Thursday, January 23, 2014

Monsters Always Stay With You

Usually I try to put a little bit of humor (dry or not) into my posts. This is not one of those posts...

To get the full impact of this you must place yourself in the mother's shoes throughout the entire story...

Mom (in her early 30's) watches as her five year old picks at another meal. Her daughter loves this meal and there's no reason for her to be picking at it. Mom begins to think of how many meals lately this has been happening during and she slowly puts her fork down. "Sweetheart, is something bothering you?" she asks, half dreading the answer. "No, Mommy." is the reply and for several more minutes she picks at her food...

The next day at lunch Mom makes her daughter's favorite thing to eat. A baby spinach salad with tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, dried cranberries, and raspberry walnut vinaigrette. Again the girl picks at her meal and Mom notices. Very calmly, even though she is shaking inside, she asks again if there's something bothering her daughter and this is the reply:

"Mommy, so and so has been calling me fat. So, if I don't eat I won't get any fatter. It's not your cooking it's OK." The little girl is close to tears and Mommy takes a deep breath. It was the answer she never wanted to hear out of her daughter's mouth. It takes over an hour to convince the girl that she's not fat and should eat her salad, that indeed the salad is healthy for her and doesn't contain much fat at all. 

Monday morning rolls around and Mom goes up to the school. She confronts the principal, she confronts the teacher, and she confronts the aides. They don't seem to understand that this goes far beyond bullying. This is bigger than a few missed meals. This wasn't a one time thing, her daughter had told her that it'd been happening since the first day of school and now it is the end of November. They don't see how it can bother the girl (or the mother) because the girl is obviously NOT fat. Mom gets angry and finally stomps back into the principals office and relays this story to her:

When I was fifteen years old my father told me one day at the beach that I looked like a beached whale. I was the height I am now and barely 120 pounds. That comment coupled with several I'd been hearing from the more popular kids at school convinced me that I was indeed fat. From that day on I skipped most of my meals and those meals that I did eat I ate very little of. I exercised before school and after school to videos and without them. I jogged, I ran, and did almost everything else I could think of to help me lose weight. My breakfast was usually a cup of coffee, my lunch a tic tack or on a good day an apple, and my dinner wouldn't have filled up a toddler's stomach. I weighed myself constantly and even when I reached a goal it was never "good enough". I studied myself in the mirror looking for "flaws" that one ounce of fat that hadn't come off yet, and constantly saw myself as fat. I dropped weight quickly. I went from being near 120 pounds to being almost 70 pounds within just a few months. My mother, a nurse, didn't notice until it was almost too late because our schedules (she worked midnights) made it so that we barely saw each other. My friends didn't notice because I seemed happy and healthy and of course we were all just out to have fun, after all we were teenagers.

One morning I woke up and I could not lift my hand off of my bed. My mother had to rush me to the hospital. I was severely under weight, anemic, and dehydrated. I was in that hospital bed until they'd managed to put seven pounds on me. Then it was daily weigh ins at the doctors office for several more weeks. Which then dropped down to weekly, then bi-weekly, and finally monthly weigh ins. I was required to be in therapy once weekly for nine months where I had to talk about "why" I felt fat and if I'd managed to get over those feelings. At the end of nine months I weighed 99 pounds, had convinced the therapist that I didn't think I was fat any longer, and had managed to allow myself "almost" the minimum daily requirements for calories. I was pronounced cured. I was far from that.

After my first marriage ended I dropped once again down to 100 pounds, justifying this loss as stress and work related. I barely ate while I was at work because I was "too busy", I barely ate when I wasn't at work because I was drinking too much. I refused to see it for what it was, after all I wasn't weighing myself and exercising all the time. I was fine. It was only after meeting the man who is now my husband that I realized I was too skinny, and then only because he'd barely even hug me for fear he'd hurt me.

