RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

When you’re inundated with body shame March 31, 2017

no wrong way

Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.

These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.

Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.

Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index.  While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic women

There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic Men

Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”

So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.

I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

 

 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

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When you forgive your bullies October 17, 2016

“Forgive and Forget:” we’ve all heard this idiomatic phrase. Perhaps we’ve even uttered it to ourselves when faced with someone who has wronged us, or offered it as a polite consolation to others. But can one truly forgive AND forget? And do we even want to forgive and forget? I was faced with this very question during Daniel’s—my pastor–sermon this weekend.

 

In Isaiah 43:25, it is written, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Many people take this as the basis for “Forgive and Forget.” After all, if the Lord of all creation, says He wipes out our sins and forgets they ever happened, who are we to hold a grudge against someone who has wronged us? Only here’s the thing, such a simplistic approach that verse completely disregard’s God’s omnipotence—He knows all that has happened, is happening, and will happen…with that knowledge, how would He be able to just “forget” sin? When it states, “remembers your sins no more,” that doesn’t mean He’s choosing to forgive and forget—He’s choosing to forgive us of our sins as a means to restore our relationship with Him; choosing not to hold our sin against us anymore. He wants to separate us from our sins so that they can no longer ensnare us—keeping us from a relationship with him. Furthermore, He wants us to extend His level of forgiveness to those we encounter. When we think about forgiveness, we must no longer think of forgetting, but of restoration.

 

With that in mind, I revisited a prompt I learned when training for the Body Project at the NEDA conference last month: “Please write a letter to someone in your life who pressured you to conform to the appearance ideal. Please tell them how this affected you and indicate how you would respond now, in light of what you have learned.” I knew immediately who I needed to forgive and restore; my bullies. I hold an inordinate amount of resentment towards these individuals—many of whom I haven’t seen in at least ten years, and none of whom deserve to have control over me anymore. This summer, many people asked me if I would be attending my ten-year high school reunion. My answer was always the same, “No one at Lakota liked me when I was there. Why would they like me ten years later?” Clearly I’m a master at forgive and restore. I had neither forgiven nor restored. In fact, any time my school’s name is mentioned, a feeling of intense sadness and indignation invades my heart. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed that that is my reaction. In an effort to forgive and restore, I’ve written an open letter of forgiveness to my former bullies.

 

Dear Bullies,

I forgive you. That’s right; I forgive you. Right now you’re probably wondering why I am forgiving you all for being horrible people, for giving me ingenious nicknames like “cow” and “whale,” for making a party game out of calling my house, for making me eat lunch alone for all those years, and for the myriad other malfeasances you committed—not just against me—but to so many others. You may be pondering why “Rumpke Recycling” or “Dairy Queen” is forgiving you and is grateful for the abuse you inflicted. While many of you are likely still questioning who I even am; as you’ve likely forgotten—or chose to ignore—your past transgressions. Your past behavior—as malicious as it was, and may, very well, still be—actually made me stronger. Though your treatment of me plunged me into a seemingly inescapable pit of depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders…it allowed me to seek and develop the very tools I needed to escape.

 

After being subjected to your harangue and torment, I grew to believe that I deserved to be treated in an unfavorably and destructive manner. I learned to hurt myself before others could seize the opportunity. I believed—albeit falsely—that hurting myself before others inevitably would, would make the pain more tolerable. However, the only result of that attempt at self-preservation was self-destruction in the form of twenty years of eating disordered hell, self-harm, and isolation. In gong through that hell, however, I learned of the inherent worth given to me by God and used your torment as the very foundation upon which I built my life and career.

 

In seeking refuge from the effects of your degradation, I grain invaluable knowledge and tools. If it weren’t for your wrongdoings, I may never have learned how strong, determined, and loved I could be. I’ve discovered that I’m imperfect and that what makes me worthy of love—because everyone is imperfect and we’re all deserving of love. I have come to disregard the negative, hurtful comments of others, while not continuing my negative attitude towards myself either. Asking for help, I’ve learned, is a necessary aspect of a healthy life—not a sign of weakness. Gone are the days of hurting myself before you could hurt me. Instead, I’ve constructed a support network of individuals who genuinely care for me and reinforce my commitment to recovery.

 

As a result of my efforts in recovery, I’ve acquired a job I adore and which also makes great use of my life experiences, education, and empathy. Everyday I have the privilege of engaging with teenage patients in treatment for eating disorders and share what I’ve learned from your many injustices. Likewise, these incredible souls teach me. Together we are overcoming and learning to love our authentic, raw, vulnerable selves.

