Just a few months away from turning 30, I started to break.
What began as a string of seemingly unrelated accidents and injuries quickly snowballed into a comically large collection of problems I now have to believe are connected. It’s as if my body and brain have both had enough. They could see the big 3-0 approaching and decided, “Nope. Not gonna make it. Have fun, travel safe, send postcards.”
I think it started with a sizable burn on my right leg. I walked straight into an oven door I’d left flung open. Did I mention the oven had just been quite busy, dutifully operating on its broiler setting? I was concerned the rectangular blemish would detract from the general bridesmaid aesthetic at my best friend’s wedding. I needn’t have worried about the burn, though. It was mostly obscured by my flowing pale pink gown and overshadowed by the orthopedic Velcro boot encasing my left foot.
The foot itself was suffering a stress fracture. Or that’s at least what the handsome emergency room doctor assured me it was as I sat pathetically on his examination table just hours before the rehearsal dinner. I couldn’t understand how I’d managed to sustain a fracture – stress or otherwise – seeing as how I’m hardly an athlete. I’d been attending some extra dance classes, sure, but a few additional hours of cardio hardly seemed sinister enough to break bone.
Then it slowly started to make sense.
That’s not to say I got the message right there. No, no – for someone so bullheaded, repetition is key to comprehension. Once the left foot healed, I came down with a marginally impressive cold, and an inexplicable skin irritation around my neck, and then dramatically slashed my thumb on a broken full-length mirror and bled all the way to work (I know, I know – but the seven-years-bad-luck cliché is so obvious, isn’t it?). I developed a debilitating stiffness in my hip flexors for a few days and painful tendonitis in my left elbow from downward dogging. I had six chipped teeth repaired and then promptly chipped two more. I pulled a baking sheet directly out of the oven and into my abdomen, singeing yet another substantial chunk of flesh.
In what I thought was the epic grand finale, I thoughtlessly ignited the wrong burner on the stove, exploding a giant Pyrex dish into a trillion shards of razor-sharp glass, all around my kitchen. I’m sure the detonation itself was a spectacular sight, but my back was turned at the time. My positioning however, spared my eyeballs, which is a decent consolation for missing the big event.
I miraculously escaped that incident without a scratch (so far…I’m convinced shards remain hidden behind appliances and fixtures), but it was becoming undeniably clear that something was seriously short-circuiting for me – mentally and physically.
Which brings me to the present, where I’m trying to ignore the tingling emanating from yet another potential stress fracture in my other foot. The sensation isn’t pleasant, but it’s actually less concerning than the curious discomfort creeping up in the original foot. That’s right – I’m likely developing two stress fractures. In two different feet.
Allow me to remind you, I am not yet geriatric. Despite a penchant for knitting and a deep appreciation for Sleepytime tea, I am in fact not 85 years old. For another few weeks, I’m still a 20-something. But the past several months have made it clear that years of self-inflicted physical and psychological warfare may be manifesting in a multitude of ways because they’ve finally caught up to me, no matter how hard I’ve tried to outrun them (the running thing is figurative and literal and also a played-out cliché, but I couldn’t help myself).
I haven’t been completely candid. I was diagnosed with osteopenia about twelve years ago. It’s not quite as scary as osteoporosis, which causes a significant thinning of bone, but it could be considered a pit stop on the way there. It’s an odd diagnosis to receive as a reasonably healthy 18-year-old. But not that odd for an 18-year-old who hasn’t menstruated in two years because she’s been deeply engaged in a flirtation with semi-starvation masquerading as a diet.
I’d never felt good about my weight. I was tall in elementary school, which elementary school kids translate to “big” for simplicity’s sake. I grew up in the mid-to-late 90’s era of baggy flannel and oversized JNCO jeans, making it easier to hide behind layers of fabric once puberty struck. I wasn’t confident, but I wasn’t depressed about my size. I experimented with trendy diets and repeatedly tried to believe that I liked exercise. But nothing stuck – I simply didn’t care enough to torture myself.
Until I did. Something clicked (or snapped, depending on how you look at it), and I suddenly couldn’t live in my body anymore. I refused. I wanted taut abs like the ones Britney Spears flaunted (it was the “Baby One More Time” era, but I guess that statement could still be relevant today – maybe? Millennials? Help me out?). I resolved to lose weight. I wish the resolution had poetically taken place on New Year’s Eve. But it was a slightly delayed pledge that began with a staunch refusal of all chocolate-covered treats one Valentine’s Day.
