For Me, It *IS* About the Number

Growing up, math was always my favorite subject. It came naturally to me, and I liked that there was always a right or wrong answer. It was black and white. It wasn’t ambiguous or gray. It either was or it wasn’t. Plain as that.
I went on to study business in college, breezing through various statistics, economics and finance courses. Yes, I minored in journalism, but this was more for fun (sorry!) and pleasure, an outlet to express my love of writing. (Yes, I do acknowledge, embrace and love the fact that I am fully fledged nerd. No shame in my game).

Even now, I work in finance. I stare at numbers and spreadsheets all day long, and I feel an utter sense of calm and joy when I find my answer and my numbers tie out. I like to solve problems and I do not like ambiguity. These are facts.

This love of numbers and disdain for chaos and unknown, though, doesn’t just end with my academic and professional life. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that it seeps out of my every pore, and is a part of my very existence. I like answers. I like order. I like structure. I like black and white and nothing in between (although I will say I love gray clothing, but that’s it).

And, I guess, this is either the root of, or an offshoot of, my anxiety. I am a perfectionist to the core, and anything less than perfect (for me) is wrong and stressful. Anything that strays from my routine or plan sends me into a tailspin. There is no calm (again, for me) when there is no order. My solution, then, has been to create order to find calm. But, more often than I’d like, life doesn’t allow me to stick to my plans. And it drives me nuts.

The most prominent way my “need for structure” has reared its ugly head is through food. If you know me or if you have dug deep in my blog archives, you know that food and eating are a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love food. I share recipes here (mostly healthy) that I’ve loved and enjoyed and that make me feel good. And, I feel it important for you to know that I would never share a recipe here that I haven’t eaten or wouldn’t eat (unless it’s an amazing dish I was able to eat pre-celiac that I think needs to be shared with the world). No, the recipes here are all ok in “my world,” but I will say my food world can be a bit whack.

Why is it whack, you ask? I’d say because I put an insane amount of pressure on myself to eat with a routine, to eat within a certain set of parameters that are absolutely made up.

My made up parameters? A daily calorie goal arbitrarily set for myself on the My Fitness Pal app. I don’t have a damn clue as to how my “goal” was calculated, but my God I’d better stick to it OR ELSE. The app, for whatever reason, soothes me. I can log my food and weight and keep myself steady and afloat. There’s no unknown. Everything I’ve consumed is “in writing.” It’s black and white. There are no questions.  My eating is not a guessing game and I don’t have to wonder.

The problem, though, arises for me when I stray from this “goal” or my “food plan” for the day. Again, in reality these goals and plans are completely arbitrary, but in my routine loving, control freak mind, they are virtually law, and breaking them would lead to utter havoc.

So, I find that on days where I eat an unexpected treat,or grab a fun size snickers at the office, or go to a party and eat some chips after I’ve already reached my “goal,” I feel I’ve failed. My black and white brain tells me I’m done, and my day is shot. I go to my all or nothing mode, which is “well I’ve already eaten one terrible thing, so I might as well eat all the terrible things in the world.” Which, inevitably leads to a binging and purging episode. Which, makes me feel fat (and typically gain weight), which makes me feel terrible about myself. And on and on this vicious cycle continues…

What’s crazy about bulimia is that it really does make you (or me at least) gain weight. Try as I might to right myself of my “mistakes,” it never fully works, and on the pounds come. It’s quite the paradox considering the primal fear that even led to my eating disorder struggles was/is the fear of gaining weight. This crazy dichotomy alone is why eating disorders are so hard to make sense of or understand for people who don’t have them. Hell, they’re even hard to understand for people who do have them! My rationale is that they just don’t make sense, and they probably never will. They’re completely irrational and they’re a full blown disease. They are not caused or kept by choice. No one would choose this lifestyle (at least in their right, rational mind).


So I revert back to my love of math and numbers here when I say, for me it is about the number. I so often read that for people on a health journey, it’s not about the number it’s about how they feel and how their clothes fit. I’m here to say truthfully that for me it’s about those things…and the number. If I am being frank.

It’s about the number of calories I consume and the number of pounds I weight. It’s about these numbers because these numbers are symbolic of my routine and structure, and ensuring that I stay steady to this structure keeps me calm. The numbers are an evaluation of sorts. They tell me how closely I’ve stuck to my plan. The control behind all of this keeps me calm and brings me peace.

