17 - MIROR MIROR
Two stories in one week, after a break of more than two months: I'm surprising myself.
Today I want to tackle a subject that is completely different from the others and not at all related to HIV, well almost not.
Beyond the fact that I am an HIV-positive boy, I am above all a human being. I've been dealing with many other neuroses for years and as far as I can remember this one has been part of my life for a long time.
Today I'm going to talk about my relationship with my image, and in particular my weight.
I came across some pictures of myself as a child while tidying up earlier and realised that until I was seven or eight years old I was a perfectly normal weight. Then all of a sudden my body shape changed. It was a time when I was being bullied at school (a period that lasted until I entered the second year of secondary school) and at home things were happening that were completely beyond me and that I was, I think, much too young to understand.
I remember the snacks I would make when I got home at 5pm. It had been a horrible day and I could only find comfort in food, in filling myself up. I remember stopping to eat when I felt like throwing up. I don't know why I did this. I just know that it calmed my anxieties at the time.
So let's face it, I was never obese, but I was a pretty plump kid.
When I got to high school, everything changed. I went from "the child/young teenager who is made fun of to make himself feel better" to "the teenager who is totally accepted even with his differences".
At that time I lost a lot of weight, both figuratively and literally, because I lost my extra kilos quite naturally. I must admit that I also made some efforts to lose weight, but it didn't seem insurmountable to me. It was at that time that I came out of the closet, so with hindsight I think we can make the connection.
I guess my weight helped me to hide and show only what I wanted to be, and frankly I would much rather be called "fatty" than "faggy".
Looking back on my school days, I realise what an ordeal I went through for four years, being insulted on a daily basis, sometimes hit, sometimes spat on. There was no respite. Every day something happened. I tell myself that the adults around me couldn't have failed to see: the teachers, etc. Never is an adult unaware of this. Never did an adult intervene. Sometimes my "girlfriends" (yes I only had girlfriends of course) defended me, but most of the time it was totally useless, the harassment went on no matter what.
When it came to choosing what to do after the 9th grade, I made sure I didn't go into a general stream, because otherwise I would have had to follow those same people for three more years. I chose to do Arts & Designs. Another world opened up to me, one where being curious, different, became a richness. I think I spent some of the most important years of my life in high school. I experienced some very strong triggers there, clearly provoked by the teachers I had at the time. I never really had the opportunity to say thank you to them, but I do so here.
To return to our original theme, what I didn't know was that in fact the eating mechanisms I had as a child and teenager would repeat themselves as an adult at the slightest annoyance.
For thirty years my body has undergone very regular weight gains and losses: doing the yo-yo as they say. I gain ten kilos, lose fifteen, gain twenty...
The slightest sentimental break-up: minus ten kilos. Which I put back on once I'm better and with a few more. And yes, the body has a memory. It stores for the next hunger gap.
Just before HIV, I was down to 65 kg. I'm 178 cm tall, so it's nothing to be alarmed about, but for me it was a weight that I think was below what I should have been. I had been eating apples, coffee and fags for almost two years and saying I was fine with it. Controlling my weight gave me a sense of control over my life, control over other people and the way they looked at me.
I was always skipping meals and sometimes eating at McDonald's until I felt like throwing up.
The HIV news changed all that overnight. It was as if my brain was telling me: "Remi, we've been doing shit for years, but now we have to take care of you.".
The 65 kg became 73 kg. I was fine at the time, I had someone in my life, he loved me like that.
But what about me? Did I love myself like that? Not at all.
The 73 became 78, we broke up and the 78 went back up to 72, and eventually became 79, then 82, then 89.
Two years ago, when I hit that 89 kg, I hated what I saw in the mirror.
The triple therapy had also changed the way fat was distributed in my body. It was very clear that my body was no longer harmonious and still isn't. I went on a drastic diet.
I went on a drastic diet that I wouldn't recommend to anyone: I replaced two out of three meals with powdered mixtures to be dissolved in water and I only had one meal a day with real food.
I lost nine kilos in one month, which I regained as soon as I returned to a 'normal' diet.
Social networks and dating apps have not helped me at all in my quest for psychological balance with regard to the way I look at my figure. I don't need to tell you that being bombarded with images of what perfection should be doesn't help, nor does being sent to Grindr for not being "fit". If you don't join a gym today and you're gay, you're clearly missing out on all the opportunities to be the most fuckable, Instagram-able guy within 100 yards.
I'm protesting against this in my own way. Already by using Instagram in a different way than what would be expected of me. One day, a guy said to me: "What's the point of your Insta, there are no pictures of you"... Sad statement.
But that's the world we live in. A world in which putting yourself on display to be liked has become a norm. I am always shocked, when I meet some people, to first see their very/too narcissistic Insta profiles, and then to discover them in real life. Sometimes the gap between the virtual and the real is so huge that it's disturbing.
Last summer, I went to see a nutritionist. We took stock of the way I eat. There were no problems other than deprivation and knowing how to stop when I'm not hungry anymore. So I started to eat three meals a day and tried to listen to what my body wanted or didn't want.
The result: five kilos less without any effort or deprivation.
I'm still not a fan of the image I project, I'm still not comfortable if people tell me I'm pretty, or sexy, or handsome, simply because I don't believe it.
I'm not comfortable with people touching my stomach because I think I'm huge.
Sometimes I change my clothes ten or fifteen times before I leave the house because I think I'm filthy. But I'm learning to let go.
I'm terribly anxious about going shirtless on the beach if I don't have a few pounds on me, but I'm just as anxious about seeing myself shirtless every day in the mirror, which I'm doing everything to avoid.
What I'm doing right now, telling you that I'm 83kg, is a huge step forward for me. What's also amazing is that I don't care what other people think and haven't for a long time. This battle with my image is a battle I have with myself and I know it.
One of my goals for this year is to stop thinking such bad things about my body and my image in general. I realise that this is a particularly difficult task as there is not a day that goes by that I don't verbalise the fact that I think I am too fat. But when I think about it, when I was 65 kg I also thought I was too fat and yet when I see the photos today I don't look at myself the same way.
How can I change this in a positive way? Do I need help from others, or do I just need to learn to love myself?
I don't have any answers yet.