Facing The Demon That’s Been Hiding…Again.

shadow

If anything, I’m probably the person that over-shares.

I’ve been accused of that once or twice. Or a lot.

Everyone’s comfort level with sharing personal things or difficult moments is different. Our tolerance for reading them is different, too. One person’s TMI is another person’s ability to see themselves in someone else and find comfort there.

As I’m writing this post, I’m unsure yet whether I’ll hit publish. If you’re reading, I guess I did. But you’ll know that I wondered whether I should, mostly because I know there are a few people that cringe at this kind of thing. But to be frank, I’m kind of tired of hiding behind things because it makes other people uncomfortable.

Anyway.

I finally saw a doctor and contacted a therapist this week for a condition that’s been affecting me pretty much my entire adult life. I’ve often denied it was there, hoping that it would go away on its own, believing that if I were just smart enough or strong enough or in a different place that I would overcome it alone, never telling anyone and wending my way through the thorns with naught but a few personal scratches to show for it.

But this year, I’ve surrendered to a lot of things. I’ve been spending a lot (a LOT) of time and effort on making peace with myself, and this was the last piece that had to fall into place if I was ever truly going to look in the mirror, embrace who I am, and take steps to be the person I know I can be.

Many of you saw or watched my TEDx talk a few years ago on living with anxiety disorder and depression. There was a part that I left out then, because, well, see above. I don’t think I’d accepted the entire truth of it yet and it’s only through a bunch of soul searching and therapy for the last few years that I’m finally ready to talk about it openly.

So here goes. :: deep breath ::

I have an eating disorder.

More specifically, I have Binge Eating Disorder.

I have struggled mightily with my body image since adolescence. I was blessed young with a very adult body, curves in places other girls didn’t have and a figure that now I appreciate so much (Dear 16-year-old me, those girls in that clique were wrong, your body was SLAMMIN’).

I won’t belabor here all the reasons why young women struggle with body image. My parents didn’t berate or insult me. Other kids did, but not in any way that wasn’t par for the preteen course. I think very simply I made comparisons, over and over again, to what I saw and heard. I have never been built like the girls everyone admired, which meant fundamentally I believed something was wrong with me.

[There’s also most certainly a factor of my predisposition to mental health struggles thanks, in part, to genetics. I’m not discounting that, but it’s not something I can control, either.]

Starting in late high school, I think, I developed a deep sense of shame around eating. Because I believed that eating made me fat. Therefore, eating was something to be ashamed of.

So I’ve spent 20 years pretty much associating food with being fat. With being terribly anxious when I eat in front of others, to the point that when I do, I’ll either eat little and then eat again privately later to sate my hunger, or I’ll overeat and indulge so much that the shame I feel later drives me to tears and will ensure that I eat absolutely nothing for an extended period of time after that.

I can’t explain why it doesn’t feel like the food I would consume to excess — not unlike a drug — didn’t register as contributing to the very problem I was trying to solve. But mental illness is an insidious, illogical thing. And it is, apparently, quite textbook for this kind of disorder.

If you want to understand more about Binge Eating Disorder, you can start here  or here. They give you a good overview, so you don’t need all the gory details from me. Though if you have questions, I am MORE than happy to answer them, either in the comments or privately. I am not concerned about sharing, simply with dragging out a bunch of minute details that might not be pertinent or interesting to you. But ask away, should you want to know.

So, how did I get here?

The conversation started with my Mayo Clinic doctors when I was solving the Stupid Bird Feather Fiasco. During the myriad tests I had, we discovered that my liver enzymes were alarmingly and dangerously elevated, and it’s no secret that I could stand to lose some weight (my eternal struggle that I’ve never quite vanquished).

So we talked about the usual – diet, exercise, blah blah blah. I worked on it, adjusted eating habits — and adjusted them again, and again, and again.  I joined CrossFit (which I’m still doing, and love!). I walked more. I drank more water and less wine (ish).

For some reasons, when I had a follow up conversation with my personal doctor recently, I collapsed into a pile of tears and confessed all sorts of things wrong with my eating habits, the way I feel when I eat (and don’t), how I eat in secret or binge eat when I’m feeling anxious or depressed or scared. It just all came pouring out, unbidden, like an emotionflood of epic proportions that left my doctor — to his immense credit — hugging me while I stopped crying. And then he told me it would be okay.

