This is a post that I have needed to write for a very long time. I think it is important. I always knew there would be a time when I shared this, and in recent months, I’ve spent many moments alone. Reflection on life has set in deep, and this is my most intimate reflection.
To Whom It May Concern, I’m sorry.
To my Family, I’m sorry.
To my Friends, I’m sorry.
To my Brain, I’m sorry.
To my Body, I’m so so sorry.
To say I regret it would be a lie.
I’m thankful for experiencing what I have.
But I definitely wish things were different.
August of 2012, I finished an internship in Memphis, TN. It was this summer that the resurrection of a former self began, and would eventually worsen over time. I promised myself that I would not revert to my old ways. I sat on my darling Ramey’s couch, looked her in the eye and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.” She trusted me. I trusted me.
My old ways:
In high school, I was obsessive. I was controlling, I was unenjoyable, I was depressed, I was anxious, I was uncomfortable. Looking back, I should have known it was a problem. But for some reason, I just didn’t. I thought I was normal for wanting to change so much. But to actively pursue it at such a level that I did… that wasn’t normal. I started Slim-Fast my senior year of high school. I ate granola bars, fruit cups, and drank smoothies. That was the sustenance I was “providing” my body. At the same time, I was going to the gym 7 days a week and playing soccer for five of those days TOO.
Part of the problem might have been that negative feedback did not approach me. No one really said, “You look sickly. Do you get enough nutrition?”
“You look great, Olivia!” was something I heard. But I never HEARD it. All I could really hear was the fat on my stomach mocking me. “If any of them ever saw you without clothing on, you’d be a laughing stalk Olivia!”
I distinctly remember one time when my best friends threw me a surprise party. We we going to spend the day sunbathing, just us girls, and I was trying to become comfortable with that alone. I got to my friend’s house, and all of the boys that I adored were there. They were all my friends. I couldn’t believe everyone cared enough to drive out to a farm and celebrate my 19th with me! But all I could think about was the dinner I had 4 nights before, and how it was probably still “showing”. Anxiety overwhelmed me. “I didn’t prepare for this!” I thought. I’ll tell you right now, had I known that the entire Caronport Cougar hockey team was going to be there, I would have been dieting (yep, even more so) that whole week.
Looking back, I was certainly suffering from something. A woman came to chapel (we had weekly gatherings at CHS, and would occasionally have guest speakers) and spoke on her struggle with anorexia. I didn’t feel like that was necessarily it. That wasn’t what was going on here. January of 2010 (the year I turned 19), I went on Celexa (an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication). I was feeling trapped, and my therapist hoped it would help me. “Suicidal” might be a leap when considering what I was feeling, but at that point, everything seemed horrible. Hard.
Daddy was gone.
College felt out of reach.
I hated living in Saskatchewan.
I hated my school.
I just wanted to get out!
But I have to pose the question now. Would I have been in the same mental state had I altered my nutrition to better serve my brain functionality? More omega-3 fatty acids? More dense protein? I was a vegetarian who was picky and scared of everything on a plate that I didn’t prepare myself. The answer is “absolutely not.” I’ll tell you how I am sure of this later.
Scrolling through pictures of graduation from high school, I don’t see life in my eyes. The only thing I see is the doubt, the worry, the wondering. The all-consuming need to look “skinny” in the photographs I knew would plaster Facebook. In the following pictures, I remember seeing myself and thinking, “I could have been smaller.”
We celebrated my nineteenth birthday on May 27th, when the next photo was taken. The ones above were taken on June 14th. 18 days in between. Looking at my arms and my collar-bone, I am shocked with how emaciated I managed to get to fit in that dress. I remember crying in the dressing room with my mom at the tailor shop, telling her it just wouldn’t work. The memory I have of what I saw when I looked in the mirror on graduation serves me well. The reflection did not look like what is above.
You can see it in my eyes if you look hard enough. The doubt and worry. The anger I put on myself. I remember the exact meal I had that night. Not because of the fantastic memory it ties to, but because I split it in half, and ate half of that. Then thought about it for roughly a week.
By the end of May after my freshman year (2010-2011), I weaned off of Celexa. I moved home for the summer and put myself through a rigorous waitressing schedule. This did not help. At that point in time, my meals had been consisting of Luna bars and quadruple shot, sugar-free, half-sweet, vanilla, soy lattes. Mom told me that I didn’t look any bit of healthy, and I had my blood analyzed. Iron levels were beyond low. B vitamins, virtually nonexistent. I began a vitamin regimen and spent the entire summer cutting my coffee.
