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Through Thick and Thin: My Experience with an Eating Disorder

As the host of True Crime & Chill, I place A LOT of emphasis on mental health throughout the content of the show. This carries over into my everyday life as well -- I love working with people, observing behavior and helping people in their quest to improve their overall wellbeing. Since starting my podcast, I haven't opened up and revealed much about myself, other than the fact that I am engaged to a wonderful man who I share a beautiful home with in Michigan. What I'd like to open up about now, though, is my own struggle with mental health over the years, including the eating disorder from which I've been recovering. I plan to include pictures and share my story with you, the reader, and I encourage you to follow along at your own discretion, as what I describe may become uncomfortable for some.

Throughout puberty, I struggled with my weight; this came as a surprise to both my parents and myself, because I had been a kid who could eat whatever I wanted and never gain weight. In middle school, I remember noticing stretch marks on my thighs. I began to become incredibly self-conscious during this time, because I felt that my body just wasn't supposed to look this way. My Mom tried to explain to me that a lot of women have stretch marks and it was just something that I had to get comfortable with -- and of course, she was right. I didn't care at the time, though, because none of my peers looked that way.

Once I entered high school, I had a very difficult time with my self-esteem, especially as it related to my weight. I wasn't popular; I was shy, awkward and soft-spoken, so it was tough for me to meet people. I was sort of invisible to most people, including boys. I didn't really have any boyfriends until late into my high school years. Towards the end of my junior year, I met a boy who we'll call 'J,' to protect his identity (even though I really shouldn't). I felt like 'J' and I had a lot in common and I quickly developed feelings.

When I was a senior in high school, my relationship with 'J' began to become emotionally abusive. At the time, I was honestly unaware that what I'm about to describe was abuse. For example, if I forgot to text 'J' back, he would ignore me for days at a time. Other times, 'J' would belittle me and downplay my accomplishments as if they were nothing. Towards the end of our relationship, 'J' and I had a conversation in which he commented on my appearance, telling me that I "should go to the gym, because I "look fat." His comment was hurtful and I took it to heart, because I was already self-conscious about my appearance and felt as if I was disappointing my significant other by not looking the way he wanted.

Shortly thereafter, 'J' abandoned our relationship and I didn't hear from him until months later. During this time, I found out that he was cheating on me. When I asked why he had "ghosted" me, he responded with, "It just wasn't working out. I know it's a shitty excuse, but that's how it is." Feeling heartbroken, I adopted a habit that wound up causing many issues. I had become so concerned that my appearance was what drove him away that I started eating less. One day, I took a laxative to help resolve a stomach issue. The next morning, I felt like I had lost weight as a result of this, so I took another laxative. Eventually, this became more routine and, by the end of my senior semester (I graduated early), I had begun using laxatives daily.

At this point, you're probably disgusted with the thought of me abusing laxatives and asking "Why?!" My logic for abusing laxatives to lose weight was that I thought it was discrete. For example, if I were to force myself to vomit, I thought that my parents would hear me. If I were to stop eating, I thought that they would notice and say something. Therefore, I thought that using laxatives was the best way to keep my parents from catching on to what I was doing. At the same time, though, I was suffering through depression brought on by the loss of my Godmother in 2009, along with my Mom going through chemo and radiation.

Once I noticed some significant weight loss, I found some happiness. While I was bulimic, I also adopted a fitness routine where I was at the gym 3-5 days a week. I felt good, happy and a little more confident, until 'J' resurfaced. I remember him telling me that I looked great and that he hoped we could reconnect, and (stupid) me felt excited. Unfortunately, a friend of mine found out that he was already in a relationship with someone else -- what he was doing to me was all bullshit. When I found out about this, I was devastated again. Eventually, I cut off all contact with 'J' and, thankfully, haven't spoken to him since.

Although my contact with 'J' stopped, my bulimia did not. I was working out an unhealthy amount, eating less AND still abusing laxatives; the only time I binge ate was around my parents. I remember one time that my Mom had made dinner, but I declined and gave her an excuse that I had homework. She replied with, "Why can't you eat? Do you have some sort of eating disorder?" My Dad then snapped back, saying, "What are you talking about?! She eats all the time!" In 2013, my Mom passed away from stage 4 breast cancer. Since I was already depressed, this caused me to harm myself even more. Instead of taking one laxative a day, I began to take two, as my Mom had left behind boxes of them.

Around this time, I was in a new relationship with someone who we'll call 'L' (for loser). At the beginning, I believed that 'L' was the one bright spot in my life, because I was unhappy with myself, my home life and I was stressed with College. For about a year, I opened up to 'L' about some health issues that I was having, but I didn't disclose that I had an eating disorder. I told him I felt weak at times, light headed and that sometimes, I felt as if I would pass out.

I took this photo shortly after suffering a horrible dizzy spell. That picture is ironic, because everything was NOT okay when I took that 'selfie'

Shortly after the above picture was taken, I told 'L' that I had scheduled an appointment to see a therapist. I told the therapist everything that was going on; I was doing drugs, drank a lot and wasn't eating. I was stressed, depressed, had a broken relationship with my Father and always felt like I would pass out. The therapist recommended that I drink more water, advice which I took -- and it did help me slightly. At this time, my eating disorder had gotten so bad that I'd feel like I needed to vomit in the middle of class. I'd sit in the bathroom for minutes at a time; sometimes, my bowel movements would even contain blood.

At my next therapy session, I opened up about these 'bathroom issues,' at which point my therapist explained to me that I had an eating disorder and needed to stop it immediately. If not, there was potential for me to develop long term health issues; for example, I could become incontinent. I knew my therapist was right, so I told 'L' about this and tried to stop.