I always thought this stuff was just, you know, what someone who is chubby must think and feel all the time. I mean, we curvy girls are all bent out of shape about food, right?

Isn’t it normal to sit and eat until you cry, and then keep eating? Isn’t it normal to eat dinner with friends and then excuse yourself to cry in the bathroom because you’re embarrassed about having eaten the whole plate full? Isn’t it normal to feel anxiety over people seeing you anywhere you eat because surely they’re wondering why on earth the “fat girl” is eating anything but a salad? Is it normal to eat something perfectly healthy and balanced and nutritious and STILL feel horrific, physically painful shame? Is guilt an emotion you should carry with you at all times when it comes to any kind of food whatsoever?

I guess it’s not normal. 

And I have to confess, I feel really really really unburdened having put a name or an identity to this demon that has lived in me for so very long.

As with depression, people have a tendency to downplay this kind of thing. Depressed people should just stop being sad, so people with a binge eating problem should just eat less, right?

I am now starting to understand the parallels (what on earth took me so long?). I think because I’ve been so open to change this year, so intent on exploring and understanding myself and giving myself grace for all the things I am and have been, I was finally able to let go and give in and own this enough to fix it. And to accept that something’s broken, it’s not just me not having the “discipline” to put down the cheese or the chips.

I’m going to address it and hopefully fix it. With help. I’m on the search for a therapist that’s close to me that deals specifically with these sorts of issues, and someone that can help me come up with a plan as well as gain some understanding about why I feel and do the things I do.

The reason I’m writing publicly about this is not because I need all sorts of “atta girl”s. 

When I write something and publish it, it becomes real. When I expose it to air, to the oxygen it needs to breathe and be alive, I can’t stuff it away again and pretend it isn’t there. It’s part of me now, like all my other strengths and faults, and this is something that I can and will overcome.

And as always, there’s a part of my heart that hopes I connect with someone out there who has been through this, or who reads this silently and simply knows that he or she is not alone. There is comfort in solidarity, in understanding that you are not a freak or an alien or hopelessly unfixable because you have something wrong with you.

People bitch and moan about the need for validation. I think we need validation. It’s what turns a single human into pluralized humanity and binds us together in ways that we can hardly understand. Call it whatever you like and pick on me if you care to, but I maintain that the single thing that will save our collective souls is knowing that we might find comfort and strength in others when ours wants to waver.

I said in my talk that I wanted people with depression or anxiety to speak. To end stigma by speaking their truth, because stigma and misunderstanding feed on shadows and silence. I still believe that. So I’m writing, yet again, even if my voice is shaking and my heart is fearful of judgment and shame all over again.

But this is me. I am hurting now, but I will not hurt always.

I can weave this into the part of me that is strength and triumph, not defeat.

Thank you for giving me your eyes and ears so that I can put this plainly out and own it as part of me. There’s no turning back now, and I feel stronger and more at ease than I have in years.

My love and strength to all of you, too, whatever your demons may bring you. You can, and you will.

Xo

  • http://about.me/jkozuch Justin Kozuch

    You’re awesome, Amber. Don’t ever forget that.

    It’s hard to admit ones faults. And while I cringe to say “I know how you feel”, I’ve been where you are. Hell, I’m still there sometimes. Kudos for having the courage to talk about your demons in a public way.

    You know I’m here to listen. Ping me if you want to talk.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Justin. I appreciate that very sincerely, and may just take you up on it one of these days.

  • http://ChristinaGleason.com/ Christina Gleason

    It is so freeing to put it all out there, isn’t it? As a fellow over-sharer, I know how scary it is to sit there and hover your finger over the Publish button, wondering if you should really let other people read your truth. But then you release it into the wild, and you find that you helped someone. A handful of people might message you privately to thank you for helping them realize they’re not alone in your common struggle. There are so many more who will still appreciate it without ever letting you know.

    I don’t know what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but I do know what it’s like to have anxiety and depression, and to use food as an emotional crutch when nothing else feels good in your world. Thank you for sharing your story, for helping yourself and for helping others. This isn’t meant to be an “atta girl.” As more and more of us come out and talk about our demons, maybe we can show the rest of the world that our illnesses should not be demonized.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      That’s just it, Christina. Maybe I shouldn’t have written the part about not needing “atta girl”s, I just get defensive because people assume that others write and publish their struggles because they’re simply looking for attention. And for me, attention I can get anywhere in lots of ways. I don’t need to expose painful vulnerabilities to get it. So it bugs me when that’s the assumption.

