Sometimes it feels like I eat, sleep and breathe my mental disorders. My depression is all consuming — how do I feel today? How about now? Am I anxious? Will I have a panic attack today? Will I have suicidal thoughts?
In order to maintain my mental health, I have to adhere to a strict routine, and any interruption — big or small — to that routine can cause me to fall into a depressive episode. It’s like I’m walking on a tight rope, and it’s a lot to deal with, to say the least.
I don’t mean to complain, only to emphasize that it’s a lot just to keep me feeling OK and functioning at the most basic of levels. As hard as it is for me, it’s has to be even harder for David.
I imagine him each day gauging what mood I’m in, how fragile I am at the moment and whether he has to come home early to help me with the kids, because I’m overwhelmed. It happens every week. Some of you will say it’s his job as my husband, that he’s not fighting mental illness, but he is.
He is right alongside me every day, battling depression, anxiety and my binge eating disorder. He takes me to doctors appointments, to get ECTs in San Antonio every four to six weeks and he’s there advocating for me and picking up the slack. And there’s a lot of it.
Even in the midst of being suicidal, abusing my meds and self harming, his love has never wavered. I don’t mean to make him out to be perfect, but he has been there for me and the kids through the worst of my depression.
He is living this disease just as much as I am.
Nobody ever talks about how spouses/significant others struggle with this — the other side of depression. Often, they play the role of caregiver, and even if it’s necessary, it’s not sexy. Nothing about depression is. Spouses should be recognized for their sacrifices and struggle, too.
The truth is David must be weary. I know I am. But everything he does is to support me and literally keep me alive and functioning. How tiring that must be, because I live in a dark place. My brain is not my friend, often telling me I should die. It’s so dark sometimes I feel blind, lost in despair and destined to suffer.
But then there’s David, with enough light for the both of us.
Recently, I blogged about gaining 15 pounds (thanks, COVID) and how discouraged I was. I know it’s not the end of the world, but I ruminate about each pound every day. It makes me feel ugly and unworthy. I try to make healthier choices, but I get dismayed any time I veer off my healthy course.
And then another part of me takes over, and I’m empowered. I tell myself that I’m beautiful no matter what. That I need to learn to love myself despite what the scale says.
I’m battling low self-esteem and an eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder). A year ago I had the gastric sleeve surgery, hoping it would physically limit the amount of food I could eat, but I didn’t resolve my issues with my eating disorder, and I pushed the limits of my smaller stomach, eating so much that it was hard to breathe, not to mention painful.
Now, I can’t stop bingeing. I feel like I always need a treat, something to escape into, but I can’t figure out why I feel the need to escape so frequently. Maybe from stress of the pandemic? And my “treats” often turn into a punishment because I eat so much, too much for my stomach to hold. Too much shame to derive any pleasure in the binge. So, maybe it’s all punishment — for what, I don’t know.
It definitely doesn’t feel good, aside from the initial pleasure of the food hitting my palate, but it never lasts. It’s temporary, but the shame and pain from doing it is often permanent.
And then, in between binges, I stare into the mirror and try to love and appreciate my body, which has birthed two amazing kids. I breastfed them, sustained them with this body. I live here, in this 180-pound body that holds all my essence and what makes me me. I reject the idea that I’m ugly, fat and less than. I’m a child of God and wonderfully made. I’m just as beautiful outside as I am inside, and my light shines regardless of my weight. My worth is not tied to my weight.
But I get lost navigating the conflicting messages these two polar-opposite sides of me are sending. And for some reason, it’s easier to believe the negative ones: I’m ugly, I’m a fat ass, people are judging me, nobody loves me because I’m fat, etc. But I do feel like the other side of me’s voice is growing louder. It’s not a distant whispering anymore — she’s getting stronger, and I pray that she continues to do so, because I’m weary from fighting this division inside me. I wonder why everything has to be so hard. Isn’t having Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder enough? Why are there so many things wrong with me? Maybe I don’t need to pull at that thread, but I’d really like not to collect any more diagnoses.
I want to find a balance where I can eat healthy, occasionally indulge and truly appreciate my body. I don’t want to tiptoe around the house anymore, thinking my footsteps are too heavy sounding.
I want normalcy. I don’t mean to complain and whine — I know that I’m the only one in charge of what food goes in my mouth. But it’s still so hard, and not just for me — about 30 million people have an eating disorder in the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report. That roughly 20 million women and 10 million men. That’s a huge number, and eating disorders, like mental disorders, are often unreported so you can expect those numbers to be a little higher.
