A few months ago in August I did something I never thought I would do. I fearlessly posted a no make-up selfie with words on it that represent me and who I am. My words are sushi lover, dancer, Complex PTSD, movie buff, humanitarian, ❤ car trips, fiesty, writer, book lover and suicide survivor. It’s posted on the i_weigh movement page on Instagram founded by multi-talented actress Jameela Jamil. Ms. Jamil herself battled anorexia as a teen and struggled with self image. She noticed and began questioning the distubing trend of what determines beauty messaging and how it has brainwashed our society. Why every magazine and commercial are always pushing the idea that only being thin was beautiful and desirable. She is quoted by saying,”I was bombarded with a narrative that had no alternative. There were never any women who were celebrated for their intellect … and all of my magazines were selling me weight loss products or telling me to be thin. Otherwise, I wasn’t worth anything.” In an effort to raise the middle finger to entire industries that are complicit in perpetuating these ideas she started the i_weigh movement. Proving we are all more than a mere number on the scale. I fell in love with it and messaged my picture to be included.
I started ballet when I was 2 and I continued to dance competitively into my teens. My passion for dance led me to want to become a professional someday. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and modern from some of the best instructors and choreographers in the dance world. It became my life and my main focus. It also served as a catalyst for my eating disorder. I’m 5’2 and have been the same height since 7th grade. I was always told I was too small and I would never make it as a dancer. I didn’t have the long legs of a ballerina, I needed to lose weight (I didn’t), my skin is too olive(I’m Italian and Puerto Rican) and a list of other physical appearance critiques. I started restricting my food at the age of 13 or 14. I also abused laxatives, water pills and diet pills. I would spit into cups for hours before dance class in hopes of losing a pound, utterly ridiculous I know! At 16, I finally got fed up and lost my drive and self esteem about dancing. I quit and thought I would never take another class. Thankfully, I rediscovered my love for dance as adult at 25 when my oldest son was 2. My new love is for tap and contemporary style classes. I have also enjoyed teaching little ones creative movement and beginner ballet but those are topics for another post.
My eating disorder however grew worse now that I wasn’t getting the extreme exercise from dancing daily for hours. I began an intensive workout routine and started running. The combination of restricting my food and my exercise routine bore behaviors that then turned me into an exercise anorexic. It was like a high, my newly discovered drug. I was able to control something because my home life was so chaotic and dysfunctional. My thinking became very obsessive and I was developing strange ideas about food. What I would eat and what I would avoid. It was a full time job mentally and utterly exhausting. Those patterns lasted on and off for years and I really didn’t confront it until five years ago. I have body dysmorphia as a result in addition to my many conditions and I still hold some of those beliefs that tell me I’m ugly in my core. I can absolutely agree with Ms. Jamil that negative body image is ruining people’s lives.
As a result of having my picture posted on i_weigh I met an extraordinary woman. She lives in Australia, we have never met in real life yet we have a kindered spirit bond like few are blessed to know. We have so much in common with our life experiences and we are both empaths. Currently we are trying to schedule a time to video chat with each other so we can “meet” face to face. I credit my new friend for inspiring me to get back to my writing and to share it online. She gives me so much support and artisitc suggestions. I have even nicknamed her my pseudo creative director on this blog! Her spirit and soul are exquisitely beautiful. I look forward to our message chats because we uplift each other so much. We discuss anything and everything and I feel truly blessed to call her my friend.
Seven years ago during the height of my mental breakdowns and recovery after my suicide attempt, I was introduced to mirrorwork therapy. I stand in front of a mirror and tell myself positive affirmations and I recite mantras. I know what you’re thinking, sounds weird right, talking to yourself in the mirror? I always say that I’m my own best audience and it’s a scientific fact that positive self talk is a sign of good mental health. At first I started to read off of the sticky notes that I had put up next to the mirror, I couldn’t even look at myself directly in the eye for awhile. Once I got more comfortable and with practice I can now stare right at myself and have an intimate conversation. The main two mantras I use are, I am a beautiful and capable woman. I am a child of God and I am loved. These are two statements I had the hardest time believing about myself especially after attempting suicide. Part of my therapy included examining my core beliefs, the things I tell myself and completely rewriting them. That tape we all have running through our minds constantly. At times we can carry our negatives thoughts and ideas about ourselves in an invisible but very real backpack. During my many years in therapy I have learned to stop the tape and take the backpack off.
Currently I’m on a therapy hiatus. I began taking part in therapy when I was seven years old. Mostly it was family therapy and sometimes it was individual. I have successfully completed a ton of different therapy programs over the last thirty years. That’s a lot of expressing and pain shedding and I’m to a point now that it has become uneccessary to continue on a regular basis. At the height of my time in therapy, I was seeing a DBT certified therapist four times a week. I have been in psychiatric hospitals over ten times and have completed numerous outpatient programs. I have been a member of different support groups with varying topics surrounding my mental health. I have read countless books about mental illness both non-fiction and fiction and listened to as many audio self-help books. I’m therapied out (I think I made that word up) and I need a darn break.
I used everything I have described here as my inspiration for this poem. Take notice of how I started describing my new Australian mate and then my subject morphed into discovering myself as my friend. It is hugely important to be friends with yourself. We are so loving and generous with our friends and at times we can be our own worst enemies and treat ourselves like dirt. The golden rule of treat everyone has you would like to be treated needs to also include, and especially yourself! We can all use that reminder sometimes!