Friday morning, I snoozed until I had only twenty-two minutes in which to make myself appear presentable for work before walking to catch the bus. Well, twenty-five minutes, if I carried my heels and sprinted.
I woke up fat. The night before, I had mindlessly eaten my way through a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels and fallen asleep detailing the number of ways I had neglected to work them off. Now, surely, nothing would feel comfortable. Nothing would fit, everything would squeeze, pinch, suffocate, serve as a persistent reminder of my uncontrollable, ever-increasing, unstoppable weight.
I pictured the masticated mixture of half-digested chocolate and pretzels crumbs spreading thickly over the surface of my body, like cream cheese on a bagel, to settle as an extra layer of fat, making me bigger, making my bra strain and my waistband struggle. Making my legs jiggle and my arms soften.
I crawled out of bed toward the mirror and cringed at my reflection. Brazenly ringing in the imminent arrival of my period, a few deeply-rooted zits had apparently used the night to fight their way to the surface of my skin, making the right side of my face an angry, crater-sprinkled mess.
And the hair… I looked at the clock again, only to confirm what I already knew. Showering was out of the question. I would have to, somehow, and quickly, mold the pillow-pressed nest into a shape that would be, at best, a little greasy. Hats, unfortunately, do not fall under the corporate umbrella of appropriate professional attire. Neither do black, netted, face-shrouding, beekeeper veils.
Neither do giant sweatshirts or floor-length cotton skirts, for that matter. Or sleeping bag pullovers a la Lena Dunham.
I wanted nothing more than to hole up in the safety of my room, to wait out this wave of shame and anxiety under layers and layers of sheets, blankets and quilts. How could I POSSIBLY go spend nine hours like this in an office building, where PEOPLE were? All day?
How could anyone stand to look at me?
I considered calling in sick. But what reason would I give?
“Hi Heather, sorry I can’t make it in…
… my insecurities are flaring up today.”
… I binged last night.”
… my bra feels uncomfortable.”
… I’m too ugly to work.”
All legit, I think.
Anyway, I missed the first bus but, head cast down all the while, I managed to drag myself out of the apartment to catch the next one. And from the moment I sat down in my cubicle (so exposed), I started the countdown. Eight hours and fifty-six minutes till I could get the hell out of there, away from the gazes and the men and the skinny women, till I could hide.
I spent the day battling with this crippling, all-consuming desire to hide myself. Several times I fought back the impulse to literally duck behind desks, to shout at anyone who happened to glance in my direction: DON’T LOOK AT ME!!! The longer I was away from a mirror, the more intense became my paranoia, the increasingly distorted delusion that my face was unfit to be seen, so I would run back and forth to the restroom to reapply makeup in vain effort to camouflage my acne. When a coworker would walk by or near me, I would cover my face with my hands as though to conceal my nonexistent jawline and pudgy double chin, which were both on full display thanks to the necessity of having to put my hair up in a short, limp ponytail.
I kept a running dialogue in my head that voiced what I perceived, with the utmost certainty, to be their thoughts (they being others, the people who looked, the people who judged):
Wow she looks like shit today.
What happened to HER?
Geez, you think she could at least TRY.
Ugh, that’s who we have greeting clients?
Unable to channel my anxiety elsewhere, I began to fall into an old habit: I plucked out my eyebrow hairs with my fingernails, one by one, each small sting bringing a welcome – albeit brief – sensation of relief. But, as I’ve learned time and again, this habit only serves to make things worse. As my eyebrows slowly diminished, so did the remnants of my already dwindling supply of self-esteem.
I don’t know how I got anything done that day.
At some point, as I was well aware, reality had morphed into delusion, the delusion that somehow, my paralyzing feelings of fatness, of ugliness, of being too full, were as blatantly visible to others as they would have been had I written them out in large, stenciled letters and carried them around on a sandwich board. But knowing that didn’t make the delusion any less powerful.
I’m still not entirely sure what triggered my feelings on Friday. I do know it was more than just the mild breakout, or the uncooperative hair. It was more than the chocolate-covered pretzels. It was something deeper, maybe my body crying out for compassion, for acceptance. Maybe it was a manifestation of loneliness or fear of failure, self-doubt or uncertainty as to the future. The creation of such a strong, painful delusion was probably my body’s way of letting me know that something is wrong, some feeling or emotion is not being fully acknowledged, felt or taken care of. I know I need to find out what that is, and to let myself feel it fully. But how? If I ever possessed the ability to name and experience my emotions in a real, healthy way, I have lost it…
I’ll end with a quote that seems appropriate, something insightful that I came across in a Jodi Picoult novel (yes, I was surprised too… don’t judge!). It relates most specifically to what I experienced, through picking at my eyebrows, as a physical, identifiable pain, which provided a welcome distraction from my larger, more difficult and ambiguous feelings.
(For some context, here Lacy is getting ready to go to her son’s murder trial. He shot like ten students at school, so obviously she’s dealing with some heavy shit).
“By the end of the day her shoes would rub blisters on her feet, and Lacy thought maybe this was a good thing; maybe she could concentrate instead on a pain that made perfect sense.”