And so I lost weight. And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. So positive, I saw no reason to stop. Maintenance wasn’t a term I’d learned in my quest to slim down. I assumed the way to keep weight off was to amp up the obsession.
I’ll spare you the details – not only because they could be misconstrued as a step-by-step tutorial on the most effective way to adapt an eating disorder, but because they’re not interesting. I never completely stopped eating. I was never hospitalized. My blood tests were almost always normal, and frustratingly, so was the number on the scale. I never became frighteningly emaciated or alarmingly underweight. The only real sign of dysfunction was my hibernating period and the sorry state of my bones. But what does that really mean when you’re a teenager? Saved money on tampons? Decreased probability of using cramps as an honest excuse to sit out gym class?
I always thought I’d get a warning sign. Maybe I’d faint theatrically on a treadmill, or something disconcerting would show up during my routine physical. But no, I’ve remained consistently “normal” for over a decade, despite a continuous up and down relationship with food and exercise. Until the physical problems (accidental and otherwise) began.
I definitely don’t have a medical degree. And anyone out there who does may debate the assertion that my recent rash of health issues, including the fracturing bones, are a direct result of amenorrhea or dieting or osteopenia (and, I’ll be the first to admit that the kitchen burns and shattered Pyrex are just as likely due to my eternal clumsiness than to prolonged, diet-related mental fatigue).
But whether there is scientific evidence to back up a direct correlation between a teenage resolution and an onslaught of adult health quirks seems sort of irrelevant. Because I know that the degree of difficulty I’m still experiencing trying to let myself rest and recover is an absolute consequence of my initial quest to lose weight. Even without an MD (and my bachelor’s degree in psych doesn’t count for much), I can tell you with complete confidence that self-destructive thoughts and behaviors become increasingly ingrained and harder to escape as time goes on.
Look, not every person who sets out to drop a few pounds is going to develop an eating disorder. Not every person who develops an eating disorder will experience long-term physical consequences. Not every New Year’s resolution to slim down is the tip of a mental illness iceberg. Plenty of people need to lose weight, eat healthier, and be more active – obesity is an epidemic and sitting kills, etc. etc.
Maybe then the specificity of my message makes this piece irrelevant to most readers. But I’m not talking to the majority (sure, an article titled “5 Hot Diet Tips for 2014!” might have garnered a whole lot more social media shares, but that wasn’t really the point). I’m talking to the girls (and boys) who are on the verge of unknowingly impacting the course of their lives through an innocent, ostensibly wholesome, universally supported resolution.
I love writing for this site. But I’ve had to slowly move away from blogging because I haven’t yet figured out a way to make a livable wage spewing all my thoughts and emotions onto a blank page (Carrie Bradshaw was apparently fictional?). But I wrote this piece with the conscious intention of publishing it here. Because if the Internet had been anything more than AOL chat rooms and Geocities fan sites dedicated to Leonardo DiCaprio when I was a teenager, I would have been reading sites like HelloGiggles. The heartfelt comments and reactions I’ve received on other pieces have convinced me that you are the audience I need this message to reach.
None of this is meant to sound threatening or ominous or inevitable – I promise you, the prospect of turning 30 really isn’t as scary as I’ve made it out to be. And again, if losing weight is a resolution you’ve made that you (and your doctor) feel will improve your health and self-esteem, then by all means, I support you in your journey.
But if you’re only tempted to jump on the slim-down bandwagon because every magazine, website, top 10 list, TV show, classmate, friend, family member, thinspiration blogger etc. is telling you that it’s the thing you’re supposed to, then just pause for a second. It’s hard to believe, but some of the choices you’re making right at this moment might impact you five, ten, fifteen or more years down the line.
And if you think self-deprecating and berating yourself down to a smaller size is the only way to see results, just understand that it will become more and more difficult to undo those mental patterns the longer you rely on them. Some people can turn their inner bootcamp instructor voice on and off – some of us can’t. If you think your internal drill sergeant has the potential to make you miserable (no matter how effectively he/she gets you to drop pounds, and no matter how thin/fit/sick you become), then I urge you to find another resolution. Resolve to volunteer somewhere, resolve to read more books, resolve to find an active hobby you love because it makes you feel good, not because it burns calories.
Most importantly and most chees-ily of all, resolve to respect yourself and make it a goal to legitimately believe that you’re a worthy and beautiful person, no matter what size you are, and no matter what any random person has to say on the matter. If you can actually accomplish that right now, at this time in your life, you can dedicate all those future resolutions to more fulfilling endeavors.
Mine, for example, involves wearing more protective gear in the kitchen this year.
Featured image via ShutterStock