I choose life: My journey with body-image
Kianna Garmanian, Staff Writer
Slowly rising to my feet, I used every bit of remaining energy to get out of bed. Hardly able to walk, my head was spinning and my vision went blurry. Desperately grabbing onto the chair in my room for support, I was moments from collapsing. I knew this was it. I knew I had to make a change. I knew this could be life or death.
Well, I must admit. I never envisioned myself publishing this story in the school newspaper. Yet, after much thought, I came to this realization: If my story can help just one person in their own journey, then everything I experienced over the past year was worth it. We are all human and we each have our own set of struggles. One of the most beautiful parts of life is being able to share these difficulties with one another and use them to grow, heal, and recover. Therefore, this is my gift to you. May my story be an inspiration for you as you embark on the remarkable path of life.
Growing up in an athletic family, sports have always been a huge part of my life. From a young age, I trained hard and set goals for myself. In high school, I became even more immersed in the world of fitness. I created a fitness/health YouTube channel and posted hundreds of videos online on workout challenges, nutrition advice, and more. During this time, I started to become aware and conscious of calories, food, and weight. In an attempt to be as fit and athletic as possible, I started cutting out sweets and missing out on activities with my family and friends so I could work out instead.
As a college athlete, I poured everything into my sport. As a result, my body began to break down, and then the injuries came. Ending up with a stress fracture during my sophomore year, I reached my breaking point. I started to fear the loss of control. Since I was injured, I couldn’t control how fast my body would heal, when I could run again, or my athletic success. As a perfectionist, I was so used to grabbing onto the reins and directing my life. I called the shots…or, at least, I thought I did. Yet, I was now injured and couldn’t control this situation.
So, what did I do? I grabbed onto the only aspect of my life that I thought I could gain control over. All my past fears and insecurities bubbled up and boiled over, causing me to fall into a deep and dangerous cycle. I told myself, “Well, since you can’t control your running, exercise, or fitness anymore… I guess it’s time to control your food, weight, and eating.” And that is exactly what I did.
Throughout my whole life, I’ve always struggled with body image issues. Especially as an athlete, I’ve carried around a list of areas on my body that need to “improve” or look better. Furthermore, I’ve had far too many coaches and peers share these types of comments with me: “If you lost some muscle, you would be faster” or “If you looked like this girl, you could do so much better in track.” I started to hate and detest my body, my muscle, and my strength. I even had former coaches require me to do additional hours of cardio after practice ended in an attempt to “burn-off” my muscle.
I couldn’t take it anymore- the negative comments, the loss of control during my injury, and the low self-esteem I was facing. Something needed to change. The change started small and gradually began to increase. I began by cutting out a snack or two. And then, I cut out a meal. The weight came off fast. I was dropping pounds so rapidly and couldn’t have been happier. This only fueled my desire to continue losing more weight. “This is it,” I thought to myself, “I will finally be good enough! I will finally be thin and conform to the beauty ideals of society. I will finally be accepted by my coaches because I won’t be so muscular! I will finally be a better runner and better athlete!” In less than six months, I lost more than fifty pounds.
At the beginning of my junior year in fall of 2018, I had lost a lot of weight. I got so many positive comments from those around me, and this further increased my desire to become thinner and thinner. As I continued to drop more weight, my family, peers, and coaches began to catch on and become concerned. At this point, every pound I lost was drastic and my body was not happy. Yet, I was determined, and my mind was focused on this glorious prize: thinness.
During November and December of 2018, I started skipping out on social events and began isolating myself in my dorm. I didn’t have enough energy to hang out with friends and barely could make it throughout the day without taking naps every couple of hours. I wanted to be thin so badly that I was willing to pay whatever price it took to achieve this goal. I thought thinness would make me beautiful. I thought thinness would make me accepted. I thought thinness would make me loved. I thought thinness would make me successful. I thought wrong.
Striving for thinness made me sick, really sick. I barely had enough energy to go to track practice and work out. I started losing circulation in my fingers and toes which caused me to wear winter jackets in order to stay warm. I went to bed hungry so many nights that I frequently woke up feeling sick, nauseous, and tired. I had splitting headaches, low blood pressure, extreme dizziness, and was overwhelmingly exhausted. I was so fatigued that I lost interest in all my hobbies, became disconnected from family and friends, and slept most of the day. I lost loads of hair in the shower and my fingernails stopped growing. Dark circles appeared underneath my eyes and I lost the color in my face. I looked like a ghost. I not only felt nearly dead, but was almost nearly dead.
