

- My internal body image no longer matches my outsides. I used to be fat, and although now I know I’m not, I can’t see the difference. Sometimes I can, but only by accident. I sit by the window in a coffee shop and write until it’s dark, then look up and catch sight of my reflection in a window. I momentarily don’t recognise the woman sitting next to me. And she doesn’t look fat to me. Not until I see her face. And then her body bloats, like a magic trick.

- I am obsessed with food and exercise. I run nearly every day, sometimes upwards of 10km a day. I fast two to three days a week. I am terrified of missing a run, even if I’m injured, because I imagine I will instantly become fat and sedentary again. Lapses on fast days are punished by cancelling the next feed day in order to keep my fast/feed ratio high. On feed days I sometimes just gorge on all the foods I crave on the fast days, compulsively, in secret, like I have no control.

- I blame all my shortcomings on my (now mostly imaginary) fat. I have fantasies of how much more I’ll achieve, how much more I’ll be respected, how much more I’ll be loved, once I’m thin. Mostly they are scenarios totally unrelated to my body. Just little scenes in which I succeed, in which I just happen not to be fat.

What’s making me ill

The beauty myth. The endless endless thin, tall women on every billboard, advert, magazine, book, television. I have no doubt these images are warping my idea of what looks right. I’m short and stocky. I’m never going to be tall and slim. Even if I starved myself to death, I am not going to look like them.

- The confusing and often contradictory pressures on women concerning food. Feed others. Restrict yourself. Stay thin. Treat yourself. Indulge. Diet.

- My own low self-esteem. I dislike myself all over – weight is a nice hook to hang the blame on.

Stay tuned for the “how I’m going to get better” sequel to this post.

The case for staying fugly

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CW: fatphobia, weight loss talk

As discussed previously, I have very poor body image. I believe myself to be fat and ugly (whether I am or not is actually irrelevant – and anyway I couldn’t tell you). That’s a very limiting and painful thing to believe about myself, because I associate values to those (almost arbitrary) outer characteristics. Fat and ugly = unworthy, undesirable, lazy, etc… Of course those things aren’t actually true, but I still feel them. So I’m trying to rid myself of that mindset. But first, I want to acknowledge that in many ways it’s served me well. So here it is, the case for staying fugly.

Fat Women Are My People

I have been brought up, nurtured, cuddled, listened to, cared for, loved and fed by fat women throughout my life. We “get” each other. We have an understanding. Eating the things these women fed me reminds me of their love when I can’t actually access support from them. Giving up the fat physically (I’ve lost a lot of weight over the last year) and mentally (this is more difficult) seems like a betrayal and a rejection of our identity and common ground. Fat women who see me lose weight will think that I don’t think being fat is okay and feel judged and abandoned. Fat women who meet me now, who’ve never known me fat, won’t know that I get it, and will assume that I won’t.

Fat as Protection from Sex

Sex is probably, if I’m honest, the main reason I don’t want to be fat anymore. I know that fat people do have sex, but I don’t see how to apply that knowledge to myself. I don’t know how to take myself seriously as a sexual fat person. Fat has always been my blanket, keeping other people outside, and me inside. I don’t have to think about what I want and how to ask for it, because I assume my body is saying no to everything from everyone. And when you assume that, you behave sexlessly. And that is a big NO to anyone who might otherwise be interested.

Fat for Social Cohesion

This is a big confession for a feminist – but I’ve always found men easier to get on with, at least initially. Maybe because my looks and attitude make it difficult for men (the gender I’m attracted to) to sexualise me, it makes for easy and genuine friendships. I’d say my peer group is pretty mixed nowadays, but female friendships are still kind of new and precious and frightening to me. And I worry constantly about not being good enough at them. I worry about competition. I imagine that fatness puts me out of the game – I’m not actively playing. I live in fear of being seen as a threat by women. I’ve often been accused of trying to “steal” people’s boyfriends (I never have), probably because of how close my friendships with men can be. It’s the worst feeling in the world to me, being suspected by a woman of being after her man. I go to great lengths to avoid it. I worry that should I stop being fat, some of my male friends might want to have sex with me, and I might want to as well, and I might lose them that way. And that my female friends who have boyfriends I’m also friends with might start seeing me as competition and stop trusting me.

Note: I know intellectually that most of this is stupid. But it’s how I feel.

Friends

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Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me have happened this year.

And yet even as I struggle to turn my inner dark goo into words so that I can pull it out of myself, I’m aware that I’m about as mentally well as I’ve ever been. Not happy exactly, but well.

