Growing up, similar to many teenage girls in today’s society, I found myself struggling with self-confidence.
I always found issues with my appearance; my grades were never good enough and I was always wishing to be someone else other than me. I constantly compared myself to “that girl” I thought I should be.
“That girl” had the perfect hair, “that girl” had the perfect body, “that girl” received a better grade on her test etc… It never occurred to me that I still received an A on the test, had a long head of hair down to my waist, or that I had a pretty average muscular type body.
When I was in tenth grade, I felt like I needed to control something in my life.
Everything felt out of control and there was nothing I could do to better myself.
I will never forget the night after my dance recital in May, when I forced myself to vomit for the first time.
I still ask myself this, and I still do not have an answer. It was something that just felt automatic.
Something that was secret. Something that I only knew about. It wasn’t that I was trying to “be skinny” or lose a few pounds. It was simply control.
However, being the type of intense person that I am, it quickly become an addiction. The first time turned into an excessive daily habit. In my “worst days”, I could vomit up to seven times a day.
Luckily, my mother knew the signs and was able to get me help as soon as possible. As much as I regretted her finding out, and feared that she would be mad, she was understanding, patient, and refused to let me sink.
My mother made a few phone calls and enrolled me in an extensive daily rehab program three days later. After a summer full of intense Monday through Friday therapy, I finally felt human again.
I learned how to eat appropriate portions and the importance of overall life balance, and the friendships I made there still last to this day.
Therapy consisted of eating our daily meals there, which was more of a struggle than I thought it would be. Many individuals struggled during dinnertime and for the first few weeks we were not permitted to speak during the dinner hour.
I grew up where everyone shared their stories around the dinner table, so this was definitely an adjustment for me. The most profound part of therapy was the after dinner accountability program.
We had to turn in our food logs that we had kept for the day, and after “tweaking” my portions for the first three weeks, eventually I realized that I needed to be honest or I would never receive the help I needed.
I looked around the room; many of the individuals were in their late 30s and 40s. They had families at home, and were stuck there all day.
I did not want that to be me. I began following the program specifically designed for me religiously, knowing they were the experts.
The individuals in my program held me accountable for my actions, which is a necessity when struggling with any type of addiction. I “graduated” from the program filled with hope, confidence, and I knew that there was no better me, than me.
I learned how every individual has their own identity, their own unique story… So, why try to be someone else, when there is no other you, than you?
Currently, I am enrolled in the occupational therapy program at West Virginia University. However, for the past year I have been second-guessing my decision, and was never truly satisfied with the profession I chose.
I always wanted more. I had always dreamt of being a surgeon, but never thought I would ever be capable. I still never thought I was smart enough, the finances did not seem to line up, and the schooling seemed to be endless.
Anytime I pondered the question in my head, I had a million reasons to shut it down. Unlike in high school, where I resorted to hiding my fears, I took positive action.
Action that would lead me down an exciting journey! So, this past summer, I had a meeting with the head maxillofacial reconstruction surgeon at our local hospital and he changed my life.
He sat me down and told me that if being a surgeon was truly what I wanted to do, I would NEVER be satisfied with anything else. He flat out told me to stop “half-assing” my life choices, and to be brave enough to take chances.
He has continued to invest the time into me, and for that I am forever grateful. I have finally decided that I will be attending medical school when I graduate in order to pursue my dreams.
Although there have been some bumps along the way, no one can stop me from being the best me possible.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I focus on the gentle bulges across my hips and thighs. I see the new found curve along my waist. I see me, not just the shadow of myself I saw a few years ago.
I’m a recovering anorexic. For me, anorexia is like alcoholism in the way that you are never fully ‘cured’. Relapses happen and it takes persistence and constant self-love to stay healthy.
I’m at the heaviest weight of my life and I’ve been told I have never looked healthier. To me, that is one of the best compliments I can receive. I had always been persistently underweight for my 5’9 frame since I was 15. Spiraling downwards into diet-restricting and over-exercising, I was a mess mentally and physically before I sought out help my sophomore year of college.
About the twinges of doubt and sadness that come with compliments saying that you look well.
About how old habits are hard to fend off when you’re old jeans fit too snugly.
About how when I stand in the mirror I see a woman. Not just a wisp of one.
I see a woman. A woman with a little extra padding to cushion her mind and her heart. A woman who tries on new clothes and makes an effort to never be discouraged by the size tag. A woman who speaks out about body positivity and lifts others up on her journey to wellness.
But the journey to wellness isn’t always easy.
Wellness isn’t just about the number on a scale or a healthy BMI, it’s about how you think and feel about yourself. It’s about how easily you can accept and be kind to yourself. Wellness is something we all struggle with.
But when I take the time to stop and think about where I got those, I find myself smiling. Each curve came from living life. From eating cake with a close friend in England to grabbing a pint of cider in Germany. When I was at my worst, my world revolved around food and what I didn’t eat. Now food revolves around the new life I have built for myself and the new woman I am today.