But, it’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. And it’s a totally sick and unhealthy and irrational way to live. Hell, it’s not even a way to live. Because real life is full of unknowns and interruptions and craziness that will hinder plans and inhibit routines all the time. That is life. And it’s how we react to these changes and curveballs that matters, and for me (clearly) I don’t react well and am sent into a tizzy. And that’s no way to live because it’ll drive me batty (and it does).

You might ask why I’m writing this. Selfishly, airing my feelings makes me more aware of them and reminds me that they’re just that, feelings. They’re not facts or the end of the world as I perceive them to be. They’re silly little thoughts that creep in and that I ruminate on unnecessarily and can’t get rid of. Writing them or saying them aloud helps me feel that I have power over them, and that I’ve tossed them aside.

Writing here, too, is a reminder of the many things I need to work on and work through, both in my daily life and with my therapist. And, TBH, it’s 2017. Don’t be ashamed if you have a therapist. And, if you feel like you might need one, don’t be afraid to seek one out. They’re trained professionals who don’t judge and can help you work through your feelings. They’re basically magical wizards and they’re awesome.

Most importantly, though, I am sharing this because I know I can’t be the only one who feels and thinks like this. Often it seems I must be, but I hate the thought that anyone else might feel isolated in this similar anguish. You are not alone. I am here. I get you. There is help. There is hope.

And, I want you to know that while I struggle with and wrestle with anxiety, I am extremely happy. I have a great life. I have great family and friends, a great job, and so much joy. I want you to know, too, that being riddled with anxiety and being happy are not mutually exclusive. You can be both. But, I am pretty darn certain you (and I) will be even happier as we further conquer our anxiety. It will be a lifelong battle, but opening up and being vulnerable gives me strength. It reminds me that my voice is bigger and more powerful than my anxiety, and it helps me put these thoughts at bay.

So if you, like me, struggle with a need for constant need for control, you are not alone. Together we can overcome.

XOXO

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But This Wasn’t The Plan…

Sometimes, there’s nothing like a nice, long drive alone to fully immerse yourself in your thoughts. So, today, as I drove home from visiting Megan + Rusty + Avery in Greenville (well, technically Taylors), I was flooded with thoughts – and suddenly flooded with tears.

As I drove down I-85, I let the tears fall freely. Certainly I was sad to be leaving their cute little family after a great weekend, but I realized these tears were representative of so much more. And one word kept resounding in my head: GRATITUDE. Unspeakable, unfathomable, overwhelming gratitude.

 

The majestic Queen City #704

My move back to Charlotte in December wasn’t planned. I was a part of a (wonderful) two-year rotational program with Comcast/NBCUniversal. I had completed my first rotation (a year in NYC) and was about to finish my second (6 months in Philadelphia), and head off to my third. I would move back to New York for my third rotation, and finish off the program at NBCU, where I would then transition into a full-time role. That was the plan.

But, my heart was hurting. And as a result of my heart hurting, my health (both mental and physical) was suffering terribly. My anxiety had peaked, and my eating disorder had me strangled in its grips. Every thought of mine was filled with paranoia – from work to relationships to food. I worried I wasn’t performing at my job, I worried people were mad at me, I worried (and obsessed) over every calorie that entered my body.

With the flare in my anxiety, and with the constant thoughts about food (and the, more often than not, daily bulimic episodes), I slowly felt myself losing it. I was sleeping 11+ hours a night and yet, unable to get out of bed. I was mopey and sad and hurting. And worst of all, I was scared.

I was scared as I witnessed my eating disorder creep fully back into my life. It had overtaken me – every bite, lick, taste and thought was consumed with terrible eating disorder behavior. I tried to brush this aside, I tried to quietly take control of things on my own, but with each day, I was further gone.

I knew that if I didn’t make some kind of a change that this would destroy me. So, I resigned.

I left behind my first job out of college, in the middle of the prestigious program I was a part of (and had become a part of me), with an amazing company (and amazing people). It was terrifying, but I knew I had to, because truly, my life depended on it.

I needed my support system, and I needed them at my side. That’s not to say I didn’t have a support system in NYC or Philly (I did – and I love them all!), but I needed my family. I needed my very closest friends. And, I needed my doctors. I needed the people who knew me down to my core, because I was drowning.

