Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Biggest Struggle

This post has been a long time coming.  I have started it, erased it and written it again about six times over the years.  It’s a struggle I have always wanted to share, but I questioned if I was ready to disclose such personal information on a lighthearted style blog. 

Body acceptance is getting substantial air time in the media right now.  The Body Acceptance Movement wants everyone to love their bodies regardless of size, shape and ability.  There are many who see this movement as celebrating unhealthy lifestyles.  I don’t know where I stand on the issue, because I can’t tell anyone else how they should feel about their body.

I struggled with disordered eating for about 15 years.  I’ve made it through the fog and have a healthy and balanced lifestyle these days, but beginning in middle school and through graduate school I couldn’t say the same.  I remember the first time I hated my body.  I was in third grade and had to wear a training bra way before anyone else in my class.  My mom told me I would like my big boobs someday, but no third grader wants boobs!  This moment created what I worried would be a lifetime of hating everything about my appearance.

I recall a time in sixth grade when a girlfriend of mine asked me what plastic surgery I would get if I could.  Looking back, this question is totally ridiculous for 11 year olds to discuss, but there we were in her basement talking about what we wish we could change surgically.  I honestly don’t remember what I told her, but she looked right at me and told me “If I were you I’d probably get a nose job”.  I think about that comment a lot, even as I approach 30.  I had never had a problem with my nose, but now it was this hideous lump on my face that everyone was judging.  This is how the cycle of negative self-talk creates this completely false belief about how others see you.  This girl was just a mean girl, but I couldn’t recognize that at 11.

The issues with negative self-talk didn’t stop there.  Throughout high school and college I judged myself daily.  I picked apart my flaws so that I could mask them or somehow preempt attacks from others about the way I looked.  It seemed like everything about me was wrong.  I was shorter than my siblings, chubbier than my best friend, had ugly brown hair that looked mousy when I stood next to the other girls in choir and was all around bad.  Being a mature adult, I realize that the way you look is of some importance to others, but doesn’t define you.  When you’re in high school that doesn’t matter.

At my brother's wedding in 2007, hoping he wasn't disappointed that I was "an ugly bridesmaid"

When I turned 21 I decided I was finally going to make some drastic changes.  I hit the gym, started dieting hardcore, learned how to apply makeup well and began changing my hair.  I didn’t know if I liked what I saw, but the reaction from others was enough to keep me going.  What had initially started out as a healthy lifestyle change quickly spiraled out of control and became an obsession with calories, inches and pounds.

When a person is obsessed, it seems like nothing else exists or matters.  I can’t really tell you what I learned my senior year of college, but I could tell you how many calories I allowed myself daily.  I couldn’t tell you about the fun things I did on Spring Break visiting my boyfriend that year, but I could tell you that I gained .8 pounds on the trip and hated myself because of it.  I couldn’t tell you about how excited I was to graduate and move across the country to start attending grad school, but I could tell you that I spent hours googling the closest gyms to my new apartment.  I passed out twice my senior year because I wasn’t eating, and was actually proud of myself.  I stopped getting my periods and thought I was pregnant twice even though my boyfriend and I were long distance and it just wasn’t possible.

I stopped reading for enjoyment, and obsessed over low cal cook books and cleanse books like the one I'm reading here when I should have been enjoying my vacation. 

It seemed completely normal to me though.  I recall one day when I was at work talking with a male coworker.  I have no idea what I was saying, but he actually stopped me and told me “you are kind of messed up about food and exercise stuff, aren’t you?”  Whoa.  It was noticeable to other people?  Now all of the sudden, on top of the fear I had that others were judging me based on my looks now people are starting to think I am a crazy person?  The vicious cycle of negative self-talk continued with greater force than ever before.

It is an odd thing, negative self-talk.  You don’t even realize it is happening most of the time.  I didn’t consciously sit in my room telling myself that people wouldn’t like me if I gained two pounds, but that thought popped into my head several times a day.  I would feel awesome when the scale told me I lost weight and like a miserable failure if I even maintained.  I skipped out on a lot of events in my early twenties because I knew (just KNEW!) that people would think I was a loser because I wasn’t tall/thin/cute/blonde enough.  This was a legitimate fact in my mind.

I was out celebrating something with friends by drinking champagne.  I can't remember what we were celebrating, only that I beat myself up for going "over my calories" that night. 