A lot of those people also suffer from a mental disorder. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that 33 to 50 percent of people with anorexia also have a mood disorder. I don’t have numbers of what percentage of people with Binge Eating Disorder have a mood disorder, but I’m confident I’m not the only one.
Another alarming statistic is that 26 percent of people with an eating disorder attempt suicide. It’s beyond hard to have an eating disorder — you can’t give up food like an alcoholic can give up alcohol (Do not get me wrong. Battling any addiction is very difficult. I do not mean to imply otherwise). You have to fight your brain while learning new methods on how to nourish your body in a healthy way (such as intuitive eating or mindfully eating). It’s hard as hell for me to break old habits when it comes to food, but I know I need to do it if I want to be around for my family and friends later in life. Having an eating disorder is so hard on the body and mind. With everything else I’m battling, my body could use a respite.
I know a lot of us are in the same boat when it comes to weight gain during the pandemic. I don’t have any pointers because I’m still learning, but I do want to say be patient with your body. Give yourself some grace. Try to love the body you’re in, because you’re not getting another one. Weight can come off, and maybe it’s OK if it doesn’t.
You are not your eating disorder.
I hope y’all stay well and in the light.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to your doctor or visit the National Eating Disorders Association website. They also have a crisis text line — just text NEDA to 741741.
Ever since I had Isla, I’ve made a conscious effort not to talk about my body in a negative light, talk about dieting or get on a scale in front of her. I NEVER say the F word (fat, not the other F word. I say that a lot)
I do this in hopes that she develops a healthy body image, unlike her mama who struggles with body image and weight on an almost daily basis.
I don’t want Isla to suffer the way I have. I have an eating disorder — Binge Eating Disorder. I’ve been a size 10 and a size 20 (and everything in between), I’ve gained and lost the same 30 pounds over and over. I even had gastric sleeve surgery and had a tummy tuck and breast reduction because I was so unhappy with my body. And still, I suffer.
But here’s the thing — if I know I shouldn’t do those things in front of Isla, why do do I do them at all?
There’s no reason to talk to myself any way but kind. My body carried and birthed two beautiful babies. And even though I’ve had some struggles with my weight, my body has been good to me. It’s not my body’s fault that I haven’t always treated it right. My body is deserving of love and appreciation. And it needs grace and patience.
Sometimes the way I talk to myself isn’t the nicest — and I’m trying to change that — but I would be heartbroken if I ever heard Isla say these things about herself:
You’re fat. You’re ugly. Your stomach is huge. Nobody will love you if you’re fat.
It’s not going to be easy undoing all the damage (physical and mental), but it’s time for change.
Last month, my parents came to visit for Isla’s birthday and they stayed at our house. I have no idea why, but I was embarrassed that I had gained 15 pounds. I felt guilty and shamed even though my parents are so loving and supportive. They would never mention my weight gain.
Here’s the scary part of the story — we have wood floors in our house and I noticed that while they were here, I tiptoed around the house.
I TIPTOED AROUND THE HOUSE BECAUSE I GAINED WEIGHT AND MY FOOTSTEPS SOUNDED HEAVIER (in my head).
I literally thought my footsteps sounded fat — crazy, I know. So crazy.
I’m a little embarrassed telling this story, but I’m more bewildered. Even my therapist was bewildered. How can I be that damaged about my body?
To reverse the damage, I have to silence my inner critic. She can be so mean and hateful. When an ugly thought about myself pops up, I simply say, “Stop,” I tell myself that thought doesn’t serve me. That I’m doing my best to be healthy (I quit Diet Coke and started eating healthier), and that’s all I can do. I say something positive about myself. I don’t know if the negative self talk will always be there, but I can’t let my inner critic gain control again. If I tell myself negative things all the time, I’ll start to believe them. I’ll slip into a depressive episode. I’ll stop taking care of myself. I can’t afford any of that. And I have to remember that Isla (and Eli) are watching and listening. They need to see me taking care of myself and loving myself.
Also, my voice will become their inner voice. How I talk to them is how they will talk to themselves, and that alone is enough to make me walk the straight and narrow. I want them to love themselves, because they are amazing, and I hope they never know any different.
It’s not easy, and I have a long road to undo some of the damage of hating myself but it’s worth the work.
