I come home from the gym, take off my sweaty mildewy shirt and hang it over the edge of the laundry bin. I look down at my woolly protruding belly. It’s not your average almost-endearing type of belly, but rather one that hosts a large fold of skin that pools over my belt line even when I am thin (a parting gift from childhood obesity).

For much of my life I have hidden my body not only from others but from myself. I have not only avoided beaches, hot tubs and pools, but even the comfort of being shirtless on hot summer nights in the privacy of my own apartment.

Recently I have allowed myself to remain shirtless for longer stretches of time. My motives haven’t been conscious. I have simply been too depressed to notice. Now that I am aware I decide to place my large hands over my belly and rest them there for a minute. I breath in and out and let myself feel into it. I look down at my breasts with curiosity rather than disgust. I tearfully realize how pointless it is to fight this any longer. This is where I am encased and lashing out against it changes nothing. I’m too tired to continue this ceaseless war against myself.

I imagine myself onstage at one of those fitness competitions where the orange men with rippling muscles flex and inspire awe. I cradle my belly and turn sideways to give everyone a better view. I can feel the disgust as the audience boos and hisses. I draw power from my defiance, but I do not hate them. I understand that I am one of them: that I too have judgments and aesthetic preferences and that, therefore, I am no better or worse.

I feel slightly embarrassed at the silliness of my fantasy. But I also notice myself feeling prettier than I did a moment ago.

As I sit and stare at this entry I realize I am hesitant to share it. It feels vulnerable. It opens me up to judgment and derision. I imagine a wonderful friend of mine feeling protective of me for sharing something so personal publicly. But I don’t care. No amount of judgment could possibly surpass a lifetime of my own harsh criticisms and shame. The silver lining of that tragedy is that nobody can hurt me worse than I’ve already done—I am calloused. I tap my belly before hitting “publish” as a final act of joyful defiance.

To the homeless person who was screaming frantically at their demons last night…

I am sorry for turning away and idly standing by as others gawked. You are dangerously close to the truth and we are too cowardly to bear it.

I ducked inside a nice restaurant where I was served a meal and partook in “civilized” conversation. Up went the fancifully embroidered veil that hides me from the terror of annihilation: Is the kitchen too loud for me? Would this lovely meat pastry taste even better with ground pepper?

And here I sit, writing comfortably at my desk and imagining that I would open my door to you. The truth is that I would not. I am worse than the gawkers for believing that my awareness means anything. The moment I set the pen down my mind will busy itself with inanities while resting in its cozy bed of privilege.