The see-saw

The question has come up (not worded exactly this way, but pretty close), “How did you maintain a balance between staying small and getting bigger?” In other words, how do anorexia and Dysmorphia co-exist? Well, to be frank, they don’t balance, and they don’t co-exist. It’s like being pulled apart – I would actually feel that kind of shearing force in my brain. It was horrible, and looking back I don’t know why I held onto that turmoil so long.

Ups and Downs

Constant fretting was a part of my life because of these two situations both vying for my attention. I desparately wanted to put on lean muscle, but every time I inched up even two-tenths of a pound on my digital scale, I would figure out which meals I could skip “to make up for it.” It doesn’t make any sense. I knew it didn’t, even when I was in the middle of that terrible dichotomy. I wanted the look of muscle without the numerical “score” of my weight going up (I suppose it’s a game, like Hearts, where the fewer points you have, the better?). At any rate, it was a dizzying, confusing, and frustrating teetering act.

And it had other repercussions, other than my body composition. I am already prone to mood swings; however, when you do not eat properly your body systems get out of kilter. All of them. Including your hormones. One hormone in particular, serotonin, is in your gut. This hormone affects mood. If you do not eat properly this hormone gets out of balance, and then your moods get out of balance too. So, my eating disorder also escalated my emotional stress. I’ve been blessed to never have had any major injuries – I can presume only that taking vitamins protected me from difficiency disorders, because my teeth, bones, hair, skin, connective tissues, and all other systems seem fine to this day. If I’d not been at least taking vitamins, I could very well be falling apart already. That happened to my friend Cheryl. She was anorexic for 18 years, never took supplements, and now her teeth, bones, and joints are a wreck.

Janet Jackson + George Michael = hot mess

One day I was looking in the mirror for the 497th time that day, and a flash of insight caught me off guard: I was trying to blend two people, whom I looked nothing like, together into one body. Although it hurts my feelings a little when people remind me of this, I am not, in fact, a beautiful Black woman. Also, although I am a White man, I do not look anything like George Michael. I don’t understand exactly what amalgamation I was trying for, but recreating myself as a collage of these two was definitely not working well. I look back on this moment, and I realize that it was the instance where I almost pulled myself out of this vortex by myself. But something happened immediately afterwards that distracted me from this little thunder bolt of logic…

Stupid boy

I was with the only guy I had a long term relationship with during college. He was a pudgy little dude with crazy brown hair, and I thought he was absolutely marvelous. When he poked my belly and said, “Getting a little soft around the center, huh?” I took him seriously. It didn’t occur to me that he was being facetious. Over the next few weeks I dropped from 120 pounds to 110. I started passing out in dance class. It was scary. The pic of me that I just posted where I weighed 125 pounds is bad enough – at my worst I weighed 15 pounds less than in that picture. You could see my spine and hip bones. And I thought I was staggeringly beautiful (for a few moments each day between long bouts of self-loathing).

Whether it’s his “fault” for upsetting me, or my “fault” for being so sensitive, or no one’s “fault” at all, that “soft around the center” comment was the driving force behind my eating habits for the next eight years. The effect of the comment lasted years longer than the relationship with Shane. (Update, 7/20/13: See “Thrown” in the collection “The Gospel According to Anteros” for a poem I wrote about this situation while it was still fresh in my mind back in 1996.)

Emotional instability and therapy

One of the long-term side effects of this “balance” between being small and getting big is that my moods shift very easily and quickly. I feed off the moods of others without realizing it, until after the change has already happened. Also, if I get hungry, I get mean. If I’m ever randomly rude to you just say, “Bitch, do you need a doughnut?” I probably do need to eat something, but a doughnut won’t be my first choice (although the humor will make me smile). My rages would get out of control particularly when I felt people were being mean to me without provocation.

I finally went to a therapist while I was at UCLA. I went because of an incident during my African drumming class. One of the other students (who never attended class, and didn’t know the rhythms) told me I was defiling the drums with my “White hands,” and proceded to push me away from the instrument while grabbing for the mallet in my hand. Well, I was already feeling angry about something else. She tipped me over the edge, and I vented all over her in front of about 100 drummers and dancers. It didn’t help that she was Black, and that everyone knew I was from South Carolina. It immediately became a race issue to them without me ever intending it. They didn’t know what I was already contending with, so on the outside, without any insight into me, I understand why they would assume that. It hurt my feelings they would jump to that conclusion, but it does make sense. I was forced to enter “anger management” classes.

