Bear with me as I open up publicly for the first time about MY STORY.
I Never EVER talk about it. I’ve NEVER shared it with some of my CLOSEST friends, but if I want people to gain Inspiration and to KNOW me (not just a girl who loves to wear pink and workout) then its time I just LEAP outside my comfort zone, get uncomfortable, and be vulnerable if it means that I will be able to touch just ONE life. It will be worth it. So here goes.
Growing up I was into soccer (played k-8 grade), I did ballet as a tiny tot but then got into dance and gymnastics in elementary school. High-school I ran cross country for 2 years and college I played intramural soccer all 4 years. So yes I am used to living an active life. I was active yes but I never thought twice about what I ate. As a kid, my late papa could tell you “That girl LOVED her sweets”. It was not until my sophomore year running coach did I even have an understanding of healthy food and how we use it to fuel our bodies. It was also around this time I started having digestive issues, went through testings and was labeled as having IBS. However I still didn’t really focus on my nutrition. But I did have a season in life when I was not so active, a season I was not so healthy, and a season I was so not comfortable in my own skin.
My Junior year of high-school it started. I stopped playing a sport and was not working out. I was more focused on working during the week after school and partying on the weekends. My food was less than nutritious and I was a huge social smoker on the weekends. I started to feel FLUFFY and had less energy. I didn’t really like where I was going. I dipped my toe in the pool of some unhealthy habits. I slowly began distancing myself from my relationships and friends. I started to research nutrition and food. I started to make some changes and started to work out again. I loved everything I was learning that was related to health and fitness. I started to remember some of the things my old running coach would teach us, and remembered how she trained and cared for her body.So I started to change. This was most of my senior year. I even took a nutrition class that year. Like I said I loved it.
But I went through some unhealthy stages during that time too. I knew lots of girls who were drinking slimfast so I bought some. OH DEAR GOD are they disgusting (not to mention not actually healthy). I then got hooked on DIET pills. Yup I admit it I was THAT girl. I loved them for a while. They work right? They curbed your appetite, they gave me energy, I could workout harder or longer. I was able to lose the FLUFF I acquired and felt good again. But after a while the NEGATIVE side of them started to hit. My heart would race at random times. Every now and then I got really dizzy. When I mixed smoking while having them in my system, being lightheaded was guaranteed. At first it was cool but quickly turned into some of the scariest times because I couldn’t control it. So one day I just decided ENOUGH and quit the pills to focus on my health the old fashion way. Healthy FOOD and Fitness. During my senior year I got in the best shape I had been in. Now my family will tell you I was never a fat kid except when I was a baby. Lord have mercy I was practically 9 pounds and covered in rolls. But through most of elementary, middle school and into freshman year of high-school I was stick straight with not a curve to my body. I also had no muscle.
SO anyway I was eating right, running and doing the infamous Billy Banks Tae Bo workouts- you know that ADVANCED VHS. I did every day and LOVED how It made me feel. I started really paying attention to food. I looked around at my family, and what I was learning in nutrition class about genetics being a huge player in how our bodies responded to food I vowed I would be different. SO I focused even more on it. During this time I was working 2 jobs and going to high-school full time. I increased my running (I was not on a team but I ran for fun because I loved it. I knew I was slimming down even more and felt great to see definition. I had started on a low-carb way of eating, I was 99lbs and healthy when I graduated high school ready for College.
So here we go off to a BIG change (I don’t do well with change). Being in another state, on my own for the first time, not really knowing anyone, making new friends, rooming with a stranger, learning your way around campus (although to be honest now its probably one of the smallest campus’ you will visit), and finding balance between grades and social life. I also was NOT a great student. I barely got into college based on my HORRENDOUS SAT scores. Seriously those things blow!
SO I started college, got along great with my roommate, made some friends, started to do really well in my classes and all was good for the first month or 2. Somewhere along the way things shifted. Suddenly my roommate and I were like oil and water. I started to distance myself from others. I felt very alone. I was rocking a 4.0, I was working out, I was being super health conscious of my food, but ultimately TOOOOOOO RESTRICTIVE. I became more and more restrictive in my eating. I shied away from social events. I felt more and more alone. But I figured that’s fine I didn’t come to school for a social life, I came for a degree so I focused super hard on my studies. Fast forward to the thanksgiving/Christmas holiday time. I don’t recall much but I remember being home in Rhode Island and as a family we went to see a Christmas dinner show. I can recall a photo I took standing next to my dad and thinking back I was THIN! My older brother had started to make comments about my weight but I ignored him.
I did my 3 week J-Term in January ( you take one tough course for 3 weeks straight) and then spring semester started. At this point my roommate and I didn’t talk. I knew nothing of her life and she had NO IDEA what was happening in mine. But it was hell. I started this class where we had to choose a research topic at the beginning of the semester and a final paper was due at the end. Mark my words that God had his hand in my selection but I randomly decided to do it on Anorexia. I had some close friends in high-school who suffered pretty bad from it. It intrigued me so I thought this wouldn’t be a boring topic to research, boy had I only known.
