Thursday, November 7, 2013

Love Every Breath

I am fiercely passionate about loving life. I have been this way for many years. When I was very young, I loved life so very much! As my birthdays passed, however, I became more aware of people around me and in the media.

With this growing awareness, my once-strong sense-of-self began to diminish a bit. I became overly concerned with my body's flaws and my personal incompleteness. My perceptions of other people's "perfect" bodies and lives increased. I felt like, "If I can look like ______, then my life will be awesome!" or, "If I can do ______, then I will be as good as ______." I didn't know I was thinking incorrectly.

When I was about 15-and-a-half years old, I developed an eating disorder. It wasn't technically what someone would call a bad eating disorder, but it was disordered eating, nonetheless.

There were many factors that contributed to my problem, but it initially began because I was gaining weight—because I was growing into a woman. It was a perfectly natural progression, but all I could see was the weight gain and that my body wasn't like it used to be. I didn't think about the hormones that change a girl's body into a woman's body—which naturally cause weight gain. All I knew was that I was gaining weight, and I didn't like my thighs—I thought they were too large. I was jealous of all the other girls who had slender, wiry thighs. I thought mine should be more like theirs.

Even though I should have been thinking,
"My muscular thighs are awesome! My strong thighs show evidence of my many years of dedicated and focused training in gymnastics! Those marvelous thighs helped me win first place in our entire school district's gymnastics championships on bars, beam and floor!" 
But I didn't think those happy thoughts. All I saw was the negative.

At first, my eating disorder (restricting calories and occasional purging) was just a random occurrence. It might have only happened once a month, or so—I only chose to do it when I overate. Eventually, I used the eating disorder not only to help with my worries about weight gain, but I also used it as a coping mechanism—except I didn't realize I was doing that. I only figured out that part later on. Yes, I used the eating disorder to cope with pressures at home, school and my social life. Still, it wasn't very often in comparison to other eating-disordered people that I've heard or read about. Thank goodness for that!

When I was 16, I auditioned and was chosen to be a member of my high school's drill team for the upcoming year—I would be a junior. It was a very big deal for me, I was so excited! I felt so good about myself. We danced every day, all summer long and into the school year. I was in heaven! :)

I don't remember exactly when this next event happened, but I know it was in autumn. Our drill team instructor had all of our body fat tested. She said something like it was just so we could see where we "were" physically speaking, and to help us make healthy eating choices. Looking back on it now, I see that it is a perfectly innocent idea. But at the eating-disordered state my mind was in, all I could see was that my body's fat percentage needed to be lowered, and I was determined to do exactly that.

Enter a serious eating disorder.

(Did I mention that I am extremely strong-willed? There is no stopping me when I put my mind to something. Thus, I want to make it completely clear that my drill team instructor is not to be held accountable for my drastic actions in any way. She had only our very best interests at heart. I'm the one who took my body-fat test results to the extreme. I'm the one to blame for my eating-disordered actions.)

For about five days after the body-fat test, I ate hardly anything at all. What I did eat, I threw up. I slept very little (four to five hours per night), danced about three to five hours every day, and was still attending high school full-time. It was the perfect recipe for a life-altering disaster. My disaster hit me like a brick wall.

*As I tell my story, please forgive any details I might have messed up, as it happened a long time ago. I also reserve the right to change this post at any time, to add or subtract details that come to me. :)

One morning (the fifth day I had been going on practically no food and very little sleep), I remember waking up and feeling very "off." All I wanted to do was stay home and sleep. Yet, the Holy Ghost (i.e., the Holy Spirit) told me very directly and strongly that I needed to go to drill team practice and that I should not stay home. Plus, I didn't want to miss practice because then I wouldn't have been able to perform in our high school football team's half-time show. So, I got myself up and went to practice. When I arrived, I couldn't shake how horrible I felt. I asked my drill instructor if I could sleep during practice. She said yes, so I laid down by the gym bleachers (I think) and went to sleep.

The next thing I remember was trying to wake up. I felt sooo hazy, foggy and s l o w. My brain wasn't able to make sense of anything. I remember a man (an EMT) talking to me, but his words were all a bunch of nonsense! He asked me questions that I couldn't form an answer to. (At least, I don't remember responding to them!) I felt like I weighed 1,000 pounds and could hardly move my body! I remember they put an oxygen mask on me and then locked the stretcher/gurney into place. As I was rolled out of the school's double doors, I saw many of my drill teammates crying. I felt like I was going to fall off of the gurney when they rolled me down the school's stairs, but then I realized that I was strapped-in. I was mighty happy I wouldn't take a sprawl all over the sidewalk!

I don't remember the ride to the hospital in the ambulance at all. The next thing I remember was being in a hospital room and seeing my mom's friend there. (I think I remember this simply because it was out of the ordinary.) I know we chatted for a minute, but I'm certain I didn't make any sense. I know my mom and dad were there, but my memories of them are very spotty. I was suddenly wearing a hospital gown, but I have no idea how I got in it—which was a terrifying thought to me for years! After birthing my three babies, that fear is completely gone. :)

I remember being put into a long white tube (an MRI machine), and being told to hold very still, which wasn't a problem for me because I was SO TIRED. I couldn't keep my eyes open! Then I remember being taken in a wheelchair out to my mom's station wagon and climbing into the back for the ride home. (I know, it was so illegal to ride without a seat belt! Ha ha.) After I got home, I remember having several visitors from my drill team and ward, but that's about the only memory I have for approximately one week after the incident.

