This post may go a little bit all over the place, but only because it is one of the most emotional part of mental illness for me. Whenever I would think of mental illnesses before I experienced one myself, I always thought that they only affected a person’s brain. Therefore, you could never tell who was struggling with mental illnesses unless you talked to them directly about it. However, when I look at myself today, I wonder how someone could possibly look at me without thinking that I was sick. My mental illness is not hidden. My body has gone through transformations that I could not even imagine in the past year.
So today, I am going to take you on a walk through the past year of my life with anxiety as documented through pictures of my body. This is so incredibly hard for me to post, because even looking at these pictures brings me to tears, but I think that it is important to be transparent, and to also let other people know that they are not alone.
My Body Before Anxiety
You will have to excuse the low-quality IPhone 5 photo from two summers ago, because I believe this is one of the best photos that truly shows what my body was like before anxiety. I said in my last post about food that I was always in shape, and I believe that this illustrates that.
Yet, just looking at it brings me to tears, because it represents so many things. First, confidence. I loved crop tops and bikinis, I loved short shorts and anything that showed off what I had. I know that it sounds vain and silly, but I was truly confident and happy in my own skin, and I enjoyed celebrating that. Second, my love of life. While my face is cropped out of this photograph, I know exactly what was happening that day and why I was taking the picture. I have a big cheesy grin on my face because I was getting ready to go and hang out with my husband (then boyfriend). I was ready to throw myself into the day, and whatever adventures we were going to embark on. Third, the signs of just…living. The tan that shows I had been to the pool and the beach, the fact that my hair is actually done and looks healthy. When I look at this picture, all I can think is: “that version of myself was living, and she was loving it”. It just makes me sad.
My Body in the “Bad Place”
This is what I looked like right before the point where I knew I needed to make a change. At first glance I may not look too different from the before picture, since I was already skinny before. However, there are some differences. The one that makes me the most emotional is the lack of confidence in this picture. This was the point in my year where I barely looked at myself in the mirror because I was so disgusted with myself. I honestly hated my body and what I had allowed anxiety to do to me. The adventurous spirit of the woman in the first picture was completely gone. This picture was taken a few weeks after I dropped out of school. By this point I could barely leave the house to take a walk, and I was having panic attacks several times a day. There is not a single sign of a tan in this picture, and definitely not any sign of loving life. This is when I started to really try to improve my physical health.
My Body Today
This is after months of trying to keep after my body. I have my ups and downs, but most of the time my body looks about like this. If you would like to read more about my struggle with my weight and why it is so difficult, you can read my last post. There are so many reactions to this picture. First is pride. My body has improved since the previous picture. I am not as unhealthy as I was, and I am working on my relationship with food and myself. Second, however, is still hatred. You can still see my ribs most of the time. My back is bruised from where my exposed spine hits the backs of chairs. My legs are skinny and the minimal stretch marks I had before anxiety are seemingly everywhere. My breasts are just about non-existent. I still run out of stream rather quickly in the day. My hair has been absolutely destroyed by anxiety. But. The main point of this picture that I want myself to focus on is hope. There is hope in this picture. I may not be as adventurous as I was two summers ago, and I may not be as confident, but I am getting better. I am slowly gaining weight, and even when I lose, at least I am still fighting. I am trying to get my life back and my joy.
While I look at the first picture and cry for all of the blessings I had and the life I miss, I can look at the middle and last pictures and know that I am working to get back to the first picture. And when I get there, I will love my body and I will be in love with all of the experiences that I know I will have.
For more information on how long-term stress and anxiety can affect all aspects of physical health, please check out this article by MentalHealth.net that I believe wraps up the major affects of stress in common language that is easy to relate to and understand.