Conscious Health: Loving Yourself on Your Journey to Greater Wellness

Conscious Health: Loving Yourself on Your Journey to Greater Wellness

At age 26, I was a single mother struggling with an eating disorder triggered by postpartum anxiety.

“She will be okay,” the doctor whispered to my mother as he turned away from my hospital bed and exited the sterile room.

My mother walked toward me and carefully pulled the warm, grey hospital blankets over my tiny, still body.

When I was 17, I developed an eating disorder and was eventually diagnosed with what my doctor’s called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) which affects 2.5 percent of men and 2.2 percent of women in the United States.

By the age of 26, I was fully recovered from this and resembled a typically healthy young woman, yet here I was just 5 years later struggling with another eating disorder triggered by postpartum anxiety.

I was a single mother to a beautiful newborn son and was facing the greatest struggle of my life up until that point. According to Mental Health America, nearly 20 million women in the United States report having a clinically significant eating disorder. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that a number of these cases are related to pregnancy and postpartum effects.

I was never even overweight, unhealthy or in need of such an extreme diet and exercise regimen. Sure, I had some curves, but nothing that was out of the ordinary yet somehow, I allowed myself to believe that I was embarrassingly overweight and an overall unattractive human being. Focusing on your mental health is essential as this area of wellbeing is often overlooked by many people.

I overanalyzed every criticism, side look and snarky comment to the point where I had now put my body in extreme danger. My bones had become terribly brittle, my hair was constantly falling out and an endless feeling of weakness encapsulated every day of my life. To top it all off, I hated absolutely everything about myself.

I hated my body and what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

I hated the way I thought about myself, but there was nothing I could do to change the negative judgements.

Most of all, I hated the way I felt.

Finding my Comfort of Joy

Writing has always been my true passion. As a little girl, I would write stories that always had the same plot – a beautiful princess would fall in love with a charming prince who would slay an evil dragon just to win her heart.

Though I had little creativity, I enjoyed immersing myself into my writing, because it was as if I became a character in the story. As a young adult I created a blog where I share advice on healthy living, partnering with medical professionals to give practical and informative information related to wellbeing. After I became ill, I published less as time passed. I gradually began writing less and less, eventually quitting altogether. I stopped doing the things I loved and became more anxious and depressed. Two years later as I reflect on my personal journey, there are a few things I wish I had known sooner to help me get through such a tough time. If you are struggling in this season, I hope these tips help you too.

1. Avoid self-pity

It is normal to want to wallow in self-pity and negativity after a terrible ordeal like the one I went through. In fact, it is the easiest thing to do. But you’re never going to start living again if you follow that route. It only leads to depression and even more sickness. Starting from today, choose to be positive. Each day, deliberately seek out reasons to be thankful. It could be the simple fact that you’re alive and slowly but surely traveling the road to recovery.

Be grateful for life and then go out there and live it. This will not be easy! Trust me. There were times when I wanted to wail at the injustice of life and slide deeper into that well of self-pity. But you have to ask yourself, “Are you going to be a victim or a survivor?” I’d pick the survivor mentality any day. Will you?

2. Craft a new path for yourself

Sometimes, a bout of sickness has a way of disorganizing your plans and seemingly throwing your future into disarray. But instead of seeing it as the end of your dreams just like I did at first, why don’t you view it through the lens of self-rediscovery? This is your chance to take a breather and create new dreams and fresh goals for yourself. The greatest leaders and visionaries of our generation often credit moments of self-reflection as the catalyst to ground-breaking successes. Not everyone is fortunate to have this period of reflection, this second chance to find out what they really want from life. Yes, you, my friend, are a lucky soul.

3. Don’t rush it

The road to recovery is a tricky one. As you start the journey, you take great pains to faithfully follow your doctor’s advice, stick to a nutritious diet, take your vitamins and supplements, and gradually whip yourself into shape. Then, you begin to feel like your old self again; like you can take on the world and simply pick up from where you left off. Don’t listen to that voice. If you do, you risk a serious relapse.

