Threat of harm

For some bizarre, or maybe not so bizarre, reason thoughts are clamoring to escape the confines of my tiny cranium. It really is tiny, not because I am tiny-brained or developmentally challenged, but simply because the physical area of a human cranium is not that impressive. I mean, seriously, not that impressive in terms of physical volume alone. There’s a lot of stuff in a relatively small space, and the more we know about how that all works, the more we know that we don’t know. What goes on in our brains is truly amazing, and if we believe that what our brains can accomplish is solely the basis of science, we’re smaller brained than I thought. But I digress.

What is clamoring for release is my thought about autoimmune disease. I have one, and naming it is not relevant nor deliverable, but that’s unimportant. Conventional wisdom on this subject has changed over the years, but there is a considerable and long standing theory attributing the mechanism of autoimmune response to a viral threat that generated a necessary immune response. The immune response was initially appropriate, but somehow went a little haywire and began confusing the invading virus with unintended targets, like joints and glands and nerves. The original threat was quashed, but the misguided immune response continued. The body has begun to destroy itself, in very specific ways, believing that its own cellular components are invaders, a threat.

On a cellular level, this is fascinating. Scientists and medical professionals have been able to isolate the specifics of which components have been compromised, and depending on that manifestation have named diseases that often become medical specialties. We love us some categories. There has been a great deal of progress in these categories over the years, however, and where some of these diseases were once sentences of death and debilitation, many are now manageable. This is a very good thing, particularly if you are diagnosed with something like Parkinson’s Disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

My point in all this is more esoteric, though. I understand the biologic mechanism of these conditions, of the errant immune response, but I strongly believe in the mind-body connection. Disease is dis-ease, lack of well being on some level. How that manifests, I believe, points to the root of the un-wellness on a non-physical level. When the disease is rooted in the immune response, I have to wonder whether a deep, non-conscious and non-linear sense of threat looms within. I’ve been pondering my own very conscious tendency to feel unsafe, to feel as though a threat of something or other is just beyond my sight, just around a turn, one step away. Never feeling comfortable, never feeling at ease. This base of operations has been with me since my earliest memories. I must always be one step ahead, uber-prepared for the worst case scenario, because there is always a threat of an ending; my hold on life as I know it is always tenuous. Always.

This sense of impermanence is not a perpetually conscious thought, and of course we are all impermanent, but I believe my body’s response has been one of constant stress, constant inflammation, constant readiness. Bracing for the blow, waiting for the attack, sure that disaster awaits. There is nobody to save me; if i am to survive I’ll need to be able to do that myself. So, my innermost mind has contrived this scenario, like one in Freddie Kruger’s world, where it’s only a matter of time before everything is destroyed. Only a matter of time. When you live in that nightmarish house of mirrors, it’s no wonder you’re stressed. And I’m stressed. I always have been. Anxiety, depression, fears real and imagined.

Every therapist I have ever seen has questioned whether or not I have been sexually abused, because I present like a survivor in that context. I have no memory of any such experience, but when you’re a klutzy fat girl who is not a raving beauty, has few social skills, and isn’t born with a silver spoon you’re abused on a sexual, albeit non-physical, level that is somewhere below intellectual comprehension. Fat people are constantly desexualized, or sexually shamed, or sexually invisible. Most people gravitate to pretty things, and the judgements surrounding un-pretty things is astounding. If you’re fat, you don’t care about yourself. If you’re fat, you’re just stupid. If you’re fat, you are making a choice to be fat. If you’re fat, why would anybody want to have sex with you? When you’re fat, you’ve found a reason to protect your innards, and what better way than with a physical barrier that provides shelter from the storm as well as a barrier for the wandering invader. I’ll have to say, though, the barrier hasn’t been wholly effective, because as I’ve said before, I still manage to grant passage to the occasional wandering rogue with ill intent.

I’ll also have to say, that my experience with being a fat woman are just that – my experiences. There are many, many deliciously empowered and unapologetic fat women that I know personally, and observe in the public sphere. Perhaps they do not have the specific combination of circumstances that I do, or their experience is simply not dysfunctional. Or perhaps they are rooted in dysfunction and have managed to orient differently. Who knows. All I know is how my own mosaic has been assembled, and since it’s mine, it is what it is. Without every piece of it, every experience – no matter how painful – I would not be here writing this at this moment, so I’m good with it. Reality is the real deal. Literally. And yeah, that’s trite, but sue me.

When I was in college, I lived in a women’s dorm, which seemed to be the best possible thing that could happen for me, since I was a budding baby dyke but didn’t quite understand what that meant. That’s another story. But, as usual, I didn’t quite know how to be with other people, and was socially inept. I had also discovered that alcohol would ease some of that anxiety, but I couldn’t quite control that, so pile on more ineptitude. I weighed FAR less than I do now, but was still “chubby” and believed myself to be as large as I am now. One day, I came back to my room, and on the little write-on-wipe-off board that I kept on the door, was a scribbled note that said “Lose weight and straighten your hair”. It was, of course, anonymous, and my verbal response (to nobody in particular, since I was alone) was “Asshole”. (Actually, there were several more expletives attached to that, but whatever.) For me to even remember that incident all these years (more than 40 at this point) is significant. That was an act of violence, and that was relatively minor. I am always waiting for that sort of assault, either explicitly or implicitly. The threat is always there, and my brain says that I have to protect myself. But there is really no protection against that sort of thing, because you can’t make people cease to be sizeist, or homophobic, or racist, or classist, or whatever their flavor of assholery might be.

So, all of that to say, when you are constantly in fear – literally in fear – of the inevitable next attack, your body reacts. The threat is real, or is it? Whichever the situation, be prepared. I believe that level of inherent stress causes my body to believe there is a threat, and it is prepared to do battle. All the time. How my body does battle turns inward, because my inner self is what needs to be protected. My spirit, my soul are under siege. There is no discernable difference between that perception of threat and a physical threat at the cellular level. So, my immune system does what it’s supposed to do – it throws everything its got to protect me. It’s just got its wires a little crossed, or its needing to have an eye examination, and the invaders are really my Self. That’s deep.

So, how do I stop destroying my Self? How do I ease this tension, this constant sense of threat, of danger, of catastrophe? I don’t know. This is why therapists have job security. Lately, I’ve been thinking part of my true healing effort is to learn how to more competently discern real threat from illusion. My recovery program tells me to inventory the past situations that cause me resentment, and to explore what is threatened by those situations or events. In so doing, I’m (hopefully) able to connect the dots and see the patterns in all of that, by identifying how I respond to fear. There is always a fear. When I’ve lashed out at others, or been self-abusive, it’s because I’m afraid of SOMETHING. Afraid of losing something, or afraid of not getting something. Afraid of being ended, being made invisible, being rendered inconsequential. That is death. And there is no return. If I am to heal from this impending sense doom, I suppose I need to generally see myself as safe, as being capable of safety for my Self. Of being a safe Self.

This is not supposed to make any kind of rational or even grammatical sense. I will probably need to work on this for a longer time period…i have just typed my way through not one but two 12-step meetings that I planned to attend this morning, but as I said from the beginning of this, this was clamoring to be liberated. Liberation is another subject entirely, but perhaps that is ultimately where this winds up. Liberation. Freedom. The cage is open.


Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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