Nick Nick Nick Nick


Kat & Cat


To tell your employer and your coworkers that you are resigning is probably the scariest thing ever (especially when you don’t have another job lined up). And it wasn’t the plan. This was going against everything my Type-A, perfectionist self stood for. How could I leave a job, mid-commitment? How could I let down this company? How could I let down all of my fellow program mates (who had become my closest friends)? As a person who has high standards for herself (and who is very hard on herself…), I struggled, but the voice inside my head, and every fiber of my gut, told me I had to do this. I had to do this, but doing so meant going against “the” plan.

The plan I had worked hard for – late nights at the college library, interview prep, 2 big city moves. I had planned my life around this plan (for lack of better words), and suddenly I was going astray. And I was scared.

But, as I sat today on I-85 in tears, it hit me – I had gone against my plan, but I had listened to, followed and trusted in God’s plan. Of course! Why hadn’t I realized that sooner?

Gal Pals!


Avery is everything.

 While it wasn’t my plan to leave my job, God knew that this move was just what I needed, and he planted the idea in my head and lead me to act on this. He was the voice inside my head telling me to return home, because He knew that it was what I needed. And, He gave me the strength to talk to my employers about all of this. He redirected my plan so that I could follow His.

Family.


Since moving back, I have made strides in my health – first in freely discussing it, but second in gaining control back from my eating disorder. I’m not perfect (and never will be), but I am making progress, and that’s all I can ask for.

Most importantly, though, I’ve been reunited with my people. And, while I knew I missed them when in NYC and Philly (hello FOMO all the time), being back has made me realize how much I must’ve missed them, and how many milestones I would have missed had I not come back. Kelley & Matt’s engagement, Megan & Rusty moving into a new house, Panther tailgates with my parents, every second of Avery’s life – all things I wouldn’t have been able to actively participate in had I been home. In addition, I’ve been reunited with some of my best friends from high school and college (and found a job I enjoy!) – what more could I ask for?

Just missing Rusty and Avery 😦


A huge, huge part of me felt like I was letting so many people down by moving (namely, my employers/coworkers…and myself). I was embarrassed. I felt like I was being judged. I felt like a failure for not sticking to the plan.

Hindsight is 20/20, though, and while I didn’t stick to my plan, I listened to God’s voice in me and rewrote my plan, according to His direction. And for that, and so many other things, I am grateful.

XOXO

A Week Not for the Weak

It’s midnight on a Wednesday and I have to be up at 6am, but I can’t sleep. It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this week, and I feel compelled to write. So many thoughts swim in my head (daily) and this week seemed like the perfect time to put pen to paper (well, finger to keyboard) and let them out. Yes, I know I’ve already discussed my struggle, but one blog post doesn’t encapsulate a years long battle (that I’ve been fighting since 2007).

I’ll tell you straight up, just because I’m willing to talk about my eating disorder, doesn’t mean I’m “cured.” And, quite frankly, I’m tired of this notion that I will be “cured.” That’s not to say I feel that this battle is hopeless and I’ll never overcome, it’s just acknowledging that like any addict, once I reach “sober,” I’ll forever be in recovery. Some days will be harder than others. Some days I will want to slip back to bad habits, but my hope is that I’ll be able to use different coping mechanisms and techniques to get by.

2007
2007: Dropped to my lowest weight of 88 lbs. I hid from the world and completely lost myself.

So, like I said, I still struggle. A lot. Some of the most difficult aspects of this disease are that it is often unseen. Of course, when I was severely anorexic both in high school and college that was noticeable, which made people more sympathetic or understanding of my plight. As I sit here with this newly morphed eating disorder (manifesting itself as bulimia), I’m faced with the troubling reality that I look fine. Truly, I do. You’d never know by looking at me that I obsessively think about/panic over every morsel of food that I eat. You’d never know that it takes every ounce of my being not to try to count every calorie that enters and exits my body. You’d never know that I arbitrarily label foods as “good” and “bad,” and that the second I eat something “bad” I through all caution to the wind and eat everything “bad” in sight, just to get rid of it all later. I can’t even bring myself to say the word purge without feeling utterly ashamed and disgusted.

2013
2013: Hovering around 100 lbs.

And that’s just it, eating disorders breed so much shame because they’re so wildly misunderstood. We see them depicted on TV as a mere choice a person makes, as if an eating disorder is like a light switch I can turn off and on as I please. Dare I quote Cher Horowitz and say “as if!”