The diagnosis I received was that I had had a seizure. From what I remember hearing back-in-the-day, apparently that morning, I started making strange movements—a seizure—in my sleep. Miraculously, my drill team instructor had just finished a CPR course and knew what to do for me. I remember hearing that I was blue from not breathing, and my mouth was foaming/bleeding a little.

I know many people have seizures all the time, live to tell about them, get on medication to control them, and live their lives very happily. But for me, my one-and-only seizure was a life-altering experience. It was a heavy wall of bricks crumbling down on me. I was terrified to know that I had actually stopped breathing. I have no doubts that if I had stayed home that morning, I possibly could have died. The other possibility is that my family might have discovered me in time, but I could have had brain damage from a lack of oxygen. The possibilities were frighteningly real.

My mind went over and over this experience many times. I couldn't believe that I had caused myself to be put in danger—over a few silly pounds and some measly fat cells! I couldn't believe that I had used a life sustaining habit—eating—to cope with my problems. It was truly the dumbest thing I had ever done. It remains the most foolish choice I've ever made.

After I realized what happened to me, I instantly and wholeheartedly decided that I would never withhold food from my body, or throw up, ever again—at least, not if I had any control over whatever life situation I found myself in. I also decided I would give my body the sleep it needed.

I loved my life so much! I did not want to cause harm to my body. I did not want to leave this earth prematurely. I had a lot of living to do! I wanted to grow up! I wanted to get married! I wanted to have babies—lots and lots of babies! And being the young innocent girl that I was, I simply didn't realize the damage that could be done from not eating properly and not getting enough sleep. I truly believe the seizure happened because of my lack of food and sleep—especially because I've (thankfully) never had another seizure.

I prayed intently to our Heavenly Father (God) and sincerely asked him to please help me get over my eating disordered ways. I knew the eating disorder could be completely taken away through the atonement of Jesus Christ. After my prayer, I truly felt so strong inside. I received the answer to my prayer that I needed to ask for a priesthood blessing, so I did. I received the blessing from one of our counselors in our ward's bishopric. I don't remember the words in the blessing, but I definitely remember it gave me the spiritual sustenance I was craving.

My lovely spiritual experiences continued as I prayed daily and read the scriptures. I knew—absolutely—that I was a beloved daughter of God. I knew I had great worth. I knew I had a definite and divine mission to fulfill on this earth. I was not to be tethered to an eating disorder. I also knew that I would be strong even when times got tough. I knew I had a long life ahead of me—one that included marriage and children. I'm grateful those feelings have come true! :) My spiritual experiences have only continued to blossom throughout my life, and for that I'm unbelievably grateful.

The other happy news is I literally never participated those eating disordered behaviors ever again. Yes, folks, the seizure kicking me in the head was all it took for me to wake up and fully appreciate my life.

Even though my teenage experience was frightening and possibly life-threatening, I'm truly grateful for what I learned. I'm so thankful I've never taken my life for granted since then. I'm still imperfect, but I'm so grateful for every day I have on this earth! I love every breath I'm given!

As the years have passed, I've had other medical conditions pop up, several ultrasounds given, and endless needle pricks and blood vials taken. I've endured many what if? moments of breath-holding nervousness while awaiting test results. Yes, I've totally had my fair share of medical scares. Each and every time I dodge a medical-disaster "bullet," I'm overwhelmed with feelings of extreme love and gratitude for every cell in my body! I truly love this body so very much! And I'm doing my very best to take good care of it. :)

I've also experienced tragically losing my youngest sister due to complications of her own severe eating disorder. If you'd like to know more of her story, please read the Church News' article, "Mackenzie's dance: A young woman's battle with eating disorders." Seeing what Mackenzie went through was heartbreaking. Enduring the loss of my darling baby sister brings me to tears nearly every day. Oh, what I wouldn't give to have her back in my life! I think of her daily and resolve to live my life even better for her—but you must know, she's not the only reason. Of course, I live my life better for myself and my awesome little family as well. I absolutely try to live my life better every day as a way to say "Thank you!" to our Heavenly Father, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I've also lost many other beloved extended family members. I've witnessed my amazing husband sadly lose his wonderful mother to colon cancer. Those life-altering moments continually reiterate to me that each one of us needs to love every breath we are given on Earth. We must truly love every cell in our bodies and take good care of them—for they are the ultimate gift from our Heavenly Father!

We may experience moments of frustration, sadness, ridiculousness, worry, etc., but we must enjoy what we have been given in our lives! No one is perfect. No body is perfect. No mental state is perfect. No emotion is kept perfectly in-check at all times. No financial experience is ideal. Yet, even with all of the imperfect, lacking and less-than problems we might encounter, there is a sweetness to living that needs to be recognized and appreciated. We can be happy! (Even if only for minutes a day.) We need to be grateful for every breath we're given and daily thank our Heavenly Father for every single one!

We cannot take one moment of our lives for granted! :)


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