Tag Archives: Body dysmorphic disorder

Mortification Station

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Several months ago, while surfing the ‘Flix, I came across a documentary of adults reading their childhood journals in front of a crowd.  Mortified Nation was recordings of moments of live shows that go on around the country in which people get up and bare their humiliating young selves with the world and it is, in a word, BRILLIANT. Soon I found out that there was a tv series prior to the documentary that features celebrities going through the shoe boxes of notes and pictures of their past. I hadn’t thought about it very much over the last few months, but last night I got the opportunity to take a quick road trip with a dear friend and it came up in conversation. In telling her about it, I remembered how much I loved it and we looked to see if there is a podcast. People, THERE IS A PODCAST! Currently there are only 4 episodes, but the last was posted 4 days ago, so more are coming.

We listened to all 4 episodes and paused after each one to talk about what each story brought up for us. First kisses, first lovers, cat fights with friends, wondering if it’s possible to shave your legs without needing stitches (yes,) and if boys will ever make sense (no.) Why are parents such buzzkills? Why exactly is it important to put the laundry away when you are just going to get it back out tomorrow? My friend and I laughed until we lost our breath and then got quiet thinking about our own journals and youth and mortifying moments. We both have teenage sons, a couple of them the same age as some of the presenters were when they wrote their entries. Do our sons have these same kinds of thoughts and worries and experiences? Probably.  It’s probably that everyone has had similar experiences.  And that is the lesson: in telling our stories that we are sure makes us total freaks, we realize e we might be freaks, but we are all freaks! People see themselves in other people’s stories and suddenly we’re not alone.

I have heard that people read their stories in my words. I get emails and FB messages from readers I have never met who tell me bits of their stories and thank me for sharing mine. It helps me so much to hear their stories, too. We’re in this together, good bad and ugly, and there are always stories to tell. Regardless of how old we are, they can still be mortifying and must be shared. I mentioned in an earlier post that I am no longer teaching in a yoga studio, but I didn’t say why. I’m not going to get into detail here because I find it very personal and private, but it’s time I take the stage and talk about it.

About a year ago, I started feeling ill. I mean, REALLY ill. Body pain, problems with digestive tract, fatigue, weakness. At first, I wasn’t terribly concerned because I chalked it up to complications from a progressive condition I’ve had since I was 20. As time rolled on and the conditions worsened, I knew that something else was going on, something was wrong. Sure enough, I was right. I’m not going to discuss what is going on because I’m private. Besides, that’s not what this story is about anyway.

This issue has caused many changes in my life. I am unable to teach on a regular basis. I am on a laundry list of medications. I have chronic pain. I am in an embroiled battle over adequate health care. Because of what is going on inside my body and some of the medications I take to treat what is going on, my body doesn’t metabolize things normally, I gained a lot of weight in a short period of time. It’s not my fault that I have gained the weight (especially since keeping food down is often a challenge,) but as someone who has body dysmorphic disorder and has struggled with eating disorders off and on my entire life, the weight gain freaks me out so much more than what is actually going on with my organs. I know how petty that sounds. I know how vain and shallow that sounds.  I know and I wish I could change it, but it’s the truth and it’s how my brain works by default, so I have to actively take steps to remind myself that it is faulty thinking.  Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not so much, but recently I have come to terms with it. I don’t like the situation, but it isn’t forever and I didn’t cause it so there is no point in feeling guilt or shame about it.

Once I got to that point, things got really interesting. I started watching people as I interacted with them. It’s quite obvious that I have gained weight, but NOBODY mentions it. NO ONE. I catch them sneaking a quick glance at my body and then racing to meet my eyes. If they know that I’m dealing with a couple of health issues, they’ll keep saying, “You look SO GOOD” and other variations of that theme. I am not uncomfortable about it – well, that’s not true. I should say that I have learned to ignore my discomfort – but my friends and even my family are in utter agony trying to dodge the issue.

We are all mortified.

