How Negative Body Image Impacted my Twenties

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WHEN I was 20 years old I was severely depressed. I was eating around 900 calories a day and running around three miles, telling myself if I could just get under 120lbs, I would be happy; I would be confident. I could start living the life I wanted to live. I was obsessed with the gap between my thighs. I wanted there to be as much distance between them as possible. I’d avoid my mother’s dinners, convinced they would ruin a shape I was working so hard to control. I would sleep into the late hours of the afternoon sometimes approaching the early hours of the evening, both a symptom of my depression and the lack of nutrients I was giving myself. I stopped menstruating for months; I fainted three times. None of this mattered to me. All that mattered was my pursuit to decrease the number on the scale.

I began restricting for the first time after my sister died in 2006 when I was 16 years old. So much had changed in my household. My parents sunk into their own depressions, too consumed with their own grief to notice how little I had started to eat. I’d only allow myself fruit, run around my neighborhood and end the day with 100 sit ups in the darkness by my bed, too ashamed of my body to do them in the light. If a day passed and I felt like I’d overeaten, I’d panic and skip two of three meals the next day. I was fascinated by how easy it was to drop pounds. How my dedication to eating next to nothing for just one day paid off instantly when I’d wake up and weigh myself the following morning.

This cycle continued off and on through the end of high school. I’d go through periods where I wouldn’t think about my weight to periods where all I could think about was my weight. Still, in the comfort of the house I had grown up in, surrounded by friends in the town I had lived my entire life, my eating restriction happened mostly in spurts around the time near big life events (prom, graduation). It wasn’t until after my parents lost their jobs and we got evicted from my childhood home that my sporadic restriction became a full-fledged eating disorder.

In 2009 my mother, sister and I relocated to Florida where I became completely obsessed with controlling my weight. A few months after moving to Florida, I had been the one to discover and break the news to my mother about my father’s infidelity, ending all hopes of a reconciliation between them. Our new life was a life of uncertainty. My mother’s depression worsened along with her health and my locus of control felt like it was shrinking day by day. In the depths of my depression fueled by a hoard of sudden life changes, I clung to the one thing I had success controlling in the past – my weight.

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Hello 30: A Reflection of my 20s

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A couple months ago I said goodbye to twenty-nine and entered a whole new decade of life! I am so grateful and excited to enter this new decade of life both healthily and happily. The twenties were such a transformative time for me mentally, and I can’t help but tear up a little (maybe a lot) when I think back to the girl I started out my 20s as. I am so proud of the woman I have become (and am becoming).
The next three blog posts will be about the lessons my 20s taught me.

My last year in my 20s will live in my memory as the year I started truly listening to myself which ultimately led me to start living life from a place of authenticity. Halfway through my 29th year I had an epiphany of sorts as I reflected on past years of my life and noted the huge ways in which I have been pushed to change. The start of my twenties were tumultuous years. My mother, younger sister and I had just found our footing in Florida, the state we moved to after my older sister died unexpectedly. I didn’t think I’d ever recover from all that happened. From the foreclosure on the home I grew up in, to being homeless and living out of motels, to losing my father to alcoholism…I spent most of my 20th year in a sadness I had never encountered before. I felt broken in ways that made me think life wasn’t worth living and became grudgeful of the future. I didn’t understand why life had brought my family and I so many problems all at once. Everything felt difficult, so I stopped doing everything. It wasn’t until two years later when I finally sought help after taking my first courses in psychology that I realized I had been battling depression all along, that that empty feeling was a symptom of a depression that had begun in my late teens.

When I think back to my former self, the girl whose heart was broken, who felt so lost and who only thought bad things could and would happen to her, I cry. I cry tears of pride because of what still lived inside of me even then: hope. I knew even then, despite the trials that had been thrown at me, that there would be more to my life. Through the awful thoughts I contemplated, through those moments of sadness, I still knew somewhere deep down that there were happier days ahead, days I daydreamed about, days I prayed for after getting help and reviving my faith. And I was right.

Since those days of despair, there have been days of happiness, many days of happiness, the big kind of happiness stemming from life’s big moments, and the little kind of happiness that I’m not sure I’d appreciate as much had I not experienced turmoil in my earlier years. What I realize now that I didn’t know in my earlier twenties as I battled depression was how those moments, those moments I hated, those moments of sadness and despair, molded me into someone who is both strong and soft and full of gratitude. I can open myself more easily than before and listen to the problems of others without feeling uncomfortable, for I’ve felt sadness too. I don’t have a strong attachment to the things I can own or buy, for I’ve lost it all before. I can let go of the things that bother me more easily and even when I’m straying from this, I can more easily come back to peace.

Continue reading “Hello 30: A Reflection of my 20s”