Check out today’s episode of TMIweekly, wherein Mary discusses cute exercise clothes to inspire us all to work out.
I actually brought my gym gear to Vegas!! I’m looking forward to being motivated by the girls - last time we were here, at the Hard Rock for Randi’s bachelorette, Mary gave me a personal training session which almost killed me. It was awesome.
Here’s the thing about me & the gym: we have a love/hate relationship. The two biggest issues? 1) I get bored really, really easily, and 2) I find it hard to get motivated to actually go in.
I sure as hell like how I feel afterwards, though. When I was a girl, I played tennis (badly, but I loved it), rode horseback (not terribly, but never competition level), and was fairly serious about ballet (used to take four classes a week until I was in college). I literally - literally - had never set foot in a gym until I joined the Georgetown dance team my sophomore year. It just didn’t occur to me to work out - I was 108 pounds until my freshman year in college (context: I’m 130 now), NEVER watched what I ate and NEVER worked out formally. I was on the debate team and the student newspaper, not exactly the most physically rigorous activities (although yes, as I said, I danced), but the gym? No. It just wasn’t part of my life.
When I went away to college, I grew incredibly depressed. I was really lonely, I didn’t make any friends (which is not like me), and I had a lot of relationship issues with my boyfriend back home (cough cough, DAN). He was very naughty and tortured me and I spent much of that year on the phone hysterically sobbing and threatening to throw myself off my dorm balcony. Okay, I’m being a bit unfair. We were both young, overemotional and idiotic - especially me - and let’s just put it this way: my coping mechanisms were not fully developed.
I barely touched alcohol my freshman year, never smoked a cigarette and did no drugs. I went for the other after-school special route: an increasingly severe case of bulimia.
I’ve always turned to sugar to get me through stressful times, but I’d never had access to the breadth and depth of sugar offered to me at college. Unlimited sugar, practically 24 hours a day, for a girl who has brain chemistry which rewarded that particular chemical and who’d never, ever had to watch her weight or limit herself? It was bad. Very, very bad.
Wow, I didn’t even intend to get into this, but since I’m telling the story, I might as well finish it. Sooo … what happened then may or may not surprise you - probably not, if you follow this blog closely, as I’ve alluded to my past “battles” (ew, cliche) on occasion. I started binging and purging. It began slowly - once a week, twice a week, grab two plates of pasta, cereal, pizza, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, bags of M&Ms, etc etc. I can’t remember the exact foods (or I don’t want to), but I had no idea what was happening, I just knew that eating certain foods (sugars, starches) would make me feel better temporarily (uh, yeah, serotonin anyone?), then send me into a spiral. I’d feel awful - but not just because of the moderate weight gain (sure, I was used to being an effortless size 0, but that wasn’t the main issue) - I just felt awful, physically, health-wise. I felt completely out of control. Probably because I was.
Ironically, I fit ALL the cliches. At first, I didn’t think I had a problem. Sure, it occurred to me, as the vomiting escalated from once a week to twice, then to three times, and soon to once or twice or three times a day, that it might not be “ideal,” but I genuinely, GENUINELY believed I could stop at any point. And yes, I realize that “feeling out of control” and “believing I could stop” seem as if they’re mutually exclusive, but let me assure you, they are not.
I wish I could tell you that I got help right away, but I didn’t. I also wish I could tell you someone intervened that year, but they didn’t. I was lost and scared and although I’d read and been lectured to about eating disorders ad nauseam, I didn’t think they applied to me. Why, I have no fucking idea. Total denial, I guess.
Miserable, I left after my freshman year and worked on a political campaign, then on the Hill for my Congressman. The eating disorder came along for the ride. Yes, I used to go vomit in the bathrooms in the House of Representatives. Classy, I know. I was 19 and in over my head. I knew something wasn’t right - I was horrified with what I was doing, but at that point I didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t feel like I could stop. And ironically, because of the severe inflammation which occurs during bulimia, I looked like someone had taken one of those bicycle tire pumps and just blown me up. I didn’t weigh any more than I do now, but I sure as hell looked different, and not in a good way.
