Body Image, Yes I struggled during childhood and adolescence.

Recently, I was browsing many of the Autism groups of Facebook and came upon this BBC 3 clip on male body image. Many say individuals with autism don’t have this issue. However, I have to argue that for several points. This clip profiles men of all shapes, ethnicities, lifestyles and sizes. Some may have a eating disorder while other dudes may not. Nonetheless, I struggle day to day with this. Over the next paragraph, we will journey through  an almost 30 year history of my body images, and don’t worry there’s no graphic pictures, they’re clean, I promise.

Part I: The Ritalin and Misdiagnoses

1991_christmas_dustin-2By the time I entered first grade, I really didn’t know, but my parents knew something was not right mentally. They took me to a clinic at a regional hospital where I was prescribed the traditional drug of any kid in the 1990s with the ADHD label, Ritalin. This medicine made my very lethargic and not wanting to eat Throughout much of my elementary school years, I was forty pounds soaking wet. I wanted to eat, but I couldn’t, nor did I care if I did or not. I did not like a plethora of food choices. My main go to  was Hot Dogs, Mac & Cheese and the occasional McDonald’s.

First Day of Third Grade, the turning point

I recall this one time at my first elementary school where I wouldn’t eat the food and I went to throw it away. The paraprofessional halted me and gave it to the hungry kids in the lunchroom, I felt so ashamed. Family get togethers were yet another difficulty with the ADHD blending in and not wanting to eat. I don’t realize it to just now, but I am sure I stressed my family out. As for body image at this point, I didn’t want to gain weight, but my parents were gravely concerned for several years. The medicine was being used until the 3rd grade when learning in the mainstream environment became increasingly difficult.

Near the end of the Ritalin days, Easter in Sixth Grade

The behavior became so severe that it resulted in switching schools to an emotional support classroom, a smaller environment. With the new school being a huge change, the behaviors worn off and I began to receive my Ritalin from the pediatrician. Even with the adapted changes, eating and body image became a struggle that I wouldn’t eat certain foods. Now I realize years later that it could have been the sensory issues, however not yet having a official autism diagnosis, I thought these feelings were abnormal. I did family get togethers with little struggle, but didn’t eat as regularly as I should have for a growing child. Eventually, by the end of the elementary school years, I would end taking the Ritalin. However changes were necessary as I would begin the Junior High Years.

Part II: The “Official” Diagnosis and change in Meds

Fall of 7th Grade, About 100-110 pounds

As the transition began from Elementary School to Junior High was difficult to the point that in-home services were required. One of the first professionals that visited my home made 16 phone calls on my behalf and began the process of getting in a research study at a local university medical center where I performed a battery of tests and was given the official diagnosis. As such, I was referred to their clinic for medication management and was  prescribed two of the three meds I still take twenty years later. I continue to take a mood stabilizer and a ant-agressant to maintain my mood and help me sleep. A anti anxiety med, that a true period of transition over the next seven years until I found the current one.

Me in My Challenger League Uniform during my 7th Grade Summer, about 140#

With Junior High came physical education, which is a state mandated class in Pennsylvania. With that came the bullying and teasing, the locker room banter, the physical fitness tests, the dreaded “mile”. I had a pitiful veteran gym teacher and adaptive PE was not offered to me at my school as I was classified as too “advanced” None the less beginning the end of seventh grade, the weight became to come on due to the side effects of weight gain and increased appetite of the two meds. I hated my body, I was continued to be bullied and bantered throughout the seventh grade. I hated the part of growing out of new clothes, etc. I knew puberty had a part in this effect but I had negative feelings about myself to the point that additional services were needed and it became increasingly difficult to control my emotions physically and mentally. To not help, my Junior High was in the process of renovation over 7th Grade to the start of 8th Grade, and as a result, the construction made us attend classes in multiple buildings, the bantering continued to the point that I was glad the year was over.

Part III: The Hospitalization Experiences

Another successful day of Trout Season (Age 14, about 160#)

Beginning the following school term the school messed up my schedule placing me in total mainstreaming. This was increasingly difficult but could not be changed for several weeks, The bantering and Phys. Ed. issues continued, which made me eat and again struggle with body image. I didn’t feel complete. I couldn’t feel satisfied after a meal, the list goes on and on. None the less it got to the point that I acted out at home and required psychiatric hospitalization. This was my first time away from home ever without family.

