August 8, 2023

Facing My Own Reflection: How Looking in the Mirror can guide us to the Truth.

“What do those numbers mean?”

We were working on a group assignment. My notebook was open on my desk and my classmate standing over it.

120 +70 +90 = 280.

These elementary mathematical equations could be found scribbled among hundreds of others in the margins of the notebook I was using for my graduate classes.

These numbers were special to me. They were mine.

I didn’t just like calculating them, I lived for it. I guarded them as if my life depended on it.

Just in case I couldn’t immediately put my finger on my notebook, I made sure to memorize the grand total for the day each time I added to it. My goal was always for the daily total to be less than it was the day before.

“Oh, I’m just trying to stay within a certain range of calories for the day,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, despite immediately feeling as embarrassed as most people would if someone accidentally opened a public bathroom stall while they were using the toilet.

“That’s just crazy,” she said narrowing her eyes.

What would be crazy is having no idea how many calories I had eaten, I thought to myself while rolling my eyes at her.

Her statement added to my belief that it would be best if I kept my calculations to myself.

I had no idea at the time, but keeping my numerical game a secret gave it tremendous power over me.

Despite reassuring my mind there was no harm done by meticulously counting calories, my body had formed its own opinion. And it was a loud one.

I hadn’t gotten my period in a year.

Logically, I understood a disappearing period could be sign of a bigger medical issue, but in no way did I tie it to my rigid dieting.

My mom had been diagnosed with thyroid disease. After a Google search yielded results tying amenorrhea (the absence of a period) to thyroid disease, I comforted myself into thinking this must be the root cause.

A quick trip to my doctor and everything would be resolved. I solaced myself with this thought.

“Can you step on the scale?” The medical assistant asked holding my chart open her pen poised to record my weight. She was so casual about it, like being publicly weighed was supposed to be as easy as ordering coffee at your favorite local café.

“Do I have to?” I asked folding my hands together and cracking my knuckles out of anxiety.

“Yes,” she said curtly. Seeing no way out of this, I obliged by stepping on the scale. She moved the balance on the top the scale to the left attempting to level it out, “You’ve lost 43 pounds,” she announced.

Hearing her say my weight out loud left me feeling more naked than I had in my entire life, and I hadn’t even taken off my clothes yet.

A few minutes later I found myself sitting in the exam room in a hospital gown swinging my feet back and forth off the side of the table. I felt restless and entirely unable to sit still.

One hundred and three pounds; the digits kept repeating themselves in my mind.

The scale must be off. That can’t be my correct weight, I thought. It didn’t add up. How could I have lost 43 pounds when the mental picture I had of myself included muffin top hanging over my jeans?

It seemed strictly limiting calories effectively shrunk my body, but my relationship with myself dissolved along with it. There was no longer a deep sense of knowing what was happening inside my own body. The connection between my mind and body had been severed.

I got up from the exam table and found myself walking over to the full-length mirror behind the door.

I had been running from mirrors for over a year, even avoiding eye contact with myself while brushing my teeth. The idea of facing my whole-body reflection head to toe made my heart start to race, though it seemed the only way to reconcile the conflict between the number on the scale and my perception of how I looked.

Why is it that oftentimes the last person we want to face, in a mirror, or in life, is ourselves?

Taking a deep inhale, I closed my eyes in front of the mirror, and upon exhaling opened them. I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me.

My once shiny, long raven hair looked broken, brittle, and frail. The sides of my knees were covered in light yellow, green, and purple bruises at different stages of healing. I had lost so much weight my knees easily bruised, rubbing together while I tried to sleep at night. My hip bones poked out. My stomach no longer held a natural curvature.

I saw myself clearly in the mirror.

This is what the rest of the world saw, not the person I imagined in my head. My mind was the liar.

The delusional idea that by keeping my calorie counting trapped in a notebook meant friends, family, coworkers couldn’t see with their own eyes that I was skin and bones. They knew something was wrong. The only person I had been effectively keeping this a secret from was me.

My body felt heavy despite my weight.

Keeping my secret had taken a physical toll on my body. It ached. Every. Single. Part. Bone deep.

Striving to meet a measure of perfection, but constantly setting the bar higher and higher, left my brain feeling foggy and confused.

I couldn’t keep up with my own ever-changing standards.

I was sitting back on the exam table by the time my doctor knocked, then opened the door. I expected her to sit down in the chair across from me, but she remained standing. My heart was still racing. I could hear it beating in my ears.

“Erika, I’m worried,” she said simply then waited for me to respond.

I looked back at the mirror on the wall catching another disturbing glimpse at my reflection.

I saw the truth.

“Me too,” I said tears welling up in my eyes.

Though it may seem daunting when we are in the thick of our own struggle, letting go of the secret we’ve been keeping is the first step to getting the support we need.

The truth can be hard to hear, hard to say. But it holds more power than any secret.

That’s why telling the truth no matter how raw it may be is the best weight to lose in the entire world, and it’s the only weight I focus on losing these days.

~

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