I just figured my life would always be like that.  A constant roller coaster of hating myself and loving the attention changes in my appearance got me.  Excessively high one day and crushingly low the next.  I also hid this from everyone I knew.  I didn’t talk to my best friend about it, because she was beautiful and I thought she wouldn’t understand.  I didn’t tell my parents, because I thought they would be more disappointed in me than they already were for being the “loser child”.  I didn’t tell my boyfriend at the time, because I thought I would scare him away.  On the outside I seemed so happy and accomplished, but on the inside I was that 11 year old girl who got told she needed a nose job to be pretty.

It wasn’t until I was 24 that I got the help I didn’t know I needed.  I broke down one night and told someone about how I obsessed over food and my body every day and he encouraged me to see a therapist.  I had actually tried therapy once before to talk about all of this, but I just spent the entire session crying and trying to tell the therapist everything all at once.  I felt judged, even though looking back I know I wasn’t, and never returned to her office.

This time I found a professional who dealt specifically with body dysmorphia and disordered eating.   She didn’t take my insurance, so I paid thousands of dollars out of pocket up front to ensure that I would continue with my treatment.   During my first appointment I just spent 50 minutes sobbing trying to tell this woman everything I ever hated about myself.  I remember leaving her office with a red and puffy face and just praying that she would be the one to help me.

And she was.  In my time in therapy I had to work hard to un-learn everything I thought I knew about healthy eating, exercise, what people thought of me and how to enjoy myself.  It takes a lot of time to identify all the negative messages we send ourselves each day and then change them.  There were times I was frustrated that therapy wasn’t “working” and times I was so proud of myself, truly proud, for making positive changes.   It took about a year of working weekly and then biweekly with my therapist for me to change from a girl who was scared everyone hated her to a woman that knows she is valuable and worthwhile.

I started to understand that my family still loved me, even if I gained weight over the holidays.  I learned that people don’t really care about how tall I am.  I learned that people think about me and my appearance a lot less than I think they do.  It helped me to relax, and finally be me.  I hadn’t been me in nearly 15 years.  I became nicer, more understanding, compassionate and less judgmental of others.  Eventually I became happy.  Today I am happier, and more at peace, than I ever thought I could be 10 years ago.  True happiness and acceptance of oneself is something I am thankful for every day.

So why share this?  I know I am not the only person that has struggled with this.  As a therapist now I get to pay it forward by helping others fight the negative cycle of self-hate.  As a style blogger I put myself out there for people to either judge or appreciate and I can do it without fear or some false bravado.  I love myself and some days I even love my body too.  If you are struggling with this, please know that there are trained professionals who have dedicated their careers to helping you feel good again. 

Thanks everybody!



Frannie Pantz said...

OMG. Ok. So I just started crying at work. I can absolutely relate to this. I have done a couple of posts on this issue because I had very similar issues with my body. In fact, I STILL have A LOT of issues with my body, especially after having a baby last year and being unable to lose the last 15 pounds. I have been (and still kind of wonder) convinced that people stopped visiting my blog because I am not "skinny" like I was. I have seriously considered very unhealthy alternatives to getting back to my old size including wanting to get the stomach flu because the last time that I did I lost 5 pounds. You hit the nail on the head here and I thank you so much for sharing this. For the record, I never thought anything was wrong with your nose and I think you are a very BEAUTIFUL young lady. I love your style and your beautiful red hair and your cute little dog. Keep up EVERYTHING.

K said...

Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with your readers! I've certainly been through my fair share of self hatred and it took me a long time and a decent amount of therapy to really start to value myself as a person. I think there is as much need to share the benefits of therapy as there is need to promote self love because there is still such a stigma attached the therapy. I felt so ashamed that I needed help to "get better" at first and I didn't tell people. Now I know how valuable it was for me and how much it would really benefit others.
Despite the help I received, I'm currently at my heaviest weight and I have to very purposefully tell myself I am not disgusting when I look in the mirror. Thankfully I am at a positive place mentally where I can recognize the negative self talk and make a point of being positive to myself. Thanks to my past I know that I am loved and valuable despite my weight or size. It's still hard to not be happy with what I see in the mirror right now but I am able to remind myself that I'm working on it and I'm doing it in a smart and healthy way by focusing on small healthy changes in my everyday life to create a lifestyle change and not just crash diet or crash and burn from going too hard too fast, which I have done before.
Anyway, thank you for sharing this. You are awesome and impressive in addition to being a knockout! Like Frannie said, keep up everything!!

Side note: apologies if this is a double post. I had crafted a comment I was very happy with and when I went to post it, I signed into my google account to post and it erased my whole comment! So maybe there's 2 comments from me and maybe this one is more scattered and crazy than the first or maybe there's just this one haha either way, I'm grateful you're doing what you do.