Fast forward to the 2011-2012 school year. Coming off of ~800 mg of caffeine a day did a number on my metabolism. I regularly participated in the salad bar at the Perry Cafeteria, and I enjoyed a cookie every now and then. I felt there was balance there. But I experienced what old me would have called “a ballooning.” My size leaped.
Roundness set in to my face. My defined collar-bone vanished. My pants didn’t fit. But I was laughing! It felt so good to laugh. To find things as funny, and to be in such a good mood! I was feeding myself like a human should. I was taking vitamins and drinking water instead of coffee.
The irony though? Christmas came, and so did those photographs. I instantly began hating myself again. Why? Look at the joy in my eyes next to my little Abigail! And before that… a real smile. REAL. These pictures started to really set in. I hated the roundness. Pictures of me quickly reverted back to a form of mockery that my fat came up with. “You’re enjoying life too much, Olivia! Stop eating!”
After Christmas, I was slowly approaching a place where love of my body, health, happiness, and a normal weight for my frame were all meeting. In recovering from a foot injury, I was able to exercise more which helped my mental health more than anything. Then the summer hit, and I stood on a scale. I shouldn’t have. The scale was inaccurate. It was not taking into account the muscle that I had built while in high school. It was not taking into account the pressure I was putting on my body by standing hunched over. It was not taking a lot into consideration. It did however, spit out a number that threw me into an emotional breakdown at work.
I had been in between 135 and 143 for as long as I could remember. I had successfully avoided weighing myself ever since the summer I got off of coffee, because I knew it wasn’t healthy for ME as a person. But I couldn’t get the damn number out of my head! All I really needed to do was start exercising again. Instead, I came up with a new weight loss goal.
Well, okay… not really. That was another problem. I never had a goal. I just knew I wanted to be smaller.
So 2 years post-high school… my old ways squeezed back through the cracks. But this time, the obsession was unshakable. All-consuming, fiery, raging.
I started using MyFitnessPal (a great app if you can be calm about it…).
I became a regular orderer of a very good vegetarian friendly protein supplement which I drank for meals.
I became wary of sugar, fats, and carbs – and obsessed with reading labels – all over again.
To be clear, I still use meal replacement shakes, but with a much healthier mindset.
I would have one shake in the morning (without any additives like banana or spinach), then wait a good 6 hours to have another. Those two meals provided my body with about 400 calories. Then, I’d allow myself a salad with a protein substitute (like tofu) for dinner. Maybe some almonds. The dramatic adjustments served “well” for my self-perception. I saw it working! (I also had to take a seat at my internship from almost fainting onto an operating table… a couple of times). 900 calories a day. Of course it freaking worked.
I was starving.
So school began. I was the newly appointed Student Director for Music Maker Productions. I was also an RA in the craziest building on campus. I was trying to incorporate a fitness regimen into those lives, alongside 17 hours of school that came with homework in tow. Those challenges are what made the obsession a fiery one. I was all, “F*#% this! I’m doing this! I am going to exercise! I am GOING to lose weight before Christmas! NO ONE WILL STOP ME.”
Here is where an apology comes in. I’m so sorry to my Music Makers. To my fellow staff members. To my classmates. I was blindsided by obsession. I couldn’t control it, and all I wanted to do was criticize myself and burn calories while consuming less of them. This, in turn, made me unenjoyable in many ways, and hard to understand.
It was all so stupid. The worst part about it? That whole time, I thought I was slipping. I had started dating someone, we would go get Mexican food, or go on a date like normal people do… and I would think about it forEVER. I fit into a dream dress for a formal. You could see my shoulders. You could see my collar-bone. My face was lean. Features pointed. AND I looked nourished. But still… I thought I could be smaller.
Glancing back, I should have been happy at that point. I should have been enjoyable to be around. I shouldn’t have been so critical and so stressed out. I was 143 lbs. I was STRONG.
I was living a good balance of eating out with friends and cooking food at home. I made it to the gym for a lifting session 3-4 days a week, and matched that with cardio. I smiled in pictures. I was social.
It wasn’t enough for the mocking fat.
All I ever saw was my lack of a 6-pack. Why didn’t I have it? How could I get one? I never noticed my legs. I never looked at the curves on my hips when they showed up. I just… all I could see was a tummy.
