Many people suffer from body image issues—either thinking themselves fat when they’re not or perceiving flaws in themselves that others don’t see. There are a number of ways in which we fool ourselves. But I used to have a very strange perception when I was a kid. I’m sure there’s a scientific name for it but I’ve never ferreted it out. (If anyone can help me there I’d appreciate it).

From a very young age I would occasionally find myself in the body of a giant. That is, I’d be going about my daily business usually relaxing doing things—watching TV, reading, playing with my army or my Cowboys and Indians plastic figurines—and suddenly my perception would shift radically. I would feel as if I was a tiny flame of consciousness moving around inside an impossibly large flesh machine, not only massively tall but massively dense. I thought I might burst through the roof of the house at any moment; that the chair I sat upon would collapse under my massive weight at any moment. I was frozen in shock, unable and unwilling to move. When I looked at other people and kids nearby they didn’t seem to notice that anything had changed. It was frightening, startling, but fortunately it only lasted a short while (maybe thirty seconds or so) before my perception went back to normal.

You have to understand that I was a big kid. I got my growth spurt early. By second grade I was five-foot-three and solidly built—not fat, not yet, but solid. Everyone always thought me older than my chronological age. I towered over classmates and was even taller than many of the 6th graders. This had both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage, of course, was that bullies only came after me verbally. When a kid is a foot taller than your badass self you tend not to want to risk physical altercations. But sticks and stones aren’t the only things that hurt. Words sting, no matter what the proverbs tell you. The bullies referred to me as the Jolly Red Giant (I had flaming red hair), a corruption of the frozen food product, and Babe the Red Ox, a corruption of Paul Bunyan’s blue pet. But I got really, really good at verbal takedowns (a habit I had to carefully wind back down as I aged). So the bullies didn’t taunt me too much unless they wanted my mouth to strip them of flesh in front of their hangers on. I was also able to plant myself between the bullies and some of the smaller kids. “If you want to take on Orlinda, you’ve got to come through me.” They usually declined that offer.

My growth spurt continued so that by the time I finished junior high I was just shy of five foot seven. Thankfully I stopped growing soon after and my classmates caught up with me or surpassed me. But that odd body perception persisted until I was maybe sixteen or so. Once I stopped growing, it went away never to return. I have wondered since if it might have been some subconscious acknowledgement of those growth spurts, or some weird neural spasm. My body changed so rapidly, growing faster than my self-image could process, and my brain (or whatever) would have to periodically recalibrate the new image.

If you think about it, we all of us really are tiny flames of consciousness riding around in massive flesh machines. Maybe not giants who might sink into the earth at any moment, but the ratio of brain to body is disproportionate, and the growth spurts of youth reverse as we age, making us smaller and smaller. The ghost in the machine, that indefinable spark of This-Is-Me that we carry forward through space and time, is always forced to recalibrate and reconfigure just who the heck we are.