CAMH One Brave Night for Mental Health™ (Friday April 6th, 2018 is a Canada-wide challenge to share one night to inspire hope for the one in five Canadians living with mental illness in any given year.
It’s my time to eat my own words. (pun intended, because words have no calories)
I’m stepping forward to share my story. It’s my truth that in all my writings, I never imagined I would see.
Natalie Proulx - Funeral Director -Bereavement Educator - Life Celebrant - School Nerd – Mom – the people loving, overly energetic foodie.
But my medical files says otherwise. Natalie Proulx
Body Image Dysmorphia (BDD), Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Anorexia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Dermatillomania
In my life I’ve had great support – nothing majorly traumatic. A good family. A crazy amount of great friends. I feel that if there was something suppressed in my mind, one of the 807ish therapy rooms I’ve sat in would have discovered it. I had a pretty tame case of sexual abuse as a child compared to what all too many children go through, and hid it like most children do, but I don’t feel that I carry that with me. I had highs and lows with my body in my teenage years.
One moment I would want an inappropriately aged low rise jean and cropped top outfit, then the next moment I would look at myself and think “what was I ever thinking to show my body like this – I didn’t have a right with my big legs and fat arms”. This would literally happen multiple times in a day. Highschool started my need for a “safety jacket”, the quick cover up for those moments when I loathed myself, and when that wasn’t enough, I decided it was easier to go grunge and attempt to convince myself that I loved sporting my xxl Roots sweatshirts.
Twenty years have passed since high school, and I can still name every person that I obsessed over, knowing they were thinner than me. I could even tell you where their lockers were, because I would compulsively watch them, studying them to see what they did and ate that kept them smaller than me. I remember my effed up ‘reality’ shattering when a guy that I had an interest in started dating someone heavier than me, after I had basically convinced that part of why we would never make it was my size. I loved food and hated sports so that wasn’t helping my personal cause.
In grade 11 came a thyroid problem that put on 17 pounds in the course of a couple of months, and with that stemmed many hours spent in the library researching the “best eating disorder for me”. Throwing up wasn’t an option, so I learned to not eat, or only eat in the presence of others – binging was easy. I learned the magic and cheapness of Epsom salts – the wretched tasting shot that would purge your body of whatever you ate, but could be bought cheaply and was never noticed because it was the creator of a lovely bath experience. By this time, I was off in post secondary, where everyone was gaining the freshman 15 I lost the freshman 20 – afraid to eat and gain that inevitable weight.
Through this time, I maintained the popularity level that I deemed necessary to survive. I thrived on new friends and their stories; it was a mission to connect with people so I could focus on them and not myself. I won awards, I appeared obnoxiously confident and was the friend to all. Behind all that though, was a need for control.
While not eating made me feel exhausted and weak , it gave me this God like sense of power; I was mentally invincible… To feel hunger was success; it still is to this day. It’s also the price I feel I need to pay after a day or two of binging. It’s so odd to be able to recognize that my feeling of being on top of the world is also what I use for my punishment. Did my keener brain understand this was not healthy? Of course. Did I care? No way. I was not losing that feeling.
Any shiny surface gained my attention; I would stop and scrutinize whatever I could, I was always hoping for a chance to catch myself looking thinner, that obviously was never there from only hours or even moments before. I most often walked away defeated, but sometimes – SOMETIMES I felt thin. It was that feeling of happy that I wanted so badly; a feeling that usually diminished within an hour or so after I caught myself at the right angle. I did, and still do have a love hate relationship with mirrors. Sometimes I can lose hours in front of them poking and prodding at myself, pulling back and sucking in, trying to find an angle that I feel less disgusting, and when I find that I try and approach people from that way… At least until something else in life distracts me from my own head.
I kept these issues private. This was my me time. I knew it would dampen the personality ridden happy go lucky self image that I was worked so hard to maintain. I’d constantly make jokes and start new “Life Style changes”, saying I was on a quest to achieve my birth weight. Only once I was called out by a fellow woman who was struggling, as she noticed how I cut up my food in such tiny pieces here and there, to make myself believe I was eating more than I was. She caught me. I laughed it off, said I was bored – and then I cried in the arrangement office. Guess that’s a perk of working in a funeral home, the frequent crying that comes with a hatred of your body never really goes noticed. Everyone around you is red eyed, and the tissues are plenty. No one questions if you suddenly need a moment to clear your head from the day to day.
