Self Love is Hard as Sh*t

Self Love is Hard as Sh*t

Last week, I shared a few photos on social media of my journey, in the hopes that by owning them, it wouldn’t be as cringe-inducing to see them re-posted by my personal trainer and my coach this week as success stories. I could only bring myself to share one of the many before/afters I’d taken for the 90-day challenge I won, and even sharing older befores to highlight my progress brought tears of humiliation and shame to my eyes. And guess what? “Owning it” didn’t work.

In one of my Insta posts, I acknowledged an important part of my struggle with self love is that I don’t think of my body as my own. It’s this thing that I’m saddled with, a thing that’s brought me so much struggle and self loathing over the years. Its ownership is spread amongst those who sought to (de)value the vessel over the contents within – the kids who teased me in school and called me thunder thighs; the oh-so-“helpful” mentors at my first internship in grad school that told me losing 15-20 pounds would really help my career take off because people like skinny, pretty girls best; the toxic ex-boyfriends who shaped my feelings of self-worth in my most formative stage – the ones who told me I was lucky they’d love me because no one else would. My body and, in many ways, my value are owned in various pieces by these people…and I admit I allow them more lasting power over me than I should.

I am now surrounded by people who love ME. Not how I look, not how much I weigh. They love my sarcasm, my flaws, my successes AND my failures, my intelligence, my heart…they love ME. They don’t care what size package ME comes in. They will love me no matter what, no matter how hard I think I am to love, no matter how apologetic I am for who I am. And for all of this, I am deeply, supremely grateful.

But there’s a very important person in this equation who does not love all of this. And that’s me. And that’s a problem.

Turns out, this whole “self love” thing is f#&king hard as sh*t.

So here’s the deal. I have struggled with my weight most of my life. Even when I was fairly active playing volleyball, I was still one of the bigger girls on the team (but looking back, I wasn’t even BIG…just built differently). And aside from my size, I have never really felt like I fit in anywhere. Coming from a divorced family, I felt like the odd man out on both sides of my family, except with my grandparents…especially my Grandma Vanderbos. She never just took my mom’s side when we argued, but she wouldn’t hesitate to tell me I was out of line if I got sassy. Which I did. A lot. I think my insecurities made me kind of a dick most of my life. I was constantly on the defense, feeling like I had to be as close to perfect as I could be, and then feeling like even that wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t a victim in any of this. But I was a hormonal girl without direction, and definitely viewed myself as a victim a lot. My insecurity made me anxious and irritable, and I would often turn to food for comfort. Food was a reward and a comfort in my family, which is pretty common. We won the volleyball game? ICE CREAM! We lost the volleyball game? ICE CREAM! Had a good week? PIZZA! Had a terrible week? PIZZA! I grew up emotionally attached to food. I’m still emotionally attached to food. As humans, it’s frankly impossible not to be as yummy foods can trigger the release of endorphins and other reward chemicals in the brain and body, making us feel better…temporarily.

In college, I only played recreational volleyball, so my activity level dropped…but my appetite did not. Introduce booze, living next door to a Taco Bell, eating cafeteria food…the Freshman 15 was more like a Freshman 30 for me. Drinking too much, sleeping in, eating crap food – aaaah, the college life. I’d try to make myself get active, tried to make myself go run or rollerblade or hit the campus weight room, but never even attempted to fix my diet.

I graduated with my MBA a good 30 pounds heavier than I started undergrad. Maybe more. I’d gain weight, lose a little by practically starving myself or depriving myself of anything that wasn’t marked “low fat” or “fat free”. I had no idea how much this was actually hurting me, how much sugar and chemicals go into these products to make them lower calorie, and how much that can screw up your metabolism.

So I yo-yoed for years, finally topping out at my heaviest weight of 230 pounds. I.WAS.MISERABLE.

I didn’t feel good, I hated myself, I was beyond depressed, I was humiliated to exist in that skin. Between all the pounds, I was building a good career for myself. I was making friends. I was human-ing pretty well…but none of that mattered, because THAT is what I looked like.

I hit rock bottom at that weight and decided to make some changes. I wish I could say they were lasting changes, but they weren’t. I never got back up over 200 pounds again, but I’ve never maintained an “ideal” weight for more than a month or two before regaining a bunch.

But guess what else I’ve done? I’ve run 2 full marathons, completed 2 half Ironman-distance races, and completed countless shorter runs and tris. I’ve continued to be successful in my career. I’ve overcome a lot of anxiety and depression to do these things, and yet I struggle to be proud of those accomplishments. That’s not a woe-is-me kind of statement…it’s simply the hard truth of what I struggle with, of what so many other people struggle with. It impacts every bit of my life, and keeps me from reaching my true potential – because many times, I don’t see that any potential is even there to reach for.