What person would ever choose to live a life such as this?! That’s not to say eating disorders don’t sometimes begin with a choice to lose weight, but what person would really choose to try to lose weight by completely starving themselves or by binging just to purge? That’s just not how it works.

Now, I’m going to sound cocky here, but bear with me. Why would I choose to have an eating disorder? I grew up in a middle class family, living in the suburbs with my married parents, two sisters and a dog. I went to Catholic school. I got a great education, graduated top 10 in my high school class and went on to study at the best university in the country (in my eyes at least – #GDTBATH). I had a post-grad job before I even began my senior year of college. I have amazing friends and have been enriched by many life experiences. Why would I choose the kind of pain that an eating disorder causes? WHY?

Answer: I wouldn’t. Every person is wired differently, and you know what, I was wired in such a way that I have a mental illness. I suffer with gripping anxiety, and it manifests itself through this eating disorder, this need to control something and to be “perfect.”

Let’s quickly pause for a minute here. Can I ask, who the hell decided how we as a society define “perfect?” Because I’d like to have a word with said person. I’m sick of this notion that you’re only perfect if you look and act a certain way. Newsflash: there’s over 7 billion people on this earth. Do you really expect 7 billion people to look like the celebrities we see in magazines? Do we expect every girl & woman to have a thigh gap, big boobs and a flat stomach? Do we expect every boy & man to have a chiseled jaw line and a six-pack? We must be out of our GD minds. But, reality is, it’s everywhere around us. We are perpetuating these toxic beliefs. And every day, women and men are belittled and bullied to believe that unless they look and act a certain way, they are not good enough. I mention men here, too, because newsflash part two, men can (and do!) have eating disorders. There’s no gender discrimination here.

So, I’m wired in such a way that I have an eating disorder. Many people are like me, and often, just like me, you can’t tell just by looking at them. Doesn’t make their problems any less real just because they’re not visible. It’s almost scarier because it makes us easy to hide, easy to get away with not getting help. “Certainly I don’t need to seek treatment if no one even notices I’ve lost weight or have abnormal behavior.” << that is an eating disorder thought, and it’s pure danger.

stats
The scary truth.

Another dangerous belief? Thinking this is all about will-power. People think that if you have enough “will-power” to starve yourself or to binge and purge, then certainly all it takes is will-power to stop doing these things. Ha! If only it were that easy. Many addicts know they have problems yet can’t stop on their own. We know the behavior is damaging, yet we continue to do it. It’s not that we lack will-power it’s just that we are sick. We are sick and we need help.

I struggle knowing that my addiction to food is a bit different than an addiction to alcohol or drugs. See, I’m addicted to something my body needs to survive. I can’t just cut food out of my life. That’s not to say my struggle is harder than other addicts (not at all!), it just requires different treatment to tackle. I’ll never be able to go without food, but my god, I long for a day where every my other thought isn’t about the dang stuff and how I look as a result of that dang stuff!

I know this is an overwhelming amount of text. For some people, not only is it too long to read, but the content is too touchy or too personal, and it’s something they can’t relate to. And for those of you who can’t related, I think that’s great because it likely means you yourself don’t have an eating disorder. But, this isn’t something that you can turn a blind eye to just because you’re not personally affected. So many people struggle and never get the help they need and deserve. Some cases are more extreme than others. But most often, people struggle in the darkness, afraid to let go of this control they’ve long sought after. Afraid that getting healthy means admitting defeat and getting fat. For someone with an eating disorder, getting help can be just as scary as dealing with the disease every day.

Most people don’t want to (and won’t) touch mental illnesses with a ten foot pole. We prefer to ignore mental illnesses, because they’re “not that big of a deal” and “just a bunch of crazy people who make their own problems.” Trust me, I’ve heard it all. But mental illnesses, and eating disorders in particular, are no joke. This is not some BS to get attention. This is a disease with a laundry list of health complications and long-term damage (which I’m having to come to terms with myself).

So, I beg of you, don’t pretend that mental illnesses don’t exist. Don’t pretend that eating disorders don’t exist. These are real illnesses and they deserve real attention.

My advice? Seek help. Offer help. Pray for those struggling. Change the conversation about body image. Hell, stop talking about looks altogether! Start the conversation about mental illness and eating disorders. And, most importantly, work hard every day to love yourself because gosh darn it you are WORTH IT.

rupi
A beautiful reminder that your soul & spirit define you, not your looks. Thanks to my gal, Kenan, for sharing!