A woman one who knows she should probably get back into shape, but slightly fears how it could control her life again. A woman who realizes that the best thing that ever happened to her was studying abroad. How it helped her break her routine and simply focus on living her life again. Meaningful experiences became more important than image.
It is with that thought that I wish to stay in the travel frame of mind. To focus on living my best life and, honestly, just try to stay happy.
My sophomore year, when I first started reaching out to receive help, I wrote a poem to share in my creative writing class. It was one of my fist times sharing such a personal part of myself. Soon, I found that being vocal about negative body image was key to helping you change the way you think.
When I Look Into the Mirror
I notice the asymmetrical curve of my hips,
The slight left slant of my nose,
Off-centering my face.
I focus on every pore of my skin,
Scarred like the surface of the moon
From only nineteen short years of life.
I fold into myself,
Shying away from the newfound weight held around my waist;
An unwanted sign of recovery.
I feel the wetness as my eyes gloss,
Reaching for the white-capped pill bottle,
The one that ebbs these thoughts that haunt my mind.
I take a step back.
I see sunlight reflect the gleam in my eyes
Conveying warmth and summer’s sweet melody,
Crinkled up at the corners when I laugh.
I see my mother’s nose,
My father’s chicken legs,
Stretched for miles and built for speed.
I see long, slender fingers,
Of which my Dad relates to E.T.,
Perfect for reaching under the couch for refugee change.
I see a lopsided smile,
One that finds solace in a slice of chocolate silk pie
Or changes from raspberry to coral with a swipe of lipstick.
I am only but a body,
Focused by a lens,
Transformed through the brain,
When I look into the mirror,
I see it all.
Since I finally came to terms with my struggle, I couldn’t be prouder of how far I’ve come. And you know what? I’m delighted to share that. Whether or not it is seen as boasting is not my business. To me, there is no wrong in being proud of what you’ve worked hard to accomplish.
Earlier this week, I went in to the doctor. In the back of my mind, I was slightly terrified. It was the first time I was going to be weighed in a year; ever since I sought help back at university. Back then, I was getting weighed blind and felt entirely helpless to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to know my own body. It was a year ago that I walked out of that doctors office and decided that the number on a scale would no longer define me. And it was a year of bliss not knowing. But it was time.
I got on that scale and was weighed by a nurse who did not know what that moment meant to me. And that was exactly how I wanted it.
To be perfectly honest, it was fine. Maybe even better than I thought. My overactive imagination had conjured up some insane number in my head, so it was reassuring to see that wasn’t the case. I’m exactly where I need to be.
The journey to wellness is life-long. But it doesn’t have to be a battle. It’s important to bend with it like a palm in the breeze. If you stay too rigid, you might just snap. Life is ever-fluctuating. It curves left and right like a country road. Ebbs and flows like the oceans’ tides. It’s your job to learn to flow with it.
I don’t think I will ever buy a scale. I can finally say that I know myself and know that it can be all too easy for thoughts to become obsessive. But, to me, I now know that what really matters is how I feel. Healthy.
Mentally, physically, and spiritually. And honestly, I simply cannot wait to continue riding the curve on my journey to wellness.
It is common for people to say that time heals all wounds, but in my case, that is not quite accurate. I believe it is the manner in which one is able to deal with those wounds and want to change which is the determinant in the process of healing.
On this day, I clearly remember my doctor diagnosing me with an eating disorder and telling me that my heart rate was too low. At this moment, I did not want to accept reality. My whole mind was completely consumed with thoughts about food and exercise. I was in denial and wanted to continue living my life the way I was because I thought that it brought me happiness.
At this time, mostly all I focused on was eating “healthfully” and exercise. I sacrificed spending time with family and my schoolwork to get my exercise in. I did not want to give up everything that defined my life, and I chose to disregard all of the medical advice and urges from my parents.
I went one week continuing my extreme exercise habits and caloric restriction until I had to visit the doctor yet again. My heart was in an even poorer state, and my bones were becoming weaker. During this visit, my doctor informed me that my heart rate was so low that I could have died in my sleep. At this moment, I realized that I needed to change and embrace the process of recovery.
I think this is a pain that only a person who has recovered from an eating disorder can understand. I felt like my whole life was falling apart because I had defined my existence based upon my physical appearance and tried to attain an unrealistic goal for my body type. Throughout my eating disorder, I really only cared about my diet and exercise, so going from exercising two to three hours a day and restricting my calories to not being able to work out affected me greatly.
Every day was difficult, but as time passed, my self-worth improved and I based my identity on attributes which defined me as a person, not by my physical appearance. I clearly recall being told by my doctor that an eating disorder mentality does not all of a sudden disappear overnight. It is a gradual process of learning to love yourself for who you are and embracing your body the way it is.
Today, I sometimes cannot fathom how that was me three years ago. Although the recovery process was difficult and one of the most painful experiences of mine, I am grateful that I learned about myself and that I was strong enough to overcome something that had so much power over me.
I overcame the eating disorder and became a stronger person as a result of it.