Learn how to take it easy and not push yourself too hard. Recovery takes time – accept it. Don’t jump back into your regular workouts or training routine. Start with simple stretches and easy yoga poses. Give your body ample time to recover and avoid strenuous exercises. The temptation might be strong to answer your backlog of emails, but don’t give in to it. Don’t stay up late either. Once It is bedtime, switch off those screens (phone, tablet, laptop, and the TV) and sleep. Establishing a regular sleeping pattern will help your body immensely.

4. Have a support system

My illness left me with scars, both physically and emotionally. I didn’t want to go back into society. I could barely care for my newborn son leaving me feeling ashamed and like a failure. But thanks to the never-ending encouragement of my mother and her unwavering belief in my ability to succeed and be whole again, I pressed forward.

It is very important that you have someone who is always there to support and encourage you. It could be a circle of your close friends, a sibling, or someone who has gone through a similar ordeal and can easily relate. Truth is, you might not be able to keep up that positive outlook all the time. So, you need someone you can call wherever and whenever. Someone who would simply listen because most times, that’s all we really need anyway.

5. Always pay special attention to your health

Be on the lookout for warning signs. Your body, more often than not, will always give you a sign when everything is not as it should be. Do not ignore these signs. Go in for regular checkups. Rather than simply treat the symptoms, find out the root cause and weed it out. Understand your body and learn how to take proper care of it. I’ve decided to eat healthier, primarily adopting a vegan diet and supplementing to ensure adequate protein and iron. Do the things that help you feel better whether it is improving your mindset, diet or overall lifestyle.

Rebuilding my life after my illness was possible because I made a conscious effort to do so. Sickness is not the end of your dreams, goals, or even your life. It’s just a detour to make you appreciate life more. It reminds you of the need to slow down, enjoy life, and live it to the fullest.

Finally, do the things that you love. One of the things that I let go when I became ill was my obsession with writing and sharing my life experiences with others.

Do you know what I really believe helped me the most on my road to recovery?

I began to write again.

When I reflect on this time, I realize that the toughest years of my life transpired when I turned my focus away from the one thing that I had loved to do for so long. I started focusing more on what people thought and less on how I felt.

As soon as I started doing the thing that I enjoyed the most, my confidence and joy returned. I felt like I was a little girl once again, writing about princes and princesses in a faraway land. I realized that my writing could take me anywhere I wanted to go (at least in my mind) and that was enough for me.

New Beginnings

When I look in the mirror now, I see a foxy mama (really)! I exercise two to three times a week and still eat the foods that I love, but in smaller portions (that includes Häagen-Dazs ice cream at least three nights a week). Today, I have this newfound confidence in myself, not because I look like the typical model you see on a magazine cover, but because I have learned to appreciate the uniqueness of my own body.

While my story may seem like a “feel-good” tale of recovery to which you could not possibly relate, I want you to know that you can do it, too! I shared the heart-wrenching details of my personal journey through an incredibly difficult time, not to receive empathy or affirmation, but because I know that there are many women who struggle with their body image every single day. Are you one of them?

I understand that the demands of society can be tremendously overwhelming, and while there is nothing you can do to change that, there is something you can do to change the way you think about yourself. Whether you want to lose or gain weight, become fitter or just increase your self-confidence, you can absolutely change the way you see yourself!

It will not be easy, there will be days that you feel inadequate, there will be mornings that you don’t feel like looking in the mirror, and you will have nights where you feel like crying yourself to sleep…but you know what? If I was able to overcome the depression that consumed me because of how much I cared about other people’s opinions, then you can conquer your insecurities and become a healthier, stronger, self-assured person.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Start today! Make the conscious effort to start ignoring the noise around you and focusing on the things that make you happy right now.

Once you start thinking about yourself in a more positive way, you’ll find that the negative chatter around you will fade away, and you’ll become a happier, healthier and more confident version of yourself.