I attribute this in large part to the army of brilliant, loving, supportive friends who came charging out the the woodwork to my rescue. I love and appreciate them so much my heart hurts a little to think about them.

And I’m having the realisation I have every time I am stunned by the people around me. They make my older and past friends look bad.

This year has shown me where my real friends are. And, sadly, where they aren’t. It’s good – that I can recognise notsogood friends for what they really are. I can meet their indifference with a healthy dose of “well fuck you then pal”. It’s difficult to admit that I overinvested in people and relationships that ultimately were never going to be what I built them up to be. Promoted people to “best friends” just because they were all I had at the time. My mistake, not their fault.

I currently don’t have any best friend. Nobody loves me best. I’ve not known anyone long enough. But most of my friends now are still much better friends than those I’ve called “best friend”.

It’s a bittersweet kind of mood.

Dysmorphia and grief

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Warning: I’m writing this at half past three in the morning. Things are going to be muddled. I intend to talk about body image and dysmorphia (which means there might be some internalized fatphobia in there) and perhaps also my friend who committed suicide (so TW for that too).

 

I went on a bit of a trip, saw lots of people in very little time, including my mum (that’s always a thought-provoking visit), and then came home and spent the festive period home alone. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit tangled.

I’ve got my next political battle all cued up and ready to go. My next crusade, as it were. I seem to always have one of those on the go. They’re usually feminism related, but one step removed from me. The last one was about sex workers’ rights. This coming one is about the inclusion of trans women in women-only spaces. I am cis and not a sex worker. These battles are not mine. Perhaps I shouldn’t take them on at all. But I do. Because I care, and because I can.

I care a lot about fat-acceptance and body positivity as parts of the feminist movement, but they’re too close to the bone for me to work in. Too raw, too real.

A weight loss advert came through my letterbox this weekend and I guess my thoughts about myself have been in a tailspin since then.

I bought a size 12 pair of jeans yesterday and they fit. I know this empirically to be the smallest I’ve ever been as an adult. I honestly can’t see it in the mirror. I look and I see the same thing as I did when I was two stone and 3 dress sizes bigger. I spoke about this to my mum when I was at her house. She has the same problem. We are invisible to ourselves. She also congratulated me on my weight loss and maintaining this year. It occurred to me that I am good at losing weight. Maintaining is much harder, but I’ve done okay at that too.

Losing weight is a sad thing to be good at.

I’m the slimmest I’ve ever been in adulthood and my hair has finally recovered from me chopping away at it with kitchen scissors last year. I have better clothes than I used to (although a lot of them are still too big/out of fashion/full of holes). Logically, this is probably the best I’ve ever looked. It must be. And yet…

I feel really disgusted at the way I look. I feel undesirable and that makes me feel very very sad.

I’ve had three conversations about societal beauty standards in the past couple of weeks. All with reasonably attractive male friends. All pretty interesting. All talked a lot of sense and if it didn’t feel such a personal topic I’d probably even agree with them, but I can’t. I feel like, as well meaning and bright and sensitive as they are, they don’t get it. They’re pretty romantically successful (each in his own way) and they’re men. Men get to make up for any shortfall in looks by being intelligent/funny/brilliant. Women only get points for those things once they’re already considered pretty. And I’m not. And I never will be.

The amount of effort I’d have to put in to look even ‘normal’ is unreal. Lose another 2 stone, learn how to dress, depilate, do make up, hair… And after all that I wouldn’t even look nice. I just wouldn’t look weird. I don’t have the resources to even crawl from a 2/10 to a 4. And even if I got there. A 4 doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Being alone so much the last few days has meant I’ve watched far more television than I usually do. Rewatched My Mad Fat Diary, which stirred up feelings about being unlovable because fat. And I’ve seen Gok’s Teens, which keeps stirring me up. I was a teen not so long ago. I still feel like one. I know what it’s like to be fat, bullied, weird. The poor, tortured kids on that programme, and Gok Wan’s compassion for them, make me want to cry. And reminded me of the letter that I wrote my friend, the one who took her own life a few weeks ago.

This summer we went to a festival together, and in a happy, weed induced haze she opened up to me and told me about how great it felt to have take her power back from an abusive ex girlfriend. I wrote her a letter in which I shared my story about surviving after being bent out of shape by an awful friend. It ended something like this (I don’t remember – they found the letter in a box safe under her bed when they were clearing her flat out but I didn’t want it back): “in the end though, we win.”

But she didn’t. The world was really awful her and she didn’t survive. I hadn’t cried for her in a few weeks. I put my headphones on and played the songs from her funeral at top volume and sat on the floor and fucking wept for her.

