An Honest Account of New Motherhood (with Postpartum Anxiety, Depression, and OCD)

The day my daughter was born was not the best day of my life.

Pregnancy was long and hard – so hard – for me. I did not enjoy being pregnant. And, the day my daughter was born, I was glad for the pregnancy to be over. But, when they lay my wiggly little girl on my chest, I was not overcome with emotion. In fact, I felt nothing at all. Later that day, in tears, I would write a message to my therapist saying “she feels like a stranger.” Which, in truth, she was.

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I had dark thoughts during those two days in the hospital. As honest as I strive to be on this blog, I am not brave enough right now to tell the entire world what those thoughts were. But, I will say that I was ashamed of them. I did begin to feel one thing, though: anxiety. Lots and lots of anxiety. When it was time for us to go home, I found myself in the throws of a panic attack. I told myself that it was normal. I was a new, first-time mom. Anxiety was expected.

When we finally got home, I needed my mom. Not to do anything for me; I just needed her presence. I had said repeatedly while pregnant that I didn’t want anyone staying over at our house when my baby was born. But, I now found myself crying like a small child when my mom went to go home. (And, so, she stayed.) “How funny,” I thought, “that in becoming a mother, I find myself feeling more like a child than I have in many years.”

I cried a lot. Constantly, really. Deep waves of pain would strike, welling in my stomach like grief and crashing over me. I never cry in front of anyone; now, I could not help myself.

I regretted becoming a mom.

I did not regret my daughter’s existence, but I regretted thinking that I could be a mother. I told my husband and my therapist this daily. Hourly, sometimes. And, I Googled… I searched all over the internet for other women who regretted becoming a mom… desperate to see if any of them had found their way out of this pit. But, nobody’s story, nobody’s thoughts sounded as dark as mine. Nobody seemed as far gone as I felt.

And then there was the insomnia. In the first two weeks after giving birth, I found I was able to nap and sleep whenever I had even 30 minutes of downtime. But, I soon found myself unable to sleep even when the baby was sleeping. I was exhausted, I took Benadryl, and still, I couldn’t sleep. Increasingly, it got worse, until I was sleeping maybe an hour in total every night; two if I was lucky. Always broken up in to 15-20 minute increments. Not because of the baby, but because my body physically refused to sleep. I spent countless nights writing panicked messages to my therapist in the dark, alone, on the stairs… nobody else was awake. But, I could not rest.  In truth, I felt relief when the baby would wake up, because then I could nurse her – I could do something – I could be productive rather than sit there, tortured.

And it was torture.

I began to struggle with caring for my daughter. I was exhausted. My body was exhausted. My brain was flooding me with nothing but anxious fear and intrusive images of terrible things happening to my baby, my family. I was miserable. I was in constant pain. But, I didn’t really think much of it; I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and mild OCD for so long that I just figured that this was normal for me and had nothing to do with having had my baby.

I went to my 6-week appointment with my midwife expecting nothing more than a quick check and sign off to return to work at 8 weeks postpartum. I filled out the questionnaire honestly and then sat in the exam room holding my screaming, over-tired baby who refused to latch and nurse. My midwife walked in.

In the first minute of that appointment, she could tell that I was not OK. And she called me out on it. In fact, she said she would not clear me to return to work. I was caught off guard. I was scared. I was ashamed. I felt like a failure. But, also, I was so…so relieved. She SAW me. She SAW that I wasn’t OK. Nobody else, nobody, not even my therapist who I had unloaded everything on had recognized how much I was struggling, how I was drowning. I was relieved to hear that I would not have to go back to work yet. I had been so afraid of how I was going to manage working at my fast-paced, mentally demanding job when I couldn’t even sleep for longer than 15 minutes at a time.

I left that appointment with so many emotions. I thought it would be my turning point. But, it wasn’t. Not quite yet. Then came one of the hardest decisions for me: whether or not to go back on my antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication and stop nursing. The anxiety exploded. The intrusive thoughts exploded.

