Side Effect #1: Self-Love Allowed Me To Love My Body

IMG_0626This one might seem like a no brainer; when you love who you are you most likely will feel better about the way you look; the mind and body are connected in very deep ways. But the way my body looks hasn’t been as much of a concern as how my body feels. Before I go into the difference between the two ideas, I want to explain my background with body positivity. I mainly want to go through my history so you can all understand that this is something I will always be up and down with, and I hope that you can find it relatable and realistic. Body positivity is the hardest part of self-love for me and it always will be.

I was never ashamed of my looks, until I was. I grew up on stage so I found confidence in myself very early on. I never felt like I was different or wanted to change the way I looked until high school. Bullying started when my weight began to change. Halfway through Freshman year, my body began to hold weight differently and gain weight easier. I was a cheerleader and heavily involved in theatre, and that was when I first started getting severely bullied for my size. I am sure that it was happening behind my back for much longer before it started being said to my face. But when I was finally told to my face by a classmate that I was too fat to play the part in the show that I wanted to play, I felt like that was what every person thought about me. I will never forget that moment and how it made me feel. It sent me into a downward spiral and it seemed to open a door of never ending comments about my only worth being my weight. It made me a mean, unhappy person who strived and begged for acceptance by my peers, which turned into manipulative and verbally abusive “friendships”.

I was told I shouldn’t cheer or dance because no one wants to see my fat jiggling around. My senior year (the heaviest weight I have ever been) I was called a whale in front of a majority of my classmates. I was told by my “friends” at the time that I was too fat to love, and that I needed to do whatever I could to make myself skinny before college began. This started another downward spiral. By the time college had started, I had already been accustom to hiding the fact I wasn’t eating and I was working out way too much. But I didn’t let anyone know this was happening because I “wasn’t skinny enough to have an eating disorder.” I believed this too, as the people in my life who I knew had eating disorders just so happened to also be smaller than I was. But starving myself and running 3 miles a day is a problem. Trying to hide it from others by occasionally eating a cupcake or half a burger but secretly hating myself for eating those calories and trying to run them out is a problem. Losing 50lbs from restriction is self-harm and it is a problem. But I was losing weight, so no one seemed to know happening in such a dangerous way. This story is one I will get into more in-depth someday, but overall my point is that just because someone who is “bigger” is losing weight does not mean it has been in a healthy way. Check in on them.

Suddenly, things changed. I got myself out of a toxic living situation, and out of toxic relationships by being cast in my college musical, and it brought new meaning to eating. I started dance classes again which made me feel whole. I knew I needed to actually eat in order to get through the classes, and with this slowly came weight gain. But it was at first in a positive way. I was gaining weight by going out to eat with friends and socializing. I felt good about my body because I was happy with my life. Surprisingly, I was okay with this. I realized that I loved that my body could create art and that the way I was built was just different than others. And my new friends never made me feel anything less than beautiful, smart, and strong.

Then things changed again, more stress and toxic problems happened causing my next struggle with eating: binging. I would restrict myself by believing coffee and bananas were enough to live off of until dinner, then eat 3 orders of Taco Bell. I was restricting then binging, and this was much harder to stop. I hated myself for it, but eating a ton of food at one time made me feel better mentally. I could eat a Chipotle burrito and chips for dinner, eat 4 pieces of cake afterwards, and tell myself that it was solving all my problems. But in the morning I would be disappointed when I tried to slide my jeans on that no longer fit. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the way I looked, because I still liked parts of my body, but I wasn’t feeling good. It didn’t feel good to not fit in my clothes and to wake up with pain in my stomach and bloating around my face.

Now, I will also explain that although I was eating bad, I also gained so much weight from the hormonal treatments from my chronic condition, adenomyosis. If this condition is new to you, read my post about my story here. I was on and off so many treatments, it messed with my body and mind. It created so much stress and imbalance that my weight gain was deemed normal by medical professionals. It was something I begged to not happen, but the doctors told me I would (while also telling me to lose weight…this was very confusing!). I allowed myself to use this as an excuse just to avoid talking about my binge eating issues. This went on until December 2017, when I weighed almost as much as I did my senior year in high school.

