Believe it or not, last month was the one year anniversary of my last period. TMI? Maybe, but this is essential to my health journey, so if you want to hear how I’m working to heal acne, amenorrhea, weight gain, … Continue reading
When I was 8 years old, I did something stupid. I said, out loud, “I’ve never broken a bone before.” Two weeks later, my dog veered to the right in the middle of an un-leashed race home from the end … Continue reading
Let’s get to the meat of the issue: today we’re talking soy. By now, it’s popular dogma that soy is the greatest thing since sliced bread, at least when it comes to your health (and neither one, it turns out, … Continue reading
As a writer, I’m fascinated by how different words can drastically change the meaning of the same sentence. For example: “I don’t get my period” sounds like a blessing. (Seriously: no cramps or hormonal swings? Check please!) “I stopped getting … Continue reading
There’s a point in your disordered eating when you become your disorder. When, without realizing it, you stop separating your own body from the image of ED in your head. And suddenly: your body starts to comply. You want to … Continue reading
The period after we moved into the dream house was one of confusion, pain, and rapid change.
At the gym, I was constantly injuring myself. Even though I was consciously trying to rehab my body and correct for kinetic chain imbalances, I was still overdoing the cardio and training past fatigue. It got to a point where I was embarrassed to show up to work with yet another back/shoulder/arm/etc. injury.
Within the first month of moving, my amenorrhea abated, which should have been a cause for celebration. The “problem” was that my body had reached a level of body fat that would allow for proper reproductive function. It also meant that my chronic, hormonal acne increased along with the increase in estrogen in my body. I also started to put on more weight, due to the change in hormones and decreased activity as I compensated for, rested from, or tried to rehab each new injury.
I was still staying out until all hours, still working full time, and still trying to rock a high-protein, low fat diet that would work miracles and turn me into a model. (Although I was lying to myself, as my diet came to include increasingly high levels of carbohydrates–from 30 LifeSaver mints during each of my shifts to multiple servings of dry cereal or a couple of pieces of Ezekiel bread before bed, among other things. My meals became more frequent and my portion sizes were growing bigger. I felt like I couldn’t eat enough to abate my hunger.)
This was a recipe for disaster.
Things also started going downhill with my roommates. I stopped going out at night, because I felt the old anxiety creeping in. Work became increasingly stressful as well, because I was under pressure to get an upcoming promotion–if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, since my student loans were sucking my bank account dry. The more anxiety I felt, the less I went out. The less I went out, the more anxiety I felt when I actually had to deal with people. I was starting to fall into the same patterns that sent me running for my apartment at the end of each class at Columbia. The spider theory was working in reverse.
The anxiety and the resulting depression and moodiness was off-putting to my roommates, to say the least. This was not the girl they signed up to live with. Now, that said, it’s not like they didn’t earn a fair amount of moodiness from me–their joking verbal “abuse” (that was ever so endearing when we first began to hang out)* started to lose the jocular tone, and I spent most of my time off passive-aggressively cleaning up after their messes in the kitchen and feeding the dog when they forgot. I hoped that the increasingly angry thoughts I was thinking as I furiously scrubbed their week-old dirty dishes, took our their trash yet again, or sat through another retelling of why I was a worthless human being in comparison to them would somehow reach them when they saw the sparkling clean house and heard my silence, and they would repent and stop being disgusting.
Turns out, it didn’t work that way.**
Tensions started to run high in the house, and I confined myself to my room more and more often. My home had become something of a battleground, and work was no longer my haven. Not only was I juggling several stressful roles for not quite enough pay to subsist, but I also had to see my roommates there each day.
I finally had to concede that moving in with my coworkers was a bad idea.
That I couldn’t handle the stress at work.
That I wasn’t going to be a bikini model.
Something needed to shift.
And then my company issued their summer Wellness Challenge.
I strapped on a new pair of running shoes and the entire course of my life changed.
*Part of why they say girls and guys can’t be friends is, I think, implicit in the fact that beyond the sexual component of relationships there’s a mismatch in the way we speak with/to one another. And as (platonic or sexual) relationships mature, our way of communicating doesn’t always align. In other words, being told I was stupid/annoying/worthless didn’t provoke any warning flags because “my boys” (as I thought of them) always followed it up with a laugh, a hug, or an invitation to continue being a part of their lives. And I, not being aware of my own habits in terms of choosing friends, laughed and then moved in with them. But when it came to matters that they weren’t equipped to brush off with a joke, they no longer had the means to effectively communicate with me–and I didn’t have the coping skills or the gift of hindsight to communicate back. So we’ll just say that things went downhill, and there’s no one to blame. It just was what it was: a learning experience.