My husband tells me all the time that I need to learn to take a compliment. Say thank you. Accept it, don’t fight it. BUT THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE YOU, NICE PERSON WHO COMPLIMENTED ME, ARE WRONG. I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM! I CAN’T LET YOU BE FOOLED BECAUSE DECEPTION IS WRONG!

So when someone compliments me, I go full awkward and start telling them how and why they are wrong, or discounting their compliment by attributing it to an outside force…something, anything to keep from making myself face something positive someone else sees in me. Because I don’t see it. Because it cannot possibly be true.

This deep-seated insecurity is at the heart of my depression and anxiety, and I know in order to gain better control over these things, I need to address that underlying insecurity. Which is why this whole attempt at self love and all the garbage that comes with it has become so important. Because it’s really not garbage. It’s actually pretty important, but I suck at it, so it’s way more fun to make fun of it and avoid it than to face it and address it.

I’ve watched the “Embrace” documentary (and with some awesome girlfriends who share a lot of my issues in their own lives) – couldn’t embrace sh*t. I read inspirational posts from friends and role models – they haven’t inspired sh*t (other than sarcasm).

So where do I go from here? Definitely back to the therapist’s office. Probably back to being awkward. But maybe, hopefully, FORWARD to a new way to thinking about life and my place in it. Because when you struggle to find your value outside of your less-than-perfect physical self, and can find a million flaws in your totally bizarro emotional and mental self, it’s really hard to see value in existing in this world. That’s not a panic alarm – I’m fine, I’m not going anywhere, you’re all stuck with me – but it’s the easiest way to explain WHY fixing this self perception is so important.

When you spend each day feeling like a burden to those around you, when you question if you suck at everything, when you wonder how much better the world might be if you weren’t in it…it’s really easy to understand why depression and anxiety lead to suicide. And I have days where these feelings are so overwhelming that I have wished I could just stop existing, or that I had never existed (that being the ideal – then my lack of existing causes no pain because I never existed to begin with). But luckily, I have always been able to recognize these downturns and find a way to deal with them. Sometimes it’s calling my sister or mom, sometimes it’s sobbing alone on the kitchen floor until I just get it all out, sometimes it’s seeing the therapist sooner, sometimes it’s just knowing if anything DID happen to me, a lot of people would be really sad and I can’t be the cause of that…I guess being a people pleaser can be a bit of a life saver at times.

Luckily, it’s been a little bit since I’ve REALLY struggled to this kind of depth…but I know if I can’t fix the root of the problem, I will see those dark days again. I feel like I know myself well enough to know I’ll survive them, but I’d rather not test those limits. So it’s more important to me now than ever to not just fix myself, but to appreciate myself. I’m not even sure I need to go as far as to truly love myself, because frankly that feels impossible, but I absolutely need to accept myself.

I’m not totally sure how to get there. And I know I’ll do it in my own weird way, full of sarcasm and awkwardness. And I will share my breakthroughs, setbacks, motivations, successes and failures along the way.

So let’s start with a success. Here’s one of the before/after photos I wouldn’t let Josh share from the start and end of the 90-day challenge that I won. I wouldn’t let him share it because I’m embarrassed by how round my face and belly were, and I didn’t even realize how much weight I had gained. I wouldn’t let him share it because I make awkward faces in photos and I look dumb in both. I wouldn’t let him share it because I don’t feel like my after really looks like I lost 12 pounds, 2% body fat and over 11 inches…I felt I should look stronger, leaner, better…ugh, that belly, those bat wings, those thighs. But you know what? I worked really f&#king hard to lose all of that. I am still working really f&#king hard to keep making progress. I am literally working my ass off to improve and prepare for the biggest challenge of my life, and dammit, I should be proud of every success along the way. (I’m saying this but I don’t feel all that proud…but saying I SHOULD be is a step in the right direction…right? Right. We’re going with right. Ok. Stop delaying. Post the stupid picture. It’s just a picture. Post it. Do it. Ok…here goes…)

OKAY NOW DISTRACT EVERYONE WITH SOMETHING FUNNY!!!!!!!

SO yeah. It’s gonna be a long, bumpy road. A winding, bramble-covered path. Maybe even a cobwebby forest of horror at some points. And there’s not some magical unicorn-filled meadow of glitter puffs waiting on the other side. But there is a more content, easier-to-navigate path to continue exploring, hopefully without so many spiders, so let’s get to that part.

One Reply to “Self Love is Hard as Sh*t”

  1. Yes to it all but especially these words: “When you spend each day feeling like a burden to those around you, when you question if you suck at everything, when you wonder how much better the world might be if you weren’t in it…it’s really easy to understand why depression and anxiety lead to suicide. ” Those words are so at the heart of what I feel sometimes. Thank you for writing this!

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