I knew that I needed to go back on my medication. I still remember my last nursing session with my daughter. It was in the morning, and I ate poptarts while she nursed. I, who had never ever thought that I even would nurse at all, found myself flooded with grief and fear. When she was done, I stared at that stupid antidepressant pill and second guessed myself over and over and over.

There were the logical arguments: What was I going to do if I couldn’t nurse her for comfort? She wouldn’t take a pacifier.

The emotional arguments: She wouldn’t need me anymore; anyone could feed her. She wouldn’t need ME.

And the completely illogical: Would formula cause her to developmentally regress? This became a very real fear.

After I took that pill, I instantly felt like I had become poisonous. Tainted. My daughter could no longer nurse. I was poisonous. Poisonous. Poisonous. It echoed and echoed in my mind.

Unfortunately, it seems I had waited too long to start medication. I rapidly deteriorated. I could no longer sleep at all. In desperation, I took some Ambien that my psychiatrist had prescribed during a previous bad fight with insomnia. Despite having not slept for 2 days, the Ambien only got me 1 hour of sleep. My mom took me to the ER where they gave me Valium, which made everything worse, causing huge waves of cold anxiety that made it hard for me to breathe.

Finally, finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t take care of my daughter. It took 6 and a half weeks for me to break, but in the end, I did break. I asked my mom to take me back to the ER, where they admitted me to a psychiatric unit.

Have you ever hit rock bottom? Have you ever fallen so low that it doesn’t even feel like real life anymore? Have you ever questioned your own sanity? Whether you might actually be asleep and dreaming rather than going through something in reality? As they wheeled me away to transport me via ambulance to the psychiatric unit at a neighboring hospital, I truly thought that what was happening could not possibly be real. And, I could not stop the tears. Though I had not felt much love-based attachment (mostly anxiety-based attachment) to my baby, I now found myself crying for her. I kept telling my mom, the doctors, the nurses “I want my baby…” I begged for her like a small child.

The bottom of the postpartum anxiety, depression, and OCD pit is a very dark place for those who find themselves there. It seems endless, inescapable, hopeless. But, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself with people who care about you – with people who want to help you – you will see that, if they can shine just a little light into your darkness, the pit is actually lined with ledges that make climbing out – while not at all easy – definitely possible. Going into the psychiatric unit was my lowest low, but it was also a huge turning point in my journey – both as a mother and as an individual.

I want to pause here to say – if you are someone coming to the edge of this or any other deep, dark pit of despair but are too terrified to ask for help – to go into a hospital, even – please know this: it is not at all like they show in movies or books. The psychiatric unit of a hospital can be a very helpful and uplifting place. The people there – we were all just people. Just people. Some sad, some afraid, some lost – but all of us people. They don’t strap you down and pump you full of medication; I had complete control over the medicines that I took, and they never once pressured me into taking something that I didn’t want to take. Not all hospitals are alike, but in this one, I had my own room, my own bathroom. I had privacy, but I was also not alone. In the deep dark of the night, there was always someone right there – someone to help me when I couldn’t sleep. It’s a safe place. With good people. Good, caring staff. And people who are just in dark pits of their own needing some help finding those ledges on the sides of their pits. I would go back now, if I needed to, without the fear that I once held.

It took them 5 days to get me to sleep. But, when that sleep came, when my body finally remembered how to function, everything changed. My husband visited me every single day. He brought me pictures of my baby, reassured me that she was not developmentally regressing, and we worked together to craft a plan for when I got out so that we could all be ok. I was also so lucky – so lucky to have my family. My inlaws stayed with my husband and helped him get our daughter on a new feeding schedule now that she would need to be on formula. When I got out, they had it all sorted out – all of the things I had been so anxious about (pacifiers, feeding schedules, figuring out when she was hungry when I’d always nursed on demand) – my mother in law had sorted it all out with my husband. And they helped me so much.

The best day in my life is the day after I came home. When I successfully slept in our house. When our daughter ate and was fed, and I had slept and was finally OK. The day that I realized that having her had been the best thing that I had ever chosen to do. Ever.

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Postpartum mental health issues do not go away overnight – not even after a 5-day stay in the psychiatric unit. I still struggle sometimes – even now, months later. But, that is ok. Because everything is going to be ok; I believe that. Even though every day is not a good day, I still know – beyond any shadow of a doubt – that having my daughter was the right thing to do, no regrets, and that these days are so much better because I have her.