No one can fight this battle for you, but by no means does that imply that you have to fight it alone. Let this National Eating Disorders Awareness Week be the start to taking back your health and your happiness. Rally for yourself and others knowing that you are never alone.

XOXO

The Truth Will Set You Free…

It always upsets me that there’s such a stigma around mental illnesses, especially as they are so common. Despite the fact that I am upset by this, I still refuse to openly talk about my own battle with mental health, simply because I’m embarrassed and afraid to be judged. Quite the contradiction – I hate the stigma, yet I clearly let it live on by not talking about my own battles.

In the spring of my freshman year of high school (2007), I decided to give up sweets for Lent. Innocent, right? Well one thing led to another and I was no longer avoiding sweets, I was avoiding anything I deemed “unhealthy” and overly restricting my calorie intake. I was exercising excessively and dropping weight extremely quickly.

My poor, sweet friends confronted me with their concerns, and I agreed, I had a problem and told them I would stop. Inside, though, their comments only fueled my fire. I accepted their concerns about my weight as a compliment, and used this to drive me to more weight loss.

As school let out for the summer, I had more or less removed myself from any relationships I had with people. I spent my days working out, restricting food and being utterly miserable. I can still picture the meals I ate. 3/4 of a cup of Special K (no milk of course). A can of tuna (no mayo) with pepper and a sliced tomato. Minimal intake of whatever my mom cooked for dinner. Writing that brings me to tears, because I feel the misery and hopelessness I felt back then. And it’s suffocating.

I vividly remember getting up from a chair by the pool, and blacking out and falling to the ground, because my blood pressure was so low. At my worst, my heart rate was 44 and I weighed 88 pounds. Keep in mind I’m 5 foot 5 inches. Terrifying.

After being told if I didn’t get better (by the 3 doctors I saw each week) that I would be sent to treatment, I had hit rock bottom. And I was able to heal and move forward, with the help of my family and friends and a great team of doctors.

Fast forward to junior year of college (2012-2013). My life felt like it was falling apart. My dad was undergoing chemo, my grandmother was dying of ovarian cancer and I was utterly devastated. I turned back to the control of the eating disorder to avoid the hurt.

I would wake up at 6 am to workout before class. I would barely eat at (delicious!) sorority meals. I blacked out at parties. I removed myself from friends, and I know I scared people. Some sorority sisters of mine reached out to my parents, who once again came to help.

I sought treatment at school and seemed to be getting better. Better enough, in fact, that I moved to LA to complete an internship.

I was doing well, but I missed my parents and sisters. I worried about my body, because I didn’t belong to a gym. I felt out of control, and that’s when the anorexia morphed to bulimia (as it often does). After one particular episode that summer, I ended up in the hospital. You’d think that would be rock bottom, like when a drug addict OD’s, but even that didn’t stop my behavior.


And, to be frank, it still hasn’t. I still struggle. To this day. It has been 8 years, and I know it will be a lifelong struggle. Which scares the bah-jesus out of me.

I’m writing this today, after 8 years in this battle, because I am determined to do something. While I’m still figuring out what that something is, I’m calling on you all for help. Help to remove the stigma around mental health. Help and support as I make my decision for what’s next. Prayers for recovery.

Most immediately, I’m asking for donations.  On Saturday, November 14th, I will be participating in a National Eating Disorder’s Association walk in West Chester, PA. You can access the donation link here: http://neda.nationaleatingdisorders.org/site/TR/NEDAWalk/General?px=1547384&pg=personal&fr_id=3910

I want to show that I have accepted my problem, and I’m ready to raise awareness and start a dialogue that needs to be started. We as a society have to change, have to stop putting pressure on people to look and act a certain way. We have to stop perpetuating the belief that there is norm we need to prescribe to. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and I’m damn sure there’s not just one best way for us to look and act.

Yet, while I’m damn sure, I’ve still fallen victim to this belief and I fight a daily battle as a result. And I know I’m not the only one, despite often feeling so alone. So please consider giving in some way, even if it’s just saying a prayer. It all matters. Not just for me, but for the millions of people who suffer.

This is the scariest, most honest piece I’ve ever written. I’m fearful of the judgment I will receive for being so open. But I know, the stigma won’t end without the conversation and, let’s be honest, when do I ever pass up the chance to start a conversation.

XOXO.