A couple of weeks ago, I put a call/challenge/plea out on my Facebook page asking for Guest Bloggers who would be interested in sharing their experiences fighting the fight against All Things Expected Of Their Bodies / Body Type.
The level of response was incredible!
About our Guest Blogger
Brittany is a mother, a wife, and a friend that I have never had the joy of meeting in person. That’s Facebook for you, right? What I value in her, however, doesn’t require a close proximity to appreciate; she says it best herself:
“I’m fighting for the girls who never thought they could win.”
How can you not love that?
Enough of my blither-blather! Here’s Brittany’s post, all about how her children, husband, mental illness, and a rare medical condition rescued her from an eating disorder. I think you’ll agree that it’s truly worth the read.
Where do I begin, when what I have to say could populate a book? Not necessarily one destined for a bestseller list, but one that might certainly give “War and Peace” a tough competitor for length.
Any one of the topics I intend to inflict upon your sensibilities are among those which I have kept closely guarded, only to be discussed with close friends, family, or people who I felt might find some comfort in hearing my story.
Now that you have been properly warned, I introduce you to me at the bright age of 20…
I seemed to have it all. I was a 4.0 college student, double majoring in English and History with scholarships covering my tuition, and almost always dressed in a skirt and heels. I had top marks in ROTC, and was being pursued by recruiters for a possible career in military intelligence if I kept up the pace. Only a few days before the end of the semester of my Junior year though, and just a week after receiving the Outstanding Student award from my university, I found myself being rushed to the ER for overdosing on pills. My arms were scarred bloody by thin, perfectly parallel lines cut into my flesh by the very knife I had won in a recent military obstacle competition. What happened, you ask?
Well, despite all appearances, my inner world was a war zone. From the age of ten I was peddled from one mental health expert to another trying to find out what was “broken” in my brain. I subsisted on a steady stream of vitamins, tightly managed meals, and supplemental self help books. I could put a debate team to shame defending my daily weight gain or loss to my mother, and I remember ever so clearly the fiercely intense dread of dragging myself into the bathroom for each of these morning weigh-ins.
Between the ages of 13 to 20 I wore the same sized clothes, and usually clocked in at about 110 to 115 lbs. Saying I was tiny was an understatement. I used to carry water around with me at all times to sate the hunger pangs, and felt crushingly guilty when I would buy a small package of cookies from the college vending machine as an occasional treat. I worked out about 3 hrs a day, sprinting my way through 7 miles, then doing pilates, and wrapping up each workout with a heavy dose of weight training.
My life revolved around school, sleep, working out, housework, and reading. Period. I don’t remember having any friends; just acquaintances I saw while taking classes.
The mantra of my existence was that being beautiful and thin would be the only way I could secure a good education, a well paid career, and a future husband; and my life up to that point confirmed this mantra as “truth” : I had scholarships, I had internships with professors, and even published articles to beef up my curriculum vitae.
Then came the trip to the hospital…Have you ever stood barely conscious in front of a nurse judging your very existence and telling you to chug a big gulp sized container of liquid charcoal? Have you sat,as another nurse attempted to take blood from an arm so dehydrated and poisoned, that he could barely find a vein, and you didn’t even feel the sting up multiple pricks into your arm? Have you ever sat watching your mother explain to a mental health worker why you shouldn’t be admitted to the hospital and then proceed the very next day to make you to go to the university where you had so recently been lauded as an excellent student, and explain what you had done the prior night?
As part of an agreement with the hospital, I went to a psychiatrist who gave me a Type 2 Bipolar diagnosis (this would be the last diagnosis I would ever receive or seek from a mental health professional). I also discovered around this time that I had a tumor on my pituitary gland, which caused an excess production of prolactin. At the time, and in light of everything else going on in my life, I didn’t feel that this was anything more than a somewhat disconcerting, but overall not horribly devastating health issue. This, as you will see below, turned out to be a rather pivotal misjudgment on my part.