I could barely hold on. I never experienced such deep darkness in my entire life. Others around me started to say I looked sick and needed to gain weight. I was scared. I started to see my life fade away. Yet, I was still determined to be thinner.
Eating disorders are very debilitating and dangerous diseases. They rob your peace of mind, logical thinking, and life. They convince you that your worth is dependent on your weight or size. They constantly feed you lies about how ugly, fat, and useless you are. In all my life, I never thought that I would have an eating disorder. But I do. I do have an eating disorder and that is okay. Why? Because the anorexic eating disorder side that is screaming at me to lose more weight will not win.
Ultimately, I had to make a choice. After nearly blacking out and collapsing several times and being at severe risk for developing long-term and irreversible damage, a decision was to be made. Would I choose life or death? This eating disorder would kill me if I continued on the way I was, and I was certainly headed down that path.
I chose life. I couldn’t do it on my own and needed a support team to guide me along the way. In February of this year, I was given a nutrition plan and finally began increasing my portions and eating again. For once in my life, I began focusing all my attention on health and healing my body, mind, and soul. Since I was not healthy enough to compete in college athletics, I gave up sports so my body could rest and recover. Each day in recovery has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced. Recovery is so difficult, yet so worth it. Every time I don’t want to eat, I think about the beautiful life I am meant to live. I envision the plans Jesus has for me and how excited I am for the future, for energy, for memories with family and friends, and for life. Yes, I have cried almost every day and will continue to cry. This may be hard, but I know I am strong. I am strong because Jesus is with me and I am not alone. He is carrying this cross with me and will use this challenge to strengthen me as an individual.
Recovering from an eating disorder is not just a one-time decision. Every day I wake up, I must choose life. Each day is a fight that must be fought, one day at a time. And when I mess up, as I have done and will continue to do many times, I try again the next day. I am beyond blessed to have such an incredible support system of family, friends, and professionals to help me with this battle. In just a short amount of time, I have already made a lot of progress. Each day and challenge is terrifying, but I will not back down. This life is meant for living.
Seeing my body change and work to become healthy again is exciting and difficult at the same time. As I am starting to eat, my health is finally beginning to improve and my body is trying to heal all the damage that has been done. Yet, this is not an easy process. I have surrendered my own will and am learning to trust. To trust in the healthy place that my body wants to be at, not what I want or decide my body to be at. I must give up control and let my body be. I need to trust in myself, others around me, and most importantly, in my faith.
To all you beautiful people, whether you are struggling or have struggled with an eating disorder or not, I extend this question to you: will you choose life? Whether you battle with body-image issues, depression, anxiety, stress, or anything else, remember that each day is a fight that deserves to be fought. Don’t give up on yourself because you have a tremendous life to live. Even when all seems hopeless, look to your inner strength. And when you can’t see this side of you, get down on your knees and beg Jesus for help. Lean on others around you for guidance and do not be afraid to reach out.
I will say this again: I could not have begun my recovery process without the help of others around me, both professional help and community support. I cannot stress this enough: ask for help. There are so many wonderful and smart people that can help you navigate this life. The Counseling and Wellness Center here on campus is a great resource and has been an instrumental part in my recovery. I was so nervous to go to counseling for the first time in fall of 2018, but I am so thankful I did. You are not weird, strange, or weak if you ask for help. In fact, it’s just the contrary. By reaching out for assistance, you are strong, confident, smart, and resilient.
I leave you with this final thought: You are worth it, and you deserve to fight. Tell yourself every day and don’t forget it. Remember, you are not alone. As I continue with my own journey in recovering from my eating disorder, I humbly ask for your prayers. Please know of my prayers for each of you as well, in whatever challenges or difficulties you face in this life. May God bless you all.
For all who are interested, here is the contact information for the SMU Counseling and Wellness Center. Please give counseling a try. It has helped change (and save) my life. Just talking through your thoughts/feelings and being able to work through challenges is a vital part of healing. CONTACT INFO: M-F 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; CounselingCWC@stmartin.edu; (360) 412-6123