Humbled and a Little Overwhelmed

I absolutely could not have anticipated the response to my second article published on XOJane. In a few days the article has received over 600 shares and over 100 comments. I’ve had to stop reading the comments because it’s too much for me. Not because people have been saying mean things, though some have. For the most part the comments have been incredibly supportive and positive. I just can’t keep up with the amount.

The biggest surprise has been the direct responses I have gotten from people. Friends sent me screenshots of the article on their Yahoo homepages. Friends told me that friends of theirs who had never met me or even been to Vermont were seeing the article on their Yahoo homepages. Friends and family shared the article on Facebook. Friends and family commented on the article. Even more shocking were the people that started to reach out to me via Facebook Messenger. People I hadn’t spoken to since high school reached out to congratulate me and share their experiences. Then people I had never met started reaching out to me and telling me their stories. They poured out their hearts, sharing in intimate detail their struggles with food and exercise. They thanked me for sharing my experience and told me how much it helped.

I never thought anything like this would happen. I didn’t expect one article would touch so many people. I never imagined that people would track me down and trust me with their stories and their secrets. I am honored to be so trusted. I am humbled that my words touched so many people. I’m a little overwhelmed by the entire experience. I didn’t think that putting my work out there would create such a responsibility to the readers. I guess I couldn’t have known that without having an article really out there. I’m not so overwhelmed that I want it to stop. I am happy to have a voice.

 

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People on the Internet Are Calling Me Fat and it’s Not That Big A Deal

When I first started thinking about getting an article about my eating disorder recovery published on a major blog, I was terrified at the idea of posting pictures with the article because my biggest fear was that someone would call me fat and ugly in the comments. I was terrified of the trolls. I know that when women talk about feminism online they get awfully abused. I know that when women with larger bodies express that they are comfortable with their bodies they get abused. So I had a strong feeling that if my writing were to be published on a larger scale, I’d be dealing with my fair share of trolls. I’d have to suck it up and deal.

When XOJane published my first article last week I seemed to have lucked out with the trolls. The majority of the comments that I say were positive and the ones that weren’t were criticizing me   for trivializing eating disorders. That hurt, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy and with those I love working through feelings that my eating disorder wasn’t real or wasn’t “bad enough”. I was prepared for those comments because I know my eating disorder is legitimate and not a trivial matter. I take it very seriously.

Yesterday, my second article went live on XOJane. This one is about being overweight in recovery, a topic that is not very widely discussed. This article blew up much faster than my first. Within 24 hours it was over 500 shares and 125 comments. I promised myself I wouldn’t get too invested in the comments this time. It wasn’t worth it. But I made the mistake of “just browsing” and there they were: comments about me being fat. One person asked if recovery were really worth it if I was going to be that fat. Couldn’t I just try to diet smarter? Another person called me morbidly obese and insisted I had just swapped one eating disorder for another and now had binge eating disorder. She went back to the old standby: that I was promoting unhealthy lifestyles by being fat. There are probably more comments like this now. My sister just informed me that people have chosen to duke it out in the comments on my article. I’ve stopped reading.

I want to be clear though: I haven’t stopped reading because I can’t take the abuse. I’ve just stopped reading because I don’t care to keep up with the madness. Did it hurt to be called fat by total strangers? Of course it did. But right after I processed the hurt I laughed, and then I was sad.

I laughed because it was so absurd that people were having such a strong, negative reaction to an article about my own experience. I also laughed because I knew what they were saying wasn’t true. I had to pause and think about that for a while. These people were calling me fat and I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe I was fat and ugly. Major progress.

Then I was sad because I started thinking about the people who were saying such mean things. They must be in a lot of pain about their bodies to lash out so harshly at me. Their perceptions of what women should look like and be must be very warped if they see my body as morbidly obese and unhealthy. They must be very sad people. I’m the praying type, so I’m praying for them, hoping they can find what they need for their lives. Not out of pity, out of love, because I know what it’s like to be in that much pain.

I also feel like I’ve gone through some sort of body positivity blogger rite of passage. Every body positive role model I have talks about being called fat on the Internet. It happens to all of us. Now I just kind of feel part of the crew. It’s really indicative of the sad state of our society that women are harshly abused for even trying to love themselves and for speaking out. No matter how much it hurts to be harassed online, I refuse to let it take away my voice.

The Value of the Struggle

I took a bit of an unplanned hiatus. Partially because I was visiting my family this weekend. We had a lovely time. But the other part of the hiatus is that I was having a really rough time last week. I’m still kind of having a hard time. I don’t like to admit that. I am more than willing to share the stories of my struggles after they’re over, when I’ve gotten through them and have some insight to share. I do not like talking about my struggles while they’re happening. It doesn’t matter what I’m having trouble with or how many times I’ve talked about it before. When I’m struggling I don’t want anyone to know.

I have spent so much energy throughout my life creating facades. I used to be much better at this than I am now. In the past, my entire life was devoted to making sure that things looked great on the outside even though I was suffering internally. I thought sharing about my struggles was a sign of weakness. I believed that I needed to be able to get through everything on my own in order to be respected. I believed that suffering in stoic silence was a sign of strength. So, I spent my life hiding my pain and smiling through my struggles.

Today it’s much more uncomfortable for me to lie and say I’m fine when I’m not, but I still do this more than I’d like. This is especially true when I am trying to craft a public image. I want people to like me. I want people to think well of me. I want people to think I am strong and cool and that I have my shit together. If it were up to my ego I would only ever post about the times that I am awesome, or the times that I struggled through and overcame adversity all by myself. I wouldn’t share about the times that I spent crying in my room, or zoning out to Netflix for hours at a time, or feeling hopeless. But if I eliminate those experiences from the narrative of me I present here then I’m not being honest or authentic, and I want to be honest and authentic.

