The Unbearable Exhaustion of Being Misunderstood

“Have you lost weight?”

I shift from my right leg to my left, leaning against the wall. The cold plaster rests against my shoulderblades, something solid to hold onto, preventing me from running. An alternative I’d rather like to take, but not a polite one.

“Uh, no,” I say, eloquently. “Pretty sure not.”

“Are you sure? Your face looks thinner. You’re so lucky you can lose weight so easily.”

Uh, no, I think, pretty sure not. 

This time, I shrug it off and keep it to myself, awkwardly steering the conversation in a new direction.

For the record, I’ve weighed pretty much exactly the same for the past 18 months, and my conversation partner had been on a diet for six weeks. I took Psych 101. I know a textbook case of projection when I see one.

But that’s not the point.

Even these days, still, sometimes I’m struck by how much empty space can fit between the people around me and a reasonable thing to say to another human. It feels like someone’s trying to stick a three-pronged electrical plug into a USB drive. The motivation is good and makes sense on a macro level, but something’s just getting hella lost in the execution.

Maybe what’s getting lost is the thread of my metaphor. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It’s not really a complaint, anyway, more a bewildered observation: that dear God, some people do not know how to talk about food and bodies and mental health. Three things that, in my daily comings and goings, are really important to talk about at least OK.

Have you lost weight?

I bought this cake but I don’t want it. Here. You’ll eat it, right?

Wait, hang on, why are you crying? You always look so put-together and in control.

(Excuse me, with that last one? Don’t make me laugh. It’s disconcerting to laugh and cry at the same time.)

When I’m lying awake in bed, way too late at night, I let my mind wander. And what it wanders to, more often than I ever expect, is a place where everyone understands one another perfectly.

Where I no longer need to pretend to be motivated when all I want is to crawl back into bed and stay there until summer.

Where I can be perfectly, unrestrainedly happy, even when everyone around me is having one of the Top Five Worst Days in Recorded Human History.

Where people will look at me from across the hall in my apartment building and realize 1) that person did not lose weight, and 2) it’s probably a pretty terrible idea to ask strangers about their weight without being prompted.

Because if there’s one thing more exhausting than having to cope with a brain that operates differently than the brains of most of the rest of the world…

It’s having to pretend like you don’t.

Having to pretend that chatting with other people about their diet and exercise regimens is fascinating conversation.

Having to pretend that changing plans at the last minute in a way that messes with my exercise routine still throws me for a loop, even though it shouldn’t, even though I wish it didn’t.

Having to go through my day being pleasant, approachable, responsive to feedback, eager to learn, and then coming home at 8 p.m. to lay on the couch and idly google variations on “how to stop feeling sad.”

I’m doing fine. Really. Seven out of 10 days are pretty good, and the three that fall at the low end of the bell curve, well, I can handle those.

But it would make it a metric fuckton of a lot easier if we as a species could set up a couple of groundrules:

  • Do not expect others’ relationships to their bodies to match your own.
  • Do not expect others’ moods, breaking points, or needs to make sense in the context of your own emotional paradigm.

But really, Bill and Ted put it best:

  • Be excellent to each other.

Don’t be a jerk. Give people space to hurt. Give people space to cry. Give people space to grow.

And we will grow.

Just maybe not in the way you expect.



  1. I pulled the “pacifist” up tonight. I needed to read real words from a real person who struggles and eloquently writes real. Teetering and tottering in the world of ed is having it’s ups and downs, currently in much too frequent succession. It’s exhausting on the teeter days, and hopeful on the totter days. I appreciate your real. Thanks for sharing.

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