While this was going on I started to feel different. I was tired all the time. I was constantly freezing (yes I was in the Northeast but still I was ALWAYS cold). I found I had mini heart palpitations and shortness of breath climbing the stairs in one building to the third floor where I had at least 3 classes. I blamed it on the heat in that hallway. I wore an over sized winter coat and I never took it off in class. Not only was I freezing but the chairs were HARD PLASTIC and my tailbone was protruding so much it was incredibly painful to sit on it. The coat acted like a cushion. My hair started falling out more in the shower too.
So it was just before spring break and GOSH I couldn’t wait for a week break home away from everyone on campus. I had one FRIEND who CALLED me a SKELETONin the cafeteria in front of like 20 of our peers earlier that week and I was Mortified. I dug into my research and slowly started to list off symptoms of anorexia, and THEN I realized I had half of them. This is when I knew I had a problem. I wasn’t quite saying I was Anorexic but I knew I needed to make some changes. SO I said to myself I still eat 3 times a day I can’t be like them. I will just try and eat more. I didn’t own a scale but I knew I lost weight. All of my pants I took off without ever undoing a button or zipper. So I started to try and eat a sandwich at lunch 3 times a week. I tried to add one more thing to my dinner plate. I even had a little sorbet when others were getting ice cream (mind you I am also lactose intolerant). But it didn’t really work. Nothing really changed.
I went home for break and had let my old employer know to put me back on the schedule. I was a hostess at a family restaurant. We had to wear a uniform (khaki pants and navy sweatshirt or polo top). It struck me as really odd when the pants I had to wear fell completely off me. I knew they were big initially but now they were huge. I had to tie them super tight with a belt. Thank goodness the sweatshirt I had to wear was big to cover that up. But guess what, you can’t hide SICKNESS from others. My first day back was a nightmare. Wait staff were starring and talking about me behind my back. I had one bar tender come over and say to me “ignore them they don’t understand. I have been where you are before. It gets better, just do what you need to do to get there” and walk away. I honestly didn’t know what she really meant. But being there was now the last place I wanted to be. I felt like I no where was safe anymore. I couldn’t just be me and relax. No one asking questions, no one accusing me, no one commenting about my weight, no one to just sit and chill with and talk about normal every day things.
I was not like the girls I read about in my research. I did not starve myself or skip meals. At the time I didn’t realize even though I ate 3 times a day, what I was eating was not enough). I did not come from a broken home, an abusive childhood, I did not have some traumatic event that happened, I did not have so many of the other circumstances that ultimately led those I was reading about down a dark path to where the only thing they had “control” over was their body. Now I couldn’t wait to get away from my job, my family and back to campus into my own world. My older brother was really concerned so he started confronting me about my weight, but not in a loving way. I told him he had no idea what he was talking about. I had literally no where to turn. For the first time being HOME was no longer where I felt safe. I had no one to say “LOOK I know I have lost weight and I WAS NOT TRYING TO. I did not wake up and say okay today I am only going to eat this much, I am only going to eat this many calories”(well under 1000). I felt like I woke up one morning and realized something had happened.
Here is the thing MOST people DO NOT know about this illness. There is this twisted voice in your head. It seriously overtakes your mind and your thoughts and distorts things. You feel this sense of power and strength that you can resist eating certain foods and others cannot. It is not a big deal to be surrounded my chips, cookies, cakes, pizza and ice cream. The thought to eat it doesn’t even cross your mind, where as others are fighting to not eat a third piece. This voice tells you that you are UGLY, disgusting, FAT and so many other things and you start to believe it. You look in the mirror and see something FAR different than what others see.It’s a warped best friend but it’s the only one you have.
I returned to campus. I actually had two meetings with the Resident Director and my roommate. I decided to be the bigger person and move out. The catch was I had to room with a roommate, a stranger basically and it was midyear. I found this sweet girl name Sarah and she welcomed me in. The first night back I went to my small bible study group (it was me two close friends and our leader). She asked about our breaks. I expressed how miserable mine was. My leader asked me to stay after group for a few minutes so I did. She told me she understood exactly what I was going through, she had once been in my position and that I was not going to make things better on my own. In fact she was not allowing me to leave unless I agreed to go to counseling the next day with her. I had never seen a therapist, had no plans to but knew I needed something to change. So we showed up and made an appointment.
Long story short that therapist, while sweet, did not specialize in cases like my “Situation” but also did not feel comfortable with me staying on campus unless I got seen by a doctor. So I went to the local clinic for all the usual testing and waited for my results. The phone call from the doctor came On Tuesday April 1, 2003. Unfortunately it was not an April fools joke. This was happening, this was serious, and SHIT was about to get REAL.