**Another lesson learned: passive-aggression is just a cop-out. I was too afraid to communicate how I felt when they made me feel disrespected and “less-than” (again, an old, ingrained habit), so I just bottled it up and got angrier and angrier. Eventually my anger started to bleed out into our everyday reality, and they reacted by either ignoring me or blowing up at me–which, in turn, ratcheted my anger up. Passive-aggression, so I’m learning, is useless.
It’s difficult to adequately describe the absolute physiological and mental agony of anxiety if you’ve never experienced an attack; however, suffice it to say that I suffered from the throat-closing, chest-crushing, dizzy/nauseous symptoms* from the moment I got the email inviting me to interview for my retail job to the moment I met the store leader.
I was fortunate to, for whatever reason, completely circumvent the entire hiring process and just meet with the store leader at the mall directly. (Normally, the company makes you go through several rounds of group interviews over several days at a hiring event.) I spoke with her for about half an hour, and, rather than invite me back to meet with a second manager another day, she pulled a manager and had me interview with him right then and there. Two days later, I came back to meet with the head of our market, and by the following day had an invitation to come in and fill out my paperwork.
I was both delighted and devastated.
Here I was, technological know-nothing with no sales experience and an eating disorder keeping me prisoner in my own house. How was I going to function as a high-volume sales rep–and, more importantly, how was I going to continue my eating habits while working retail hours?** (Not to mention the fact that I had gone from 21-year-old high school teaching rock star to 23-year-old part-time retail employee who had completely failed to live up to her prep school’s Ivy League expectations.)
I wanted to die.
The good news (?) was, if I continued on my “health” trajectory, I was going to.
A visit to the physician brought me some disturbing news: I was 112 lbs and severly underweight. I had dropped below 15% body fat (somewhere around 12%), and was testing positive for osteopenia, bradycardia, and secondary amenorrhea. That meant I was at risk and on track for osteoporosis, heart failure, and an early menopause. In other words, I had turned myself into an old woman. Death couldn’t be that far away.
I’ll admit that scared me.
Unfulfilled threats of suicide are one thing, but complete and impending physical failure are quite another.
I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing I could: go to work.
And work, my friends, is what saved me.
On the morning that I left for the first of my three days of corporate employee training, I told my mom to kill me if I came home having drunk the “Kool-Aid.” She didn’t kill me, but I drank that metaphorical Kool-Aid with the fervor of a three-year-old on a sugar binge. There was something absolutely compelling–a sense of purpose and a company culture of openness and forward-motion, perhaps–that made me feel almost high every time I clocked in.
It turns out, I was very good at retail. And being good at something was fun. Although I was still freaked out about downing my whey-protein-cottage-cheese-and-spinach shakes on time, the very act of working at my new job calmed some of the anxiety. I felt needed. I felt useful. I felt okay for the first time in months.
And though I had the opportunity to train to become a staff personal trainer at the gym where I still worked three days per week, I quit. I wanted to commit to my new Kool-Aid job and work my way toward a full time position as quickly as I could. I never wanted to leave.***
*These are the same symptoms that led my pediatrician to misdiagnose me with asthma in the 6th grade. I’ll touch on the issue with anxiety in another post, I’m sure.
**I tweeted about my concerns (as whimsically Millennial as that sounds), and I was answered by one of the fitness models and pro figure competitors who I followed. Apparently she had done the retail/fitness thing, and had lived to tell the tale. While her answer wasn’t a complete panacea, it certainly did a little to alleviate my immediate concerns. I mean, if she could do it, then why couldn’t I?
*** On the days I worked, I hated sitting at home and waiting to put on my uniform, so I’d leave early and wait outside of the store until I could go in. In fact, I used to show up at the mall on my days off just so I could say, “hi,” and make sure that the store was still functioning without me. After a few months of this, one of my managers actually yelled at me to go home when I showed up unscheduled on a Saturday.