My deepest insecurity.
It was then that the balance existed (Fall 2012), and I didn’t even know it. I ate out with my friends on occasion, I exercised hard, I went out on the weekends, and I was getting great grades. The girl in that photo has no idea that a balance was found. All she knew was that she would be flying home in size 4 jeans, and wouldn’t let the infamous “holiday weight gain” happen.
Another apology. I’m so sorry to my family for this Christmas break (and the one after that). I’m sorry for trying to inflict my obsessive compulsivity on you all. I wasn’t trying to “take away” Christmas with healthier substitutes. I was just being selfish. A control freak.
After Christmas, I maintained where I was. I was controlling. I exercised too much. I got my boyfriend at the time involved with the gym (I’m sorry, too), and had no excuses. I would keep going! A standstill was met, though. By summer, I was researching ways to break ground in fitness when you’ve reached a plateau.
Step 1: Cleanse
Step 2: CrossFit
I began a two-week cleanse on May 11th. By day 3, I felt leaner, cleaner, skinnier. I got my hands on an Advocare PDF of their recommended meals for when you’re doing the 24-Day Challenge. My situation was tricky though… I didn’t eat meat. Tofu and egg whites. Say hello to my protein source for the next 7 months.
By the second week of the cleanse, I felt awesome. I had energy. “What ISN’T worth this feeling!?” I bought copious amounts of Tupperware and furthered the downward spiral of my health and awareness. After a 3 week stay on the Gulf Coast, I had a whole summer to “do me.” The picture below should have been it. It should have been the end. But it wasn’t.
Cue “meal prep” in conjunction with the most intense fitness routine of my life. I followed every fitness competitor I could find on Instagram. I woke up at 5 AM most days to start a routine that involved CrossFit and 60-minute cardio sessions (I discovered pre-workout supplements). I’d eat every three hours. My meals were horrifically calculated, down to the gram of sweet potato and egg white. My food scale was my best friend, and it went everywhere with me. My schedule was my life. It worked. I was wearing XS everything in no time.
“Meal prep” took over every ounce of my being. Sundays, I went grocery shopping and cooked all day. I would make 300 calorie dinners and put every ingredient (even shit like “basil”) into the MyFitnessPal recipes center. I knew every single thing that was going on with my food intake. What I didn’t know was what I was doing to my poor body. The next few pictures, you might have seen before. They were examples of how well I thought I was doing in life. I posted them with the hashtag “fitspo.” I wanted to share with people that I had unlocked the secret! It was simple to me! Time management and eating clean.
Chyeah. The solution for freaks of nature.
You can see it happening. I had a false sense of happiness sometimes, because I could wear an XS dress to a football game. But majority of the time, I was intensely insecure. I had it! I had the size 0 waist, and the prominent cheekbones. But now, all I could see was my 32 A chest. Another thing to change! I had dissolved what was there before.
Instead of a womanly chest, I sported a skeleton, protruding through the thin layer of colorless skin in which I had sewn myself up.
If you had asked anyone else at that time, they probably would have said I was determined. “Kudos for fulfilling your goals!” Maybe they would have complimented my body. Who knows. Goals were far behind me. I was in a competition with myself, and I was going to win, damnit. I just didn’t know what I was competing for. My grocery lists didn’t look weird to me. Sweet potatoes, kale, quinoa, almond milk, banana, frozen vegetables – whatever else that would suit my carbs/fats/proteins pie chart for the week. That was all I ate.
I surprised my family in the summer, and concerned the hell out of them all. At this point, my complexion was lifeless. I was constantly stressed and absolutely no fun to be around. But you could see my muscles!
I remember my mom force feeding me a custom olive that had feta on it. They used to be my favorite, and now I was terrified of what it would do to my “figure”. Thanks mom. I eat feta all of the time now.
Being home somewhat reset my buttons. Not having a full-on “meal prep” schedule helped bring me back to reality a bit, but I continued on a “less intense” scale when I got back to Mississippi. This less intense scale meant that I would eat a bit more peanut butter… I was still antisocial in fear that I would be put in a situation where I’d be tempted to eat something that wasn’t on my list from the cleanse.
