It Feels Bad to Feel Bad (My Health Journey, Part One)

The summer following eighth grade, I attended a five day church camp and ended up spending most of the week sitting on the toilet, missing activities and feeling super embarrassed and uncomfortable. I remember telling my youth minister's wife that getting sick after eating had become pretty normal for me, but usually I was at home so it didn't feel like that big of a deal. My father had always said I "just have a sensitive stomach," but it was never considered a reason for further investigation.

Aside from emergency trips to the restroom after eating, I was a pretty sick kid in general. I was on antibiotics for strep throat at least twice a year throughout elementary and middle school, had frequent migraines and chronic UTIs that started when I was just a toddler. And based on what I know now, I believe my poor health started even earlier. I was diagnosed with severe colic as an infant and the doctors told my parents I just needed to outgrow it. But I was formula fed and already displaying all of the signs of severe gastrointestinal distress. No blame on my mother--I know what it's like to be a first time mama trusting the doctor who so confidently claims he knows what is best for your new baby. For newborn me, that meant continuing the conventional formula and doing a lot of back arching and screaming.

I also grew up thinking vegetables came from cans and salad was just thing you had to have on the side of your plate at Thanksgiving dinner. I ate a happy meal a day until third grade, when my appetite outgrew that little cardboard box. It was a big day when I started ordering the same thing as my dad--a big mac with fries and a large pop. I remember finishing it off and thinking to myself that I could easily eat more. I never really felt hunger because our cabinets were full of every type of sugary cereal and box of Little Debbie's treat the grocery store sold, and I had access to them whenever I wanted. I also never felt satisfied. Eating this way had manipulated my body's ability to feel my real needs when it came to food and drink.

Because I played soccer daily and always felt the need for high intensity exercise, I was never classified as obese. But there were seasons I was pretty darn close. Toward the end of elementary school I experimented with making myself throw up after every meal because my new club soccer coach told me I needed to lose 15 pounds before the season started. I was 11 years old. I lost 30 pounds doing this (plus a lot of meal-skipping altogether and obsessive exercise when I really felt the pressure), but most of it eventually came back and what I actually lost in the process was much greater. My mental and emotional health, my relationship with my body and the food meant to nourish and energize it became very confusing. My body apparently was just for other people. It felt like my teammates were constantly finding ways to bring up their size zero jeans and I wondered if I could ever get there. I bought clothes that were too small hoping it would motivate me, but every time I would try and fail to pull them up over my huge thighs I'd end up just lying on the floor alongside them crying. Surely there was more to life than this, but it didn't feel like it. 

I felt a lot of pressure to perform and so much isolation as an introvert playing a competitive team sport. I grew to hate soccer because of how it made me feel and the lack of a safe space to process those feelings. There was a lot of angry yelling, "Get up, you're fine!" and "You can do better than that!" and "Don't let her outrun you!" and no encouragement to balance it out. I left every practice and game feeling too big and too slow, whether we had won or lost. 

And it carried over into my academics, too, this fear of failing. I never raised my hand in class to offer insight or ask a question no matter how confident I was that I knew the answer, because I was terrified to sound stupid. But, I had to get the best grade on the test. I learned information for that end alone--I never felt a real interest in anything in school because I had to focus all of my energy on the A. I went on this way in college for the most part--even declaring a major in something like English felt too scary because I thought it made it seem like I was claiming to be good at it, and what if I didn't do well in a class? Looking back, I wasted a lot of time in my head, unable to process and express my feelings. I wish I had just said, "I hated this book!" or "Oh, that poem! I am feeling all the feelings and I don't even know how to talk about them."

I suffered a back injury in high school that ended my soccer career (for which I was EXTREMELY relieved, but I never told anyone that), so I gained quite a bit of weight. But, I played most of the intramural sports my university offered because I continued to feel pressure from my past to prove myself an athlete. I went to the campus gym every morning and most evenings and worked out for up to three hours most days, but saw little change in my body. I still ate a standard diet and didn't shy away from middle of the night trips to Ihop or Taco Bell.

I continued to catch every illness I was exposed to. I also started getting vaginal yeast infections, which I treated with drugstore suppositories until they went away, only to return a month later.  I had an embarrassing sweating issue that didn't change with clinical strength deoderants. My period had always been unusually heavy, but my emotional symptoms around it seemed to worsen. I ended up in the emergency room after a bout of severe cramping made me unable to stand upright. An ultrasound showed polycystic ovaries, and a visit to my gynecologist confirmed signs of endometriosis as well. He asked me if I thought I might want kids eventually. I told him yes, definitely. "Well, it might not happen naturally," he said. "I am broken," I remember thinking. Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.


(Age 19, ~155 pounds, Size 8 jeans that were too tight
but I was determined to not be a double digit)