I yearn to break out of my self-imposed isolation

The problem started when I gained weight as a child and was often ridiculed by family and friends

PROBLEM: I was in hospital a lot as a child, spending large periods of time alone. To counteract this I read a lot of books and consumed all the treats that everyone who came to visit brought. This led to weight gain. I have been fat for as long as I can remember.

I struggled to break into any group in primary school, grabbing on to anyone who was nice to me and trying all forms of childish bribery to make them my friend, only for them to eventually return to the safety of their group without me.

In secondary school I became loud, started smoking, trying to be cool. I got fatter and fatter as I hid away every evening and weekend, secretly and not so secretly eating, so I didn’t have to face any social situations or lack thereof.

I was often ridiculed by family and friends. I learned not to let my upset show and now I’m the queen of self-deprecation, best to get there first so someone else doesn’t steal the joke at my expense.

This has also led to me becoming super-analytical of everything I say and do. I spend so long thinking about doing something and how it might look or what people might think, I rarely do or say anything. I sometimes feel as if I am shouting “like me, please like me”. I have no sense of self. If I don’t know who I am, how am I to let anyone else get to know me?

I find it hard to make connections with anyone. I have friends but I don’t confide in them: the thought of being judged and losing one of them is too great. I never call them if I’m lonely or down. Even though I live with a friend and we are close, I could never reveal this part of myself to them. Lately, I have pulled back even further so I don’t have a negative impact on their lives.

I yearn for physical contact, to be able to relax with someone, not be afraid to act impulsively and reach out and touch someone on the arm or stroke their back or give a hug. The truth is I feel so starved of a connection that I am afraid my actions and reactions will be excessive or wrong in some way.

I ache to be free of this, but due to fear, self-imposed isolation is the route I have taken. The loneliness can make me physically and mentally ill at times. I push it down and hide away so no one will ever find out. The list of “if I just do this thing it will make me acceptable to society” is endless: if I lose weight, if I am more socially adept, if I am nicer, if I care less what others think, if I stop saying stupid things, if I stop being so loud, if I take up less space, if I am not such an idiot, if I am more intelligent, if I stop being a coward . . .

I need help to start living fully and to silence the incessant “if” chorus.

ADVICE: The suffering you have experienced is extreme, and the lengths you have gone to in order to hide this from everyone has become a huge block to both self-expression and self-esteem.

I agree that you need to start living and I agree that a starting point is to stop the “ifs” and the negative self-commentary. But you do not have to do this alone. Your childhood of isolation and being overweight has led to a protection and defence mechanism that allowed you to function but kept all possible “true” connection at bay.

You now know that this is not a recipe for happiness: you long to be touched and to touch. Pretend friendships or relationships will not suffice, yet the route to real connection will require openness, honesty and courage.

You sound as though things are so bad now that you are prepared to take this risk. The experience of being ridiculed by family is damaging and so you must choose who to trust with care. But you say you have good friends; perhaps you could begin with one person and then recruit their help with the others. If the thought of this is too difficult, you could go for a few counselling sessions to practise speaking truthfully about yourself and discover that it releases you rather than torments you.

Being overweight in our society is considered unacceptable, yet when you look around you see that this is an issue for very many people.

We know that the cycle of dieting only leads to guilt and shame, and this is something you have carried with you since early childhood. Your body deserves your love and respect rather than hatred. How can you allow someone else to enjoy it when you treat it with such disdain?

Your body needs to feel that it is safe to emerge from hiding. The starting point is catching and dropping the endless negative commentary it receives from you. This requires self-awareness and compassion; if practised enough, this will have an effect. You have had enough suffering – now is the time to risk living.