I want to say, “It’s OKAY! You can ask me about it,” but the few times I have actually done that, the person I am talking to tries like hell to pretend that they don’t know what I’m talking about (as they nervously shred their paper napkins to bits,) It’s not like I’ve ballooned to dangerous proportions (depending on the piece of clothing, I’m up one or two sizes,) but as a very short formerly very active yoga teacher, even one size is incredibly noticeable. I had started to think that this society is in some sick morphed game of “Hide and NEVER go seek” until I had the most extraordinary experience. I visited a friend I haven’t seen in almost a year. My friend and I are close and able to talk about everything with each other, even things that are challenging. That said, it’s not always easy and I had extreme anxiety about what response I would be met with. After the initial Hellos, good to see yous, let me take your coat period was over, out of the blue I felt a hand on my belly and heard, “Did you gain some weight?” Just like that. Within the first 30 minutes. Without shame or guilt or judgement, just BOOM. And in that moment I felt free because no one was mortified. I said that yes, I had gained weight and explained why and I was met with a huge hug and, “It doesn’t bother me at all, I just noticed and thought I’d say something. Have you heard this new album?” It was never mentioned again, but that short interaction made a difference.

I think one of the greatest human needs is being seen and heard. We desperately need to be acknowledged and be ANYTHING but invisible, even if we often wish we could disappear. To hear some form of Yes, I see you. You exist. You are here. You are seen. You are heard. Interestingly enough, I had found the right combination of foods and activities and medications and the correct times to administer all of those things for my body to work properly a couple of weeks before the visit and was already losing the weight. I was feeling better than I had in a long time, but I still had (and have) a long road ahead of me. I can dig it because I’ve faced the mortification and was greeted with acceptance and love. It made me really think about how I interact with others and vow to let people know that I see them and I hear them and I’m right there with them.

But I’m not letting anyone read my adolescent journals.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, You Are a Dirty F*ing Liar …

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…and other truths yoga taught me about my body dysmorphic disorder.

I was talking with a very good friend of mine today.  I haven’t known this person very long – maybe 18 months or so, but we got very close very quickly and I adore her.  Several months ago, she moved out of the country and we speak mostly via Facebook Chat now, but we’re in contact nearly every day.  While we were very close when I saw her in person several times a week, the distance between us has somehow opened the door for us to be really truthful with each other about all kinds of things.  Today we talked about the big one that we share: we both have Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  Now, okay, she might not classify her self with that, so I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I *do* have this disorder and have been diagnosed with it and have lived with it forever, so yeah, I can talk about myself. And her words and experiences sound an awful lot like mine, so you do the math.  Anyway, the interesting thing is that our stories are almost identical.  The tapes that play repeatedly in our heads are vile, evil, cruel, and vicious.  They say the same things : you’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re worthless, you’re a failure, you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough, etc. Word for word, same exact tape.  We could be the same person… except, check this out:

I’m short and curvy (meaning, I have hips and big breasts and curves,) and she is very tall and very thin.  Our stories and our tapes are the same, our experiences are the same, but our bodies could not be more different. How does that happen, you ask?  It’s easy: our tapes and our experiences and our mirrors are dirty fucking liars.

Before Yoga Sol opened in our permanent location, we sublet space in a belly dance studio.  The walls were covered with mirrors.  This makes sense for a dance studio, but was crippling for a yoga studio.  As a student, I was always distracted by what i looked like in certain poses.  Did my belly stick out in Vira II?  Did I look fat in Navasana?  Was I skinnier than at least one other person in the room?  Please note, this had NOTHING to do with alignment.  Occasionally mirror can be helpful for alignment (if you’re practicing by yourself or if your teacher is an idiot,) but that’s not what this was about. This was about vanity and competition and finding a thousand different ways to love and / or hate myself.  As a teacher, I noticed that I wasn’t alone in this.  I would teach a class and watch people catch sight of themselves only to then suck in their stomachs or to arch their backs seductively (and dangerously,) or to catch a glimpse of a person behind them doing a more advanced variation of an asana and then push themselves beyond where their body was ready to go leading to injury.

Clearly, I was thrilled to see no mirrors in the design plans for Yoga Sol’s forever home.

