For those of you who have followed me since the beginning, you know that this blog has its origin in travel. Lately, I’ve been using it more as my online diary, because personally, this is the best way for me to express myself. The support, comments, and praise I have received from the people who read my posts has increased my confidence, creativity, and in all honesty, the way I write. To the people who followed me because they liked hearing about my adventures, I promise I’ll start writing about where the wind takes me soon (heading to Mexico for sb in 2 days-woot woot!!). And to the people who appreciate my openness and don’t mind me using my blog as an online diary, I have something personal for you.
In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’m writing to share my personal experiences with disordered eating, bulimia, self esteem, and self love. I’ve had this post brewing for a while. To me, the best way to deal with something that’s eating you up inside is to talk about it and find support. This is comical because if you know me and have been around me throughout my “healing”, I don’t like therapists and talk therapy. For me, finding the support I needed through telling some of my friends and family was the best way to deal with whatever was brewing inside of me. It’s taken me awhile to build up the courage to write this post, but after Taylor dragged me to a book reading last night, I knew I could do it.
Last night I sat in Cinè, an indie movie theater in Athens, and listened to an African American man, Kiese Laymon, read chapters from his memoir on his experience with sexual abuse, disordered eating, and growing up in one of the most racist counties in Mississippi (side note-I have in no way ever been sexually abused, I am just using his story as reference). He struggled at first, telling us that he did not want to read these chapters out loud, but once he started, man he could not stop! The words flowed from his mouth, building, strengthening, as he narrated some of the most difficult times in his life. When it was over, Kiese was beaming. Here, this man just read some of the most painful encounters of his childhood to an audience of at least 70 people, and he was beaming!!! The applause from the audience was deafening, the support from the crowd unreal. It inspired me, it motivated me, it changed me.
If you ask a woman if she’s happy with her body, 99.9% will say no and proceed to point area their “problem areas”, their crows feet, laugh lines, wrinkles, the things that make them an individual. The things that make them human. To that .01% of women who love themselves the way they are-I aspire to be you. You don’t give a rat’s ass about what society, the media, your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner thinks you should look like. You own every curve, every bone, every hair, every freckle, mole, pimple-whatever! You laugh at socially constructed norms because they only tear down confidence and body positivity instead of building a community that empowers and builds self esteem. You laugh at people who tell you “you’ll be really pretty if you just lost like 5 pounds, or wore some more make up, or dressed cuter”. You’re the kind of person I aspire to be.
Growing up, I never thought of myself as fat, or not pretty, or whatever words we use to describe girls these days. Sure I was the bigger friend, but that’s just because all of my best friends were tiny little nugs-seriously like I think Nicole and Ellie were 4’8 in middle school and I was taller than the boys at 5’4. I didn’t think about whether or not boys liked me or if they thought I was hot. I focused on cheerleading, hanging out with my friends, eating whatever the hell I wanted. Diet and exercise were not words in my vocabulary. But something shifted in me that summer going into 8th grade. It started out as a desire to be desired. I thought maybe if I was skinner or prettier that I would be popular. I started competition cheerleading that year, I wore a lot of make up that year. I started making myself throw up that year. Not often, but enough to get the idea of that rush of satisfaction and cleanse after throwing up (this is because your brain releases endorphins to reward the body for getting rid of the “poison”).
Junior year, I started counting calories. I became obsessed. Everything that went into my mouth went into the app on my phone. I honestly cannot explain why I started doing this. Diet had never been a huge concern to me, so why now? I had been having relationship troubles. I didn’t feel desired, or wanted, or pretty. I was relying on someone else’s moods to determine my mood. I based my self worth on other people’s opinions of me. I quit Allstars, choosing to focus on high school cheer and competition. I began going to LifeTime with my friends after school. If I exceed my calorie count for the day, I found myself in my bathroom, locking the door and turning the shower on. I was anxious, I developed a mental block in cheer (when you have some irrational fear and refuse to throw your tumbling). I was miserable all the time, introverting myself from all my friends. I gained 10 pounds after I broke my ankle. I started eating when I felt stressed. I started eating when I was sad, anxious, unsure. I used food as a coping mechanism. I still made myself throw up time to time because of that endorphin rush. Because I felt like it was the one of the only things I had control over in my life. I
I went into college expecting to gain weight because unlimited dining plan + unlimited alcohol + no parent supervision = freshman 15 (yes this is a real thing). For some reason it didn’t bother me. I made new friends, I went to frat parties, I gained weight, my face got puffy and my jeans got tighter. I barely went to the gym, maybe once or twice a week, sometimes once every 2 weeks. But I was having the time of my life. College, guys! I got bronchitis, sinus infections, strep, and tonsillitis from those 200 year old dorms. I got surgery to remove my tonsils, and came back to Athens 20 pounds lighter. I was skinner than before I went to college. I was getting more attention from boys, getting asked on date nights and semis and formals, all my friends were complaining about how they need to get their tonsils out because I was so skinny. I felt pretty. I felt skinny. I felt wanted. I based my self worth off other people’s opinions-again.