      But YES. Thank you. Much of this is helping people realize across the board that talking is nearly always better than not talking when it comes to working through difficult things. And there is strength in identity and belonging. So many people suffer believing that no one else understands. It’s compassion in action, and I think it matters.

  • http://amandamagee.com amandamagee

    I complete understand the reaction to having hit publish. I was a smoker, something that always surprised people, but there it was. A few years ago I owned up to it on my blog. It was significant, because without doing that, there were times that I could almost convince myself that I hadn’t wasted all those years smoking. I wish you strength as you face this demon, I also wish for patience for you. Sliding backwards does not make you a failure, it’s a part of the healing. You got this.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Owning *anything* you worry about is significant, Amanda. Good for you for putting it out there. And thank you for mentioning the backslide, which is inevitable. It scares me but I’ll get there. I so appreciate your support and the comment. xo

  • Guest

    Blogging – and more importantly publicly hiting submit- can be like therapy. Well, at least it is for me anyway. As I’ve gotten older and maybe a wee bit braver, I find that there are very few problems that someone else hasn’t had before you or isn’t going through at the exact same time. Chances are, by hitting publish on that really tough post, it’s going to reasonate with at least one other person. That’s usually enough for me anyway to convince me to unleash a demon or two.

    Anyway, I’m not going to “pretend” to know exactly what you are going through, because really I can’t. However, the fact that you are willing to publicly acknowledge your demons and post them on here is something I truly admire and respect about you.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Jessica. And now more than ever, odds are good that if you put something out there, someone can and will relate. That has meaning and merit in an increasingly superficial world. I’m starting to care less and less about what people think. Not in a “fuck you” kind of way but in a gentle sort of letting go that’s more about accepting them AND me and the difference in between. What a difference THAT has made. Thanks for being here.

  • jessicamalnik

    Blogging – and more importantly publicly hiting submit- can be like therapy. Well, at least it is for me anyway. As I’ve gotten older and maybe a wee bit braver, I find that there are very few problems that someone else hasn’t had before you or isn’t going through at the exact same time. Chances are, by hitting publish on that really tough post, it’s going to reasonate with at least one other person. That’s usually enough for me anyway to convince me to unleash a demon or two.

    Anyway, I’m not going to “pretend” to know exactly what you are going through, because really I can’t. However, the fact that you are willing to publicly acknowledge your demons and post them on here is something I truly admire and respect about you.

  • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

    As do you! Not everyone “heals” through public sharing of things, I get that. I do, so it’s what I do. This one was deeply rooted and denial was the name of the game. And I was always afraid of admitting a disorder as being seen as looking for an excuse for behavior that was just a matter of that illusive “willpower”. I still feel a lot of shame and have trouble accepting that I’m not just trying to shirk responsibility for being this way. But I also know that fixing it is going to take more strength than anything else I’ve ever faced, so. Excuses, whatever. I’ve got my work cut out for me. :)

  • drewmclellan

    I don’t have much else to offer but I am sending you a big, tight, long hug.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Which is the best thing ever, because a) I am seriously lacking in hugs and b) you give the BEST hugs.

  • http://www.spindows.com/ Clay Hebert

    Proud of you for bravely sharing this, Amber. In a battle of you vs. anything, I’d bet on you. Sending hugs and strength.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Clay. I actually feel pretty strong. Getting it out has been very helpful because I feel like I don’t have to hide anymore and i can focus on healing and learning new patterns. Thanks for your support and the vote of confidence. :)

  • http://cloverdew.com/blog cloverdew

    I have this thought all the time: Isn’t it normal to feel anxiety over people seeing you anywhere you eat because surely they’re wondering why on earth the “fat girl” is eating anything but a salad? – I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but it’s one I have, too… (Just want you to know that there are other people who do think this way.)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Too many, probably. Breaks my heart to think about it, actually. And I wonder if I’ll ever get over it. It happens every time.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Love you, Amber.
    You’ve got broken places just like the rest of us.
    Demons grow on a diet of silence and shame. They shrink in the oxygen of truth and love.

