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Who Needs a Therapist When (Pt. 12)

It's not Dysmorphia, so what is it?

Image Courtesy of Sydney Sims CC


When I was very small, I had a recurring nightmare that I was being crushed by a boulder. Upon waking, rather than leaving the nightmare behind, I was visited instead by vivid, disturbing hallucinations: My body was shrinking. I would stare at my fingers, tapping them together as my hands became smaller, daintier, and near invisible. Yet, even with my eyes closed, the sensation was there—the shrinking, dissipating feeling as I feel myself swallowed, suffocated by my suddenly enormous bed. Panic would swell as I'd spend what felt like an eternity gripped in the certainty that I was shrinking down to nothing.

As an adult, I'd learn this was a subset of a fairly common disorder—known rather fittingly as Lilliputian hallucinations. Most children, like me, eventually grow out of whatever brain imbalances cause it, and it becomes simply a factor of childhood.

Yet, once puberty hit, I spent a lot of time longing for that particular hallucination to become reality.

It isn't that I was particularly overweight, or tall. I was just broad shouldered, flat-chested, and the sort of build that people called "big-boned." I'd been heavily athletic in my pre- and low-teens—a bendy, big-muscled gymnast, and that body type never really faded when I stopped working out for hours a day. Two decades later, I still have women stop and ask me what my bodybuilding secret is, when the truth is, simply that I still wear the muscles of my childhood.

In conservative, quiet Utah, I was exactly the wrong body type.

I've written about it before—this body that doesn't really feel like the body in my head. In my head, the me that does the things I do are small and dainty. It is the sort of body that men could pick up and throw, the sort of body that is all small curves and lithe grace. Sometime in puberty I sprouted from a sturdy, but whip-shaped child, to a lumbering, broad shouldered, bodybuilder type of shape. And my brain and my sense of my physical proportions just never caught up.

I hip check a lot of things. I buy a lot of the wrong clothes, imagining a me that is different than the one I am. I find myself startled to not be enveloped in hugs, but to be the enveloper.

I've been at odds with my body as long as adult-me can really remember. But it isn't the sort of body changes that dieting, working out, or anything short of extreme bone surgery could fix. There was no need to pick up anorexia or bulimia because no diet could stop my shoulders from having a 22-inch wingspan.

I started writing this blog almost a year ago when a friend invited me back to a clothing swap that she and many of my friends participated in. I declined, but they fought back. They argued that I could still come, that I could still have fun, even though there wasn't a single one of the attendees who were within any closeness to my size.

I still do not know how to make those friends understand that I don't think I'm fat. My BMI is well over the normal range, but so is my muscle mass. My vision of my body is pretty close to normal—not big enough to be noticeable, just big enough that it bothers me. Just big enough to turn off all the guys I liked in high school. Just big enough to be aware of it.

It isn't that I'm fat. It isn't even that I'm not really attractive, though I have as many nagging concerns there as any aging woman in western culture.

I just can't acclimate to the body I have. I can't make it fit the idea of me. So staring at it in a mirror, trying on clothes, watching others try on clothes that are shockingly too small for me—it makes me hate it. It makes me resent this body and the way it is wrong in ways that I can barely explain.

Maybe it is a form of Dysmorphia. Maybe the disconnect between the me that I see in my head and the me that exists is its own form of madness.

All I know is that I never want to sit for 45 minutes while friends grab boots, jeans, and sweaters with eagerness while I sit aside trying on the one shirt that does fit, but will look better on my bigger breasted friend anyway. I don't want to spend three hours while my friends try on clothes and claim bags worth of goods while I walk away with an empty tote bag.

I'm careful not to be envious of the way my friends fit their bodies. They have their own wars there, I'm sure. I just can't remain neutral about my body, or theirs, when I'm trapped with nothing to contemplate but that. I'm not ready for it.

Maybe I never will be.

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