My Health Journey: Learning To Live
Guys, I'm getting deep with you today. I have a secret to share with you. It's taken about six months to publish this post, and I probably wouldn't have done it without the encouragement of my friend Jo (aka @GoFitJo) and a simple question of "why hide from your truth?"
I am no longer going to hide my truth. Not with me, you, or anyone else.
My truth? It's a shocking confession you might not believe.
It's not to gain sympathy, but rather to share a part of me that I've kept secret for almost nearly 20 years from virtually everyone but a handful of people. Not even my parents knew until earlier this year.
It's been a little over two years since entering recovery for an eating disorder: bulimia nervosa.
Shockingly, this was my "normal" and something that had developed in middle school. It became my normal way of life. It would come and go in different phases of my life. And, it probably sounds ironic, because of this food-based health and wellness blog, right?
Two years ago my relationship with food was non-existent. Food was the enemy. It was not enjoyable; it was far from it. Social gatherings and even going out to dinner would cause a lot of stress and social anxiety. But my ED (eating disorder) was more than just about food. It was about control. Control that manifested in the many things I could not control: relationships, my environment, work, the feeling of belonging, happiness, the pressures of excelling in the crazy world of Silicon Valley. While I may not be a techie or some scrappy startup founder, when you grow up in the Bay Area where your peers are making an impact and innovating, the pressure is on. The pressure to succeed and be the best is intense.
When I got married in August of 2010, I thought I had beat the odds and my bulimic past was in the past. Something that had been in and out of my life for so long was no longer there. I was thrilled. I was able to change and paint a new road for a healthy future. This shifted and changed in 2013 after a trip to Southeast Asia and Australia, it got noticeably worse and became a constant in my daily life. I cannot pin point what triggered the return. Stress? Owning a business at 20-something? Unhappiness? It's still unclear, and something I'm still working on, because this time instead of stopping "cold-turkey," I'm working with a therapist that specializes in eating disorder recovery.
Top: Me (middle) in Costa Rica with friends in 2013 at my lowest weight; Bottom Left: Me (middle) in Costa Rica with friends in 2013 at my lowest weight; Bottom Right: At the start of our travels in 2014 in NYC; Bottom: October 2014 in Charleston, SC also at the start of our travels.
Recovery Is A Long Road
Recovery has been a long, hard, bumpy AF road. It's been a struggle on its own and mixed in with the various obstacles that life throws at you is even more difficult. At times it felt like scaling a mountain, and never being able to reach the summit. Through this journey, I've been learning a lot about myself and learning how to be compassionate with myself, and how to love myself.
I remember the moment that I stepped on the scale and it read 105lb. I thought I was seeing things. This was a significant number, because this was the number I had always wanted to see on the scale. I stepped off and then back on: 105lb. I couldn't believe it, partially because I thought I'd be happy once I reached this goal number and the girl looking back at me in the mirror was far from happy. I was "skinny-fat." I was thin, flabby and no muscle mass. Not what I thought 105lb would look like.
This was the morning before leaving on a trip to Costa Rica in 2013. My good friend whom I traveled with at one point made a comment along the lines of "you're skin and bones" I thought she was being insensitive and flat out mean. She wasn't. Even though her comment has a hint of malice, she was concerned but perhaps didn't know how to address what she was witnessing.
I came back from Costa Rica 3lbs lighter. That day on the scale was eye-opening, 102lb the scale read. I couldn't believe I was 102lbs, yet I wasn't ready to get help. I was in some sort of denial that anything was wrong. I knew things were bad, but I didn't realize how bad. I would later discover the extremity to my deteriorating self on December 20, 2014. This is a day that I will never forget. That's the day I was rushed to the intensive care unit in Asheville, NC and almost died 2 months into our workcation 18-months of travel. Yes. Almost died. Sounds a bit dramatic but this is the truth. My electrolyte levels were dangerously low.
For the first time in my life, I was fearful of dying. I thought I'd never see my parents, my brother, my family, my husband, my dogs... none of the people that mattered most in my life ever again.
The next day I thought about what had happened. Tears flooded my eyes thinking about what if I had died? That would be the most heartbreaking thing my parents could ever endure. How would my husband have handled it? And to put him in a position where he'd have to deliver such awful news to my parents? It was devastating.
Leaving ICU the following morning, I wasn't exactly in the clear and on the path to recovery just yet. I had to have the uncomfortable, embarrassing, sad conversation with my husband and come clean to him about what was going on. At this point, he obviously knew that was going on. I promised I'd get help, not because of him but because I wanted help. I needed help and I was ready to get help.