When I started my most recent health journey, it was because I was tired of feeling so incredibly awful. Feeling, not looking. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. It was partially stress/anxiety, but also partially my adenomyosis. So, my new, more understanding doctor and I made a plan. She wanted me to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. I became gluten-free and dairy limited. This was a main part of my inspiration for this blog, to make my new lifestyle a positive experience for myself. Through this, I’ve learned about eating foods that are simple and actually beneficial for you. I’ve tried new foods that are now a major part of what I eat, as well as began craving my own cooking verses eating out. Why? Because eating my own foods made my body feel better. Through this, I’ve lost 20lbs. Not by tracking calories or by restricting what I can and cannot eat, but by learning about balance and realizing how to properly fuel my body and better my relationship with food.

IMG_0488The thing that people don’t often associate with body positivity is weight loss. Because body positivity is all about loving the skin your in, which I stand behind 100%. But there is also the fact that sometimes the skin your in is unhealthy and is causing more problems than you realize. Even though I was okay with the way I looked 20lbs ago and definitely still flaunted what my mama gave me, I was extremely unhealthy. Body positivity, in my eyes, goes hand-in-hand with self-love. And with self-love comes self-care. And with self-care comes healthy habits. I started eating unprocessed and healthier foods as a way to take care of myself because I knew I wasn’t getting the nutrients I needed. I started working out again and pushing what I thought were my exercise limits in a healthy way because I knew I needed to move my body and gain muscles.

I realized I wasn’t losing weight because I hated my body. I was losing weight because I wanted to take care of my body.

So yes, weight loss has helped me love my body. But it isn’t just because I look better, but because I feel better. I feel strong, I feel healthy, and I don’t wake up feeling bloated and with a stomach ache that lasts all day. There is absolutely nothing wrong with losing weight for health reasons. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving yourself and your body enough to realize you need to change the way you eat and live your life. Do I still eat potato chips and Taco Bell? Sometimes, yes I do. But I have learned to eat in order to fuel my body, not to make my mind feel better. The way I choose to eat and exercise was made out of self-love and self-care. My weight loss has made me more body positive because I am taking care of my body. I am allowing myself to lose fat and gain muscle, and I will not apologize for loving my body then, now, or in the future.

August 2017 vs August 2018

I know that all of this was a lot, but the bottom line is that my body positivity and confidence is at the level that it is because of the relationship I have created with myself. Over the past 10 months, I have worked so incredibly hard at changing the inside of me and how I thought about myself, and I truly believe that it is showing on the outside. I know how cliché it sounds to say that the inside is what matters and that your inside will shine brighter than your outside, but I am convinced that this is true. I feel healthier, I love who I am, and I love the way I look.

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Side Effects of Self-Love: A New Blog Series

IMG_1930It’s no secret that this year, and to be honest the past 23 years, I have tried my best to practice self-love. It isn’t always easy, but when you do get to that point of freedom, it is a beautiful place to be. I am proud to say that I am fully in love with myself, even on days where I don’t think I am. How did I get to this point? What is the magical key ingredient that has allowed me to be able to state what I did as a fact? How was I able to do this when so many people told me that I shouldn’t?

As I am sure you already guessed, there is no magical key ingredient. Just a lot of time spent with myself, even more time spent reflecting, and of course, learning to accept the things that I cannot change. I have taken the time to be selfish. And I say this without fear of admitting to you that it is me being selfish. As someone who used to go out of her way and make herself be selfless, saying the word “selfish” doesn’t roll easily off the tongue. But I mean this in the way that I focused on needs and what made me feel like the best version of me. I did this because my relationship with myself should always come first. Your relationship with yourself should always come first.

IMG_1936I want to be a therapist. That’s not a secret to those who follow my blog or my Instagram either. It is one of the biggest goals I have for myself. Through plenty of research on how to become a better therapist, I found that the number one way was always the same. You have to not only practice what you preach, but go into this career with your pitcher full. What I mean by this is that you cannot expect to help others if you cannot help yourself first. My pitcher of self-love, acceptance, wellness, and health has to be full before I pour what I have into others. Because no matter what anyone says, you cannot fill glasses with an empty pitcher. So, I quickly realized that I would need to do what it takes to fall in love with myself. And I did.

I cannot explain to you specifically how to do it, because there is no cookie-cutter way. Everyone will have different wants, needs, desires, and situations. But what I can do is tell you what has happened in my life and what I did to fulfill myself. So, I decided to make a new series for my blog about the side effects I’ve had since I began loving myself.

