The (Ongoing and Ever-Evolving) Solutions to My Past Struggles with Depression & Body Image Issues

The (Ongoing and Ever-Evolving) Solutions to My Past Struggles with Depression & Body Image Issues

If you’re just tuning in to this series, first check out the INTRO, PART 1 & PART 2 before reading this post. Next week will be the final post, where I’ll talk more about my most recent depressive episode last year. That being said, when it’s over, if you have questions or there are topics I didn’t cover, please feel free to send them my way. I’m not a doctor or a mental health expert, but I’m happy to share more about my personal experiences.

So by now we’ve established that my emotional and mental state was a flaming dumpster fire. As I neared college graduation, that’s when a shift started to take place. It was no one thing, but I slowly started to make lots of changes that ultimately resulted in me getting back to feeling like my old self.

I realized that my issues were affecting those around me and I was going to lose my friends.

Throughout most of college I was always telling myself, “Tomorrow will be a fresh start,” “Next week I’ll snap out of my funk,” “Next semester will be my semester”—but I’d run out of tomorrows. There wasn’t going to be another semester. We were leaving our home together in Chapel Hill and moving to different parts of the country. I asked myself, “Would I want to remain friends with me?” and the answer was a wake-up call. No, I would not.

Doing it for someone other than myself was an important catalyst for change because I didn’t like myself very much at the time. Why would I want to better my life for my own benefit? I didn’t fully believe I was deserving of something better. When I accepted that my issues were affecting those around me, that’s when I was finally ready and willing to change.

I started talking about it.

I mentioned this in the first post as well, but I can’t overstate the importance of communicating. When you hold your struggles to yourself in secrecy and darkness, they fester and poison you from the inside out. But when you bring your demons out into the light, they don’t seem quite as scary. I started slowly being more vocal about my experiences with friends and family, and the more I opened up, the easier it got to talk about these things and they more manageable they became.

When I started talking more openly, I realized a lot of people had gone through something similar or known someone who had. I had felt so isolated all those years in college and so painfully different from everyone around me, when really that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Had I known there were so many others who could relate to what I was feeling, maybe I would have started talking about it sooner and it wouldn’t have gotten so bad.

When it came to food, I stopped trying to control everything—which ironically helped me regain control.

I don’t want to downplay the difficulty of healing an unhealthy relationship with food because I know for a lot of people, that wound never fully heals. I can say in full honestly though that for me today at age 30, it’s completely in the rearview mirror and has been for years. I enjoy healthy foods but I don’t feel a single twinge of guilt when I indulge in the not-so-healthy stuff. I do really love the whole experience of cooking, but thoughts of food don’t consume my mind by any means.

Being that obsessed with what I was eating in college was EXHAUSTING. That’s a big reason why you’ll never see me track calories or macros and also why I don’t put nutritional information on the recipes I share on this blog. I burnt myself out! I just don’t care about that shit anymore! Ingredients matter to me—the rest doesn’t. And I don’t mean to be harsh because we’re all different. Tracking those things can be beneficial for some people and if it works for you, I’m genuinely happy you’ve found your thing. For me personally, it takes all the joy and fun out of food.

That feeling of burnout was a big reason I was able to finally unshackle myself from the restricting-binging cycle. I just couldn’t live like that anymore and it ties back to that fear of losing my friends. I was sick of missing out on fun times with them and I wanted my social life back. Socializing and eating are so deeply intertwined that I knew I couldn’t regain the former without healing my habits with the latter.

The first time I was able to eat at a restaurant with my friends without binging was the big pivoting moment for me.

Going out to eat—something that should be a fun, enjoyable social experience—was mental torture for me in college. I’d reluctantly go, swearing to myself that I’d just order a salad and wouldn’t overeat. But my mind would start racing as soon as I’d open the menu (I’m just using random names FYI). Look at the salad section. Get the garden salad. What about the pastas. No don’t even look at that section! I could order the pasta and then only eat half and then that’d be ok if I don’t eat the leftovers. What if I order the salad and the pasta and eat the salad first so that I won’t be as hungry when I get to the pasta? I wonder what Mary is going to order. If she orders something unhealthy, then it’s ok for me to. Then the waitress would bring over the bread bowl. Don’t take a piece of bread. Well Beth just took a piece of bread. Ok take a piece of bread but only eat half.

I couldn’t even hear the conversation around me or enjoy anyone’s company because I was in such a panic over the whole thing. I’d inevitably cave under the ridiculous pressure I was putting on myself to eat “perfectly” and end up eating the entire bread bowl and getting a heavy, unhealthy entree and eating way passed the point of satiation until I felt sick and guilty.

The summer after graduation, I told myself that nothing would change unless I changed my behavior and thinking. So I asked myself how I could set myself up for success going out to a restaurant. I knew that once a dish was put in front of me, I’d eat it till completion even if it made me sick. So instead of trying to fight that tendency, I set a rule that I’d only order something off the menu that I could eat in its entirety without feeling guilty or over-full. It wasn’t easy that first time—I had a mini panic attack right before saying my order out loud to the waitress—but I got a summer salad with shrimp and nothing else, licked the plate clean, and felt satisfied but not stuffed. I was elated and so proud of myself. It *was* possible to go out to eat without binging!

