Every now and then I am reminded just how amazing and weird biology can be. Especially mine. A few days ago I was wheeling down a street in the Kings Road, during a shopping trip that broke my heart as what was once a street filled with the coolest of fashion is now just another chain store high street (even if the chains are a little more up market), and I hit a pot hole in the pavement. With the annoying habit that the laws of motion have on a person on wheels, when my chair stopped I did not. Luckily I did not fly out of my buggy into a crumpled heap, but I did twist my spine quite badly. I soon started to feel the pain of this little accident but as we were searching for a coffee, which would have allowed me to take a break from the discomfort of both the pain in my back and the sadness at passing yet another boring chain store, I soldiered on. We tried to visit the Bluebird Cafe but were royally ignored by their waiting staff in a blatant act of either discrimination or ignorance, and ended up scoffing a lovely creme slice and sipping a caramel latte at Patisserie Valerie in the sunshine. With no shopping for me but loads for Diane, which was also rather a downer on the spirits as I was hoping to do some serious spending, we ventured home. I spent the evening laying on sofa relaxing the old spine, hoping that my near crash hadn’t done too much damage.
It all seemed OK at first the next day, when we decided to take in some more of the unseasonal sunshine by wondering around our home town of Camden. As I smiled at the fact that Camden is one the few places in London that has resisted the onslaught of the big brand, I started to notice that my left leg was feeling weird. It felt like it was growing in length, gradually at first but it soon felt like it was huge. Only my left leg, which by now felt around double the length of my right one. If this wasn’t disconcerting enough, the weird felling began moving into my entire left side. By the time we were walking towards our flat I felt like my body was the shape of the hunchback of Notre Dame, with one really long leg and a huge left arm that was more muscley than three Popeyes. Of course I may have felt like this on the inside, but on the outside I looked just as normal… your standard Mik.
Why was I undergoing this bizarre transformation? Well one of the lesser known side effects of nerve damage is a change in sensation. Some people experience phantom pain, some experience sensation that comes and goes, some experience changes in the way their body feels, and some are like me and get the whole lot. This time I was being told by my brain that my body shaped nothing like reality, all thanks to the fact that the messages my skin was sending to my noggin were being scrambled and turned into QuasiMikdo somewhere on their journey up my spinal column. I cannot explain how strange it is to inhabit a body that can change it’s shape on an hourly basis but it can tick you off a bit at times.
What makes it more annoying for me is that through out my younger years I also fought with Bulimia, and even today I have issues with my mirror. I still see someone who could loose a stone or two, no matter how thin I get. I really learned how distorted my vision of myself is when I was very ill back in the early naughties. I kept loosing weight as my spine collapsed, causing pain that stopped me from sleeping for days on end. This pain meant I needed stronger and stronger pain medication, and the lack of sleep and drug induced haze meant that eating was the last thing on my mind. Within a few months I was thin, and few months after that my Mum was ringing my poor wife to check if I was OK, after she saw me on TV looking gaunt and skeletal. But did I see this sickly bag of bones? No, all I saw was someone who was finally approaching the weight I dreamed of being. It was only after living through this period and coming out the other side that led me to the much happier place I am now. Once I saw photos and video of myself looking so bad while remembering how happy I had been with my decreasing size, I began to shake the distorting glasses of body dysmorphia.
Typically this revelation led me to put on a pile of weight after my last surgery back in 2003, but I finally understood that I needed to find a healthy way of getting to the size I should be, but not the size I thought I should be. So I began a healthy eating campaign and over the last couple of years I created a menu full of all the things I need (and like, can’t cut out the choccy completely – that would be crazy) in sizes that have allowed me to get to a weight I like. I will never totally shake the disease and end my battle with Bulimia, but I am happy with a stalemate. I might see a huge fatty who needs to loose weight big time but I know that isn’t what the rest of world sees.
The key issue for me is when the two types of dysmorphia combine to create my own personal type of crazy. Every now and then the person I see in the mirror is matched by the person I feel through my skin, with both my eyes and my that pesky skin lying to me. But whatever I might see or feel, I try very hard to remember that it’s all just lies. I might not manage the perfect physique, with a six pack, muscle definition and a tiny waist, but I don’t look too bad for a guy of 47 who beat cancer and two broken backs. Not bad at all.
As I write this I do wonder if I’m giving away just a little too much information, but if those of us who have these kind of problems don’t speak out about them, and explain that it is possible to live successfully with them, perhaps even beat them, then they just stay secret and hidden. I feel that being open about this kind of thing is important, so there you go. Isn’t that the point of blogs?