If there are any new mothers reading this out there – whether struggling with postpartum mental health issues or not – here is what I want to say to you…

Mama, those early days, they are so dark. They are so hard. They are heavy and long, endless and slow. You go ahead and cry; it’s ok to grieve. It’s ok that this is too hard. It’s ok that you are overwhelmed. You are in the thick of it right now; even though people keep telling you that this time is going to fly by, the truth is that it will be so slow right now while you’re doing these days. And you have to do every single one of these hard days, mama. Each one. And it sucks. And it is too hard. Too much. And, mama, if you are drowning, scramble hard to get help. Even if it feels like failing. Even if it feels all wrong. Take the hand. It feels like failure, but it’s not. It’s the right thing.

Remember this: you are important. You. Apart from your baby. Apart from your significant other. Apart from anyone else. You are important. You.

This is not your new forever. I promise.

Birth, Babies, and Body Image

I have tried to write this post many times over the last 8 months. It’s not that I haven’t had time; well, that’s not been the reason for about 5 months at least. It’s partly been fear and shame, and it’s partly been my telling myself that if I waited just a little longer, I’d lose more weight, and then I would feel better about sharing. But, it’s time. I made a commitment to sharing how my body responded to pregnancy. I made this decision because, when I got pregnant, I could not find information anywhere about how my body might look during or after pregnancy given my weight loss history.

Would my “bump” be round? Would I simply look fat? Would I get stretchmarks? Would the fact that I had so much loose skin make my pregnancy easier? How much might I lose after giving birth? Would losing weight be more difficult after giving birth?

Well, of course, everybody and every body is different. But, I wanted to share my experience. So, where were we? The last month.

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I went into labor the day before my due date; my daughter would eventually be born on my due date. So, I am, in fact, in labor in my 40-week picture. I waffled back and forth on how much about my physical changes I wanted to document and share. But, ultimately, I wanted to provide an example of how a body that has lost a large amount of weight might look during pregnancy. So, I’m taking a risk here, and I’ve decided to share.

At my largest, I weighed 235 pounds; at my lowest, I weighed 117. I ultimately maintained a weight of about 120 pounds for roughly 8 months before deciding to try for a baby. After a 115-pound weight loss, I had quite a bit of loose skin.

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I was always frustrated that, despite weighing 120 and wearing a size 4, I would never get to have a flat stomach. When I got pregnant, I wondered if this “B-shaped” stomach would translate over to pregnancy: would I get to have a round bump? Would I get stretch marks? Would my belly button pop out? Or, might the extra skin and old stretch marks save me from anything new?

I gained 34 pounds during pregnancy: I went from 123 pounds to 157.

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Here I am in labor again 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised at how my body changed during pregnancy. I did not get any stretch marks, and my belly button ultimately did not pop out. My bump was fairly round with a sort of small “curtain” of still-loose skin hanging underneath. Though I carried my daughter way far back, which prevented me actually looking pregnant for a good while, by my third trimester, I ultimately felt comfortable dressing in clothes that showed “the bump.”

I believe had I not lost all of that weight pre-pregnancy, I would have gotten stretch marks as I got MANY during the years when I was obese. I also feel that having been many different “shapes” in my life ultimately allowed me to feel more comfortable with my post-partum body even immediately after giving birth.

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Many women say that they lose lots of weight in the first week or two after giving birth. This was not my experience. A lot of the weight that I gained during pregnancy was, indeed, actual fat on my body – not fluid, blood, or baby. My daughter weighed 7 pounds at birth; I lost 10 pounds total after having her.

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newborn

I maintained a weight of 147 – 150 for basically 7 months and have only recently dropped a couple more pounds. I now weigh 143 – 145. Breastfeeding did not assist me – at all – in losing weight.

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Behold my messy living room…

So, that chronicles the physical changes that my body went through. I hope that it might help someone who has all of the same questions I once had. As I said before, my body is my body – everybody and every body is different. There is no shame in how your body changes or handles pregnancy. So, please don’t look at this as some example of how your body “should” do pregnancy; there are no “shoulds” here.