I’m glad. It gave me the opportunity to finally address some of my demons. From that point forward I started improving. But it still took a few years after I completed that therapy to finally let go of my desire to have Janet’s waist and Chris’s chest.

“Better” days

Everything started improving consistently and quickly after I left my last boyfriend in October, 2006. You want to know what finally forced me to let go of alot of my obsessive compulsions? Exhaustion. Pure and simple. I’d been working seven part time jobs to support myself and Scott. When I found out he’d cheated on me with about 30 people while I was out working day and night, and that he was opening credit cards in my name (as well as hiding the bills, maxing them out, and then not making payments), I finally had to work so much that there simply wasn’t time to worry about what I looked like. It didn’t matter if I made the bed or washed the dishes. It didn’t matter if my books were alphabetized by subject/author/title. Suddenly avoiding bankruptcy mattered a whole lot more.

During the months after I left Scott I simply got out of the habit of worrying about my appearance so much. I had a whole new catastrophe to work on (and on a dark level the martyr in me loved the torture). Nearing two-and-a-half years later, I’ve become completely financially independent again, with my credit score being even better than before Scott’s interference. And ironically my eating disorder gave way to fiscal survival. It seems that all I needed was a crisis severe enough to completely distract me from calories.

So, the eating disorder is gone. Done. Good riddance. There are still some traces of the Dysmorphia, in that I can’t see how I’m shaped when I look at myself in a mirror. I see only a flat shape with muddled undulations on the surface. Only in pictures, which are removed from the same space-time as my viewing of myself, can I see me. I need the removal of “now.” By looking back a few moments into the past at how I looked then, I see my curves and proporations. But even then I still don’t trust that 10 seconds later the same holds true. This is getting better as I (slowly) mature.

I look forward to the day, not when my see-saw is balanced, but when I decide I’m no longer interested in the ride.

(Update, 7/20/13: The content of this entry is the basis for “Thrown” and “An Angel Upon Each Shoulder” in the collection “The Gospel According to Anteros.”)

Author: Devon Hunter

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  1. Wow.

    When you let go of “perfection”, you achieved excellence.

    Way to go, baby.

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  2. well, excellence may be a bit of a stretch, but i’m gettin’ there!! thank you for the encouraging words 🙂

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  3. I can’t wait for you to be mean to me so I can say, “Bitch, you need a donut?”


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  4. Thanks for the insight Devon into your eating disorder. I have always been tempted to ask you about it but felt I would be delving into too private a topic. At my work we had two people with eating disorders at the same time. A bulimic woman and an anorexic man (the woman reported to a woman is morbidly obese!). You are right about the mood changes with anorexia. The man would only eat every second day, and only eat the same things (meat). He started having problems with anger. He still has a tendency to be very rigid in his view of things, and is a classic obsessive compulsive. He does not look as skinny as he was, but I am not convinced he is out of the woods yet. He is very stubborn and has trouble admitting he has issues.

    The woman is still bulimic. Her condition has been so bad that she had a heart attack in her late 20s (she is her early 40s now). One of the traits of both people is their obsessive desire for perfection.

    I must admit I try and stay within a weight range of 153-155, and if I creep above that I start watching what I eat. Not the quantity so much as the fat content. I was a chubby and ugly kid, and still have the emotional scars from that period.

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  5. strange… this is the day i met allen. 6-7 weeks later all this seems to be both more relavent to me and completely outmoded at the same time. strange.

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  6. Want to know what’s even stranger? It’s September 18, 2017, and Allen is a regular fuck buddy (and has been for years). Who knew you’d get all the cake and the icing too? I really wish I could have told you then what I know now. But you were in love, and you wouldn’t have listened. (Oh, but the anorexia is completely and totally dissolved into the ether of the universe… the dysmorphia remains, but it’s not as severe as it was for all these years.)

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