Men are supposed to be manly, the clue is in the name. My sensibilities might be old fashioned as I even still believe in courting a lady, I am in my early thirties incase you wondered. I like to think of myself as a forward thinking guy with some old fashioned values (the good ones like manners, respect and trying to be honest). I’m a firm believer in the better in character a person is the more beautiful they are. A nice idea but we don’t live in a perfect world.
As a teenager through bullying and an academic year off school I weighed just under 23 stone. It was on a family holiday that my weight became a problem, my legs were struggling to support my body and walking was not only painful it was humiliating, my self esteem was shot. So, I ate and I ate and I ate. Food became my enemy and my trusted friend.
At the height of my weight gain my estranged mother would taunt me for my weight, she was a cruel drunk and I was her emotional punch bag. So, I ate and I ate and I ate. I would eat family dinners and replace them so nobody knew. I would gorge on junk because, because I felt empty. I was an overeater, I had no idea what it would lead to. I started to hate the prison my body had become, I was never a confident kid but this made me retreat into myself completely.
It’s like living with your own Mr Hyde, it lives inside you. It’s unpredictable, erratic and it destroys everything. The thought of having my picture taken would fill me with dread and fear, I would frantically calculate how I could get out of it or delete the photo. The person in the picture who everybody said was me I didn’t know him, that couldn’t be me. I have heard every fat based joke or pun ever created.
When I was 15 my Father could no longer bare to see how miserable I had become, through a balanced diet and exercise he helped me drop the weight. At first it was easy, by 16 I was healthier than I had ever been. Just had those difficult last few pounds to drop. I will forever be grateful to my Father for that help. I have a terribly reserved family, I love them dearly but there is a closeness that simply isn’t there. We faced it together, years later this bond saw us face his cancer treatments together, it saw us fight it into remission. He’s a good man.
I had lost the weight, but I still hated my body. I hated how I looked. I had put it down to adjusting to a healthier me, but if I was healthier why did the sight of myself in the mirror make me want to break it?
It would take years before I sought help of any kind for this, over the course of that time it cost me opportunities, relationships and friendships. I didn’t want to go out, I had no confidence at all. Over time I noticed how obsessed I was becoming about what I ate and how much I weighed. While my weight yo yo’s from time to time the psychological damage is still present today. The marks on my skin are still there to remind me how much weight I gained, I hate being in a situation where I have to get undressed in public or on holidays. I still see the same lost, over weight teenager in the mirror. It’s normally assumed that women are more likely to suffer from negative body image, all this started for me 15 years ago and it was not really accepted or understood for men to have it. Doctors seemed to think that just because I had lost the weight then everything was fine. This would later be labeled as body dysmorphia or body dismorphic disorder as it’s known today.
This might be a lengthly detour but it’s an important part of the story to tell. Some years ago I dated a woman called Rose, it’s not her real name but for the purpose of this detour it will do. She was creative, smart, funny and so kind. I never felt like I deserved someone like her, how could I hope to keep my crazy inside. Love can make fools of us all.
One night when my problem became clear to her, she shared a secret with me. Rose had battled with anorexia in the past, she was battling with it while we were dating. Despite the disorder being different it was rooted in the same place. It didn’t drive us apart it brought us closer. For a time.
She presented such a confident exterior to the outside world, but behind closed doors she fought her demons. For a time we fought them together. When her anorexia started again it broke a lifetimes worth of hearts in me to see her illness destroy her. Rose’s weight loss was shocking, I couldn’t help her I was sinking into a pit of utter self loathing, the thinner she got the fatter I felt. Arguments were becoming regular but it was our Hyde sides, the sides we tried so hard to rid ourselves of. It was a wake up call, I stopped caring about myself and tried desperately to help her. It was clear we were not able to help each other because we both couldn’t help ourselves.
We would meet again years later as friends, her problems so far behind her, looking so well, happy and confident in a way I’d never seen before and engaged to a good man. I was so proud of her. I will cherish those few times we met, while the love we shared was long since committed to memory, she will forever hold a place in my heart as someone who saw me for all my complications, all my crazy, all my flaws and saw only love. I will always be thankful for that. To this day I am sorry I wasn’t able to do more for Rose, chalk that up to my problem or my faults as a man.
While relationships have come and gone as a result, I am not depressed or wallowing in self pity. I have a good life, I could have things so much worse. I have good friends, I have so much to be thankful for.
I was unsure what the angle of the article was going to be, when I first wrote it it was filled with dark times, truly negative points in my life filled with regret and bitterness. Those are times I struggle to write even now, so I wanted to show that there can be something positive to take from those times when everything feels lost. I’m not saying I’m cured, not by a long shot. I still hate having my picture taken, still don’t like a lot of things. What I have learned is acceptance. This disorder is different for everybody, we all feel like nobody understands, we all feel uncomfortable in our own skin.
My hope is that a word or two might offer those out there who need it a shred of comfort and maybe take those important early steps to speak to professionals. Don’t lose your way like I did.
You’re not alone.
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