But you’re so happy and outgoing!…You don’t have anxiety.

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Photo by: Makena Volzing

If I had a dollar for every time someone said this to me, maybe I would have enough money to better educate others on mental illness. I am overall a happy and positive person, but that does not mean that I don’t have my own struggles with mental illness. I think sometimes we truly believe that those who help others and take the time to smile at strangers do not have struggles. I am often told that because I want to be in the mental health field, I should have full control over my own mental health. Yes, that is partially true, but I am only human and I can only do my absolute best. I have never been one to fully speak out about my anxiety, but at this time in my life, I know that by speaking out about it, I can help others. This is my story; I am in no way saying that this is the only way anxiety affects us, but this is how it affects me and my life. This is my anxiety; this is my mental illness.

As a young child, I showed various symptoms of anxiety. I was highly emotional, unable to control myself, I panicked in situations most children do not, and I had fears that were unexplainable. I can remember how upsetting it was to not understand why I felt the way I did. It was frustrating for my family, especially my parents, because I would become hysterical but none of us understood why. Eventually, my parents took me to both group and solo therapy sessions. I was about 9 years old when they finally said it was clearly anxiety. However, this did not mean that I was going to miraculously get better. It meant that the fight and the journey was only beginning.

I do not remember a ton of exact details. But I do remember in 6th grade my anxiety symptoms started becoming physical. I had this fear of going to school, and I would almost daily get a nauseated stomach ache, go to the office, and get picked up by my mom. I would then feel completely fine when I got home. I remember just being afraid of leaving my house, and this is also when I developed my number one fear: vomiting. I am terrified even now as an adult of anything having to do with throw up (yes, this is a challenge while working with kids.) I was afraid of getting carsick, I was afraid of throwing up at school, and I was afraid that anywhere I went, someone would vomit.

I eventually was told by my parents and the school that I could not be going home anymore. So I started seeing the school counselor…almost everyday. I would be fine one second, then go running to the office crying and demanding to see her right away. What was even scarier was not understanding why this was happening to me. I remember we tried to use a mediation tape that would help guide me through breathing exercises to calm me down. But I also remember just being such a wreck all the time and my parents being just as clueless about why this was happening as I was.

Things did start to get better, I started learning how to deal with my fears a little better and I had less hysterical moments. However, my anxiety shortly turned into me becoming easily manipulated by others because my head told me I needed as many friends as possible. No, I never did anything absolutely awful, but I did do a lot of things to other people that I regret. But it was because I allowed myself to befriend others that made me feel like I had an abundance of people around me so that I could feel supported. Sadly, I didn’t know that a majority of my “friends” were actually tearing down my self-esteem which in turn, allowed my anxiety to creep back up and be extremely present my senior year.

Then came college; a new city, new people, and a new chance. This triggered my anxiety for obvious reasons, but also for reasons that weren’t easily detected. I had a really tough time with roommates my freshman year and I would constantly feel like I was losing my mind. I had the same symptoms as I did in middle school: I wanted to go home. But I was an adult, I knew I had to learn to push through. But, as most of you know, pushing through is not healing; pushing through is not the solution to the overall problem. So, I again knew I needed extra help and saw the therapist on campus. I am so grateful to this day for her compassion and understanding when she asked me to just tell her what was going on and I immediately broke down sobbing. She confirmed that what I was feeling was valid and that we would find solutions together. So we did. She helped get me out of my completely toxic living situation as well as proactively checked in on me. As an adult, you think you can and should do it all on your own but without my therapist, I would have definitely dropped out of school. I finished Freshman year strong, and I felt better.

Then, things changed in my life again. Something else I do not often speak out about is the Title 9 case I went through during my college career. It is still very much a fresh, open wound and I cannot yet put into words the amount of destruction it had on myself as well as others in my life. This case made my mental status go from knowing how to get through the anxious moments to never not being anxious. This was because I was afraid of being on campus, which meant I was afraid of going to classes and going to my on campus job. But this time, it was different. This time, my anxiety was 110% caused by something that was very, very real. I was afraid of these things because I was afraid of a person. My anxiety continued to get worse and worse as this case continued to get worse. I would have panic attacks in the restroom, leave classes when triggering topics were brought up, and constantly call my parents when things were just too much. It was truly dangerous, and it continued to be a serious problem even after graduation. Although this case is now officially “resolved” on paper, it still deeply effects who I am and how I act in certain situations.