This year has been so full of big things, I feel despicable for even caring how I look. But for some reason right now I really do. And all my usual tactics for distracting myself are failing me. I lie in bed and look at my hands. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be touched by them.

I’m 21, I tell myself. Other people who are “unconventionally attractive” get laid. There’s time. There’ll be someone.

And then I see my face, or my legs, or belly. And I think, no, there won’t.

My own fairy godmother

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This follows straight on from the post about structure, so you should maybe read that first.

I feel the need for a nurturing, caring influence shaping my life for me to slot in easier. I used to confide in my mother a lot, but I’ve come to realise that that’s not a safe way to get that care.

I told her about painful personal disagreement I was having with a good friend, and in an uncontrollable and wild fit of motherly protectiveness, she sought out my friend, emotionally roughed her up and made things much worse. My mother loves me too much. She can’t be trusted not to intervene.

It’s hard not telling my mother about my depression. It’s very difficult to hide. I can’t tell her about the phone call, about the glue keeping me in bed. So she can’t help. I’ve got to help myself.

My living quarters reflect the state of my mental health. Untidy to the point of not having any room to stand, double bed half full of dirty clothes, bin overflowing with wrappers of panic bought food I don’t want my housemates to see me eat. Desk untidy and sticky with spilled drinks.

My university attendance is shocking. I never have enough clean clothes dry.

My eating is frantic and half thought through. Cupboards often bare.

Exercise sporadic, depending on availability of tracksuit bottoms and sports bra.

Never any dry towels.

My life would be much nicer and easier if I remedied these things. So here are some small things I’m going to attempt to try and be my own fairy godmother:

- empty the bins in my room

- put all dirty washing in the basket

- remove all the things from my bedroom that don’t need to be in there

- ditto about my bed

- clear and clean my desk

- select clothes to wear the night before and make sure they’re warm and dry

- do a proper food shop and plan meals a couple of days in advance

- dry trainers

Structure

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I usually do badly out of structurelessness. Most of my biggest depressions happen over the summer because I don’t have the structure of school to hold me together. But when I’m depressed, I fight the structures I have. Over the last two years I’ve gone from somebody who would never skive to doing so on a regular basis. Patting myself on the back for attending two thirds of the lectures and seminars I’m meant to in a day.

When I’m well I eat and exercise in a pretty healthy and regulated way. They keep each other in check. Running makes you want to eat well. Eating well makes you a better runner.

When I’m unhealthy the cycle reverses. I overeat so that I feel too full to run, and then because I didn’t run I sit in and eat some more.

Yesterday was an interesting mix. I managed to make myself run 5k and it felt great. Then I dropped by the chippy and bought more food than I needed, ate to the point of bloating and then watched television until I fell asleep. Eating to the point of discomfort is the only way I can justify spending as much time in my bed as I do.

Still Ill

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I should be in university right now. I woke up in time, but couldn’t bear to move. I was defeated before I’d even opened my eyes.

The bed was warm and the room was cold. I needed a shower. I should’ve showered last night, but I didn’t. Because after my run I just wanted to eat and then lie watching shit television, numb. I couldn’t bear consciousness.

I didn’t want to risk running into a housemate this morning, so I lay in wait until they were out. Then I got up, carefully avoiding any mirrors (I am ashamed, my emotional overeating is starting to show, and my skin is bad because I can’t stop picking at it) and stood in the shower for ten minutes. Then I got back into bed to keep warm. I should’ve been in university.

My sleep has been really bad. It’s hard to get at. It doesn’t come when I want and need it. It takes ages to fall asleep and when I do I often wake up at about 4 in the morning. But when I have it, it’s blissful oblivion. I’ve never enjoyed sleep so much as I do now. If I didn’t have anything else to do, and no guilt about not doing those things, I think I could sleep all day. My body clock has always had nocturnal tendencies and I’ve always fought them. I prefer to be diurnal, I really do. My body just pushes the other way. I hate waking up to find I’ve missed the morning. I like mornings. But I could probably miss most of them if I didn’t force myself out of bed. Especially in this weather. The Geordie winter is bitter.

I’m never sure whether I’m depressed or just lazy. I’m really not achieving much at the moment. I’m falling so far behind on my degree and at the moment I don’t even have the emotional energy to worry about it. Nor do I have the words to explain to lecturers why I’m not attending, why I’m not staying on top of coursework. They probably think I’m just lazy. And perhaps they’re right.

I’ve a phone call scheduled tomorrow from an organisation that provides talking therapies. They’re going to assess my situation and try to work out what I need.