 

So while you may have attempted to subjugate my life and though I may have missed twenty years of my life to an eating disorder, I stand here today as living proof. Proof that self-care is essential—regardless the opinions of others. Proof that one can rise from their past—from your tragedy, I have triumphed. Although it was painful at the time and was painful to remember, your bullying set me up to be the person I am today. And today, today I am improving. Know that you are forgiven.

 

  Gratefully,

Rhea

jenni-and-rachel

When you gain recovery, you get to meet people who have impacted your life from afar, and who helped you through their books, speeches, and living their own recovery. I was so incredibly humbled to meet Jenni Schaefer a few weeks ago! My goal is to shine as bright a light as she has. 

 

Colossians 3:12-15

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

 

When you decide to celebrate with kindness/100th Post November 11, 2014

Normally, I do not advertise my random acts of kindness…as I feel that is a little narcissistic to go around bragging about how I have helped people, and I wish for my acts of kindness to mirror this scripture, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

However, with today being the FIFTH anniversary of my decision to begin working on recovery, I’m actually going to reveal some of my acts of kindness…because that is how I chose to honor the day. To celebrate five years since I asked for help in recovering from my eating disorder, I decided to do five random acts of kindness.

I began the day by writing five letters in cards.

cards

The very first card I wrote to the intake eating disorders coordinator at the Lindner Center of Hope. He was the very first medical professional to diagnose me with an eating disorder (most had written me off due to my size) and helped me find my current therapist when we discovered my insurance wouldn’t pay for treatment at Lindner. I also purchased some beautiful flowers to deliver to the clients in the eating disorders program to remind them of the beauty that exists within and around them. The receptionist at the front desk looked a little confused when I dropped off a bouquet of white roses to a man…at a mental health treatment facility. Thankfully, she took the flowers, and said she would let him know that she had them at her desk.

flowersLindner

 

Two cards were to be placed in the eating disorder/self-help section of my local bookstores. I carefully placed the cards between books I have found especially helpful in my recovery (Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer and Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher [some people do find this book very triggering, however, so proceed with caution])  in hopes that they would be found by the people who needed them.

bookcardBookstore

 

The last two cards were a little bit harder to figure out…inside of each I wrote:

card

At my favorite coffee house this morning, after paying for a stranger’s latte, I handed her the first card. She seemed a bit alarmed, at first, that a complete stranger would pay for her coffee, and even tried to scan her phone after I had already paid for her. However, she seemed to figure it out once I handed her the card. On my way out of the door, she called after me, “Thanks for my coffee. You made my morning. It’s been a rough day and it isn’t even 9 o’clock.”

The second card, in which I had placed $5, was left in the bathroom of one of my favorite restaurants because I didn’t have the courage to hand it to an actual person. There’s something completely terrifying to me in handing a card to a stranger; let alone accepting one.

When I came back from the bathroom–from completing my fifth random act of kindness–I noticed a Korean war veteran and his wife eating dinner. Being the granddaughter of a Korean war veteran, I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who served in that war (especially since they might have had the opportunity to meet my grandfather who died six months before I was born). When the waiter dropped off my check to my sister and me, I quietly asked for his check, paid and left. I can only hope this man knows how much I truly appreciate his service.

So, what ended up being five random acts of kindness in honor of my five year anniversary of asking for help, turned into six…and challenged me to actually say something nice about myself on a public platform…made me realize how much I want recovery. I’ve been on this path for five years and cannot wait until I get to “full recovery”. Recovery is REAL! Recovery is POSSIBLE!

 

 

Matthew 25:35-40

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

 

An open letter to the nurse at my GP January 15, 2013

Dear nurse with the curly red hair,

I apologize for addressing the letter this way, but I have never asked your name. I intend to do that at my next appointment as it is common politeness to know the names of those around you. Therefore, until I learn your name, I will refer to you as the curly red-headed nurse as you are the only red-head in the office.

