This is how it feels to be at war with yourself.

NOTE: This post deals with issues of body image and body dysmorphia – and may be triggering to some readers. There are links provided at the bottom of the page to help anyone battling these disorders.

I’ve always maintained that the most complicated relationship I’ve ever been with is the one with myself. It started 22 years ago and I’m still no closer to figuring out who I am, or how that brain of mine runs.

It’s winter and I’ve just wrapped up the first couple of months of a full-time office job. The days are long, the nights are cold, and there seems to be way too many excuses for hitting the drinks and then  the late-night kebabs after. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what being a young professional looks like.

It’s just been bringing some very ugly things back to the surface – because that healthy eating plan I used to stick to so strictly; all those free hours I could spend at the gym, or pounding the pavement – they’re gone. They’re gone and it’s not doing good things to my mind.

See I do this thing where I lose track of my fitness for a week or so and instantly I’m off the rails. It’s not necessarily healthy, nor is it rational. But it’s there, and it chews at my mind in a thoroughly obnoxious manner.shattered-mirror-1

When people ask me why I don’t have any tattoos, I always shrug it off and say that they’re not really for me. I make a vague reference to getting one somewhere down the line. The truth is I’ve avoided getting a tattoo because I’ve always had this rule that “I’d get one when I was happy with the way my body looked”.

The truth? I don’t want to brand my body with something that will make it unique because a lot of the time I’m still ashamed with the way I look.

It’s a reality of my life to spend an entire day avoiding mirrors because I can feel the flesh crowding the front of my shirt. I can step out of the shower and be perfectly okay with how I look and then I can move an inch and suddenly want to throw a fist through that mirror.

The change happens right in front of me. Like I’ve suddenly been endowed with this supernatural ability to transform my own physical experience. My mind is a fun house mirror, never quite sure which version it sees fit on sending out to the world on that particular day.

I’ve come to see it as totally normal that I’ll always worry about how it feels to shed my clothes in front of another person. To shy away from their touch and wonder if that moonlight trickling in is enough for them to see my stretch marks. To feel a hand on my stomach and physically cringe, just waiting for that moment they realize who I really am. I know how it feels to have people leave and for that web of inferiority to start tangling up my mind, hanging on to all the negative stuff and refusing to let positive even have a chance.

Mental illness has been making headlines a lot lately – and rightfully so. These are the realities of living with one of them. It doesn’t particularly make a lot of sense, but it’s out there. They’re all out there. I know I’m not alone with this. And the more people that are willing to speak about their skeletons, the closer we can come to banishing those stigmas – the ones that say there’s something inherently weak about fighting these things.

The demons that have no faces are the most difficult ones you’re ever going to fight. That’s the cold, hard and often ugly truth of it.

I spent a lot of time wondering whether or not I should have published this piece under a pseudonym. Of course it’s personal. I’ve spoken about body image before, but I’ve always skirted around being upfront. This is me laying it out there. I’m putting a face to an issue that is so fucking important. Because I know how dark it is. I’ve been there.

We need to talk about this.

I’ve spent countless hours lying in the dark scraping at my own flesh with blunt fingernails begging it to go away. I’ve fallen into bed with people before and been so genuinely stunned that they would want to be anywhere near me. I’ve begged to be different. To be somebody else. That’s not me any more – but for a while it was.

I know what self-esteem looks like when it’s in the red zone. Nobody deserves to be there.

I used to be ashamed of this but I’m not any more. I’m not ashamed to say that there are parts of my mind that aren’t always working at full capacity. I’m not ashamed because I’m still standing here when there were several large chunks of time, some ages ago, and some more recent than I care to admit, that I didn’t think that would be possible.

It’s an ebb and a flow – and as much as the bad can be really bad, so too can there be good. If I’ve learned anything in fighting this is it’s too take those moments of positivity and latch on to them. To remember the things that you can be capable of, no matter how much their are voices in your head so intent on dragging you under.

I went running the other night. Pushed myself pretty hard. Got home and stood in front of the mirror. For once I didn’t let the steam from the shower fog it up. I took in my reflection. I took in the veins along my hips, and the lines that were starting to form on my stomach.

I saw myself completely and totally. I recognized what I was capable of. The strength I’d somehow managed to find. It’s a constant rise and fall, and the further I move along in my own life, the more I’m realizing it’s time for me to focus on more of the former – to leave the latter behind, where it belongs.

Here’s what I know: This is the reality of it. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty – but it’s a part of me. It’s a part of who I am. I’m fighting every day. I’ll get that tattoo one day. I’ll take a selfie, throw a filter on it and say that I #nailedit.

That’s a promise.

 If this post has bought up any issues for you, there are some fantastic resources out there both help and inform. These include Reach Out, Mission Australia, Beyond Blue and the Butterfly Foundation.

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