This phone call was hard won. A dear friend did all the chasing up and made sure I did the parts he couldn’t do for me. If it weren’t for him, I almost definitely wouldn’t have got this far with my referral. But I’m so scared I’m not even sure I’ll manage to answer the phone. My main motivation for going through with it is to reward his friendship, not to help myself. So be it. Sometimes the only way you can do the right thing is to bribe yourself with the wrong reason.

The past is a different country

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From ages fourteen to sixteen, I only had one friend. Before that, I had no friends. And after that, things started to look up for me.

This isn’t a story I tell often, because I’ve not found a version of it which makes any sort of sense to me. It’s still completely baffling and I’m not sure what it says about me. And that’s not comfortable.

The one person I did tell relatively recently was my friend who committed suicide. Earlier this year (only a few months ago) I wrote the story and sent it to her in a letter. It felt good to put it into words, and even though it wasn’t the definitive version, it was a version, and she responded with love. After she died her girlfriend was looking through her flat and found the letter hidden in a little box under her bed – with a few other precious things. The person I felt came closest to understanding has gone. So I feel I have to tell it again, in the hope that somebody else might get it – differently. Perhaps even better.

My friend (best and only friend) was a man ten years older than me. He lived a long way away. We met in person once (in intense settings and pressures that bonded us together) and then he went back to where he lived. And we spoke online every day, usually for hours. It’s strange, but I hardly remember what about anymore. I’m quite far removed from my fourteen-year-old self. I don’t know what she liked. What I do know is that we liked each other a lot, shared a lot. Also, that the friendship was never equal. He was the adult, and I was the child. As such, he often reinforced me, tried to “help” me. My shaky self-esteem was built on his praise and encouragement. This went on for about a year. Then he moved closer to where I lived, got out of the relationship he’d been in when I’d met him, and into a new one. We spoke less, but saw each other more often. And that’s when it started to sour. People accused us of having an affair, and he never corrected them. His girlfriend thought I was trying to steal him away from her, and he let her. It broke my heart that he should let that happen to me. He threw me under the bus – poor daft girl throwing herself at the older man. He let people think that’s what it was. And they did. Eventually the friendship became so noxious for me that I chose to have no friends at all rather than to be friends with him. I felt like he forced my hand. Made the state of affairs so untenable that I had to get out. I never wanted to be lonely. But nor could I bear his girlfriend’s torments and accusations.

The friendship breakup really hurt me – more than any relationship breakup has since. But it was the right thing to do. My life moved on, I eventually all but forgot about it. Until five years later we spoke on Facebook.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve kept a blog all my life. He revealed that he’d read every post. Quoted things to me that I ouldn’t even remember writing. Linked me to the pages.

I took fright. I closed the blog.

And now I don’t know.

My mother thinks he groomed me, and got some sort of satisfaction from the idea that we were having an affair (although we weren’t). He’s married now, with two kids. My mother thinks perhaps he’s been keeping an eye on me to see if perhaps he would’ve been better off waiting for me.

But my mother simultaneously always thinks I’m in danger, and terribly attractive. She’s the only witness I have of the events of those years, but I didn’t tell her anywhere near everything, and she’s a very unreliable narrator.

The idea of myself at 14 being attractive and sexualisable is strange. I know that much younger children are groomed that way, so I know it happens. But it’s a very strange thought to have about myself. I was a child. And a very messed up one at that. I don’t see anything attractive about the person I was then (and not very much more now, except I’m more emotionally stable and have bigger breasts).

I don’t know. I might be rewriting the past to absolve myself. Perhaps his intentions were entirely pure. Perhaps I did behave like a threat to his girlfriend. I don’t know. I remember surprisingly little. I don’t trust my memories.

But I see ways in which it shaped me.

A huge proportion of my friends nowadays are men roughly ten years older than me. They are all much healthier friendships than what I had then, but I think I learned to be friends with men through him. I learned how to charm them and make them laugh. I learned how to impress them.

I’m friends with women now, and men of different ages, but those people, men ten years older than me, are still the people I have the easier connection to.

And the place that ease came from is unknown to me. And that frightens me.

Things I’ve done today rather than start on an assignment due in tomorrow

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Lay in bed until 9

Wrote long whingey journal entry

Called my mother

Lay under my desk feeling anxious and stupid

Gave my bedroom a massive clean

Realised I only had one duvet cover

Went shopping for a new duvet cover, also bought a lot of chocolate

Ate all the chocolate

Felt sick, lay down

Read comics until the sickness subsided

Panic wanked

Wrote a blog post

 

Yes, I hate me too.

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