After my suicide attempt I managed to squeeze a whirlwind romance, marriage, disownment by my family, and a pregnancy into the next 4 months. Again, this would be a book in and of itself, so for parity’s sake, suffice it to say that it was this initial pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage that triggered a series of severe health issues. These issues would become a dominate force in my life. In fact, my next three pregnancies, while successful, were all high-risk, and I spent a good deal of the next 11 years being scanned, poked, prodded, and assessed with no determinate diagnosis except a general agreement that “something is wrong with you.”
Fast forward to the past couple of years. I am currently a fairly steady 240 or so pounds. Most of this weight was gained over the course of my first pregnancy, with smaller additions in the next two pregnancies. At the height of dealing with my condition, I could gain or lose 10-15 lbs eating nothing but fruits and veggies and walking several miles a day. My joints always hurt, my emotions were all over the place, I had debilitating migraines, and elevated hormones, one of which, was a type of growth hormone that over time, could cause my face, hands, and feet to deform. I dealt with all of these issues by ruminating on the horrible outcomes awaiting me, and generally feeling terrified over the future. Above all, I struggled at come to terms with the fact that, for reasons outside my control, I could no longer live by the “only the beautiful and thin people can be successful and happy” mantra that had been drilled into me in my youth. Add to all of this the fact that I regularly dealt with the highs, lows, and anxiety which are part and parcel of living with Bipolar disorder, and I was a bit of a wreck.
In the midst of the turmoil, and slogging deep in the emotional muck of my world, I had a husband who loved me at all my different weights, with all the crazy symptoms, and relentlessly battled the inaccurate views of myself which came with my eating disorder. I also had as motivation three AMAZING, INCREDIBLE children who I didn’t want to grow up dealing with the same self confidence issues I was living with. They needed me to be a role model. And it was at this point I had a Eureka moment…
I NEEDED A CHANGE!!! Even better, I needed to BE THE CHANGE!!
What to do? First, I stopped seeing my health issues as ruining my looks and my future and started viewing them as a saving grace, because honestly, if the weight gain hadn’t been forced on me, I would probably be dealing with truly life threatening health issues. I became focused on health. This meant for me that I wanted to reduce the severe swelling in my body, the joint pain, the physical internal issues which didn’t have a damn thing to do with my appearance and everything to to do with my quality of life. A life that would allow me to keep up with my kids and and enjoy activities I couldn’t if I was coping with my condition. My husband, bless his heart, even helped me change my diet in a way that affected change in these areas and didn’t trigger a desire to go down the unhealthy paths of my eating disorder.
I also began following body positive social media accounts and reading as many articles by body positive advocates as I could get my hands on. My world became inundated in the very ideas that ran counter to the eating disorder philosophies which had brainwashed me for so long.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I realized that living with a mental illness didn’t make me any more broken than being fat did. I didn’t have to feel shameful, nor did I have to justify my existence and lifestyle. Am I beautiful? I don’t know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Am I successful? Sometimes, and in some areas. Am I happy? I have happy moments, and I feel fulfilled watching my children grow, learn, and laugh.
What am I then? I can say in no uncertain terms that I am SOMEBODY; that whatever purpose I define for my life has meaning for the very reason that I have given it said meaning. I am a lovable human being who does her best to express empathy and help others. Finally, I am alive. I AM ALIVE. 11 years ago, this was not a given. Ultimately, none of these qualities which define who I am, has anything to do with my weight. Weird, huh? That’s the rub…it shouldn’t be weird…and hopefully I can play a role in raising a new generation where this isn’t the case.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please know you are not alone and you are worth every bit of love, care and respect this world has to offer. Here are a list of resources that may be useful.
Eating Disorder Support Groups by State: Click HERE.
National Eating Disorder Association:
Call their toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237
Click to chat with a NEDA Helpline volunteer
For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
The Erica Madeline Iantorno Anorexic & Bulimic Freedom Foundation (IABFF): Click HERE.
For a list of Eating Disorder Support Groups on Facebook: Click HERE.