So the truth of my absence is that I spent a lot of time watching Alias instead of writing so that I didn’t have to feel lonely and abandoned. I smoked a cigarette instead of bingeing. I got trapped in the bad neighborhood that is my brain and didn’t come out for a few days. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I looked at pictures of myself and wanted to cry. I built a blanket fort on my couch and stayed there instead of hanging out with friends. I was emotionally stuck. The other truth is that I still went to all my scheduled appointments. If I’d made plans prior to getting stuck I kept them instead of canceling them. I didn’t use behaviors to deal with my feelings. I just got stuck feeling lousy and rode it out.

I was reminded during this time that I was exactly where I needed to be and that there is value in the struggle. I can learn more from these stuck places than I can when I’m happy. The growth comes from the pain, not from the contentment. Over and over my experiences have taught me that these things are true. Once I’m on the other side of the emotional stuckness I can see that I have gained new knowledge and insight about myself, but when I’m in it, like deep down in it, these mantras infuriate me. I think, this may be exactly where I need to be, but fuck it, I don’t want to be here. I think, I’m probably learning something valuable right now, but why does it have to feel like this? I think, when will this end? Because when I’m in it it feels interminable.

Right now, I’m beginning to see the true value of the struggle is actually just sitting through it. I never used to be able to sit with my feelings. I always believed I felt too much and it scared me, so as soon as I felt something I reached for a drink, a smoke, or a bag of chips so I didn’t have to feel the feeling anymore. Or if the feelings got too out of control I just starved to prove I could control myself. I didn’t ever allow feelings to happen in their natural course. Today I know that no matter how I feel right now it will go away eventually. Today I know that I don’t have to chase the feelings away, I have to feel them. If I don’t feel them now they’ll just be back later insisting to be felt. I just have to build a blanket fort, be gentle with myself, and wait until the feelings change.

It doesn’t feel good to be in the struggle. It never will. But now I know that I can survive the struggle without falling apart. And I know that I can speak honestly about the struggle. I don’t have to pretend to be anything.

Lies Doctors Tell us About Weight

I’ve seen a lot around the Internet lately about the link between weight and body size and health. We’ve all been told our whole lives that weight is intrinsically linked to health; that being fat is bad for you and being obese is essentially a death sentence. Doctors tell their patients that in order to be “healthy” they need to lose weight. Alarmingly, even pediatricians are telling their patients, or their patients’ parents that in order to be healthy they need to be a certain size. There is medical research that shows that weight can affect health. It’s harder for the heart to pump blood through the body when the body is larger. People who are larger tend to have higher incidences of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. People who are larger also seem to get diabetes at higher rates than smaller people. So, let it be known, I do acknowledge that there is medical research that shows a correlation between higher weights and a less healthy existence.

Now let it also be known that I think the amount of attention doctors pay to body size when assessing a person’s health is insane. Let me explain. Most of the medical research shows merely a correlation between higher weights and disease states. A correlation means that higher weights and disease states are coexistent more often than lower weights and disease states are coexistent. It does not mean that higher weight causes the disease state. It simply means that the disease state happens to be present more often in people whose weight is higher. The medical community has chosen to interpret this research as meaning that higher weight is a risk factor for disease states, even when there could be alternative explanations for this correlation. The common saying that illustrates this concept is that yellow teeth and lung cancer are correlated, but yellow teeth are not a risk factor for lung cancer. In this case the common factor is smoking. No one would assume that yellow teeth cause lung cancer even though they’re correlated, but that’s exactly what the medical community is doing with higher weights.

It is common practice for doctors to recommend that patients lose weight, even when they are healthy in every other aspect. They assume that weight loss would make the person even healthier than they are now. There is no consideration of the possibility that the patient is perfectly healthy at their current weight and body size. If a person weighs more than “X” they should lose weight no matter what.

The truth that doctors don’t want to tell us, or refuse to acknowledge is that all bodies are different and every body has a healthy size that is specifically tailored to that individual body. When I was at my lowest weight in the depths of my eating disorder I was considered a “healthy weight”. When I was at my sickest my hormones were completely destroyed and my body was operating in famine mode. I was constantly sustaining muscle injuries because my body lacked enough protein to rebuild my muscles after a workout. But doctors were never concerned about my weight and some even praised me for my weight loss. Not a single one of them suggested that my weight loss may have something to do with my chronically sick body, though to be fair, I never disclosed my eating disorder. Mostly because I was in too much denial.

Now that I am healthy I am technically in the obese category. This obese body takes care of a child as a full time job, hikes mountains, does yoga, snowboards, snowshoes, bikes, jogs (I’d be lying if I called it running), and does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This body is particularly effective at moving in enjoyable ways when it wants to and resting when it needs to, which is much healthier than before when it moved constantly and obsessively as a slave to compulsive exercising. The last time I had blood work done everything came back normal. I may not love the body I’m in yet, but I can easily say that it’s healthier than it was six months ago.

To be completely honest, I have avoided going to the doctor’s office because I don’t want to be confronted with the weight bias I have experienced in the past, and it is a bias. This medical weight bias is irrevocably damaging to women out there who struggle with their body image or eating habits. Many fall in to disordered eating after being told by their doctors that they should lose weight. Many slip under the radar and do not receive treatment for their active eating disorders because they’re “not thin enough”. Many, like me, just avoid seeing the doctor at all so they don’t have to hear about their weight from yet another person. It needs to stop. More research needs to be done about what it actually means to be healthy. More education about weight bias needs to happen. The media needs to address the fact that all bodies can be healthy, regardless of their size. Women of all sizes need to speak up and say “I’m healthy!”

To learn more about the weight bias in the medical profession read “Body of Truth” by Harriet Brown.