Below are some body positive affirmations that help me:
My body deserves love and respect Food is not the enemy and I thank the food I eat for nourishing me My weight isn’t tied to my worth I am beautiful I love myself I love my body, as it is today I accept my body the way it is
I’ve found myself saying “personal growth is so annoying” all week — to my husband, therapist, best friend. It’s been a week of intense introspection where I’ve realized I haven’t been taking care of myself as I should. I’ve fallen off the wagon of self care, careening right into binge eating and negative self talk. All these negative thoughts have been ruminating in my head.
But the thing bothering me the most is my binge eating. Last year I had weight loss surgery — the gastric sleeve — and I really can’t eat a whole lot. But I find myself pushing my limits, eating until I’m uncomfortably full and can hardly breathe. I’ve gained about 15 pounds since the start of COVID-19, and I’m so ashamed. I should be thinner almost a year after my surgery. I shouldn’t be drinking Diet Coke. I shouldn’t be eating junk all day long — so long that sometimes my jaw hurts from chewing all the crap I put in my mouth.
I feel like a failure, but today I hit a breaking point. I’d been eating all day. It felt like my skin didn’t fit anymore and suddenly I was aware of every inch of my skin. I took a bath and tried to wash away my overeating sins and shame.
Then it hit me. I have to stop doing this. There was a reason I got the weight loss surgery, and it shouldn’t be a quick fix, it should be a tool, and I need to start using it as such. I’m not a lost cause. Sure, I’ve gained 15 pounds, but who hasn’t in the midst of the pandemic? Not that it’s an excuse. But I have to start eating more healthily or I truly believe I’ll put myself in an early grave.
For the first time in a long time I feel hope. I told David what I was thinking, and he was very understanding as always. I know sometimes I put him in a hard spot because I ask him to help me be accountable but then get mad when he tries to help.
He told me he believed in me and had a suggestion: I need to quit Diet Coke. This hit me hard. I’ve struggled for a decade trying to quit Diet Coke. When I got the surgery, I did for a bit, but then started taking sips here and there, which turned into a 12-pack every week, then two 12-packs.
I love Diet Coke. I love that when I come downstairs in the morning with the kids, who are usually arguing and not telling me what they want for breakfast, that the first thing I do is grab a Diet Coke. The first few sips are the best — it burns all the way down and is so crisp. I usually down the first one fast, then maybe one or two more before I take the kids. Then a couple throughout the day. It feels like a treat. Why I feel I need a treat that often, I do not know. It almost feels like a security blanket.
But diet soda just isn’t good for you (especially if you’ve had the sleeve), and although I love it, I must say good-bye. I need to bid farewell to disorderly eating. Logically, I know it’s not good for me, but in the moment I think it will be great. And it might taste amazing, but any pleasure I get is temporary.
Any pleasure I get is temporary. What’s not is the shame I feel. The discomfort and pain, too. That seems so permanent.
After my discussion with David, I threw out all the Diet Coke I had in the house, even the ones that I just bought today. It’s silly, but it made me so sad. I threw out the Butterfinger I had hidden in the fridge, the bag of white cheddar popcorn and a box of Fruit Roll-ups. The food I don’t care about. Eating healthy seems so much easier than forgoing my diet soda habit.
But I have to do what I have to do, because isn’t that all a form of self-harm — bingeing on junk food and chugging Diet Coke? I’m only eating my feelings, trying to bury them down deep and hoping for the best. I think it’s safe to say that this is not a healthy or productive way to deal with life. And someone like me, whose brain doesn’t function properly, can’t live that way. Nobody can, actually.
I have to learn to sit with my feelings. I have to retrain my brain on what constitutes as a “treat.” I have to rein in the negative ruminations. I have to get uncomfortable, be more vulnerable and let go of these actions that once served me but now do not.
I really liked what I said in my previous body positive blog and it felt so freeing. But I’m far from being more than just OK with my body. It’s a hell of a long way from being happy with it.
In the past week I’ve caught myself two times feeling shame about my weight and appearance. First, I was in my bathroom, and against my better judgement, I got on the scale. It was just as I expected — 180 pounds — which is 10 more than when COVID started to spread and 30 from my goal weight that my gastric sleeve surgeon set for me. Anyways, Isla came in just as I was stepping off the scale and for some reason I yelled, “I need privacy!” and became flustered. It took me a minute to realize that I was embarrassed by that number. I didn’t want her to see it. It took another minute for me to realize that number doesn’t mean anything to her and shouldn’t mean anything to me. Just to reiterate, we’re going through a pandemic and it’s OK and understandable that my stress eating has led to a weight gain. It’s not an excuse to discard healthy eating habits, but I can give myself some grace. I should, anyway.
