(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Judy Tsuei of Meditations for Mamas.)
When I was 17, I developed an eating disorder though I didn’t quite know what was happening. What I did know was that my home life was increasingly chaotic and my sensitive nature couldn’t handle it. Somehow, my brain found a sense of control however it could and I slowly became anorexic. My school lunches during my senior year consisted of a slice of bread and an apple, while I packed my three younger siblings’ lunches with bags burgeoning to the point that you couldn’t fold over the brim.
Then on the night of prom, I realized I couldn’t starve anymore. I was terrified, because I felt like I was losing control all over again. I’d eat, since my body needed the nutrients, but then I didn’t know how to stop. Until I watched an afterschool special that was solely designed to warn girls against bulimia.
Wait, you can eat food and throw it up? I realized.
It seemed like the miracle cure I was looking for. Little did I know that it would propel me into over 15 years of bingeing, purging, compulsively overeating, and manic bouts of exercise. I was a mess. I literally fled all the way to the opposite coast in South Carolina from California to try to run away from myself and when that didn’t work, I ran to the other side of the world, arriving as an editor in Shanghai, China.
Here is where I hit the lowest point of my eating disorder. My heart began to palpitate in irregular rhythms. I stopped getting my period. I had a hard time catching my breath. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know if my life was worth doing something about.
Finally, I got on a plane back to Los Angeles, entered an intensive outpatient program, and began my healing journey. I spent many more years in therapy, kicked and punched my way out of anger with Krav Maga, found my faith through yoga and meditation, and discovered even more support through life coaches.
I wanted more than to simply survive; I wanted to thrive. Little by little, I made steps towards living the life of my dreams and through loads of personal development, I felt confident enough to begin taking risks towards the things I’d always wanted.
Like moving to Kauai in Hawaii.
My journey there was undeniably guided, filled with magic and serendipity that proved to me I was being watched over. It’s a long and beautiful story I’ll save for another time. But, after deciding to move to the most remote inhabited place in the world, I met my husband. To our complete surprise, we talked about having a baby. Soon. And, as we got to know each other, I told him about the book I had come to write.
“Well,” he said, lying beside me in bed. “We should wait to start trying to have a kid until your manuscript is done.”
I immediately sat up. “That’s it,” I told him. “I’m not going to write it anymore.”
“What?” he asked. “Why? That’s all you’ve wanted to do for at least a decade.”
“I cannot let this book, this story about my eating disorder, hold me back from moving forward in my life anymore. I want to start living.”
So I did. We conceived. And suddenly, through an incredibly difficult pregnancy where I was sick for most of the 38 weeks, I had to face my previous eating disorder like never before.
I couldn’t eat. When I could manage to swallow any sort of sustenance, I immediately had to throw it up. There were days when I didn’t leave the bathroom, as my husband would create a makeshift bed for me on the cold tile floor, because all day and night long, I would be throwing up uncontrollably.
A lot of women say that they want to be that skinny pregnant woman, where all you can see is the belly. I would be lying if my old eating disorder thinking patterns didn’t want that, too. Except, in order for me to get that, I was so ill, I was nonfunctional for the better part of a year.
These days, as I’m interviewing amazing women for my Meditations for Mamas business, I’m struck by how many incredible mamas I hear beating themselves up about their bodies. They’re concerned about how they look pregnant. They’re worried about how they’ll look after they give birth. More than anything, when I hear them say these things to me, I wish I could sit beside them and give them a hug.
“Look at what your body is doing,” I want to say. “It is creating LIFE. It’s miraculous and it’s the greatest act of service to bring a being into this world.” Because, it is.
I now have a daughter and it breaks my heart to think about passing on any of my eating disordered ways to her. I would never want her to suffer the way that I did, funneling all of my promise and potential into hours of obsessing over the labels on boxes or the numbers on a scale. I want her — and all of the women in her generation and beyond — to become wild with empowerment. To live boldly. To define beauty by their own standards and to know that our bodies do so much while asking for so little in return.
Because as much punishment as I put my body through for so many minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years, it still showed up for me and brought me the greatest gift I have ever been blessed with. Then, after I had my daughter, it created nourishment for her as long as it could. And these days, it picks her up to play, to soothe, to comfort, to love as best as I know how.
I know from the depths of firsthand experience that it is not at all easy to overcome such a devastating illness as anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, or any of the ways eating disorders are expressed. I literally had to claw my way into survival by clutching onto the arm of my couch and kicking the other end of it to stop myself from purging when I was in the throes of my disorder.
But, I want to commend you. And love you harder. I want to invite you to join me in living another way. A way where we can celebrate ourselves and one another, rather than compare ourselves to each other. I believe there is a way where we can approach our tribe of women, our partners, and our children with more compassion and grace, by first starting within ourselves. Let’s say, “Screw you” to the mean thoughts that swirl within our psyches and instead, devote ourselves to choosing the more challenging path of discovering ways we can feel good.
Because mama, we all deserve to feel good.