Each time I went out to eat with friends, it got easier and easier to do the whole moderation thing. Order something healthy (but not restrictive), enjoy the meal without overdoing it, have a couple drinks, feel great afterwards. In fact, I started actually looking forward to group meals for the first time in years! Some of my fondest memories from that summer and following fall involve going out to boozy brunches and dinners with my college girlfriends living in Manhattan.

For the first few months, I did need to stick to that formula of finding something on the menu light enough that I could eat it in its entirety, but eventually I got to the point where I could order anything I liked and be fine with it. I learned to listen to my body, and even if the portion sizes were massive, I wouldn’t stress because I knew I’d just stop when I was full.

The gradual release of control was happening outside of restaurants, too. I stopped planning out my day’s meals ahead of time and trying to micromanage everything I put in my mouth. When I did that, I eliminated that feeling of failure I’d have when straying from the plan. Instead of violently oscillating between extremes of binging and restriction, I was finding peace in moderation. The more I stopped trying to control everything, the more control I ended up gaining. 

I became introspective.

In and after college, I felt a little directionless with my life, changing majors every five seconds and having absolutely no idea what career I wanted to pursue. I started questioning everything—what are my interests? What really makes me happy? Who even am I?! A big part of accepting that I had a problem and committing to getting a handle on it was to get to know myself better.

What just triggered that action? Why am I feeling this way? What would make me feel better?

I started looking inward and trying to understand the “why”s behind my actions, an ongoing project that will continue until my deathbed. In the years following college, this growing self-awareness helped me recognize when I was slipping back into old habits. (Clearly I’m not a pro seeing as I spent most of 2017 in a fog of depression, but we’ll get to that in next week’s post!)

I stopped taking birth control pills.

Once I accepted that my problems were being caused by something inside me—not the world around me—and I was ready to work on myself, I started researching anything I could find about depression online. Reading blogs and forums about other people’s similar experiences was comforting and motivating. In one particular thread, a girl wrote about how her depression was linked to taking birth control pills. There were HUNDREDS of comments in reply with other girls echoing her experience. I was shocked!

I had been on and off birth control pills from age 16 up to that point (22). At first because I wanted bigger boobs and clear skin in high school (eye roll) and then I’d go on it whenever I was in a relationship. After reading that thread, I went off the pill the next day. No exaggeration, within DAYS—maybe a week tops—I felt more clearheaded and rational. Now, was the placebo effect in play here? Did my expectations exaggerate my perceived results? Probably to an extent. But the number of other girls I’ve talked to in real life and online who have said that they were emotional wrecks while on the pill can’t be a coincidence.  

I want to be clear that being on birth control didn’t cause my problems, but I think it made it more difficult for me to manage my problems because my moods were so all over the place.

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The positive changes snowballed. I was out of isolation and spending time with friends; I was getting to know myself and love myself again; and embracing moderation was becoming easier and easier. Life wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but I was able to deal with hardships in an emotionally healthy way.

Before I end this post, I want to point out that, yes, I was able to turn things around without taking antidepressant medication, but I’m by no means suggesting that it can’t be beneficial or even life-saving. The bottom line is that everyone is different and you should talk with a professional about the best solution for you, should you be experiencing similar issues.

Last post of this series coming your way next week. Enjoy your weekend!

xo Nicole

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Comments

  1. I’ve heard a lot of people say “oh I’ve gotten off birth control…” but they never follow up with what they do instead. What do you do and how do you have confidence that it’s as effective as bc?

    • The reason I didn’t elaborate is because I don’t want to exactly encourage what I do, as it’s 100% NOT as effective as the pill. I just track my period (I use the iPeriod app but there are definitely nicer ones out there) and avoid sex when I’m ovulating. There are more accurate ways to use this method though in which you take your temperature daily to really know when you’re ovulating (pretty sure there’s an app/thermometer on the market for this). I’ve never been pregnant, and if I were to be at this age it’d be exciting, but the fact that I was doing this in my early 20s is a little eeeekkkk. I’d look into the temperature thing though–I’m pretty sure fitnessista.com did a review on it!

  2. Hey, I just wanted to follow up with the birth control issue. I had the exact same experience. It is incredibly frustrating that multiple women–statistically significant proportions of women–report these experiences, only to be told that we are imagining things, or that our symptoms are not real, or that there is no scientific evidence to support their reality.

    This traces back through a long genealogy of women not being believed by the scientific community about the things that happen in our bodies, and it is disgraceful. I do not believe for a second that if statistically significant proportions of men reported psychological and physical distress caused by medication that chemically changed the hormone circuits in their bodies, that the medication correlated with such symptoms would be on the shelves for a day longer than the report was filed. Women, in contrast, are routinely told that we are experiencing placebo effects. It’s so insidious.

  3. I understand what you’re going through! I was going through the same all my life and only when I started my blog I felt relieved. I still judge myself and my body but it’s not like before. I also still experience anxiety and depression but the episodes are getting fewer and fewer.

    Mariya
    http://www.brunetteondemand.com

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