It’s also important for me to say, and for me to hear, that my worth is not tied to my weight. My worth is not tied to my weight. I’m still beautiful and smart. My hair still curls the way I like it. My husband still loves me and tells me I’m beautiful every day. I still have amazing friends and family who have my back no matter what. My kids are still amazing and have hearts of gold. My small community still respects and supports me. My weight shouldn’t dictate how I feel about any aspect of my wonderful life. So, why does it?
What I have learned in the past 20 years or so is that the flawed thinking surrounding women’s — and girls’ — bodies is deep seated. Women are bombarded with the notion they should be thin and to be beautiful, that they should fit a near-impossible mold. This is done through TV shows, advertising, social media, magazines, etc. According to http://www.centerforchange.com, young girls are exposed to 400 to 600 media images per day. That same site says a study found that 63% of female participants identified weight as a key factor in determining how they felt about themselves, more important than family, school or career. While it’s a bit comforting knowing I’m not alone, it’s also very depressing to hear.
That’s why we need to keep exploring this issue. There is a body positive movement but we need a body positive revolution, to discard these very dangerous bullshit ideals that only fuel eating disorders, depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia disorder.
Body dysmorphia can lead to unnecessary plastic surgery. Personally, I’ve had a “mommy makeover” which included lipo, a breast reduction and tummy tuck. I also had the gastric sleeve surgery in an attempt to control my weight and eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder).
But I’m here to tell you that didn’t help my self image, except maybe the breast reduction. I just didn’t feel the need to have size HH breasts. Let me also say I don’t mean to knock anyone who does get surgery. I’m all for supporting anyone’s decision to change their body, so long as it makes them happy.
I’ve canceled plans because I’ve felt fat and ugly. I’ve hidden in baggy clothes. I’ve dieted too many times to count. I’ve convinced myself that people don’t like me because I’m ugly and fat. I’ve ducked out of photos or refused to even take them. I’ve fed my body nothing but hate and junk and expected it to be healthy and perfect.
But no more. I don’t want to be boxed in by impossible standards. I want to have wild hair, wear crazy bright colors and patterns. I want to show off my tattoos. I want to take all the photos. It’s cliche but I want my little light to shine and not be dimmed by a little extra weight. I want — no, need — for my children (especially Isla) to see my live unapologetically, with confidence and love. I want them to laugh in the face of anyone who dare criticize their body or appearance. I want them to be everything I am and everything I’m not, all at the same time. I just want them to be happy and that starts with self love and care.
I’m going to stop hiding in photos and nitpicking about “bad angles.” I’m just going to live. Freely. That scale means, and measures, nothing. My children are watching, so I am morally responsible to let my light shine and shine brightly.
I’m probably the worst person to write a blog on body positivity, but perhaps that makes me qualified to.
I’ve never liked my body. Well, maybe a couple of times I have but I’ve never been consistent in liking my body or taking proper care of it.
On top of depression, I also have an eating disorder — Binge Eating Disorder — that has made it impossible to stay at a healthy weight. And to be honest, I still struggle even though I’ve had weight-loss surgery (Gastric Sleeve). Turns out if you don’t fix your disorderly eating problems before surgery, you’ll still have them after. Go figure.
I can still remember when someone first called me fat. I was in 5th grade and a boy who I liked said to me, “I know what your phone number is: 1-800-95-JENNY,” which was a number for JENNY CRAIG back then. The following year I was at my parents’ house with friends when two of my girlfriends pulled up their shirt and tied it into a knot, making a halter top. I then went to the bathroom and tried the same but a boy said, “Hey, we don’t need to see that!” Even though he was fine with seeing my skinny friends do it. I was not fat, just shaped differently than my friends but that didn’t matter to me — only what those boys told me did.
It wasn’t their fault I struggled with my weight afterward but damage had been done. Add that to this country’s obsession with being thin and you get an eating disorder and body dysmorphia.
I’m not alone. At least 30 million people of all ages and gender suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. That’s huge. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. And eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).
Twenty-eight percent of American adults suffer from my eating disorder. Approximately, half of the risk for Binge Eating Disorder is genetic and nearly half of BED patients have a comorbid mood disorder. More than half also have comorbid anxiety disorders.
