Buckle in, everybody. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
I feel the need to add a disclaimer / trigger warning that today I’m going to talk about the part of my life I am currently most ashamed about. Before you even ask, yes, I am getting “help” I actually have 2 therapists, a life coach, a psychiatrist, an effective SNRI, a strong family/friend social support network and a supportive life partner — all of which help me function on a daily basis. Trust me when I tell you, I am actively trying to take care of myself as best as I can. My self-expression and language here is not an indicator that I’m suicidal or need an intervention. I am not and do not.
Side Note: I also find it particularly unhelpful when I express myself / my truth and the response is simply “you should get some help” or “you should talk to somebody” or “you should try keto, paleo, etc.” – because, HELLO…I am talking….to lots of people, actually….and I need to make my own decisions about my own body, in my own time, in my own way with my own medical practitioners. I know people are just trying to help, but my telling you this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m asking for you to help me. I’m sharing this with you to 1) satisfy my need to authentic self-expression and 2) to bring these less than desirable topics that we hide in the shadows, out into the light to be discussed openly and honestly.
That is to say, I would love your feedback, but not your directives.
Where Was I?
Lately, when I look in the mirror, I literally cannot recognize myself. I see traces of myself buried underneath a layer of a body that does not feel like mine. I hear people around me say phrases like “embrace body positivity” and “better to be fat and happy than skinny and miserable” and I am so far from happy like this.
To put this in perspective that I graduated high school in 2005 standing 5’3” tall and weighing 115 pounds and while my height hasn’t changed, my weight has increased significantly in the past 14 years. I am currently at the heaviest I have ever been.
Now, this isn’t entirely unexpected. We are all familiar with the ”Freshman 15”, for example, and I know that as I age, my body slows its metabolism down. This is “just what happens” when you get older and though I had a solid 18 years of never having to think about my calories, food intake, and exercise regime, I couldn’t possibly expect that to last forever. Also, as I got older I actually began enjoying food, something that really wasn’t a large part of my life previously and used it as a way to gain emotional comfort in times of stress.
There are so many things about my life that have changed from 2005 to today that contributed to my massive weight gain: one being that I actually began enjoying food (something that wasn’t important to me in childhood) and using it as an alternative coping mechanism to deal with my anxiety. As I worked to lessen my panic attacks (which was the main way I coped with anxiety), I found myself turning to food to help me cope instead and while drowning your anxiety in a pint of ice cream is a more “socially acceptable” way of dealing with stress, I couldn’t help but think about how much more unhealthy it probably was compared to the panic attacks I would regularly experience. I even told my therapist once that I would rather go back to having daily panic attacks than eat myself into oblivion because the long-term ramifications of panic attacks didn’t seem as dire as the looming threat of diabetes and heart disease.
At the beginning of 2016, Fitbit was at peak popularity and I made a decision that I was going to make more of a concerted effort to track my health and fitness levels. I bought a Fitbit tracker and the Fitbit Aria Bluetooth Scale and began weighing myself regularly to keep track of where I was at.
I love data and the numbers don’t lie so I’m going to show you now, what the last three years have looked like in terms of my weight fluctuation:
2016: -3.6 lbs
2017: -9.9 lbs
2018: +24.2 lbs
2019 (YTD): +5.7 lbs
When I actually sat and looked at the numbers it became very clear to me: something is going on. This isn’t just “I’ve been gaining weight consistently over time”, I was actually losing weight (granted not a TON, but still…) the two years prior to 2018. So, what happened?
My curious brain began looking for an explanation for what I felt like was a dramatic shift. Here’s what I came up with.
- Feb 2018 – we moved buildings at work and I replaced my large glorious window with an oak tree view to a small, non-windowed, interior office that one might describe as “cozy”. – No one at work was happy about this change and morale was pretty low about it in general.
- Speaking of work, the biggest change was probably the transition of our HRMS system to “Workday”. This has been a very long-term project and the ramifications of my job specifically have been extreme. I’m an HR data analyst and all of the HR data changed structure, formats, and in some cases concepts. Everything I built at work for the past 6 years became obsolete and needs to be redone, but not just what I built, but what people built 20 years ago before I even got here has to be reverse-engineered and rebuilt in the new system. I’m not back at square one. I’m somewhere in the negatives.
- As if work were not enough, in October 2018 we had a pipe burst in our home, requiring a renovation-situation for our downstairs floors and our master bathroom. Just so you get an idea, my husband and I were living in and dealing with house issues from mid-October 2018 to when it was FINALLY finished in MARCH 2019.
- My dad got sick in December of 2018 which not only brought up the existential reality of my own mortality, but also the very logistical issues that accompany the family dealing with that kind of issue. (He’s fine now, thank you for asking.)