At some point in the near future, I will share the far more difficult struggles I encountered with antenatal and post-partum anxiety, depression, and OCD. But, those are different topics for different days.

I can’t close this entry without, of course, sharing a photo of of our family: my how far life has brought us!

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Happy New Year, everyone 🙂

Learning to Trust My Body

One. More. Month!

Of course – they say it’s the longest month of your life, so… But here I am!

36 weeks pregnant.

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I’ve gained 35 pounds.

So, I think I can officially say that I will be going over the “recommended weight gain” guidelines for pregnancy. That’s ok. It’s going to be ok. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this process it’s that pregnancy is a time for trusting my body. And my body wants to gain more than 35 pounds. And it’s going to be ok.

Honestly, the fact that I can say that and mean it really gives me some hope. At my lowest weight, I could never say it was going to be ok. I was terrified. I needed control. Of my food, of my body, of my weight, of everything. I’m still scared; I still want to be in control. But, I can say that it’s going to be ok. And I can mean it.

I’ve tracked my food throughout my entire pregnancy. It’s something I’ve done for 6 years now, it’s how I lost my weight, and it’s now a habit that I think may be a life-long change. For me, it’s comforting to be able to look back and say that I know what I’ve consumed, so if my scale jumps, there is no wondering “did I really eat that much?” I can know: no, I didn’t. So, it’s something else.

Pregnancy has taken a lot of control away from me. I can’t control a wiggling baby inside of me. I can’t control swelling, my increased heart rate, or any number of symptoms. This has been scary and difficult for me. It’s been especially hard to not be able to fully control my weight. I was really frightened early on because while everyone else seemed to lose weight 1st trimester, I gained. I belong to an online community of pregnant ladies, and I swear…every time we’d talk about weight gain, the conversation would go something like… “I’m 20 weeks and up 3 pounds!” “I’m 22 weeks and still at my pre-pregnancy weight!” “I’m 25 weeks and am 10 pounds under my pre-pregnancy weight!” … then, there was me: I gained 14 pounds in 1st trimester alone. Everyone told me that 3rd trimester would be rapid weight gain. I was terrified. But, fortunately, my body (so far!!) has been more of the slow and steady type. And, gradually, I’ve begun to trust it. I’ve begun to listen to it rather than force it into my strict guidelines. And, it’s been ok. Everything is ok.

Once the baby is born, I’m going to need to reevaluate. I’m not who I was a year ago when my “After Myth” post went viral. I’m not the same me. I’m not even the same me that I was 9 months ago when I got pregnant. I will never be the same me again. I’m not sure what that “me” is going to look like, believe, feel, think, care about, eat…. But, I do know this: it’s going to be ok.

I think I can trust my body.

I think, maybe, I can even one day trust myself.

Dear Body, You’re Pretty Badass

I don’t spend a lot of time really connected with my body. In fact, I quite often try to tune it out or escape from it. I haven’t given my body a lot of credit. I don’t often acknowledge its strengths (although I’m damn good at tearing it to pieces for its failures). But, lately, I’ve been really appreciating my body — not for what it looks like but for what it’s doing. And doing well.

I’m now 30 weeks pregnant, and I have seriously been lucky. Aside from the ridiculous insomnia I had in first trimester, early-onset braxton hicks, and a slightly irritable uterus, my body has physically been handling this pregnancy splendidly. I’ve passed all my blood tests, my blood pressure remains right where it’s been since I lost weight before getting pregnant, and I haven’t had any swelling so far. I can still get down on hands and knees every morning and evening to give my foster cat his pills, I can still squat down to read labels on the low shelves at grocery stores, and I was even able to walk endlessly for 4 days on our pre-baby vacation to St. Augustine. I’m certainly gaining weight (28 pounds so far, if I’m being transparent and honest), but even that has been just steady since the beginning.

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Excuse me while I go knock on some wood, because we all know I’ve just completely jinxed myself.

