A Flicker in the Everglades: My Journey Through Body Dysmorphia -
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A Flicker in the Everglades: My Journey Through Body Dysmorphia

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My body is the least interesting thing about me.

I’ll say it again for the folks in the back: my body is the least interesting thing about me.

It’s taken me years to get to this earth-shattering thought.

How exactly did I get here?

Well to figure that out – we have to go back, back to the beginning….

“Hi My Name is: Ugly”

Like any red blooded American girl I grew up with a healthy dose of self – hatred surrounding my looks. It didn’t help that in middle school, I got bullied by a boy for you guessed it: being “ugly” (or as it’s more commonly known: “literally looking like any other 13 year old”).

So of course I said to myself “Okay, clearly these people from a Backwater Virginia town are the authority on who is beautiful and who is not. So I guess that’s it for me. I am ugly.”

And I proceeded to spend the next 15 years of my life operating under that assessment of myself. I even wrote my college entrance essay on how I accepted myself as an ugly person.

Surprisingly no one from Child Welfare showed up at my house after that essay, even more surprisingly I got into that college the following year.

Weird.

Accepting the role of ugly loser as a teenager gave me some killer body dysmorphia. I spent a lot of my time picking my face, punching and squeezing my belly because it was “too fat” and hating the crook in my nose to the point I *dreamed* of breaking it by accident so I could have a valid excuse for a rhinoplasty.

I also developed a habit of very negative, judgmental thoughts towards myself and others. Oh, and an eating disorder. Yay.

I figured if I just changed myself enough, everyone would finally like me.

Of course – no one really did. So I tried harder and still I had troubles keeping friendships and relationships alive. In fact the troubles got worse the harder I tried.

Revelations in the Everglades

It took me until my very late 20’s to see the world and myself differently.

I remember the moment I started to disagree with the core belief that I was hideous. I remember it vividly.

I was in the Everglades, of all places, all by myself.

It was a beautiful summer day – too hot for tourists to come out to the park, but perfect for me because it meant I could be alone. You see, I had gone on a solo journey to “find myself” by traveling the coast of Florida in the middle of summer.

Not the best idea I’ve ever had but stick with me.

Anyway, it was a hot, sweaty and gorgeous South Florida day. The vast watery expanse of grass and low trees shimmered in every direction. I felt like I was on an alien planet. I’d never seen anything like it, I was terrified and awed at the same time.

As I rode my yellow bicycle down the path I caught glimpses of fish darting around in the grass. Alligators basking in the shallow waters. Heard a symphony of crickets filling the air. Nature and beauty everywhere.

Pictured: the Beaucolic Scene of a Panic Attack

But I couldn’t feel anything except fear, panic, and unhappiness. 15 + years of hating myself had finally caught up to me right here in the Everglades.

I started to have a panic attack.

I remember the thoughts racing through my mind: how I could never find a man, I was the ugliest woman on earth. How I couldn’t be loved unless I was the most beautiful and skinny. How I didn’t deserve happiness because of how hideous I was.

Even though I was 5’10”, at the time was an Ultra Marathon Runner, had legs that went up past Heaven, weighed 120 pounds, and had never once been single in my adult life – none of it mattered.

None of it. I still hated myself. In that moment, I still believed I was the ugly 13 year old with braces and acne.

So there I was, sitting on a bench in the absolute middle of the middle of nowhere, having a panic attack. Just the alligators and dragonflies for company. I was 10 miles from the exit and 5 miles from the entrance of the bike loop. My phone didn’t have any reception.

So I did the only thing I could – I sat with it. For the first time, I sat with the feelings of hatred. I asked them where they came from. I was able to see the thoughts for what they were – and I discovered they weren’t mine.

Eventually, I calmed down and continued my bike ride. I’d like to say these revelations made me feel better instantly but actually it was pretty much the opposite. I felt just as shitty if not more so the rest of the trip.

The thoughts were coming out ten fold now, attacking me as I drove the 200 miles home. I was sorely disappointed that I’d only had a flicker of insight on the whole 5 day journey.

Lame.

A Flicker Becomes a Flame

But what I didn’t realize was that a couple years later, I’d be looking back on that trip as the one which helped me move lightyears forward mentally.

You see, change happens slowly. Sometimes so slowly you don’t even realize it until you look in the mirror and see a totally different person looking back at you.

And my change was no different. It came in stages; the first being I realized I looked pretty comparable to most of my peer group: I was a tall brunette on the thinner side even when I put on a little extra weight. Not really that spectacular looking one way or the other. Just regular.

The second stage was more fearsome. The hate came back with a vengeance. I was getting married and I wanted the wedding pictures to be perfect.

Now, the women in my family are all tall and big and I was no exception. I think of us as powerful Amazons nowadays, but back then I was mortified – this was the way my body had become after I quit running and was solely focused on my very stressful job. I was rounder than I had been in a long time.

So I started the Keto diet. I lost almost 20 pounds and looked spectacular in my dress. I had gotten what I wanted – the perfect wedding pictures.

But here’s the thing: I kept going. I started using the diet and the stress from the tough job to starve myself long after I’d told my husband and family that I’d stop. I lost more and more weight. Became more and more fanatic about weighing myself and counting my calories.

I started to lose my hair. I felt sick most of the time from the crash diet.

Me – minus some hair on the Keto/Stress Diet

And you can guess what happened next: I had a mental breakdown and ended up in the hospital.

Enter stage three. During recovery from my OCD I was also provided with optional access to a Nutritionist. I wasn’t necessarily there for anything else but my anxiety but speaking with her it soon became clear I had an issue with disordered eating too.

So I took the help. And I haven’t looked back since.

Beautiful at Last

Today I think I’m on stage four – I’ve gained back almost all the weight I lost (and the hair too!). I still struggle with “looking overweight” because I still mostly fit into the clothes I had before, just with a little more shimmying to get into them. I still struggle with feeling ugly at times.

But things are vastly different. I’m not so focused on what my body looks like. I care more about how it feels.

I exercise more to have fun and to help with my mood swings than to lose weight. I care for my face with lotion and gentle cleanser instead of picking at it and scrubbing it raw with St.Ives on the daily to try to scrape away the imperfections.

I eat what I want but I try to be more balanced, less guilty. More whole meals, less endless snacking.

And when I look at myself in the mirror I just see a regular 30 year old woman. Someone who doesn’t have to have the fittest, strongest body in order to be loved. Someone who doesn’t have to be a model in order to be considered beautiful.

And I tell you what – more people remark on my beauty now than ever in my life. It’s finally shining through in my own unique way.

I’m at the point now where I realize, my body was never the reason why people did or didn’t like me (well maybe some people but that’s their own brokeness I guess). It’s my attitude, my intelligence, my aptitude, my caring heart, my unique outlook on life, and my openess that draws people to me and it’s negativity, fakery, and dishonesty that pushes them away.

Which is why I can finally say – my body, while it is gorgeous in it’s own awesome way – is the absolute least interesting thing about me.

There’s so much more in here to love and I’m glad I’ve finally learned how to share it.

Much Love,

MB

PS: My husband loooooooooves my curves πŸ™‚

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Mad as Hell Mental Health Rights Advocate. Likes margaritas, long walks on the beach, and JUSTICE.

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