She told me based on my numbers she was not comfortable with me being alone on campus. I had two choices. Get checked into a local hospital or one back home. I sat down on my bed shaking and I asked her “How do you recommend I explain all this to my mom?” Her only advise was just tell her, she will understand but you need to do it now. So I hung up the phone, I actually had to contact my best friend to find my moms work number and call her. When I tell you this was the most scared I have ever been, this was it. Scarier than nights I lay alone in my room with a racing heart, scarier than any other moment of weakness so far. I asked my mom to sit down wherever she was and just listen. I waited for her to get angry with me, but anger didn’t come. She only expressed love and explained this was why when I was home everyone tried to help. That night after work my mom and dad drove to Massachusetts, picked me and my suitcase up, drove to the clinic for my records and we headed home to Children’s Hospital.
Unfortunately I was too old to be admitted so we had to go to Rhode Island hospital. I laid for hours on a cot in the ER waiting to be seen. It was just about 1am when they finally found a room for me. I was greeted the next morning by a disgusting “breakfast “ (if u can call it food). Next came the nurses and some “Shrinks” who tried to tell me I had“ Anorexia“. It was the first time it had been directly said to me, it was the first time out of hundreds over the next 2 years I would be LABELED. I was released, and had an appointment with a treatment team at Mass General.
Let’s fast forward and say they wanted to admit me, but if I agreed to meet in the city once a week with a nutritionist for the remainder of the school year, they would let me return to campus and finish my semester. Then I would do an IN PATIENT stay as soon as school let out. I was home for the month of APRIL and I was so weak I was bed ridden. I slept hours and hours all day. I tried to eat as best I could. The only thing getting me through was GOD, (my faith grew so much during this time), prayer and the amazing family support. I wonder what would have happened had I stayed on campus if I could barely function at home. It was Easter Sunday and we were going to my families house. We planned to sit down and tell them everything that had happened and that was going to happen after the party. As soon as my Nana saw me the first thing she said was “My God she is so thin!” So after everyone else left we sat down and said what we was happening. My nana was so strong. She showed no ounce of weakness just pure strength and love. I remember one uncle bursting into tears. Growing up him and my aunt were like second parents to me, so he took it pretty hard.
You see I was MORTIFIED, EMBARRASSED, how could I, “miss health nut”, miss superstar strong willed, level headed, Jackie let this happen to me???????!!!!!!!! How could I do this to my family?
I begged my parents not to tell a soul I had been home from school for the whole month and WHY I was home. I did not know then that my parents needed the same support as I did if not more. They could not reach out for help at church, their bible study groups, best friends or even to their siblings. I did NOT want ANYONE to know. But once we let the cat out of the bag, some of my family broke down in tears. Fear, anger and sadness that this was happening to me, fear that I was going to die. We explained for that reason I was going to be getting treatment because I don’t WANT to die. So the next day I returned to campus like nothing happened. I had to meet in Boston once a week for a weigh in to prove I was not losing anymore weight. I finished freshman year, I worked my ass off to still pull off a 4.0!
My mom picked me up from campus and we loaded all my stuff into the car and headed home. We were waiting for the phone call that would let us know when I accepted into the in-patient treatment center. Not even 3 minutes down the road, we got the call.
I was scared SHITLESS. All I pictured was wearing a strait jacket, being force fed, no contact with the outside world and being stuck on a crazy Psych Unit! So many mixed emotions ran through me.
That night I called my best friend over and we talked for hours about God, faith, scripture, and how I felt about my next step. She asked me if I was going to die. I promised her I was going to work to stay alive. I was skin and bones. I was weak. I was no longer strong and bold. I lost who I had once been. If I wanted to live this was what I needed to do because it was about to get worse if I didn’t.
I was 68lbs.
I spent 3 weeks in the Waltham Deaconess Hospital in Massachusetts. While I was there I had vials of blood drawn daily. I had to take pills daily. We had a schedule of meals and snacks daily and MAN was that scary!!!!!! We HAD to eat all the food on our plates. We had group meetings, and group therapy sessions, we lounged in sweats and comfy clothes all day (except for our morning weigh ins), we shared our stories, we comforted each other, we created a special bond while we were there. We didn’t judge, we supported each other because finally we were with others who knewexactly how we felt, exactly what went through our minds, exactly how emotional it all was.
I remember after 2 weeks of “good behavior” I earned 4 free hours of campus out of the hospital. I was freaking excited. My parents came, and we went to the local mall. We sat down to have coffee and they had a treat. I was scared to even try a bite of anything because I knew I was on a food schedule when I returned. As much as I looked forward to leaving those walls for a few hours, being on the outside was the first time I felt this sense of FEAR. I felt safer inside. I didn’t know if I could handle the real world again.