Truly, I don’t mean this as a bragging post. I really can’t take much credit for any of this — I’ve just gotten lucky. But, I do want to acknowledge it. Because I’m really really hard on this body. I criticize it so much and so often, and I just feel like it’s worth it to pause and acknowledge that no matter what happens from this point forward — even if it all goes to hell in the next 10 weeks — my body has done something pretty awesome these last 30 weeks. And that really makes me appreciate it in a way I’ve never taken the time to even think about.

I remember the first time I joined a Zumba class was when I first started thinking “look at what my body can do!” I’d push myself so hard jumping and kicking just because I could — because there was a time when I couldn’t. When I returned to horseback riding, I marveled at what I could do with my body: I could use it to communicate with a creature 10 times my size, and that animal listened…usually…unless it was a mare. 😉 When I started cantering and jumping bareback, I loved the knowledge that my body was strong and balanced enough to stay on.

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These feelings — I’ve not had them at all since getting pregnant. I’ve been so so focused on the weight gain that I’ve just not acknowledged at all what my body is doing.

We’re doing this — my body and me…and the baby too. We’re growing life. I’m pretty sure that trumps flying bareback on a horse. You’re pretty badass, body.

So, anyways. I just wanted to take a moment and appreciate this: that my body is doing this. I know that not everyone gets to do this – and through absolutely no fault of their own. I’m lucky. I’m blessed. And I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

Pregnancy After Weight Loss is Really Freaking Hard

Yeah, my title is not creative today. I’m not really feeling creative right now. I’m struggling. Because, like the title says, pregnancy after weight loss is really freaking hard. I’ve promised to be honest with you (perhaps too honest), and so I will be…even if it means opening myself to criticism.

First: an outright update. Here I am in all my pregnant glory, now 22 weeks along:

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Our little girl, Emma, weighs nearly a pound. She’s healthy, and I can feel her wiggling around every day. I’ve gained 18 pounds and have zero pairs of pants that comfortably fit. The maternity pants I ordered also don’t fit, though, so I mostly live in leggings. To try and reduce my mounting frustration (and, honestly, depression) related to gaining weight and my changing body, I purged my closet. I packed away clothing I hope to fit into again someday and donated a ton of clothing that I will likely never wear again. What’s left are outfits that look like this:

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Because I’m not comfortable “showing off the bump.” Also, have I mentioned that I have zero pants? I have zero pants.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed, though, is how different my mentality seems to be compared to my fellow pregnant compatriots. I belong to a few groups of ladies who are pregnant, and I have to admit that my brain just appears to be in a completely different place than most of theirs. While they fawn over nursery decorations, I fret over my caloric intake. While they show off cute little bump pictures every week, I find myself taking my picture and using it to compare where I’m at versus others at a similar stage as me (probably the worst thing I could do, really, because I never realized just how extremely different women look compared to one another while pregnant…every body is just so different). I glow when someone says I’m “small” for how far along I am, and I get frustrated when people tell me the weight will “come right off…at least if you’re breastfeeding.” (That’s not how my body works… weight does not “come right off” of me… ever.)

When my blog went viral, a lot of people called me inspirational. Now, I feel like a drag…constantly criticizing my own weight, menu, and appearance. Instead of focusing on growing a healthy baby, I’m really a lot more focused on not gaining too much weight, not using my pregnancy as an excuse, and not breaking my food-tracking habits while pregnant. I worry all the time about what people are thinking about my weight gain: do they think I’ve already gained so much more than I should? Are they judging my food choices? What will they think if the weight doesn’t “come right off” post-pregnancy? …I’m fairly certain that I will never weigh 120 pounds ever again. And that matters to me. And I don’t want it to. I really want the other parts of my life (you know, like my family) to matter more than the number on a scale.

In the last week, I’ve started telling myself to view this as an opportunity to try again. When I lost the last 50 pounds of my weight last year, I did so without allowing internal issues like those above to be resolved. I lost the weight, but the weight was only a symptom, and the underlying disease (self-hatred) did not resolve. This time, I would like to change that. I would like to re-focus on learning to love myself and allowing my weight to settle itself at whatever number that might be: 120, 130, 140…just something healthy. It’s supposed to just be a number, after all. I really hope that, someday, it can just be a number.