I did indeed stop and did so for about a year. I felt accomplished and even found a job at a gym to help maintain a positive body weight. Unbeknownst to me, though, I adopted worse workout habits than before, as I was working out for over an hour each day, six days a week. I then began having personal issues at home and my relationship with 'L' started to become toxic; soon enough, I started abusing laxatives again.

In this picture, I was right around 100 lbs. For reference, I am 5'1"

I was SO happy to look the way I did in the above photo, because I thought that I had achieved my ultimate "goal," However, I maintained this physique in unhealthy ways: I continued to abuse laxatives, binge eat then eat very little, and exercised an unhealthy amount. While I was putting my body through a horrible routine, my relationship with 'L' continued to deteriorate and my mental health rapidly declined. Eventually, the stress of my relationship caused me to stop eating. 'L' and I would fight nearly every day; I cried often, experienced high amounts of anger and needed to find the energy to perform well in school.

In 2016, I was accepted into the University of Illinois at Chicago. When I received my acceptance letter, I had mixed emotions. I didn't know if I could handle it mentally, nor did I know if I could obtain the good grades to which I was accustomed. Despite my anxiety, I was excited to further my education and have the opportunity to explore the mental health field. However, 'L' didn't share my excitement; I recall one of our conversations where I discussed my enthusiasm and he replied with, "You're going to UIC, not Harvard. I don't get why this is a big deal for you." He was right: UIC is not Harvard, but it's a great Liberal Arts University and I was pleased with that. When I was admitted into UIC, I stopped abusing laxatives because I knew that if I wanted to perform well in school, I needed to take care of myself.

My first semester at UIC was nothing but a headache, as I dealt with massive amounts of stress. Between commuting to campus every day, being a full-time student and dealing with my horrible relationship, I felt overwhelmed to the point of wanting to vomit on a daily basis. Some days, 'L' would pick fights with me in the morning before I had class, sometimes on test days, and we'd get into screaming matches. I remember that my hair would sometimes fall out from how stressed I was and I'd sob in the car on my drives to and from campus. I began cutting myself because of how depressed and overwhelmed I was, and there were days where I had intrusive thoughts about ending it all, because I just couldn't take it much longer. Somehow, I achieved a 3.0 GPA that semester; I'll never know how I managed to accomplish that. Shortly afterward, my relationship with 'L' ended for good.

Soon after 'L' and I broke up, I promised myself that I would work on my well-being and focus on school. I started to gain weight from not exercising as often and not using laxatives, which scared me. I thought about going back to my old habits, but I adopted a vegetarian lifestyle and a healthier exercise routine instead. However, the way I ate as a vegetarian was unhealthy, because I was having the wrong foods and eating too many carbs. As I continued my education at UIC, I looked into what dating was like for the first time in 3 years. I had no intentions of getting into a new relationship, though, until I met the man I'm currently with.

When he and I had our first date, we talked for well over 2 hours and I told him EVERYTHING. I left no stone unturned, because he needed to know that I had these issues and that I was still a work in progress; he did the same with me. When I left that date, I knew I had met someone special, because that was the most comfortable I had felt with anyone. Honestly, I was terrified by this, because I was a mess and Rome wasn't built in a day. Between our first and second dates, Jeff and I talked a lot. On our second date, Jeff invited me over and gave me his Tom Brady rookie card (I should have married him that day), because he knew how much I loved the Patriots and Tom Brady).

We began our relationship in January 2017 and it started off with some issues, due both to my mental health struggles and L's interference once he found out I was dating Jeff. I had thought I was improving, but I started eating less because of stress, was crying a lot and was angry. However, Jeff stood by me and helped me through it all. He helped me maintain a healthy exercise regime and eat more protein so I could gain muscle mass. He improved my relationship with my Father because my Father loved the man I was dating. My self-esteem and grades improved, too. When we got engaged in December 2017, I knew I would marry my best friend. I gained weight, but I looked healthy. Overall, I looked happy and I still am.

These pictures were taken 2 years apart, the picture on the right was when I weighed about 100 lbs and the one on the left was around 110-112

I graduated UIC with honors and moved to Michigan with Jeff, where we share a beautiful home with 3 wonderful dogs. I have a great family and support system and, to this day, no longer use laxatives to lose weight. While I have taken laxatives during that time, it has only been for their intended use. Since I made the decision to stop abusing laxatives, I feel healthier. I am still conscious of my weight, but I work through it; I've improved my eating habits and I find ways to work out. Since quarantine started, I've lost a lot of fitness progress and it's messed with my head. Although I have gained weight, I refuse to go back to my old ways and I am working to achieve my goals in a healthy manner.

It has been over 4 years now and I am still recovering, and I always will be. If you're struggling like I was, do not let someone define you; YOU know what you're worth. I encourage anyone and everyone to seek help if you need it, because you may discover something you're doing that's worsening things, like I did. Furthermore, there is always someone worth living for, whether it's a significant other, a friend, family member, pet, co-worker or child; there's always someone who needs you. I got lucky that I found that in my fiancé, and I am eternally grateful that my best friend helped me through so much pain. If you're in a rough spot, I feel you and I'm here for you. I will end this story with a graphic that I look to a lot, because it rings true. Thank you for allowing me to share my story and open up to you.

To Jeff: If you are reading this, I love you with all of my heart, thank you for everything!

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

National Eating Disorder Helpline: 800-931-2237

- Gabby (@moneybagsgabs)

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