Trigger warning: suicidal ideations, hospitalization, PCOS, weight gain, binge eating, disordered eating
I’m in my apartment in New York on Second Avenue. It’s Fall time in 2013. I cannot stop eating. I’ve already had dinner of an entire small Domino’s sausage, mushroom and onion pizza with extra sauce and now I’ve dug into the Dark Chocolate Digestive Biscuits. A quick Google search reminds me that a package includes 26 cookies and I had already eaten at least half the container. At 80 calories a biscuit that is over a thousand calories. I can’t seem to stop eating. It’s all I want to do. I know I’ve gained about fifteen pounds by this time, going from a size zero or two depending on the brand to at least a size six. My pants no longer fit me and I’ve taken to wearing skirts with elastic waist bands so I don’t have to remember how I’ve grown. Isn’t growth supposed to be a positive?
I guess it all started that summer before, I was hospitalized in June right after Father’s Day for Suicidal Ideations after I got drunk and out of control after my mom had told me that I was ugly earlier in the night. The next day, after my wild night my mom told me that my dad was “disgusted with me” and not for the first time I wanted to kill myself. I was put on a cocktail of medications to control my BiPolar II Depression as well as my anxiety due to PTSD.
Most of the medications prescribed had a side effect of weight gain but Seroquel, an antipsychotic prescribed to me to help me sleep has the side effect of binge eating and high blood glucose levels.
I was being treated for Bipolar Depression and Anxiety and the weight gain only made my Depression and Anxiety worse because my mental health issues have always been tied to my identity. I’ve never felt Good Enough, or Pretty Enough or Strong Enough. I’ve always wanted to be Great with a capital G, be the Beyonce of who I’m supposed to be but I’ve always felt that I’ve fallen short. Even when I was admitted into NYU, my dream school early admittance I was placed into the Liberal Studies Program, a two year program that focused on Liberal Arts studies and required a certain grade point average for continuing to the full four year program of my choice.
It was like a consolation prize– you can stay if you prove yourself. Which I did but I still resent that I had to. Maybe that makes me a brat, maybe I should be happy to fight for what I want but I felt that I had already fought to get in and it was like they were telling me it wasn’t good enough.
I had finally made it to my final year at college and everything was falling down around me. The previous year was extremely hard. My BiPolar was getting worse as I got older and my anxiety was following suit. In Fall of 2012 the first friend that I made at NYU was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and she got a double mastectomy on the day Hurricane Sandy hit New York. I evacuated with another friend when our dormitory was mandatorily evacuated but I couldn’t stop thinking about our friend in a hospital bed fighting off cancer in the middle of Manhattan while an act of nature caused destruction up and down the North East. It didn’t help that I had run out of my trusted Anxiety medication right before the hurricane and was without it the entire week we spent outside the city. I would wake up with a jolt, forgetting where I was for a few moments that felt like forever. When I did remember where I was and why I was there a wave of anxiety and deep sadness would rush over me immediately.
When we finally returned a week later to our dorm everyone tried to pretend that we hadn’t gone through a shared trauma which seemed to make it worse for me. I needed to talk about how the storm and how my friend’s cancer made me feel but no one was willing to open up. We all just pretended everything was normal but I couldn’t so I just dug deeper into myself. I put up a shield pretending I was okay but everything around me began to crash down.
About a month later the Sandy Hook Massacre took place and I did not leave my dorm the entire weekend until I had to go back to class on Monday. I was extremely ill with a sinus infection and I remember using my bathroom as a steam room trying to heal my infection. I would sit at the edge of the tub, steam billowing around me like a Dementor in Harry Potter as I sobbed about the state of the world.
I have always liked to cry in the shower, it makes me feel like I’m not actually crying because the water is already streaming down my face. It’s also my little secret, when you come out of the shower you’re wet and red and puffy but you can blame the hot shower.
The previous Spring I was interning at a soul-sucking fashion label in the public relations department when the Boston Marathon bombing took place. I was about getting ready to leave and take the N train back downtown when I read on Twitter that there were threats of bombs planted in Times Square, a stop I had to travel through to get back home. I sat on the train with my sunglasses on and my headphones in and listened to Beyonce’s Halo the entire 20 minute ride home. Once again I did not leave my apartment for days.
It was one thing after another and it felt like the world was going insane. How was it fair that my whip smart friend with a whole life ahead of her was diagnosed with breast cancer? How was it fair that children as young as five could no longer feel safe going to school? How was it fair that people running a marathon for charity were attached?
Looking back I see this as the beginning of my Awakening to the horrors of the world. Before this I had lived a pretty sheltered life, growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 90s and early 2000s in a huge loving Irish Catholic family. I had struggled with Depression and Anxiety almost my whole life but it wasn’t until my friend got sick that my eyes opened to all the atrocities going on in the world and I took them on as my own personal issues.
I’ve always been extremely sensitive. I would cry when a friend’s feelings would be hurt even if I myself felt fine moments before. Some therapists have called or diagnosed me as a “Highly Sensitive Person” or even an “Empath” but I don’t think it really kicked into high gear until my friend got diagnosed with Cancer when we were 19 years old.
This is all to say that the year leading up to my hospitalization was really hard on me. I’m not making excuses for my out of control night that lead to my hospitalization but when I look back it’s easier to digest considering the circumstances. For a long time I didn’t understand what led to my hospitalization but after a lot of therapy I finally pieced together what had happened. I used to like to joke that I got hospitalized less than a month after The Office ended because I couldn’t imagine living in a world without my favorite show but now I don’t like to joke about the darkest days of my life.