This past year, I was able to start to really control my anxiety again. I was able to return to happier mindset and breathe in the good while breathing out the bad. However, recently, I have been experiencing more and more panic attacks. In fact this past Sunday, I had one on an airplane. In case you’re wondering, no, I do not have a fear of flying. However, I do fear flying because I still fear vomit. I get carsick, and sometimes planes can cause me to get pretty motion sick. Not to mention, other people around me have thrown up on planes so it really makes me extremely nervous when it comes to my vomit fear. Sunday, my flight was 45 minutes of pure turbulence…and I mean extreme turbulence. I have never been so terrified on a plane and the fact that I could not escape made it even scarier. I was shaking, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and the entire plane was jumping up and down. What’s worse is that I cannot just avoid flying for a little bit, but I have to fly this upcoming Sunday from California to New York. So yes, I have some emotions to work through and things to figure out.

I am not sure the true reasons why I have been feeling this way, but I do know that ultimately I am in charge of what I should do. I know that psychologists and counselors can help me, but I also know that it is tough to admit you need to see someone when you are working on studying to become a therapist. I think that is the really tough part for me in this state and time; knowing that I have the tools to help others work through panic attacks, but not being able to use the tools on myself. But I know that I need to be gentle and kind to myself. I know that I need to do whatever I can to try to get in tune with my mind and get to the bottom of this. It isn’t easy, and it does not happen in a day, but I am willing to put in the same amount of work into my mind that I put into my body.

Somethings that help me work through my anxiety on a daily basis include:

  • Dancing it out. Dancing connects your body and mind, creating a state of equilibrium and allowing you to work through your emotions. It also raises endorphins, boosts your mood, and allows you to focus on movement and music rather than your anxiety. Just turn on some of your favorite songs and move how ever your body tells you! Trust me when I say to dance it out; I did my Capstone on Dance/Movement Therapy.
  • Essential oils. Lavender, lemon grass, and peppermint have become my best friends. I have a blend that I put on constantly, and I also put it in my diffuser to help release their powers in my room. Lavender reduces stress, lemon grass is a natural mood booster, and peppermint helps with the physical side of anxiety such as nausea and headaches.
  • Being open with my friends and family. Sure, they will not all understand, but when you explain to those who are close to you that you are having a tough time, they could surprise you and help you. If you aren’t comfortable with this, trying seeking help through your doctor or support groups. You do not have to go through anxiety alone, and that is such an important thing to remember.
  • Being honest with myself and giving myself time to heal. I used to bottle up my anxiety until it exploded into full blown panic attacks. I’ve noticed that the more I allow my emotions to release and give myself time to take deep breaths and focus, the better I am in the long run. Let yourself cry, let yourself scream, let yourself laugh. Allow your emotions to run their course. I do this often in the shower and in my bedroom while I am alone and letting myself be vulnerable. However, I am also know to release emotions and stress during yoga. No, I do not scream, but sometimes I cry a bit because I am letting my body fully release all toxins.
  • Relaxing. Make the time to relax. If you are like me and almost always on the go, you need to make a change to your life. You should schedule at least 30 minutes of your life to be just yours. It isn’t selfish, it is practicing self-care. Whether it be 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 at night, or all 30 minutes during a lunch break…unplug and do something for you! I like to practice yoga, paint, meditate, cook/bake, and pet my sweet puppy. If I am out and about I like to treat myself to lunch, fit a spot to lay in the sun, go on a walk, or even just go on a drive.

Now, I realize that these options are not going to get to the bottom of your anxiety, and I do not think that they replace seeking professional help. However, I do think that these are ways to help yourself learn more about you and your anxiety. I believe in therapy and counseling (I mean, it’s my future career) but I also believe in taking time to get in tune with yourself and the power that can have on your relationship with your body and mind.

If you have anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Yes, your mind is uniquely yours, but you do not have to go through this feeling lonely. If you need help, call a friend, family member, or the Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC (72642). Reaching out is the hardest step, but when you do, you are already making so much progress. Anxiety is something that you will always have inside of you, but you can get to a place of control. Always remember, your health (both mental and physical) is the most important thing. You cannot be you without your body or mind, so allow yourself to come first.