As such, I learned new things and was released from the hospital a week later. The curricula at school was changed to a book study PE. However, the PE deal was renegicuated to include a modified PE. The school term ended badly, with me continuing to act out as well as the trauma from being restrained frequently. In addition, I began a regular weight lifting routine, thinking it would help. Decades later, I realized it would of helped if I would have ate better and managed better. But at this point I was just living day to day. Finally, I had a really bad episode that resulted me in returning to the same hospital just seven months after I left. I would not finish the school term successfully. I, along with family members continued to become increasingly concerned about my weight to a point. However, we were unsure if it was a part of puberty. We knew the meds had a part in this, but we thought it would play out with the semi-workout routine. This was the beginning of the struggle of the weight issues that I hold twenty years later.

Shortly after the second hospitalization, I came back and returned again and spent my 15th birthday in the inpatient unit. I got out one more time, only to return again after a very bad episode. I stayed longer this time, but I got out. I continued to live, but with a struggle, body image had a play in this I thought I wasn’t good enough to live, stuff like that. The time came when I lashed out in the university clinic where I was admitted to the university psych hospital. My parents gave a ultimatum. I was not to return to their residence until I was through a residential treatment facility, and due diligence, my mother aggressively fought the system’s idea of first having me placed in a place in New England, then a counter offer of a facility on the other side of the state. My mother successfully placed me in treatment 30 miles from my house.

A home visit for Christmas (About 185#)

While there was an abundance of activity that nine months I was placed, my parents wanted to level me out on my meds and give me a baseline. As such, the weight creped over the holidays. I did have an opportunity to attend a different public school that was totally opposite of the Junior High the year prior. It was a success, but it had nearly five times the students the Junior High had. Being a High School, it had a expansive food court, that included a salad bar, that I rarely visited, however I did visit the Ala carte line regularly. Near the point I completed my goals in residential, I got on the scale, just for kicks. I knew the pants size went up from a 36:” to when I was admitted to a 38″ and a weight of 187#. I was appalled.  I again knew that I had to make a change for the better. To my mother’s agreement , when I came home, in home services would need to occur for the transition to become successful. I agreed and came home. The next day, I went to the gym and weighed myself on the scale, I weighed 200 # I was ready for a change. Little did I know, I had to yet transition to yet another school in my home school district, but this would be completed easier. I still had days of which I would require to be restrained due to lashing out. Things seemed to not get better. I was groomed with unhealthy food choices like Chinese Buffets, Soda (caffeine free, but calorie), and weekly pizzas, sometimes twice a week.

Sophomore Summer when I was 16 (Approx. 225#)

I was associating with other peers, many of them younger in a wilderness setting. As the weight increased due to the increased usage of meds, as the psychiatrist didn’t want to “rock the boat,” the dosage continued. One Friday night at the gym, I was all alone in the locker room and I decided to have my own true weight session. Since May of that year, I gained 25 pounds. I was too ashamed to ask for guidance as I was lifting weights on a regular basis, however the continuance of the fatty foods would not help, nor did the continuance of meds, although I realize that it is a necessary element in my recovery. I knew that the weight had to be managed in some form. Many thought that going to they gym was helping. Ironically, it did not. In fact, I was increasingly stressed and experienced trauma from it and other social outings, that were increasingly difficult. However as Asperger’s was new and new territory and many professionals were unaware of the sensory issues.

Christmas at Age 16, 2 weeks after eye surgery and weighing around 230#

The body image issue continued over the holidays and into the summer of the following year into my 17th birthday. I felt extremely conscious of myself. Being in the Senior High offered me the opportunity to have adaptive PE. of which my Sophomore year the instructor was nearing retirement and resulted in playing computer games. I continued with the weekly dining out from Mexican Chinese to Buffets added with the calories sodas, it became increasingly difficult for me to pursue the dream that seemed to have no light at  the end of  the tunnel. I continued to be on the meds, which again, I knew I needed. That fall I “graduated” into a 40′ waist. I thought, this has got to stop. I had felt as puberty was over, but the weight was growing outward from this point forward. I had a hard time seeing the need for a change to be made, I, nor my family members wanted to be serious. about it.  I continued to workout on a regular basis until thanksgiving break my junior year as I joined the swim team as a statistician and the weight crept even more. I broke away from the events that caused trauma in my life, my life seemed to get better.

One of my senior portraits taken just after I turned 18. I weighed around 245# at the time.

That spring, I remember going to Macy’s to try on a pair of 40″ shorts, sadly, I couldn’t get them to zip nor button. I cried as I asked my mom for the next size. Also that year, a recruiter called me for the Selective Service a turned 18. They asked my height and weight. I was so embarrassed to state my weight over the phone of 243, yet again I was in torn to tears. Nonetheless, I began the senior pictures that summer as I looked delighted but it was only the beginning of the increasingly climb to adulthood.



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