When I came back to school in August of 2001, I felt like I couldn’t relate to my peers, having been in the work world for a year, and I was desperately lonely again - I would fly to see my high school girlfriends at Stanford so often people joked I went there (I wish! I got rejected), but in the meantime, back at Georgetown, my “coping mechanism” was ordering Dominos, eating the entire pizza MYSELF and then chasing that with the frosting bites or whatever they’re called, then going to Vittles (our student run supermarket) and buying cans of frosting and devouring those. I’m serious. You wouldn’t believe what I could put away. I joke about eating three cupcakes now? That’s nothing.
So, keep in mind this had started when I went away to college in the fall of 1999, continued through my “gap” year, then my sophomore year, and finally, now my junior year. That’s almost four years at this point, and it was - there’s just no way to sugar-coat this (har) - really fucking bad. REALLY fucking bad.
I had made what I felt were several “cries for help,” and two weeks before my 21st birthday, I called my parents and told them something was seriously wrong. I love my parents, but they didn’t think an eating disorder was … well … a “real disease.” They sent me two pounds of chocolate for my birthday. They really, really didn’t understand it. I ate the entire thing in one sitting, threw it up, and cried for a week. I felt totally helpless. And yeah, hopeless.
My close friend and then-roommate CD moved into our on-campus apartment for the second semester junior year, and she soon started noticing my, ummm, rather “strange” habits. I made a concerted effort to hide my vomiting - going to empty bathrooms or running the shower so no one could hear, but it’s hard to cover that up forever. One day, after months of living together, she found vomit splattered on the toilet (sorry, it’s gross and graphic and I apologize but it’s central to the story), and asked me about it. I don’t know what possessed me to say this, but I told her the dog had thrown up. WHAT?!?!? IN THE TOILET?? WTF?!?! Looking back, I can see that I was clearly praying she would call me on it.
Thank god, she did. CD took one look at me and said in the kindest, but most firm way, words I’ll never forget: “Julia. You have a problem and you need to get professional help. You can’t do this on your own. You HAVE to go in. I will walk you there.”
I have to be honest with you. I’m shaking right now. Actually, literally, shaking. Just typing those words. I don’t know what would have happened had she not done that. I don’t know how much longer I would have gone on. Christ, by that point it had been ALMOST FOUR YEARS. I was clearly unwell. But she was the only person who said, “No, I’m taking you into the clinic.”
And that’s how I ended up at Georgetown’s medical center, finally - FINALLY - dealing with my raging bulimia.
Here’s the happy ending: they put me on a SSRI, although I can’t remember which one now - not prozac, not zoloft, but something - for three months. Three short months. And, I shit you not, I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t make it sound like magic but … it worked.
Now, don’t get me wrong: for two or three years afterwards, I had to be really, really, REALLY careful. I used a lot of techniques to make sure I didn’t trigger a relapse. When I lived with people, I had to explain the situation to them, and apologetically tell them that I just couldn’t have certain trigger foods in the fridge. To this day I don’t ever, EVER have food other than fruits or vegetables or canned soup or whatever in my house. I just can’t. It’s like an alcoholic with wine - you can never go back.
But here’s the best part, and this is why I find it perplexing people have been writing in about my weight and “body image issues.” Girls, I know from body image issues, and let me tell you: I don’t have them anymore. I’m not just saying this. I’m dead serious. I have never, EVER, in my adult life (after 18) been more content with my body than I am right now.
Now, notice I use the word “content,” not just “happy.” Content - a state of peaceful happiness. I’m finally peaceful about my body - but mainly because I feel like I’ve never been healthier. Yes, I occasionally eat cupcakes (I joke about them more often than I actually eat them), and yes, I could stand to go to the gym more often. But mainly, I eat healthy, and I get a ton of natural exercise (I probably walk 10 miles a week, easily). Can I do better? Of course I can. We all can.
But I have this thing under control, and … I’m okay. I really am.
I joke about it sometimes, because it feels like another lifetime - and because I believe that you can’t take life - or any of the bullshit you go through - too seriously. The minute you lose your sense of humor, you’ve lost yourself. Well. That’s how I feel, at least.
I didn’t intend to write about this today, and I’m pretty emotionally drained right now. But if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them. Please email me: Julia@NonSociety.com
Thanks for listening. I want to sign off with an “I love you, Julia” but is that weird? Actually, I don’t really care if anyone thinks that’s weird.
I love you,