Then, that moment happened - that moment of clarity when I thought “I can’t live like this. I can’t lose hours a day obsessing over my inadequacies, I need to get help”. I was getting ready to head to a class across campus and needed to go to the bathroom, but on my way I realized I just couldn’t because I didn’t want to have to see my thighs in those bright bathroom lights, not at that moment – because I had a presentation to give. I tossed my coffee in the garbage, clenched my girl bits and thought I would make it until when I got home where the bathroom was darker. There I wouldn’t have to put my feet on the ground on my tip toes to not see that dimple of cellulite that always showed on my upper right thigh when my legs flattened on the toilet seat. It was usually covered by a bruise, self created in a futile attempt to maybe, just maybe flatten it and make it disappear. I weighed less than 120 lbs at the time. I lost some points in that presentation for speaking too fast (because I REALLY had to pee, but at least I was in a head space that I was able to stand up there and speak. For that moment, I owned what owned me.
Today I weigh 121.3 lbs. Apparently, (from what people tell me) I weigh “more than I look”, but that doesn’t make me feel safer. In fact, as I wrote my college weight I was instantly sickened by this morning’s weigh in, and my mind was lost in what I meals I could avoid this week to beat that weight. I had clothing picked for today’s funeral, but I changed my mind. If I kept the outfit I had planned, I wouldn’t be able to breathe without dripping anxiety, let alone speak. It’s messed up. My brain should know better.
I have two little beautiful girls. The moment I found out about my first, I went to the Doctors in tears, telling her I needed some more medical intervention. Back I went to an eating disorder clinic, but this time with more of a one on one focus so I didn’t use it at a learning tool on how to do it “better” (those group sessions and self help videos were awful, we used to look at it as tips and tricks time). Instead, one on one, I hoped to learn how to ensure my strong and smart little future ladies never learned self body shaming from me, and never knew that their mom struggled in her own security. I wanted them to be brave and secure in their beauty. The world will be tough enough on them. I needed home to be their safe space. I left the appointment with a new medication or three, and different appointments after appointments for follow up therapeutic care.
Three months before the birth of my first child, like all moms I was researching cribs and all things baby, but on top of that I was connecting with seamstresses trying to create a “birthing outfit” so that I wouldn’t have be bare skinned under those bright lights. I basically was asking for them to make me a loose body suit with an escape hatch for my baby. One day a seamstress that I reached out to called me, crying, telling me to not worry – that she too had once felt like I felt, but she promised me that for the first time in my life birthing my baby would own more of my mind than my concern over my body. She was right. I wish I had not deleted all those messages out of shame, because I’d love to thank her for that. I ended my quest, trusting the words of a stranger who took the time to share her truths with me. I birthed shamelessly naked, without the weight of any clothes or any bad thoughts on my shoulders. I was way too occupied to worry about that… but once my baby latched, I checked out my belly and gave myself a timeline to when I had to return to “normal”. It’s scary to know that I had that thought in my mind BEFORE I even delivered my placenta. Before the mesh panties. Before my body even knew that it wasn’t pregnant anymore… My brain was already on how to rid myself of all signs that I had been pregnant.
The last 17 years have been filled with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT). I’ve been an in and out patient. I’ve had more pills than I can remember the names of but will never forget the one with the little happy face on it. I have filled out more forms about “how I feel” than I’d rather admit. I’ve had so much homework of “wear pants for at least six hours in public” or “go sleeveless and post a photo on social media” and “try and wear a bikini in Jamaica and post a photo” (surprising to myself, I actually did this thanks to some Ativan and Jamaican rum – but I stretched my arms to the sky pretending to be silly, but really just trying to appear longer). I still feel this exposure therapy only made things worse, garnering comments showing that people were noticing these changes. They weren’t freeing, they froze me and I felt like I could throw up. I could feel them measuring out the diameter of my arms and legs that were always hidden away under a skirt or sleeves. The nylons that I cling to on a daily basis to “tuck me in” were still under my jeans, and I felt they just added girth to my already “large” legs. I actually fear underwear because in group one day, when I was a self placed “in patient” my roomie pointed out that underwear put a tangible ring around your waist, which would draw notice to how wide one was. She was brilliant, and I was so happy she “saved me” from that unnecessary potentially embarrassing situation, not that I ever changed in front of anyone at that time. Friends. Boyfriends. Husband. I changed while holding my shirt or in my mouth, in a corner, not to appear like I was hiding, but just casually standing in the corner, you know, naturally with a towel or shirt in my mouth. I learned to change at a sonic speed – I can actually get fully dressed in the time it takes someone to go pee in the morning. Any intimacies I had in my life had been clothed or in the dark. I can’t even imagine wanting that to change, especially after having children. I want to embrace the mom body so much, because I understand its power and story. I just can’t. Maybe one day. I’m told that when I am older I will look back and wish I wore that bathing suit. I will feel anger and annoyance that I didn’t. Honestly, that is my hope. I hope that I can look back and see myself as okay… As more than someone with a big personality and always working mind with stellar nails and awesome shoes ;) I want to feel alright with myself. Not even beautiful. Just alright.