I became obsessed with maintaining my newly skinny figure. I started running. One mile turned to two to three. Soon I was running every single day. 2-3 miles plus arms or abs or legs…every…single…day. I told myself that running was my stress reliever (which is true). I stopped binge eating. I stopped late nighting. I switched my vodka crans to vodka water with lime. I tracked my calories like a drill sergeant. I can’t eat that, ugh I have to run so much to burn that off, and do you know how many calories are in that? became part of my everyday vocabulary. One day, I stayed in from downtown with my best friend, had a movie night, and binged on popcorn, candy, and wine. I told her I was going to bed and walked down our hall to our community bathroom. I purged it all. I thought no one was in the bathroom. It was the first time someone had caught me. I brushed it off saying something about how I was lactose intolerant (not a lie) and I had felt sick. I could tell she didn’t believe me.
This summer when I was in Italy, I was running 4, 5, 6 miles a day. I was cooking for myself with the freshest ingredients nature had to offer. I had control over every aspect in my life-my meals, my daily activities, etc. I continued to track my food out of habit-going so far as to learn how to convert grams into cups and ounces and tablespoons to put into myfitnesspal. But, I never binged, I never purged, I didn’t calculate the hours between my meal times or based my daily intake off of how many calories I had burned. I didn’t feel like I was allowed to eat because I worked out-my previous mentality. But living like this was unrealistic long term. When I moved back to Athens this semester, shit hit the fan.
I moved into a room with 3 other roommates whom I adore greatly. I have always been a people person, so this didn’t bother me at first. The more the semester dragged on, the more my anxiety and depression developed. I had no control over my food-we’re on a limited meal plan. I had no control over when I ate. I had no control over the state of the room-whether it was messy or clean or whatever. I felt like I had no control over anything in my life-except for one thing. I began binge eating to cope with the stress of school and friend issues and lack of control. I began purging to get rid of everything I had just eaten. I stopped running, punishing my body with strenuous workouts I could barely finish. I became anxious and bitchy and miserable. I dropped a class, I dropped my friends, I got so wrapped up in my own head and thoughts that I couldn’t see that I was doing this to myself. I started drinking too much when I went out, and then eating too much when I got back to try to sober up and get back into control.
I also took the first step towards getting help. I went home one weekend unexpectedly and bawled my eyes out to my mom in our living room. It was the first time I had told her about what I do to myself. I made an appointment with UGA CAPS-Counseling and Psychiatric Services. I got a physical. My doctor could see the finger marks in the back of my throat from where I shoved them down esophagus. My blood work came back with vitamin deficiencies. I sat with a therapist twice a week, discussing my behaviors and why I did the things I do. I had an amazing childhood, amazing parents, amazing friends, so why was I so messed up? I started cancelling our appointments and counting down the days till winter break-when I was home.
Over winter break, I had a lot of long talks with my mom, my cousin, my friends. I was so unhappy, I was so not looking forward to going back to school, I was so wrapped up in my mind-focusing only on my weight, my appearance in the eyes of others. Physically, my body was spent. I would wake up with these bruises under my swollen eyes-it looked like I had two blacks eyes. I felt nauseous all the time, had symptoms of acid reflux and IBS. I had messed up my metabolism, stomach acid levels. My allergies were ridiculous, my immune system shot to hell. I let this thing that was eating me up inside control my life-when the whole reason why it started was because I wanted control.
The reason why I dislike talk therapy so much is because I feel like you can sit there and say all these things and uncover all these truths, but nothing is going to change unless you do something about it. Something consistently said all throughout my life is actions speak louder than words. I went to an allergist, a kinesiologist, and a general practitioner. I fixed what was happening to me physically. It was time to fix what was going on mentally. My mom always told me if there was something you didn’t like about yourself, change it.
My first step was trying not to wake up everyday at war with myself. I stopped focusing on “if I eat breakfast now, then I can eat again in 3 hours”. I stopped focusing on looking in the mirror and not being happy with what I saw. I stopped focusing on all the negative things I told myself. I stopped treating myself like shit and started to treat myself how I would treat someone I loved. I stopped my negative thoughts and bitchy comments to myself. I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t eat and instead, ate things I knew fueled my body.
I stopped starving myself for periods of time, and bingeing because I was so hungry I thought I would pass out. I stopped doing hardcore workouts that I could barely finish. I stopped focusing on all the things I couldn’t do, all the things I wasn’t, all the things I would never be.
I deleted Instagram and Pinterest. I deleted the unrealistic expectations I had set in my mind. I deleted the things in my life that did not help me heal myself.
I started going on long walks by myself, just listening to music and taking in the world around me. I started collecting little knick knacks throughout the week-flowers, coffee sleeves, pictures, concert wristbands-and gluing them into my journal. I started reading more books, falling back in love with writing and words. I started doing little things for my friends like buying them coffee or chocolate because seeing them happy made me happy.