I’m no expert, so I can’t tell you why people binge and overeat. For me, it happens when I’m bored or emotional. Or when I just have a void to fill. Sometimes I think I do it to punish myself, like I’m not good enough to be thin or healthy. Somewhere along the way I related being thin to being happy and successful, and I’ve never been able to convince myself that’s not the case. So when my depression got very bad, so did my eating and my weight went up. I was tired of all the ups and downs with my weight so I saw a weight-loss surgeon, the same doctor that my husband had seen. I had the surgery November 2019. Let me say that is has NOT been any easier to control cravings or eat healthy foods. That void I can’t ever seem to fill is mental and my surgeon can’t fix that. It’s not his job to, it’s mine. I just happen to be a terrible “employee.”
The weight loss surgery wasn’t my first attempt to “fix” my weight. After my two babies were born, I decided to undergo a “mommy makeover,” wherein I had a tummy tuck, breast reduction and some liposuction. I was obviously thinner but I just couldn’t maintain that flat stomach, or number on the scale.
What bothers and frustrates me the most is that I try really hard to be body positive for Isla’s sake but how can I tell her to love herself and that she’s beautiful when I couldn’t subscribe to those beliefs about me? She knows that I don’t like the word “fat” when referring to others and to embrace intelligence over looks but how much is she really going to learn with such a flawed teacher?
I’m a firm believer that when you face challenges, you cultivate growth and maybe having an eating disorder along with depression and anxiety, this is just another opportunity to grow. I’ve had a lot of “growing opportunities” in the past few years and I’m actually a little sick of it. But I guess I’d be even sicker if I let another generation struggle with this mentality. I can’t just stand helplessly by. I honestly don’t know if this is a trivial matter to be concerned with or if my neurotic mom brain just doesn’t want Isla to make the same mistakes. Regardless, I’m committed to ensuring that Isla remembers a few things:
She is beautiful, no matter her size or who tells her she’s not
But…beauty isn’t everything. Kindness and intelligence are more important
Ideally, you shouldn’t care about others think
To find friends who support her and celebrate you successes. And who will call you on your bullshit
That no matter who she becomes or what she does, I will always love and support her
Being different isn’t a bad thing
When you hurt someone, always apologize
Be healthy, not thin
That’s obviously not a comprehensive list but it’ll do for now; after all, she’s not even 6 years old but it’s never too early to teach kindness and self love.
As I wrap this up I can’t help but think about all the times I was embarrassed or felt shame about my body. What a waste of all those years. But I too deserve love, even self love. Real change sometimes comes in baby steps. It’s not too late to eat healthy, to feel good in my clothes, to reconcile the thought that I’m amazing with what I see in the mirror. I’m no stranger to conflict, so there’s no reason to shy away from it now.
Maybe while Isla’s growing up, I will too.
To learn more about eating disorders and how to support a loved one who has one, go here.
I have been remiss in updating my blog since I returned from the good ol’ mental hospital, so my apologies. The hospital actually helped me quite a bit. I was there for 6 weeks, which was terrible in terms of being away from my family, but I was able to get help for my depression, anxiety and my tendency to over medicate. I left with a brand new diagnosis, too, so that’s fun. Turns out I have Avoidant Personality Disorder, along with depression, dysthmia and generalized anxiety disorder. I also started up ECT treatments while I was there, which I am continuing now. It’s not as scary as it sounds – I know a lot of people think negatively about “shock therapy” – they seem to be working, for the most part. The only sucky part is that I have to drive two hours away to get the treatments, as Corpus Christi doesn’t have a place here to do it.
Things were going really well but honestly right now I am on the struggle bus. Even though I’ve been compliant with meds and going to therapy, my depression has returned as has my binge eating disorder. I got a lot of problems, right? Feels like it. I’ve gained a lot of weight in a very short amount of time and even as I write this blog, I am miserably overfull from a binge.
I plan on calling a nutritionist and upping my therapy appointments, among other healthy ideas but it’s really hard not to feel bad about myself right now. Bad that I am so depressed and not a lot seems to help it. Bad that I’ve gained weight and feel so horrible. Bad that I’m not the best example for my kids. I’m trying to pull myself out of this funk, but it’s so hard. It’s getting really hard to take care of myself, at least in the healthy way I learned about in the hospital. OK, so now that I’m typing all this it doesn’t seem like the ECT and new meds are helping. Sigh.
Even with all this crap going on, I still feel hopeful that I can get back on track and live a healthy and happy life. At least my hope isn’t gone. I have my friends and family to think for that – they all have provided me with more support than I ever could have imagined. I’m a lucky girl. And of course, my beautiful children keep me going.
So, I can beat this. I will. I’ll feel better soon. It wouldn’t hurt for y’all to pray for me, though. I’ll take whatever I can get.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking around through all my mess. Much love.