First off, I would like to thank you for being you. You are the first nurse I have ever had that understands EDs. When I was embarrassed to tell my Doctor I had been diagnosed with an ED by the Lindner Center of HOPE and my therapist, you told me that you understand what I am going through, and that I should feel safe to address my medical concerns with you as a nurse. When I told you that the doctor refused to believe that I was sick—diagnosing me with an adjustment disorder believing that I was “going through a phase in my life that I couldn’t handle”– because I lied to him about my behaviors, you encouraged me to be honest with him so that I can get the medical tests necessary for living a healthy life. When I started tearing up in the office, you comforted me by telling me that there is nothing you haven’t heard as a nurse and that you’re proud of me for seeking the help that I need. Then, just like the last day of summer before school starting, you were gone. That appointment, in 2012, my doctor finally listened to me. I was honest about my behaviors, but those same behaviors also made me feel ashamed. It was so easy to talk to you about my concerns, but the doctor, in his crocs and khakis, scared me half-to-death. I felt like he was judging me with every behavior revealed. At the end of my appointment, he changed my diagnosis from adjustment disorder to ED. I even had the nerve to have him write in my chart not to allow the nurses to tell me my weight; which was quite an impulsive decision, but one that I was ultimately proud of. I was so appreciative that you listened to me, gave me the confidence to speak to Dr. Khaki Crocs about my ED, and spoke to me with genuine care.

When I came back last November for chest pains, you lead me down the hall of pictures to the SCALE. I tried to stop and look at each picture of Dr. Khaki Crocs climbing this mountain or SCUBA diving to this coral reef or his son smiling in his Air Force uniform next to some shiny aircraft…anything to keep the scale from coming. You knew what I was doing; they must have taught you the art of patient stalling in nursing school. When we got to the scale you asked me if I wanted to get on forwards or backwards. That little bully voice in my said told me to get on forwards so I could watch you slide the little black weights across the slick numbers. You told me that forwards was fine, but that I had to close my eyes. You, again, knew exactly what I was going to do. When I peeked through my heavily mascara-ed eyes, I saw you covering the numbers with my chart. As mad I was that I couldn’t see the numbers, I was thankful that you had not let me see them…it would only allow ED to continue in my life.

When Dr. Khaki Crocs decided that I needed an EKG right then, I panicked. I had no idea what an EKG entailed. However, when he told me that you would be performing the EKG, I was instantly reassured. I knew that you would explain the process to me and understand my concerns. As you placed each electrode on my chest and ankle (PS…I still don’t understand why it had to go on my ankle, but whatever) I kept thinking how naked I was in front of a complete stranger. I don’t like seeing my own body, let alone letting someone else see. When I am nervous I stop breathing and get really quite; something you picked up on straight away. While connecting the electrodes and working on the machine, you talked to me. You asked me how therapy was going. You asked if I liked to read, and, when I said yes, you talked to me about “Life without Ed”. Having read that book, I talked to you about how fond I am of the authors Jenni Scheafer and Thom Rutledge. You spoke about how much that book has defined your life, and of your dream of hearing them speak in Cincinnati. Then I told you about my blog, and how ecstatic I was when Thom actually read and commented on it! Before I knew it, the once awkward test had become totally relaxed. When the test was over, and I learned my heart was beating normally, I was thankful that you had been there to calm me.

I had to go back right before my 25 birthday this January for a routine office visit. I hoped you would be working, because sometimes you’re not there when I go. I positioned myself in the waiting room so that I could see what nurses came to the door to retrieve patients. When I saw your red head pop out of the door I was relieved. When you came to get me, I knew the scale was next. I wasn’t scared this time, though, and didn’t stop to analyze each picture of Dr. Khaki Crocs cross country skiing or diving in the Bahamas or riding a bike up a mountain path . I went straight to the scale. When you noticed I got on facing forwards, you made me laugh when you said, with fake exasperation, “Look at the ceiling.” I wasn’t even tempted to peek that time because I already knew you had put the chart over the numbers. Then you took me back to the exam room. As I heaved myself onto the table (as the table is very tall and I am very short), something creaked. I, in an effort to lessen the embarrassment by making a joke, decided to say that I broke the office. That was when you pointed out that I wasn’t being gentle with myself. I had never thought of it that way before. I had always made jokes at my own expense to protect by self from threats from others I thought to be imminent, but I was really just tearing down my self-worth. I appreciate you for planting that thought in my head, because I do need to be kinder to myself. You then asked me how therapy was going. When I told you I hadn’t purged in two days you shared in my joy of not engaging in behaviors…genuine joy, not “I’m the nurse and I am paid to be here” joy. As I ran into you on my way out of the office, you quietly said, “Take care of yourself” as I walked back to the waiting room. Thank you.

It is not often that you get a nurse with compassion, empathy or understanding. I got all three when you pulled my chart. I also got the bonus of your understanding of EDs. But, most of all, I would like to thank you for kindheartedness. You always know what to say and how to make me think. I appreciate all that you are.

Sincerely,

Rhea