No, I'm not skinny now. I'm far from skinny now. I know this. Yet, let me tell you something. I still refuse to own a scale. I don't look at my body in the mirror. I skip a lot of meals even though I'm not supposed to. My daughter went from a happy little five year old girl to being on the border of stepping over the cliff of anorexia. And let me explain something to you. That monster never goes away. You never see yourself as skinny enough again. You never can look at a scale or a plate of food the same way again. It sticks with you long after they claim that you are cured. THAT is the problem with what is going on! Those are the reasons I am so damned angry with what has been happening! AND that is why I want actions taken NOW!

The principal had listened and as the Mom finished she stood slowly from her chair behind the desk. "Mrs. So and so, I can assure you that I will never allow such bullying in my school again. I will speak with the boy and his parents today. I'll be talking to my boss about an awareness on eating disorders informational meeting being done with the teachers so that they understand why we don't allow this ever. I am so sorry that I made light of the problem before."

The Mom left, feeling only slightly better. It took several months for her daughter to eat right again. It took almost as long to convince the older brother that he didn't need to work out at every lunch period instead of play, they'd found out he'd been being picked on for being puny right around the same time.

Now, three years later that little girl is eight and she eats her meals without too much fuss. Daddy and Mommy watch her carefully and will continue to do so, at the first signs that there's a problem they'll be right there to catch her before she falls...

I tell you this because I am that Mom. I suffered, and still suffer with some of the mental parts, from anorexia. I still do not own a scale nor do I often study my body in the mirror. My husband makes sure I eat most days as often I do forget to. When I told my children's principal that story three years ago I was the biggest I'd ever been at a size 22, within a year I'd dropped down to a size 16. Within another year I was a size 14/12. And now I'm a size 10 hoping to be a size 8 before the end of this year. I am taking it slow, I am striving to do this the healthy way.... Not only for myself but for my children who watch my every move. I do not plan on going below a size 8 as that is the last point I remember having healthy energy and not being as pale as the paper the rough draft for this post was written on when I wake up. It is a struggle.

Some of you may wonder how a person who suffers from anorexia goes from being too skinny to being obese (and let's face it at a size 22 and only 5'4" tall I was obese). I love food, it tastes great ... But, I hate food because it makes me fat. After marrying my husband and our having two beautiful daughters within three years of each other I was up to a size 14. No big deal. But, I'd had an emergency C-section with our youngest which delayed any exercising that I may have done. Five months after she was born my husband began having unexplained seizures almost daily. For two years it was several doctor appointments a month for Daddy trying to figure out what was wrong, worry over our youngest who had been born a bit over a month early, who had vision problems just being discovered, and at that point was non-verbal. She spent a year in physical and speech therapy classes sometimes only once a week and sometimes three times a week. This is the same year that YCJ tried to stop eating. I grabbed fast food on the go, I ate lots of fatty or sweet snacks all of the time (but especially at night), and other than running to appointments did very little outside of the home and certainly didn't exercise. In less than two years my cholesterol was out of control and I was obese. One day I realized this after I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I began the long, hard, slow journey back to being healthy again.

Yes, we homeschool now. But, that doesn't mean that my children are kept in the house away from people who may call them names or cause them discomfort. Eating disorders are considered a teenage and young adult problem, they're considered a female's problem, and they're considered to be "cured" once the person begins to show signs of weight gain again. None of these things are true. Children can develop these disorders just as easily as anyone else can! Boys fall prey to this problem every year as well, and their numbers are climbing each year! And, hardest to think of of them all ... You are never really cured from an eating disorder.

The things you taught yourself to be able to lose weight so quickly stay with you. The habits you formed stay with you. The mental struggle with your self image is always there. And the knowledge that you can always take the "easy" way and lose any extra weight is a constant battle you face.

I tell you this because this problem is still with me, I still struggle with it, and I do not want my children or YOUR children to ever have to do the same.

