The face in the picture on the right is of a happy baby. A baby that her mom described as her “smiling & laughing baby.” The face in the picture on the right has her whole life ahead of her, one who will grow up to love loving others & still smiling in pictures with the same exact wide face. One who will love to sing to relieve stress, fashion, photography, and one who loves to give hugs and has a big, empathetic heart.
What you wouldn’t know from looking at this picture on the right of this carefree and happy baby is that she would see suffering. She will end up spending years hating her body and the thoughts that circle her head would be her worst enemy. This face will eventually lose the light and happy smile because she won’t have the energy or feel like she deserves to smile so big anymore. This face will experience anxiety and sadness that she never even knew existed. This smiley baby in the picture on the right is me.
I don’t remember much of my childhood. I know that it involved a move from Pennsylvania to New York. It involved the divorce of my parents that happened at such a young age, I can’t really recall it. It involved countless amounts of visits to multiple family members houses, there was always an assigned place for each holiday…a tradition to look forward to. It involved times of adventure and make believe, climbing trees at grandma’s, eating fresh mint off the plant at grandpa’s, dressing like Mary Poppins for Halloween, ventures to the playground down the street where my sister, brother, and I just enjoyed being kids…when life was simpler, you know? A time where our mom was our best friend and best supporter (she still is)…but it was at this time where I didn’t know anything about hurt, about true suffering.
I was young. I was free. And I had no idea what was coming ahead. I had no idea of the strength my mother had for all she was going through at the time. I had no recollection of the suffering of both of my mom’s sisters and the daily struggles they deal with. They were always just so happy when I saw them. I was naive and couldn’t see the suffering in people’s eyes as I do today.
All throughout elementary and middle school I would get constant comments about my weight. I was always really lanky and scrawny. So was my brother and so was my sister. We were just built that way as kids. Our mom fed us three meals a day and we would have plenty of snacks…I guess we were just always thin people. But little did I know that even at such a young age, those comments from others were being engraved in my mind. I viewed them as compliments. I didn’t receive any comments about my beauty when I was younger, it was always comments about my frame and how thin I was.
Fast forward to the beginning of high school when I was finally starting to get some curves, and gaining some much needed weight in certain areas. I was still getting compliments from people about how thin I was, but the amount of compliments were definitely beginning to dwindle. I viewed those compliments as defining my worth, that how my body looked defined my beauty because I never was complimented for how pretty I was. I was confused and hurt as to why people stopped telling me this. So this then lead to some intense body speculation…looking at every single area and pointing out every flaw, becoming disgusted at the amount of fat I was gaining, leaving red marks on my body from pinching myself so hard.
I then became aware of how my body would look every day. My thoughts would constantly circle around how could I make myself look as thin as possible. I would even over analyze about how I would sit in a chair so I could make my thighs look tiny. At lunch, I always felt like I was being watched as I was eating. I didn’t start withholding food until my junior year of high school, but I can definitely see that the eating disorder way of thinking started years before.
My junior and senior year of high school are ones I will never forget. One usually says that because it’s some of the best years of their young life, full of memories and carefree decisions. For me, it was little different. Junior year started out with a move from my home in New York, the town that I knew all my life. My family and I packed up and moved down to North Carolina. I don’t know if the move added to the depression I was feeling, but I certainly didn’t like the idea of leaving all my friends and family.
At this point, in mind, the “skinny compliments” were completely nonexistent. I set in mind that I would do anything to get those compliments back, even if it meant starving myself. So that’s what I did, and to be completely honest, I still battle with this today. My anorexia battle became so out of control that all I could think about what food and how much I weighed at every single second of every single day. Because of it, my grades in school plummeted and I lost friends. Basically the complete opposite happened of what I thought would happen if I got skinnier. I was left feeling unwanted and worthless. Unwanted by my friends and family and mostly, unwanted by myself.
During all of this, I started to develop a pretty serious anxiety disorder, paired with very bad depression. I was having panic attacks in school, my hands wouldn’t stop shaking, and there were days I didn’t want to get out of bed at all and face the emotions of the day. I became afraid of myself and my feelings because sometimes the waves of depression hit me like an unexpected slap in the face. The same would happen with my panic attacks. Sometimes I would get them for no apparent reason. I was scared and embarrassed.
I almost didn’t graduate from high school with the rest of my class due to my eating disorder, anxiety, and depression. This was because I had missed so much school and I didn’t have the motivation to do my schoolwork. I had just given up. I would focus on things that made me forget about the pain for a little bit, which was chorus and theatre. They were my safe havens and my solace. In those classes, I didn’t feel inferior. I didn’t think about my weight. I focused on the art I was creating.
There were many thoughts of self harm and actions of self harm. There were also many thoughts about ending my life. I didn’t want to deal with the voices inside my head anymore. I felt that I wasn’t worthy of anything life had to offer me. In my mind, I wasn’t going anywhere…I wasn’t going to have a successful career, I felt like a disappointment to my family….but for some reason there was always some little voice in my head telling me to keep going and keep fighting. So that’s what I did.
With the help of my amazing mother, I got and I am still getting the help that I need. My mom has never been hesitant to help me out when it comes to this stuff. She might not always understand what I go through firsthand, but she’s always willing to listen and to give words guidance and love. I couldn’t be more thankful for her.
I ended up graduating high school and went off to my freshman year of college with a different mindset. I started befriending people who only want the best for me and have truly helped me during this recovery process. I surrounded myself with positivity. I am so blessed to know the people in my life today. I am still dealing with my struggles every day. Recovery is not just becoming 100 percent better in a week. It can take a long time to truly feel yourself again, but I’m getting there. I am now more than halfway through my sophomore year of college and to me, that’s truly an accomplishment because with my anxiety, I get overwhelmed by school very easily. I try to enjoy everything I put into my body, knowing that it’s fuel for me to continue to do what I love. I try to truly laugh every day. I appreciate the small things. I no longer have wads of hair falling out of my head in the shower. People are telling me I have life in my eyes and I look healthy and truly happier…that I’m glowing.
Will I ever become the carefree, naive baby in the first picture again??…absolutely not. Because that’s not life. I have seen and experienced struggle. My inner and outer scars continue to heal themselves every day. It’s a sign to me that your body is always for you…it will fight for you to get better. It has the power to heal itself. Yes, you’re going to have some down days, that’s normal…but compared to where I was years ago, I couldn’t be more excited to see where my life is going. My mom’s “happy, smiley, and laughing” baby is finally getting her smile back. Stay strong, my lovely people.