Less than a month in treatment I had increased my weight enough to return home. As excited as I thought I was to leave that place and forget it ever existed, I was scared. It was the longest car ride of my life. Now I had to learn to eat on my own. I did not know if I could do this alone. I was more scared leaving the hospital than I was entering the program. Not realizing everything that I had overcome just to get to this point, I didn’t think I was mentally strong enough. Here we go again, a new mountain to conquer.
My whole life one of the verses my mom would share with me each time I had a new trial or obstacle to overcome was Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”
I had already overcome so much but really the hard part was just beginning.
I stuck to the exact same eating schedule I had been on while in the hospital I was petrified to veer off it. I had moments of complete helplessness. Food that I still could not eat, food that tasted awful (have you ever tried to eat a SMART ONES MUFFIN?), moments I wanted to throw it up, moments I had to throw something away out of frustration. But I slowly gained the strength, one meal at a time, one new food at a time. I regained my physical strength. I started to work part time that summer. I was reentering life again. I could do this. I met once a week with a therapist. I said what he wanted me to say, it was really a waste of time. He tried to get to the root of where it all started. I didn’t know where it started it just did. We eventually agreed it was the CHANGE of going off to college and the stress it brings. No other major event happened in my life, nothing life altering so I will always chalk it up to the transition to college and a major change.
Fast forward the next 2 years. I met weekly with a nutritionist at Mass General to talk and get weighed. I ended up being part of a Anorexia and Osteoporosis study. I had osteopenia an early stage before osteoporosis and I had progressed to Osteoporosis. It runs in the family so the damage I did had not helped. I was either given a treatment drug or a placebo. I found out at the end it was a placebo. I had to take mind tests each time I went in. I always scored the highest they had seen. I acted different from many of their patients, I was very with it, and had a big personality. I became close with a few of those nurses. I went once a month had to get over 2 dozen vials of blood drawn each time. I was so used to needles and the fact they often had time finding a vein it was no biggie, hell I could stick myself if they would let me. But here is what happened.
I learned to be me again. I had a renewed sense of confidence. I stopped caring what others thought of me and slowly I was no longer known as the sick girl. My energy was back and I played soccer again and returned to my daily workouts. They returned to what they started out as. Something I enjoyed. Something that gave me energy, no longer was I pushing so hard and punishing my body and then not refueling it. It didn’t happen overnight but I developed a very healthy relationship with food. I may eat really healthy now, but hell the things I choose to indulge with I once wouldn’t be caught dead TOUCHING!
I went from wanting to be skinny Minnie to trim and Strong.
Now some may look at me and think i’m thin. That’s okay. People will ALWAYS think and prejudge a book by their cover. However, I weigh more now than I ever have in my entire life and I am okay with it. I have put in the time in the gym, I have earned my sweat and my muscles. Sure my legs and arms are thicker. Sure I can no longer grip my hand all the way around them. (Yea that used to be how I measured if I was gaining weight. Crazy right. I was sick). I can admit that now because I know there are others out there right now fighting the same battle.
I did it with determination, with a supportive family and most importantly my heavenly father carrying me along the way. But others are not so lucky. They are where i thought I was with no one to turn to. No one to talk to. So I hope in reading this somewhere they know they are NOT ALONE.
Once I was 100% healthy I got back to what I love. Its where I fell in love with Beachbody fitness programs. In fact I was out of college and I needed something to do to stay active. So I turned to Turbojam. I gained strength, I started to see abs like real abs not just ribs that I thought were abs, and I gained some confidence.
I later discovered my soul-mate workoutInsanity and now I pay that forward as an Insanity Fitness Group Instructor and as a coach helping others learn to invest in their health and make a change for a healthier, happier life. I coach them on how to Fuel your body right so it functions properly and supports an active lifestyle. I help them find a program that works for their needs and allows them to feel good about themselves again. I am so lucky to have been given the gift of health that I cant take it for granted. I almost lost it once, so I honor it now.
If you are reading this and you have been through it and come out stronger, AMEN to you. If you are still stuck in that spot of helplessness, hopelessness and have no one to talk to, I beg of you to reach out, because I would love nothing more than to help, simply lending an ear and letting you express yourself.. If you know someone struggling, please share this with them. You are never alone. It is never to late.
If I have learned one thing through all of this, its OWN YOUR STORY.
It may scare you, and embarrass the hell out of you, but its part of you. I am not a Label. I was sick. It is part of MY story. I am STRONGER than it. It does not DEFINE who I am today.
I have challenged my coaches on my team to SHARE their story. The raw and scary part of their journey to who they are now. The good the bad and downright ugly. So I am owning my story for the first time today. If it touches just one life than the butterflies and nerves I have right now are all worth it.