 

Dear Daughter…

Dear daughter,

Where do I begin?

Announcement

When I found out that you existed, I was so excited. It was 6 in the morning, and even though I didn’t have to be up for a couple more hours, I was so eager to find out if you were really there. When the test turned positive, I felt a rush from my head to my toes. I swore. I had to sit down. I touched my stomach. Holy crap… I was going to be a mom. Your mom.

For an hour, it was just you and me. Nobody else knew that I had you yet. I held you all by myself for that hour. You were mine. I walked around talking to you. I was so happy. Finally, when an hour was up, I woke up your daddy to tell him you existed. And we were happy together.

The last four months have been so crazy. My body is changing to bring you into this world.

Pregnancy Progress

I’ve struggled with this…a lot. Not so long ago, I was really scared when I became very visible to the world after something I wrote went viral. I said “if I gain weight, everyone will see. If I fail, everyone will know.” But, of course, I can’t have you without giving some of that up right now. But, if I’m being honest, I am still sometimes really hard on myself about this journey of ours. I say some really mean things to myself about it. It’s hard to see your size-2 body in health articles while secretly hiding that you’ve actually already gone up 2 sizes and 13 pounds. And nobody warned me about the emotional turmoil pregnancy can bring. Everyone else always seemed so happy to be having a baby; but, there have been many times when I have struggled with the immense change and responsibility coming my way. I’ve cried. A lot. I didn’t feel the things you’re “supposed” to feel while pregnant. But, I carry your sonogram pictures in my purse now, because I know that all I have to do is take them out and start talking about you, and I light up. Even if I’ve just been falling apart.

When I found out I was having a daughter, I cheered. A real cheer. A surprising cheer. After all the tears, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when I found out your name (your dad and I already had names picked out for if you were a boy or girl). Emma. That’s your great-great grandmother’s name. It’s yours now. You have no idea how much I was secretly hoping for a little girl. That happens when you grow up with three brothers. But, also, you have no idea how anxious I am for you.

Will you love yourself? How can I help you love yourself? Will we have similar struggles? What if I cannot understand things that you need me to understand? What mistakes will I make? Because, I will make mistakes. And, my biggest fear? I remember when my biggest fear surfaced. I texted a friend: “oh my gosh…what if she loves me?” You see, I’m afraid of you loving me. What I mean is…I’m afraid of you loving me and me not deserving that love.

This is my struggle, Emma. Loving myself. It’s really hard to think of another human being loving you when you are struggling so hard to love yourself. You don’t get to choose who your mother will be. What if I’m not deserving of being your mother? Have I harmed you just by forcing you to have me as a mom? These are my fears. And I’m working hard on them.

Emma, there’s so much we’re going to encounter together. Big changes, big feelings, little things that can feel gigantic. And, while I will always be on your side, I won’t be able to protect you from a lot of things. I won’t be able to fix all of the things. Sometimes, I will let you down. But, I will always be on your team. I will do my best. That’s the best I can do.

Now, for a moment here…a note to my readers. I’m sorry for being so silent these last months. I’ve wanted to come here and tell you all what was going on in my life, but I’ve been trying so hard to wrap my mind around it. I’m still trying to figure it out. I feel a lot of things. Happiness, fear, love, joy, anxiety…a lot of things. It’s hard to come back to you, a crowd of people I attracted through my weight-loss journey, and say “hey, I’m gaining weight.” But, I am. I’m gaining weight. I will be honest with you. I’m going to gain weight, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to where I was. I’m not sure how much that matters. I’ve been 235 pounds, I’ve been 117, and I’m going to be a lot of other numbers in coming months and years too. But, this blog was never meant to be about just successfully losing weight. It’s about loving myself. Or trying to. So, if you’re here to read about weight loss, this may not be the place for you. But, if you’re here to read about all the things in life that challenge our abilities to love ourselves, I’ll do my best to write about it.

I told you After didn’t exist. You were warned. We all were.

Here I go.

 

 

Why Was I Fat?

Let’s go beyond literal answers to this question. Yes, I was overweight because I ate too much and moved too little; but, I eat less and move more now, and that’s how one fixes symptoms without ever fixing the root issue. Why was I fat?

