Growing up, I was always the chubby kid. I had a big, tightly knit group of friends, but I was the fat one. We were all very close, but I was always painfully aware that I was the odd one out.
As we got into our preteen years, we started noticing the the girls. The girls started noticing them. I definitely wasn’t unpopular, per se, but I was always the boy that the ladies “loved like a brother”. My friends started hanging with them more and more, and I started realizing how much it sucks being a third or fifth wheel. Inevitably, this led to me spending a lot of time alone, and it quickly caught up with me.
I remember the moment it all came to a head. Sadly, it is the most vivid memory I have of that time.
I was 13. My friends all played basketball, but I didn’t make the cut, that year. I still supported them and never missed a game. I remember a group of us were sitting on the bleachers, watching the girls play, waiting for the boys’ game. A group of girls from the opposing town came over to sit with us. As they squeezed in with my friends, I was gradually inched out of the group, and ended up sitting behind them, by myself.
I sat and listened to them laugh and talk, all the while becoming more acutely aware that my presence was becoming more forgotten. This wasn’t the first time this happened. This wasn’t the first time I felt it. This was the first time I questioned how important my presence was, though. I distinctly remember wondering if (and ultimately deciding that) they’d probably be better off if I just disappeared.
Cue years of depression and self-destructive behavior...
These awful feelings began manifesting themselves in many ways. Being the butt of jokes had never bothered me. Now it did. I became extremely paranoid. Anytime I heard a random giggle, it was because someone was laughing at the fat kid. I began avoiding people. I began closing myself off. I became angry at myself. I mentally abused myself.
Over the years, these issues became more viscous, and my reactions became more aggressive. I tried to overdose on pills my eighth grade year. I started clinging to anyone who showed me attention. I allowed people to hurt me, because I deserved it. I was an absolute mess by the time I got into high school.
I had been purging for a few years, by this time. Never often, only when I ate so much that I felt sick did I resort to throwing up. As my self-consciousness grew, my self-image spiraled. Everything I ate began to make me sick, so... everything I ate got forced back up.
I left my freshman year weighing 215 pounds. I weighed in for football camp, my sophomore year, at 140. I ran six miles a day. I ate only what I had to, during the day. I binged and purged at night. I was killing myself.
This persisted well into my twenties. At 25, my bone density was so low that I was diagnosed as bordering osteoporosis. My teeth began breaking. My mental health was decimated. Chalked up two more suicide attempts by 26. By 28, I’d been in and out of so many physically and mentally abusive relationships, that I truly began to view myself as being worth less than the dirt I was constantly having kicked in my face.
I was dead. I was just to worn down to realize it.
I had become a terrible alcoholic. I functioned just fine for everyone to see. I was always great at that. Nobody knew that I was praying... every single night... to let that last shot of bourbon be the one that did me in. I was going to work drunk. I was drinking on my breaks. I was stopping for a bottle every night. Keeping up the appearance of being a functional, responsible, reasonably happy person was exhausting. I had to do it, though. I had to maintain that image.
All of this stemmed from the fact that I looked in the mirror, and hated what I saw. At 5’10” and 140 pounds, I saw a sloppy, fat kid. I used to scream at that fat kid, and tell him to die. I used to punish him. I used to cling to people that punished him. I hated what that kid did to me, and who he turned me into.
It wasn’t that fat kid, though...
Body dysmorphia is a mental illness that causes one to believe that their body is so flawed that extreme measures must be taken to correct those flaws. It can cause severe depression and anxiety, as well as lead to some incredibly dangerous behavior. Eating disorders, obsessively excessive exercise, plastic surgery addiction... these have all been attributed to body dysmorphia, in many cases. Many people have sacrificed their health, even their lives, because of this terrible illness.
A person suffering from body dysmorphia will literally see themselves in a completely skewed way. They’ll see fat that isn’t there. They’ll see blemishes, lines, and wrinkles that don’t exist. They’ll sometimes see twiggy arms and chicken legs, when they may actually be quite fit. One will often continue to see these things, no matter what measures are taken, or changes made.
I can’t say with, complete confidence, that body dysmorphia was the root cause of all my problems, but it definitely influenced the horrible self-image, complete lack of self-worth, and crippling lack of confidence that led me to make some of my worst decisions.
In 2015, I made some very drastic and important changes. I realized that if I didn’t take the reigns soon, my life would be driven far past any hope of redemption. I began living a healthier lifestyle. I began devoting myself to constructive ways to initiate change. I got back to the gym. I started cutting ties with things that only secured me to my descent.
A lot of things can be attributed to this newly discovered determination, but one thing certainly stands above the others: I stopped suffering from body dysmorphia.
Let me be abundantly clear: body dysmorphia didn’t go away. It didn’t disappear. I quit suffering from it. After years of experiencing it, and allowing myself to be a victim of it, I had no doubt in my mind that it was here to stay. I made a cognizant decision to stop allowing it to dictate my life.
This was not an overnight change. It took a few years, a lot of work, several pitfalls, and eventually the love and support of a wonderful woman to make me accept that I am good. I am worthy. I am not perpetually chained to this bodily image that I CREATED. I can change anything about me, and dang it... that’s exactly what I did!
I’m often accused of being obsessed with fitness. Maybe I am, but I prefer to think that I’m passionate about this lifestyle. Many don’t understand that this lifestyle quite literally saved my life. I hope that can shine a ray of hope into someone’s life, who really needs it. If that’s “obsessive”... well... color me obsessed.
In writing this, I’ve exposed some very dark parts of myself that are difficult to divulge, let alone reconcile. Hopefully there are many things that can be taken from my experience, but I sincerely hope that, if nothing else, you understand that your story is not over. Your journey is not at an end. Indeed, it may only be waiting for you to begin.
If you suffer from body dysmorphia, or any type of image issues, please seek help. Surround yourself with supportive and constructive people. Make healthy and informed decisions as to the measures you will employ to make changes.
If you feel like something needs to change, something probably does... but it’s probably your mindset. It’s probably how you view your body, not your body itself.
We all have room to progress. We can all improve, and we should all strive to. That should be motivation, not a truncheon to beat yourself up with. There’s always room to grow, and there should always be a drive to do so. That doesn’t mean you’re worthless, it means you’re worthy of that opportunity.
Author, Terry Conder