So there I am, less than four months out of inpatient and about two months out of outpatient and I cannot stop eating. I’ve always been able to eat a good amount, when I go to Red Lobster I get the Ultimate Feast which includes 6 fried shrimp, six Shrimp Scampi, crab legs, lobster tail and a side. This is all after the basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits and a side salad. I was always able to finish this feast and maintain a tiny frame but all of a sudden I have started to gain major weight.
For the first time in my life I was majorly unhappy with my body. I began to use negative self talk about my size and shape which I have come to believe only made it worse. I believe your body can hear you when you talk about it and in a way it begins to believe what you say. So when I would say “I hate my body, I’m so fat” my body would hear that it was unloved and it just got worse. I know how that sounds, like I’ve watched The Secret too many times but this is what I believe and I know when I speak kindly about myself I feel better.
I went from a size 2 at my largest to a size 12 in less than a year. I gained over fifty pounds in such a short amount of time that my skin didn’t have time to stretch property over my fat and I have stretch marks now that I will have for the rest of my life. Don’t think I didn’t try coconut oil and shea butter, I tried it all. None of it worked for me.
This same year I was finally diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, basically my ovaries produce excess testosterone which is linked to higher rebates of insulin resistance which can cause you to store more fat, especially around the abdomen. At one point I was told by a doctor that I was “pre-diabetic” which scared the crap out of me! I tried to change my eating habits but until I decided to go off the Seroquel I couldn’t stop eating large amounts of unhealthy food very late at night.
I finally stopped taking Seroquel without my doctor’s permission about six months after I started taking it and a few of the pounds did come off eventually and I stopped binge eating every night but I still was not comfortable in my own skin. I was still overweight and uncomfortable.
It turns out that for me at least it doesn’t matter if you go up ten sizes or just six, if you don’t feel comfortable in your body you just don’t feel comfortable in your life. I felt out of control and disgusted by myself. None of my clothes fit me anymore, I had spent years creating my dream wardrobe of floral A-Line dresses and vegan leather jackets and all of a sudden they all had to be donated to my younger cousins, friends or charity. I realized that donating them to charity was less emotional for me, I hated seeing my friends and family wear the clothes I loved that no longer fit over my belly or thighs.
Between my Bipolar, Anxiety and PCOS I felt like my body had betrayed me in every possible way. My emotions and my physical self were attacking me when I already was at my lowest. I could not control my weight or my emotions and I felt completely lost.
As I was about to graduate I was offered a job working as a Field Organizer on a Congressional Campaign. That last fall semester at NYU I had worked as a fellow on a Senate Campaign and the job just sort of fell into my lap. I decided to take it because getting a job straight out of college sounded like a huge accomplishment and even though it wasn’t my passion I wanted to be able to say that I had a job right after graduation day.
That was the first summer of my life that I was overweight and I experienced “chub rub” for the first time. I honestly thought I had an allergy to Tennessee when I felt the burning on my inner thighs and saw the rash that came with it but it turned out that it was just good ole chub rub.
Things only seemed to get worse from there, I was in a horrible work situation and hundreds of miles away from everyone I knew and loved.
Through all the trauma and sadness I had lost my spark, I had lost who I was. The weight gain was deeply tied to my sense of identity and I couldn’t see a way back to my true self. I felt so disconnected from my body because I didn’t identify as a plus size woman or even a woman at all, I still felt like an adolescent but the world kept telling me I had to grow up.
Everyone around me seemed to be making the transition from college to adulthood seamlessly, no one else seemed to break down and certainly no one had been hospitalized. I on the other hand was completely floundering. I had gotten to a point where I didnt even want to leave my home because of how uncomfortable I was with my own body. My body felt like a reflection of my insides, all swollen and covered in stretch marks from all the growing that was supposed to be positive. But I felt so negative about everything around me. It was like a sand trap, the harder I tried to pull myself out the deeper I sunk.
I tried everything from affirmations to more therapy to meditation to more medication with the side effect of weight gain. The loss of self I experienced during these few years was a never ending cycle of weight gain due to medication then anxiety and depression due to the weight gain then more medication to treat the anxiety and depression.
I finally began to see a new therapist in 2015 who recommended I find myself a “landing strip” for me that turned out to be Trader Joe’s. I worked there for just over two years and began to really fall in love with performing and self care. I now take the time to care for myself in healthy ways and enjoy performing improv.
I look back at my time where I wasn’t really myself and I wonder who I actually was in those months and years. I know it wasn’t me but I also know rationally that I was still myself. My body did not get taken over by The Weight, it was just the worst version of myself. When you’re at your lowest low you can’t even look up and see the sunshine in the world, you’re stuck high above it in a grey cloud.
I still haven’t lost even half the weight that I gained in those short six months and it has been five years now, I’ve learned to live with The Weight but I still have dark days where I hate the body I am in. I wish I could end this story in a size four, just a little larger than I was before all the medication and bad choices but here I stand, a size 8-10 lady just trying to do her best. I like to think I’ll be okay and learn to fully love my body and myself the way it deserves to be loved but I can’t say for sure. I guess looking back I’ve had some huge learning experiences in the past few years and in my new body. I’ve fallen in love for the first time, I’ve made great strides in my career and in my friendships and now I think that matters more to me than my physical shape and size. At least for now, I can pretend it does anyway.
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