By: Corrine Camp
I have a secret I keep hidden under my clothes: my body. Sometimes I reveal it for the world to see, unafraid to show my feminine curves; and sometimes I hide it so that no one sees, terrified to give even a stranger fuel for judgment. It depends on my mood, over which I don’t always have complete control. Instead, the chemicals in my brain do; they dictate to me how I feel about myself and how I treat my body. They have the power to override logic and reason in two very different ways. You see, I have a darker secret I keep hidden under my clothes, within my body, itself: my Bi-polar disorder.
One afternoon the autumn leaves seemed vivid enough to have been injected with liquid color, the blue sky above a shimmering canopy to reflect them. Unexplained excitement pumped through my bloodstream like a drug. Everything I saw stunned me with beauty and when I looked in the mirror, I looked just as beautiful. I didn’t know what had caused this and didn’t care. Lustrous hair framed my oval face, highlighting my long-lashed eyes; my ample breasts accentuated a bowed-in, flat waist that gently rounded to my curved hips. I was in awe of myself. How could I hide this magnificence from the world? Out came the miniskirts, the boots, and the low-cut tops. Forget those varicose veins; my legs looked perfect in hose. I wore these outfits to work and then out to play at the bars after work. I stayed out late, drinking and laughing, no time to eat because I was on the go. There were people to see, things to do; as a result, I rapidly dropped weight and suddenly I’d dropped to my high school size. I spent hundreds of dollars on figure-hugging clothes from department stores. If I thought my body was sexy before, it was twice as much now – I was thinner.
I loved the attention from strangers; my charm drew people to me and I was the irresistible object of desire. Indeed, I had the perfect female form and I was in full control of myself. Nothing about my body was secret. I had nothing to hide. Beauty trumped everything. This was a mania phase of my bi-polar disorder.
One morning I woke up with a different nose on my face. It wasn’t mine and I didn’t know how it got there. I didn’t know who it belonged to. I saw only a nose that was bigger than mine hadn’t been before I’d gone to bed the night before. Whose nose was it? Would I get my former one back? Later that week I began noticing other physical quirks about my body, things that I didn’t remember being there before my new nose: my elbows didn’t allow my forearms to straighten all the way when I reached straight up, my toes looked like tiny cocktail wieners, my ears had grown smaller, one breast had grown extremely larger than the other, and my thighs spread out like bread baking when I sat down in a chair. Slowly I recalled the known problems with my body I’d pushed out of my head: the folliculitis on my upper arms and thighs, the moles on my shoulders and neck, the skin beneath my upper arm that also waved “bye” back and forth whenever I did, and shoulders that looked like they belonged on a man.
When I slept I wasn’t misshapen because I couldn’t think about it, see it, or feel it. I liked to sleep. I slept a lot. When I had to be awake, I made myself not necessarily happy but as good as I could emotionally feel, by eating foods that tasted good. I gained a lot of weight.
Soon I couldn’t bear the sight of myself, bursting into tears when I saw what I’d become: a deformed flesh monster. If my hand brushed against my belly I’d feel nauseated. Whose skin was covering me? Whose body was I in? Who had commandeered my body from me? This was not the real me! Long-sleeved shirts came out, even in summer, as did long skirts with jackets that covered my mid-section, and over-sized dresses. These secret clothes, unwelcome as I reintroduced them from the back of my closet, became my uniform. Negative affirmations rang through my head all day: no one finds you attractive, no one likes swollen freaks. The voice of my illness is tricky, a master of disguise, masquerading as rationality.
This was the body I kept hidden under my clothes, a dirty secret, one that no one must discover. I concealed it at all times; I wore my limp hair down so no one saw my ears or could fully see my nose. Everything about my body was secret, from the flesh to the chemicals in my brain. I hid everything. Shame trumped everything. This was a depression phase of my Bi-polar disorder.
I swing back and forth about my feelings toward my body, as I swing back and forth in weight, as the chemicals in my brain repeatedly stabilize and destabilize themselves. My illness is my body and my body is my illness. Like an abusive lover, my unbalanced brain makes me hate my body then makes me love it. Medicine lessens the intensity, frequency, and duration of my episodes but I still have them. Although mania is addictive, I’ve grown to like the in-between times best. I struggle to balance my thoughts and my body image. I know it is wrong to harm my body, whether it is under eating and diminishing it, or overeating and expanding it; neither will ever help me achieve happiness with myself. I accept my illness’s fluctuations while taking medication to manage the shifting chemicals; likewise, I accept my imperfect body while striving to make it as healthy as possible through moderate exercise and healthy eating. I accept this path; I will always be in flux.