It was safe.

When I was larger, I was less visible. Not because I was fat, but because I believed being big meant I didn’t deserve love, attention, or to be noticed by those more worthy than myself. I made myself less visible because I was fat and ashamed of it all the while convincing myself that my size was the reason that nobody wanted me. The truth is that many people tried to love and get close to me when I was fat, but I didn’t allow myself to receive it because of my self hatred.

Being fat also made me an easy target for some people’s bullying. And, somehow, it seemed safer to be on the receiving end of that. If I was a target, then I was not a threat. If I was not a threat, maybe they would stop tearing me down. These were people who I wanted to love me but who were unable to do so because of their own issues, but I didn’t understand that at the time. All I knew was that I desperately wanted to be good enough for them, and that seemed to mean losing weight. It seemed like the only thing I had to do to finally be good enough for them was to lose weight. But it was never enough. I would starve myself down 40 pounds, and they would push for 10 more. 10 more, and I would be good enough. But, I was starving, and I hated myself for still not being good enough. Inevitably, I would gain it back and remain a target. I was never allowed to stop being fat…even when I wasn’t fat.

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An assortment of theatre/drama photos from high school. Can you find me?!

I believed it was inevitable.

One side of my family has always struggled with weight; three people on that side of my family have had weight-loss surgery. In fact, when I joined Weight Watchers, I did so in order to prepare myself for weight-loss surgery. My mom had told me that Weight Watchers would “teach me how to eat,” which was a skill I would need after surgery. I fully believed that surgery was going to be my path (and know that it is a path that I do not judge – it has worked wonders in my family members’ lives).

I was shocked when I began losing weight on Weight Watchers. I thought, like with everything else I tried, it would be unmaintainable. I thought that I would fail. I thought that I’d give up. That was my real resignation: I believed that I would give up; I believed that I would fail. Attempting something while believing you will fail makes you about a hundred times more likely to quit. I’d say I was about a month or more into the program before I started believing that it might be possible for me to do this.

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“That look” hahaha

I tried to fill the void with food.

This….this is probably the biggest reason I was overweight. I still struggle with this today.

For every happy memory, special person, and celebrated occasion in my life, there is a food. There’s my Nana’s mac and cheese, my grandmother’s doughy rolls, my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew, my dad’s meatloaf, my mom’s spaghetti. There’s the crab soup we ate at the beach, the cold watermelon we ate all summer that my dad taught me how to pick out, the sweet tomatoes with salt we pulled from my great grandmother’s garden. There’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the tang of ocean water still on my lips, there’s fried chicken before Santa shows up to pass out presents, there’s red velvet cake before we sing happy birthday. For everything, there is a food. My memories are tied to food. My emotions are tied to food.

I have a void inside of me. It comes from a desperate desire to be loved, to be good enough. Sometimes, I try to fill that void with food. I make and eat my Nana’s mac and cheese and, for a few moments, she’s alive again, and I am loved by her. I have my dad’s meatloaf and, for a little while, it’s a really special day during my childhood (he only made meatloaf on special days). I’m good enough in the past for those few short present moments. I re-create my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew and, for a time, that divorce never happened, and my family never fractured. I eat and eat, remember and feel, and I try to fill the void.

Only the void can’t be filled with food or memories. I can’t go back and make the people who didn’t love me in the past have loved me then. I can’t bring back my grandmother or my great grandmother; those goodbyes have been said for the final time. I can’t be a child again and get to experience all of the things I missed out on. I can’t go back; I can only go forward.

being a goof

So, how do I fill the void left by what I missed out on in the past? Not by trying to re-capture what’s gone, but by creating love now. By capturing the love around me today. Not through food but through the experience of love and those people who give it now. Through being fully present for today’s times of love, care, and being good enough. Slowly, piece by piece, the void is filled…as I let go of the old, worn-out pieces I’ve been trying to cram into it, set them aside to be valued for what they are, and allow new, solid, foundational pieces to fill the void. This will allow me to be filled by something much more permanent than food — by love.

me and misty