Do You Have Earth Dysmorphia?
September 5, 2021
I’ve been thinking about eating disorders or disordered eating a lot. After decades of being a pediatrician, I think I’m beginning to understand. I had a dear patient come in last week for likely our final visit and she related to me her experience recently with anorexia, and we talked frankly about treatment and causes and her impression. I learned more from my patient than I’ve had from the textbooks in years.
There is this look that I’ve seen time and time again. It’s this look during the first initial visit when usually the mother brings the teenage girl and we broach the subject the first time. In this case, I’m usually the pediatrician who has cared for said teenage girl since prepuberty and now into this rocky time in adolescence. There is this look that the daughter gives the mother, as the mother is relating to me her concerns. The mother is usually standing rigid and seemingly in control, but I feel like she’s usually a glass statue about to shatter. She gets this gaze that eventhough she is talking to me, the mother is actually not looking at me – but looking at someone else. I’m a stand-in for the entire medical system at that point. The mother relates her concerns usually controlled with undercurrent of repressed emotion. And the daughter. The daughter has the look. The look when the mother has shushed her, and the daughter has stopped talking. She just looks at her mother from a teenaged body but the eyes of a young child, with repressed and unshed tears. And the daughter does not say anything because she’s been shushed. But her eyes say a lot. And I always think to myself the eyes say, “notice me. look at me.” And by me, I mean not the physical form me but whatever the “me” inside who is hurting.
We use the term body dysmorphia for a lot of people these days. This idea that when you look at the mirror or an image of yourself, you see a distorted image of the actual body. You see a different reality. This is often what patients with eating disorder experience. They are trying to alter a reality that is distorted by controlling food or hyperexercising. Of course it’s also a control issue. Eating disorders are often a control issue.
Do you think much of the world has earth dysmorphia? They see the state of the earth in a distorted image? I think there are some environmentalist and also those that deny climate change can both have it. Both vehement sides insist on changing the earth and society in drastic ways to fit into their distorted image of the world. I’ve been thinking of this term earth dysmorphia or planteary dysmorphia to explain why I only have a handful of signups for a clean up event we are sponsoring. I also have been thinking of this term in terms of rigid stances and only what I can describe as angry environmentalism from some of my colleagues. I don’t respond to anger or negativity, so I shut them out.
Just some thoughts this morining. It has been a wonderfully wonderful weekend. We are deep cleaning the house. I cleaned the kitchen hood and discovered a very easy way to do it. I can’t believe I haven’t done it this way before. I also replanted with my mother-in-law one of our citrus trees, and myself a bunch of succulents. We are rearranging the kids’ rooms to get ready for the school year. I saved a bee yesterday that wandered into the house. I gently captured it with a plastic tupperware and a piece of rigid paper and released it into the garden. A small catepillar was eating the succulents up on the balcony garden, and I decided to let it eat away. But when I returned, it had died and it’s form was in the soil already decomposing. And many many white small butterflies yesterday in our backyard garden, happy and with a cool place to rest. And my own two children. I’m trying to notice them and be more present for them. It helps to be a pediatrician to know the journey that other parents and children have taken. We try to avoid those major obstacles and I’m forever grateful I became a more present and mindful mother right when my children hit their tween and teen years.
I think the answer to both body dysmorphia and earth dysmorphia, is just to listen. To seek quiet and notice the living creatures around us and to try to help them the best way we can.