Progress Happens When You're Ready To Make Changes
I was in outpatient recovery for about a month before traveling back to Costa Rica for three months at the start of 2015. This might have been the riskiest move, but for me, it's what I needed. It was a twisted version of my favorite books by Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Or, in my humble interpretation: eat everything, pray (yoga and meditate) often, and simply learn to love my life, every ounce of it.
I needed to be somewhere away from everyday life. Away from the distraction and pressures of the Bay Area. Costa Rica was a time to reflect and focus on me. It was a time to fully focus on getting better. Plus, together with my therapist, we created a plan in case things took a turn for the worst or lack of progress being made. The plan was if things weren't getting better to fly back to the States and enter in-patient recovery. Gregg, my husband, was on board with this and was very supportive throughout the entire process, and continues to be supportive.
My outpatient recovery consisted of weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) sessions with my therapist over video chat. The sessions were emotional, tough and at most times uncomfortable. There were days that my therapist was the most annoying person ever because of the "digging deeper" questions and opening up about something that I had hidden for so long. Other times I found her to be the most insightful person, a guru of sorts.
During these three months, I made a ton of progress in my recovery. It was an elated feeling. I was proud of myself for being able to stay committed to better health. Now, I'm not going to say that there weren't any slip-up because there were and there have been. This is normal. It's a normal part of recovery.
Through all of this, these last two years have brought many high's and low's. It hasn't been an easy road. Recovery has been a struggle, partially because every day is a battle. A fight to make the right choices, to not listen to the voice inside to binge and purge, to make decisions for better health. Good days feel like I'm on top of the world, and bad days are so bad I just want to hide and cry.
Admitting My Truth Has Been Tough
It's taken me this long to tell my parents because of the various family events that my mother has had to endure. Like the passing of her father in the Spring of 2015 and the passing of her mother exactly a year later. It was never the right time. I didn't want to add more worry to my mom as she mourned her dad and cared for her ailing mom, along with the various stresses of family dynamics that came along with this all. She had too much on her plate to worry about another huge issue. Her heart could not fit any more heartache.
This is something my therapist and I have disagreed on time and time again. And, to this day, we still don't see eye-to-eye on this.
She didn't understand the matters at hand. She didn't understand the dynamics with in my family. She didn't understand the stress that my mother was under. She didn't understand the family drama. The way that I saw it was that it would have been selfish of me to bring upon another worry to her. Plus, it wasn't like I was alone, I had the support of my husband.
Two years later here I am...
I'm learning to love me, flaws and all. Building back muscle mass that I had lost has been a challenge. Two years later I am still working hard at building it back up, and am now starting to notice a difference.
Emotionally and mentally, I have good days and bad days. Bad days are filled with the negative thoughts, a deep depression, and anxiety; but I'm much stronger mentally to acknowledge these feelings and let them be without acting on them. The small stresses in life, the deep depression that comes in waves can be debilitating. I now know that it's how you pick yourself up that helps. Going outside, being in nature, yoga, or sometimes even a good cry to just let it all out helps.
I now see food as nourishment. It's the medicine your body needs to perform at its most optimal level. It's what keeps us healthy. I was able to fully understand this by studying up on nutrition though NASM's Fitness Nutrition Specialist certification program. (When I'm committed to something, I do it 110%. I wanted to know exactly how our bodies function, and why.)
One of the biggest challenges that I've been dealing with is the public opinion of those that are quick to judge. Those that have a hurtful opinion, that takes my medically diagnosed intolerances as a form of distorted eating. IT'S NOT! Egg, Gluten, Soy... These are actual intolerances that make me extremely ill. Trust me, if I could eat a loaf of bread, dunk sushi in soy sauce, and have a sunny side egg without getting sick, I would. There is nothing more that I want than to have a slice of pizza with ranch dressing. These intolerances make eating f'ing harder.
It's not fun.
So, don't judge.
Don't judge my journey.
Don't judge others, because I'm sure your life isn't all rainbows and butterlies.
So I leave you with this, to have compassion for others. You don't know their struggle, and the hardships they are dealing with. Life isn't always as rosy as it may seem.
This is all part of the eat, pray, love journey. Being present. Being vulnerable. Learning to live. Learning to love. The act of celebrating and really truly enjoying your life and accepting who you are, flaws and all. This is my story on my journey for better health. It is part of my healing process, and part of recovery. It's a big chapter in my life, and one that I hope helps you to understand who I am a bit more.
Join the conversation here.
A special thanks to my therapist, Allison Puryear; To Jo Encarnacion, Amanda Gist, and Ayten for giving me the courage and support to share my story.