    Virtual hugs until our paths cross for a real one…!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Love you back, Steve. And thank you. This feels like it has less of a hold on me already just by giving it the air to breathe. Can’t wait to see you sometime soon. I’ll take that hug!

  • Dave Marler

    Amber,

    I don’t know you, though I wish I did, because I admire your brains, your brash confidence in your work and your beauty. In today’s world of hyper-connectivity, those who choose not to share their fears and shortcomings, in an attempt to learn from others, are the ones who are missing out.

    Crowd-sourcing therapy and advice is, in my mind, a sign of strength and courage. Please continue to share, for those who can relate and for those who may read your words and realize they too need support and encouragement. We never know whose life we may change when others read of our challenges and realize they share a common battle on the journey to happiness and acceptance.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thank you so much, Dave. And you can find me here anytime. :)

      I’m already finding that people are reaching out to share their similar struggles and that alone is worth it. Common battles, I think, give us the strength to face them. I really appreciate your presence and support.

  • debworks

    bravo. bravo. too wound up in what you wrote to say anything else. bravo. (and more hugs to you from Iowa)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, my friend. Hugs back to you.

  • Jennifer Evers

    Thank you for having the balls to say the scary things. It gives others the courage to take back their life, own the shit that doesn’t fit in to the Pinterest and Instagram friendly images, and figure out where to start to change it. It’s scary but so worth it. Super big gigantic hugs – because we ALL need them every day!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Jennifer. I feel like the benefits of saying the scary things outweigh the risks. We all filter, and it can be really difficult to look and compare other people’s carefully curated lives with the messy, complicated ones we live. Hugs back at you.

  • Carol Ledwidge-Burns

    My intention having read your blog is to share it with my 13 year old who has suffered from an eating disorder for about 2 years…similarly she sees her more ‘mature’ figure as a weight issue when in fact she is extremely slim. You have helped someone today….and it turn I hope this comment helps you see that sometimes pressing ‘publish’ really really makes a difference!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Oh, Carol. I am so sorry that your daughter has struggled, but please do share this with her and feel free to tell her to email me anytime: amber@sideraworks.com. I hope it helps her and that she knows she’s indeed not alone in her struggle. Give her a hug for me, and one for yourself for reading, sharing, and supporting her.

      • Carol Ledwidge-Burns

        Some days are wonderful and yet sometimes the sudden slide backwards isn’t even obvious till I notice how thin her arms are or how she is ‘pushing’ food around her plate rather than eating it….or even just seeming to be negative about herself. I know that she feels more empowered when she can see that other people are having similar difficulties, she says it makes her feel less ‘weird and different’ and less ‘isolated’…Your honesty and straight-forwardness are a breath of fresh air….we can analyse forever but straight talking and upfront attitudes make a huge difference!

  • http://ernohannink.com/ ernohannink

    Amber, I don’t have much to say on this. I just want to let you know I read it and think about you. It will be great to meet you in Portland, and give you a big hug.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I can’t wait, Erno. Thanks for reading, and for always being immensely supportive.

  • Guest

    I had to search high and low to find an old article I did for an online magazine years ago. It was my announcement to the world that I WAS FAT. I talk about my food shame. My guilt. My self hate. Only unlike you…I have never actively pursued ways to heal. But your post is so familar. Maybe it is time I figure this out. http://www.ocfamily.com/Blogs.aspx?bt=The+Glamorous+Life+Association&fbt=y

  • Colleen Steinman

    Such a brave, brave post. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us need to hear.

  • Faith_Azreal

    Everytime, I read your post you amaze me! Be it Getting answers, Living my truth, Confessions of a social media someone and now this one. You are truly an amazing and brave person. Although we haven’t met and most likely might never, I am so glad that I know you online. You are an inspiration. Atta girl! :)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/joshlight/ Josh Light

    Brave of you to share this Amber. I have people close in my life who are struggling with this as well. You’re not alone. Hang in there. You can make it.

  • Ian

    Amber, well done. Shining light on the darkness is, they say, the first step to healing.

    Standing alongside you in spirit as you work through this.

    Grace and peace.

  • Susan Harrison

    I love you, and your opened soul. Thank you for sharing. ((((()))))