Before long, I lost my period. One of the surefire signs that you’ve mistreated your body. My body fat percentage was next to nothing. It was 110 degrees some days, and I was freezing cold. FREEZING. I remembered the lady from high school, who spoke about her anorexia. Still, I was eating. “Anorexia isn’t it!” But then I remembered something else. EDNOS – Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This is what I have. This is what takes my brain to a different level when concern about my body becomes a factor. I started to work with the idea that I had an eating disorder, more and more.
It was around the end of September and beginning of October that the clouds began to part. I have a photo that I took during the lowest of my body’s health. If you look at my facial expression, the furrowed brow is a give away that I was unhappy. I was tiny. TOO TINY. I got down to 122 between end of May and early September (if I hadn’t have had muscle from the 140-something grams of protein I was force feeding myself, I surely would have been in the 90’s). There were even visible abdominal muscles… I never saw them in that moment.
I never saw my rib bones in this picture either. Not the muscle in my arms, or the incredibly malnourished color of my skin. All I saw was that little bit of tummy. “Leave!!” In hindsight, those were abdominal muscles as well. I just didn’t know what to look for…
Unfortunately, I landed back in the psychologists office, and was handed a prescription for Celexa, once again. It was the same week that my sister Cannon responded to the following photograph and gave me more than enough tough love. I can’t even look at the picture because of my face. Nothing was right, and it’s written all over me and my transparent skin.
Cannon sent me emails with academic articles about women who deprive themselves of fat and other good things, and wind up missing their cycles. Suddenly, my goals went from getting leaner (for no reason at all) to making a natural body function return. Avocados and almonds became my little lifesavers. With slight alterations in my diet, I was able to find function again, 5 months after things quit working. I remained on Celexa, and with that experienced a steady increase in weight.
Here is where I know that my cycles of depression and anxiety, which I always thought were genetic, are actually the result of something I do to myself. My new goal in life is to nourish my body so that I may never feel like I need to look to a little pill for help. I want so badly to be done with that area in my life.
The weight gain accompanied by my medicine went way further than I feel comfortable with. And now, when I go through the stupid act of weighing myself, I see a number worse than the 156 that started everything. I’ve spent countless hours on the phone with my Sisters, my Mom, and my Jessica this summer, being upset about my body. I’ve even wished for my disorder and control freak-ness to return, just so I can fit into all of the amazing clothes I bought when I was smaller. But that is all part of the healing process. The “coming to terms” with your problem.
I must never return to that.
So again, this is an apology. I’m really sorry to everyone that this impacted. Whether you’re a peer who looked to me for advice on how to get your bikini bod, or you’re someone who had to watch me eat egg whites, sweet potatoes, and almond butter all day every day, I’m sorry. None of this is said to impress upon you that meal prepping CrossFitters are all nuts, either. I took it too far. It was my fault. And for that, CrossFit community, I’m sorry as well.
I have a lot of new goals. But mostly, they consist of reaching a place where I can look at the fat on my tummy and yell back it…. call IT names. I know I work hard. My heart is happy. My body is happy. It’s possible, I know it is!
I’m off of my Celexa now, and have begun taking Juice Plus to boost my body’s nutrient uptake. Most of the food I eat is food that I cook. But good news! My scale’s batteries died, and I still haven’t replaced them 🙂 A recipe calls for a vegetable, and I’ll just throw it in! I won’t look up the sugar content of a carrot or apple, and I won’t tap it into an app that tells me how many calories I’m restricted to for the rest of the day. The healing process is slow, and when I’m not clothed, I glance at myself and still manage to shed a tear of frustration from time to time.
I’m determined to love my body, though.
This post was written to help with my healing, and to stop the pain from infiltrating another young woman or man’s life. While writing this post, one thing has become clear to me. I have never been happy with my body. But the best part about having photographs is that I get to look at them and see when I was my healthiest, and aim to go back there. I get to look at this picture and tell myself that when I find that again to ACKNOWLEDGE it. Be happy when I am there. I didn’t have a flat tummy, but I should have been so grateful for the accomplishment of having confidence to take a picture.
Be thankful for friends who ask you to go out to dinner. Be thankful for the hour you get to devote at the gym, even if it’s 3 or 4 days a week. Be thankful that people support you in what makes you happy. Be thankful for the friends who always insist on taking pictures, even if you hate that they’re not from an upward angle, because that is what’s “most flattering”. Be thankful for your body, and be kind to it.
I, for one, am very thankful that my body is giving me a third chance to find balance.
I will not be throwing that chance away.