I want to wake up and not have to check for bruises on my wrists and collar bones, because that is where constantly check to see if I “feel fattER” in the morning and throughout the day. I’d save some money on concealer without them there. I’d like to not constantly have nail marks on my midsection because I constantly pull at what I feel like stomach fat, and no one can ever make me believe it’s just skin, even if I can see my ribs – I want to see more of them. I’d like to be in a place where I don’t get so anxious that I rip off my toe nails or pick at my ears, nose or gums until they bleed, and have wounds for months, because at least people can’t see that. I wish that with every breath I wasn’t reminded that over ten years ago I picked through my nasal septum out of body image stress alone. Now that there is nothing to damage there, I live with this unrealistic fear of my nose basically falling off, all because I couldn’t stop and just pull my shit together. I want to hug people and not need to reach up so they can hug an elongated version of me, never feeling the wideness of my arms under theirs. I want to bring my children to a water park or vacation without a boat load of medication, nervous vomiting and wearing what may as well be a parka, pretending to be afraid of the sun. I want to be as beautiful as my girls tell me I am. I want to shower with them and not hold my stomach in and worry about the angle I face my THREE and FIVE year old at. THEY DON’T CARE and here I am, stressing. My youngest, a couple of weeks ago, decided to use my bum as a drum and liked the way it shook. I almost died inside, and there she was, laughing away, thinking her mom was super cool with a shaking bum. I left the shower and cried. I want to be less messed up in my mind. I know better.
Will this happen? Well, I’ve lost of a lot of faith that it ever will over the years. I feel I’ve done everything. That’s why I took this drastic step of a photo shoot with Jennifer. I only threw up twice – before and after - and only ugly cried in front of the camera once. Though the experience was as comfortable as it could be, I spent it in goosebumps and sheer terror, while trying to make the best of it through joking around. My therapist, psychiatrist and doctor thought if I could do it, it would be “good for me”, and everyone knows I have mad medical doctor love – so I am willing to try just about any suggestion of people who are smarter and wiser than I am.
Funny enough, recently I was approached by a professional to do something similar to this story, but ended up being told that I was neither “skinny enough” or “fat enough” to be a participant. They needed people on the extremes so people can relate through a visual experience. That fueled my fire. That even though my file was thick, and I was told that I was “too bright for my own good” (that’s a thing?!?), my body was not allowed to have these issues. I was too average to be allowed to feel the way I felt. When I saw the photos in proof form, I didn't see anything different than I see in the mirror. I see exactly what I don't like about myself. That's a tough pill to swallow. I think I was really hoping that I could see myself in a new light, maybe in the eyes of how see other people, in a state of indifference about their bodies. I gave up comparing myself to others years ago - now I just self compare, I guess.
Eating disorders can fit anyone. One size does not fit all. Mental Health Disorders affect one in five of us, even those of us who help others with their mental health.
To all the people who lose years of their life, obsessing and missing out on life’s pleasures, who don’t look like they have issues. Who appear like life is put together. This is for you. Here goes nothing. Literally I’m wearing basically nothing. As I write this I’ve not even seen all the edited photos. I just agreed to put them out there. I hope that I can help at least one person realize that no person has it all together. God, I certainly don’t. I’ve done wonderful things in life, I’ve helped people. I’ve also done things I regret and things I’m ashamed of. I’m human. I’m also trained enough to know that our actions don’t define us. We are not one page of a book, we are the whole story. That if we work hard, we can get through anything. We aren’t supposed to carry mountains, we are supposed to climb them. This part of me doesn’t define who I am even though it controls me. It’s given me a need to be needed by people that I am almost embarrassed about, yet at the same time, it’s helped me be the strong, busy people person that I am. Do I have it worse than anyone else? Ha. Not even close. We all have our own journeys. We all have our own things going on. Do I worry about the internet trolls? Not really - they can't possibly be any tougher on me than I've already been. It is what it is, right?
Thanks for making it to the end of my wordiness. On Friday April 6th, or before, consider stepping forward and sharing your own journey. Let's work together to help end the stigma that surrounds mental health and help build a strong, braver and more accepting society together.
- Natalie Proulx