Now before those of you who know me go getting all up in arms about how I’m the perfect size or shape or how strong I am or any of that stuff, let me be very clear: I know this already.  I know intellectually that I am not fat nor am I unhealthy nor am I unattractive.  I know I’m stronger than your average person, I know I am healthier than I have ever been, I know, I know I know. This isn’t about that.  Not at all.  And this also isn’t a blog post about loving yourself as you are, regardless of weight or shape or size or health (although, I do think that those are very valid and important lessons to be learned.)  This post is about the lies we tell ourselves.  Well, okay, it’s about the lies I told (tell) myself and how yoga helped (helps) me see them for the dirty futher muckers that they are (contemplate that maybe they aren’t exactly true.)

The mirror lies.  Want proof?  Go to a store.  Try on a piece of clothing.  Not socks or a scarf, people.  Try on jeans. Ohhhhh yes, jeans.  Try them on in the fitting room and really study your reflection. Buy them.  Then come home and put them on and look at them in your mirror at home. Look the same?  I’ll bet not.  If they do, congratulate yourself for having the exact same mirror and exact same lighting conditions as the store. More than likely, however, it will look different. YOU will look different.  And, if I were a betting gal, I’d bet diamonds to dollars that these wretched lying mirrors will change the way you feel about yourself because suddenly, you don’t look the same.

I ask you, what kind of creepy destructive bullshit is that?

Yoga can be like trying on jeans if you’re not careful.  You can have a great practice and feel exceptional and light and free and expressive and wonderful and powerful and glorious and radiant and like a rock star …. and then you look at the person next to you and realize that you look as though you ate the other half of that person for lunch and your hand is no where near the floor and what exactly do you mean that not everyone chokes to death on their mammaries in Salamba Sarvangasana?  Goddamn it! Suddenly now that radiant glorious exceptional light and expressive person is replaced with a troll who really doesn’t belong on the freaking mat and can’t we please just go out and hide under the covers already?  Guess what?  It might not look like a piece of shiny glass, but looking at other people in class is exactly the same as looking at mirrors and what have we learned about mirrors?  They are dirty fucking liars.

We ARE beautiful and light and expressive and exceptional and wonderful and powerful and glorious and radiant and rock stars and we DO belong on the mat (and in jeans and, apparently, in string bikinis,) but the mirrors are broken.  They are liars.  They are untrustworthy and misleading.  All of them — all of them, that is, except one.  Only one mirror tells the truth.  Only one mirror shows us the way things really and truly are and, here’s the kicker: this mirror is not one you see with your eyes.  Nope.  You can’t hang it on a wall or put it in your purse.  You won’t have 7 years of bad luck if you break it nor will tell you if someone is a vampire or not.  No, this mirror cannot be broken, cannot be sold or damaged, cannot be dirtied or stained or cracked.  The only  bad thing that can be done to it is that it can be ignored because this mirror, the one and only truthful honest dependable mirror there is is the one that lives inside of you.  It is the one that always shows your goodness, your worth, your loveliness, your inherent beauty and grace.  It is the one you see when you close your eyes and just move.  It is the one that tells you to stay in pigeon just a little longer, the one that says it’s okay to take a few more breaths in Savasana, the one that shines like a diamond when you breathe deeply and bend gently.  It is the one that says, “Right there, that feels perfect,” the one that says, “You are strong,” the one that says, “look at all the progress you have made!”  That mirror is the ONLY mirror that isn’t a dirty fucking liar.  That mirror doesn’t show shapes or sizes.  That mirror shows light and love and grace and worth.  That mirror shows the truth – and it is the only mirror you need.

I still hear the nasty tapes.  I probably always will.  It’s a disorder and not one that will likely ever go away, but I can learn to ignore them. I can learn to recognize that they, like mirrors, are not telling nor showing me the truth.  I can choose to look inside instead of at other mirrors and other people.  I can learn to let all the other mirrors break (at least in my mind,) and focus on the one inside.  I can breathe.  I can bend.  I can practice – and all things, even acceptance, is coming.

Namaste