I starting running again, focusing not on punishing my body and not using it as a notion as to whether or not I can eat that day. I started dressing up for class because it made me feel good about myself. I started wearing makeup to class not because I didn’t think I looked good without it, but because I enjoyed the process of putting it on. I looked for the good in everyday and made sure I wrote it down in my gratitude section. I joined Crunch Fitness and started going to classes there with strangers because the instructors were empowering.
I appreciated the little things and celebrated every achievement-even the tiny ones. I drank more water, I stretched more, I tried new things. I made efforts to see my friends, especially the ones I don’t see often. I FaceTime my cousin almost everyday. I send my friends encouraging texts, pictures, or quotes. I began to make the effort to build up positivity in the lives around me, because by doing so, I was building positivity in myself.
I stopped focusing on the number on the scale, where I was compared to everyone else. I stopped thinking everyone at the gym was judging me-they never were in the first place. I stopped eating past the point of being full. I focused on dressing to express myself and style, and not whether my jeans were a 4 or a 6. I started complimenting others and myself. I reminded my friends and family about how much I loved and appreciated them.
I think the biggest thing that helped me was to accept the fact that there are certain things in life you can’t control. We don’t live in a vacuum-things happen we can’t change. But we can adapt. We can make small changes in the things that cause us distress and unhappiness. We can remove the toxins from our life. We can switch our mindset. We can have all the supplies, abilities, resources, whatever we need to accomplish our goals, but they’re not going to accomplish themselves. The only way to get results in anything in life is to put in work. I mean, what good are wings without the courage to fly? (Atticus). Unless you are willing to take the leap and fly, they’re just wings. The first thing that helped me climb out of that darkness was changing the way I approached each day. I changed my point of focus. I changed my sources of motivation. Instead of wanted to be skinny, I want to be healthy. Instead of binge eating, I listen to my body and eat when I’m hungry-even if it’s at 10 pm. Instead of wanting to be thought of as pretty, I want to be thought of as smart, as inspiring, as a light in someone’s life.
Did this happen overnight? No. Do I still struggle with body image, eating habits, and self confidence? Yes, almost everyday. Do I get frustrated when I workout consistently and eat healthy, yet I don’t lose weight quickly? Of course. My point is, things take time. I’m no where near where I want to be, but I’ve got that spark back. That spark that keeps you going and keeps you motivated. I’m starting to see changes in my body from my hard work and lifestyle changes. I’m starting to love myself for who I am and all that I have and WILL accomplish. I’m starting to appreciate my non-physical traits over my physical ones.
Anyone can be skinny, or pretty, or curvy, or tall, or short. Anyone can have cellulite, freckles, moles, pimples, frizzy hair, curly hair, red hair, blonde hair. No one can be you. You my dear are a star in a galaxy, a fingerprint, a unique individual that is nothing other than yourself. You are the only one who has control over that piece of you. You don’t have to conform to anyone or anything. You don’t have to measure your self worth on your thunder thighs or cellulite or bat arms. These traits do not make you imperfect. This traits do not make you less of a person. These traits are emphasized by the media and society as being problems. But here’s a piece of info from an ad major-our industry invented these problems to sell a product!
Self love is a hard concept to wrap your head around-I know I’m still learning. But the most effective way for me is to embrace everything life throws at you. You are truly one of a kind. Everything happens for a reason and the things that happen to you are unique to you. Let’s focus more on being smart and being leaders and empowering others. Lets focus more on building positivity and celebrating personal growth. Let’s focus more on being individuals while loving all and each other simultaneously.
You are more than a number on a scale. I am more than a number on a scale. You are more than the number of likes you receive on a picture. I am more than a number of likes I receive on a picture. You are not defined by people’s opinions of you. I am not defined by people’s opinions of me. You can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do. I can be anything I want to be and do anything I want to do.
I would rather be called a motivator, an inspiration, a friend than pretty or sexy or hot. I would rather be alone on a Friday night than be around people who don’t appreciate me for what I am. It’s scary to take the first step, but believe me, once you get moving it’s hard to stop. My faith in myself and my abilities was stronger than my fear.
I’ve made the decision to share my story in hope that people out there know that you’re not alone in whatever struggles you’re facing. I wanted to let people know that everyone is fighting their own personal battles and that being a little kinder than necessary has never hurt anyone. I wanted to let people know that anything is possible as long as you take the first step in the right direction. We need to learn to walk before we can run, and things take time, but I promise you, there’s hope for whatever is eating you up inside. You are more than a stigma. You are more than a disorder. You are more than your mind.
thank you to all who have stood by me and helped me through this. Thank you to all who have supported me and silently cheered me on. Thank you to all who have sat with me, talked with me, and held me. Thank you to all who have inspired me to be more than what I am.