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I have struggled with the way I looked throughout my life. In childhood, I was compared a lot to other girls my age and learned to do the same . I scrutinized my body and face in comparison with those around me leading to self defeating thoughts and ideas about myself. The schema I created with the ideas given to me led to internal struggles, isolation and a quest for the perfect body and face. This quest started at age 16 when I began exercising regularly at a gym, often being there two- three hours a day.
The thoughts created began to match my perception each time I looked in the mirror. I saw myself as hideous, my eyes somehow reflecting a different image depending on how centered I was. Most of the time, what looked back at me was a face and body that was hideous and undeserving of love.  I had begun to embody what was told to me in childhood.

A child’s developing nervous system does not know the difference between reality and the stories it is given. Strategies to cope such as isolation  and worry,  rooted in these stories become states. I became reclusive in my pre teen years and swinging in and out of this in my teen years.I wanted to interact with others and feel ok, but I was carrying around a body I was ashamed of, so often I would withdraw into myself and soothe myself with fantasies of being as beautiful as the supermodels I began to admire. I spent a lot of time at home crying about being cursed or at the gym where I could try to force a change in this body,then people would like me.

The stories I was working with and the state I was in began developing into traits.  I shifted from going out and acting completely uninhibited to closing myself off to the world, until I could fix what I saw in  the mirror. I was not consistent with my strategies, I shifted often, part of me wanting to rebel against these stories and going out as much as I could, acting like I didn’t have a care in the world, the other part wanting to stay home and hide.Unfortunately, the inability to find a balance, led to confusion and angst about what I looked like and how to accept myself.

In my twenties, I was given a benzodiazepine, which began to affect me negatively. I did not know what was affecting me, and neither did my doctors. I lost hair , developed stomach issues, feeling full all the time. I had never had a strong appetite, food often felt like something I needed to do to stay well, not something I really enjoyed, but now I had zero desire to eat.  The inability to enjoy food can also be traced to my early childhood when food was given as a means to show love. I just wasn’t accepting of it. Benzodiazepines took away any desire or need to eat. I began getting more and more anxious,with  strong adrenaline rushes. I was wired all of the time.  As the years passed, I began having more symptoms such as excessive sweating, heart racing, sun intolerance, heat intolerance, strong anxiety, excessive urination (more than usual), fainting, seizures, burning throughout my body, inability to go to the bathroom  and an inability to relax.

What had started as a trauma response in childhood became something more. I was being hurt by the medication I was taking.  Because I could not sit still and already had the coping mechanism of running (which I had started at age 16), I began running even more.  In my 30’s I would wake up at 4:30 am and run  up to 14 miles. By 7:00 I would be calmer , home and getting ready for work. The tremors that had started would continue shortly after the calm I felt on my way home.  People began to notice, how thin I was getting and how unwell I looked and acted.  They made comments about how skinny I was and how much ‘energy” I had and how I must be starving myself. The truth is, I wasn’t consciously choosing to starve myself, I just could not tolerate any food.  As rumors of anorexia spread, I was both happy to receive some kind of attention and upset about the gossip. I started reading about anorexia and the desire for some to just disappear. Since I didn’t have a good foundation for who I was ,and what I valued, these stories became mine as well to explain what was happening to my body.  I became whatever others told me I was, and at the time, I was hearing I was anorexic. It seemed to explain my obsessive running and lack of eating. I began to read more about anorexia nervosa and identified with the idea that I was starving for love. I was, I was suffering and no one really noticed or showed me any kind of emotional support, and no one close to me seemed to notice how wired, exhausted, and thin I was, I began to think that yes, maybe I was starving for love. Maybe, I was anorexic.

Sure, I guess I want to disappear. After all, no one sees or hears me anyway.

Running was my escape into calm, after my runs, I had a calm I could not achieve without this exercise. It began to take more and more, and I was exhausted. I assumed everyone must be as exhausted as I was. The stories created in childhood continued and the perception of my mirror image changed daily. I often saw myself as bigger than I was, and of course uglier than I really was. Even when I achieved a size zero, the distended belly  Distended bellies are a symptom of benzodiazepine withdrawal, of which I was suffering each day and did not know. You can read more about benzodiazepines and how they led me to chronic illness here.  I had led to more self defeating thoughts. I would never be good enough, and the cycle of  trauma putting me in loop exacerbated by the benzos and others pointing out what I must be suffering from, creating more stress, seemed to never end.

I began going more and more to doctors complaining of symptoms,  especially chest pain and received a list of diagnosis including graves disease and PMDD. Doctors told me I must take radioactive iodine to slow down a thyroid that was running three times the normal human amount.  They warned me that I could have a heart attack. No one had an explanation why I developed this thyroid issue, and how it was exacerbating my symptoms, while creating new ones, and I was not in a state to research myself. I was struggling and often too wired or tired to make a decision. So, at age 39, I did what doctors told me and had RAI for graves disease.  Today I understand autoimmune diseases as a trauma response.  My body was caught in a stress feedback loop brought on by trauma and physical stress of benzodiazepines, and in searching for the culprit of the inflammation began to attack itself.
In the upcoming months, I felt someone had taken my batteries out. I put my sneakers away and stopped running, slept more and became even more exhausted. I developed full body aches and was given gabapentin to stop it. I became more depressed and despondent and ate more. Though, I still ate less than others, I began to crave greatly sweets.

Doctors had not told me I would need thyroid replacement after this procedure and I was for months a car without an engine. My “anorexia” improved with killing my thyroid, but my self image remained the same.  I still had the same scripts, I just didn’t have the rush of adrenaline pushing me to change my body. Months later, I would start taking thyroid replacement, gain weight (and I was ok with it) and realize that the stories others were assuming didn’t fit my very fragile identity any longer.  Depression began to become extremely severe after this time and my hormones were something I could not regulate regardless of what I tried.

 

So, was I starving for love?  Yes, I was, but I wasn’t consciously starving myself to gain love, I was caught in a trauma loop that had made me physically ill and used  the attention I was receiving to justify the lack of care from the outside in my world and myself.  look back at this time and sometimes am  still angry at how barbaric this procedure was. RAI felt like someone had turned my lights off, I had no thyroid function left and would be dependent on a medication for the rest of my life.  Of course, I have had to accept this limitation found in medicine today and that doctors are doing what they have been taught. Today, I still exercise,and I still run, internationally rather than frantically. Every now and then,  I will look in the mirror and see a completely different version of myself  then  what I saw when very centered , but I have found a deep love and respect for this body that has been through an incredible amount of stress, and still working so well for me.  I take solace in my compassion and gratitude for it.

Stefanie