  • Watch your children for sudden lack of interest and appetite in their food intakes (this can be a symptom of an eating disorder or something else)
  • Talk to your children regularly about what's going on inside their heads.
  • Don't stop asking the hard questions no matter their age or how hard they fight you about it.
  • If you suspect that there is a problem confront them gently but firmly on the issues.
  • If there is a problem do not just laugh it off, it may be more serious than you think.
  • If you need to please seek professionals to help your child (or yourself), this is not something that can be "cured" but it CAN be "helped".
If you feel the need to share my story it's OK. Until now very few people outside of my family and a few close friends were aware of it. I chose to share this now as I felt that perhaps my struggle might be of help to someone out there. That this story may shed some light onto a subject no one is comfortable with. It is my prayer that in telling you this story that no child ever suffers from an eating disorder again.

I owe thanks for the title of this post to my younger sister, may she provide courage to all those girls who are now as I once was. She's a pretty strong, intelligent, young lady who tries to always stand up for what's right.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to a dear friend of mine (she knows who she is) who graciously read over this post before it was published and caught my spelling mistakes (that spell check hadn't caught) and gave some much needed editorial advice.

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  1. thank you for writing this article. I have struggled with my weight my entire life only in the opposite direction of you. I am in my sixties now and still wrestle with image issues. I have gained and lost so much weight in my life that I can't keep track anymore. I have had physical issues that prevented me from exercising and now I have lost interest. At times, I can still hear my Mom and Dad tell me that I was too fat and that I would be so much prettier if I were thinner. My answer wasn't to stop eating, it was to eat more. Before our daughters were born, I vowed to never tell them they were fat no matter how heavy they got. I tried to make nutritious meals and we had few if any non-healthy snacks. As I sit here and type this and after reading your article, I have tears running down my cheeks. If parents and people would realize that words do hurt and that they can scar a person for life, maybe life would be better for all of us. I am happy to know that you are conquering your monster and working towards a healthy weight and I hope that your children continue to appreciate themselves for who they are and not what they eat.

    1. I am sorry to hear of the problems you faced with your weight and self image during your life. I agree that life would be better for all of us if people would just think about how much words can hurt. Those scars stay with you, and unlike physical scares they are rarely seen. I keep fighting my monster and I will never give up the fight. I too refuse to ever say such hurtful remarks to my children ... no matter their weight I love them for who they are not what they look like.

    2. Stopping in from #hsbahot linkup.
      Thanks for sharing your experience. My teen nephew is dealing with symptoms currently. It's scary how warped the mind can get.
      Thanks for keeping it real.

    3. I read your post at the linkup as well and thought it was wonderful. And, yet, being the half out of my head tired sleep deprived mamma that I am I completely forgot to comment with how good I thought that it was! My apologies and I'll rectify that first thing in the morning.

      Thank you for reading it. Sometimes it's hard to "keep it real" especially about something that isn't easy to talk about at all. I'm sorry to hear about your nephew. It is indeed scary how warped the mind can get. Just know that it is a battle he can get through. My prayers with you and your family during this time.

  2. Chrystal you are so brave to share your story with others. It's good really because it would seem as if this problem is becoming more and more prevalent but perhaps isn't talked about enough. Good for you for standing up to your school and letting them know the issue isn't just harmless teasing but rather a problem that can lead to much bigger problems.

    1. Thank you Renee, this is perhaps the hardest thing I've ever written and I cannot read it over to myself again without crying. It's a problem that I know in my heart can be helped and avoided if only more knew what really happens to people with eating disorders and not just the things that you can see. The mental issues that come with them stick with you for a very very long time. I've been able to not go to the extreme measures to loose weight again but the temptation is always there years since I was pronounced "cured".

  3. WOW. I have also struggled with my weight my entire life. Even in my present adult like - I could tell you some very hurtful things that have happened.

    It's a daily thing. People don't realize that when they say things - how hurtful they can be. It's incredible the psychological anguish.


    Thanks so much for sharing this on the #homeschoollinkup, Chrystal. I think this is something everyone needs to hear/read. :)

    1. I'm sorry to hear of your struggles.

      And I agree completely. I hope that by readings this (and other peoples stories) and more and more people begin to understand that words can HURT. And that these problems can be eased and helped and possibly even erased.