- Due to all of these things (and more!) I stopped participating in certain things. The Enneagram meetings that I would religiously attend became more of a casual hobby. My coach training and subsequent business creation ground to almost a complete stop. I stopped going to church. I stopped writing (clearly, look at this blog!). I just…..stopped. – Interestingly, many people saw this as a “good thing” because a lot of people are exhausted just listening to my normal daily schedule. I think at first, I saw this as me “trying to take care of myself”, but the more I look at it now, the more I realize I have distanced myself from things that I once had a lot of passion and energy for. Everything just slowed down and became a lot less interesting / important to me. Now that I think about it, though, it wasn’t just in the social arena in which I stopped. I stopped making meal plans, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry….you know adult stuff that you kind of need to have a handle on. I blamed this on work stress and being tired from coming home, but it wasn’t always like this.
I also noticed some behavioral patterns that begun springing up as well that seemed to indicate something was “off”.
- Insomnia – This wasn’t the first time in my life I suffered from bad insomnia, because going to college was particularly brutal on that end for me. However, previously my sleep issues were highly correlated with panic attacks and not being able to fall asleep. Now, it’s more like, I will fall asleep fine and then wake up at 2 or 3 am and wander about.
- Binge-Eating – To compound my problems, when I would wake up at 3 am, I began binge-eating like a zombie on the hunt for brains, mindlessly eating whatever I could shovel in my mouth. I correlated being tired with wanting sugar (presumably for the energy kick) and began eating excessively at the wee hours in the morning.
- Need for pick-me-ups – Because my sleep quality was so poor, I would feel an undeniable need to jumpstart my energy. I started eating caffeinated chocolate, a trail mix with chocolate-covered espresso beans and even began drinking white chocolate mochas from Starbucks ß which I will have you know I survived graduate school drinking no coffee whatsoever, so for me, this is highly abnormal. On the weekends, I practically require 3-hour naps in order to feel ok.
- Hiding – I am ashamed of my out of control eating habits and deeply embarrassed about what I see as a clear addiction to sugar. I wanted to hide my food consumption from others and became self-conscious when the cashier at the 7-Eleven recognized who I was and what I would buy to “get me through the day”.
- Feeling Disgusting – All of this filled me with deep sadness and shame and a body-image issue I had never really encountered before. When I look in the mirror or see a candid photo of me I am overcome with a feeling of disgust. The thought that plays in my head is “What happened to you? You are so miserable! How did you let yourself get this bad? What is wrong with you?” I dread shopping for clothes because I “nothing looks good on me anymore” because I just don’t feel pretty/sexy/confident anymore – which also made me less interested in connecting to that part of my love life. I pictured myself as a big, fat blob who just crashed through NYC and could at any moment crush St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
- Defeatism – All of this has come with feelings of shame, constant fatigue, feelings of complete lack-of-control, knowing there is a problem, not feeling able to change my circumstance, not caring anymore, giving up on myself, getting mad at myself for giving up on myself, dealing with all these feelings of anger and self-loathing with more ice cream and cake, feeling powerless, helpless and hopeless, feeling like change is impossible, feeling like I need to be institutionalized, asking myself “how far do I need to fall to actually change my fucking behavior?!” and then falling even further, etc. Do you have a weight that is just so high that you can’t even imagine hitting that? A line in the sand that you thought you would never surpass? Yeah, I passed that line for me 20 lbs ago. “Is this depression? Am I just lazy? *singing* “What is this feeling, so sudden and new?” *stops singing and hopes you get the Wicked reference* Maybe the worst part about all of this negative self-esteem doesn’t actually make you try harder, in fact, my experience has been quite the opposite. The more disgusted I have gotten with myself, the more I indulge in the gluttony of food. The more I try and “yell” myself into obedience, the more the rebel inside me sabotages any effort I might have made. It not only makes me feel bad about myself, but it also makes it harder to enact the changes needed to help me feel good about myself. When I am feeling down/tired/sad and hopeless, the most comforting thing is a hit of dopamine from the sugar addiction I know I have.
All of this has really put me in a toxic situation: My increased insomnia > Lack of adequate sleep > Physical Fatigue / Exhaustion> Mood Declines > Crave Sugar for both the physical jolt of energy AND the psychological hit of instant comfort and gratification > Indulge in my Craving > Feel shitty and hopeless and helpless – and the cycle continues over and over making me feel more and more like a failure.
Well, That Was Rough
I really hate to end this blog post on a negative note, but I’m now over 2,000 words here and it’s important for me to down the foundation of where I have been at for a while. It helps to write about this so I can better see how the different pieces of my experiences impact the story that I am telling myself about myself.
This is not to say that I haven’t had some wonderful times in 2018-19 as well. I have had some amazing experiences this year that I will cherish forever. In my opinion, the bad things do not make the good things any less good. It may come as a shock to some people that I have felt low-level depressed for months now because I don’t think I typically give off that vibe. Low-energy Karen might possibly be higher than high-energy someone else. My depression probably doesn’t look like other people’s depression. I’m not even sure I should use the term “depressed” because I don’t think, clinically, I would “qualify” and I would never want to equate my experience with someone who has been dealing with an actual clinical depressive disorder. My main mental health issue has and continues to be anxiety-related and this depressed state seems more like a result of my circumstance rather than the cause of my circumstance.