A couple of days ago, I was walking out of the restroom at the movie theater, when I got trapped between two mirrors on opposite walls. I hate that. My scumbag brain uses those opportunities to point out every flaw it can, starting, usually, with: “Ugh, you’re so disgusting and fat”, moving on to visible bra lines and ending somewhere around “ugh, your profile is so embarrassing. Look at your huge nose and your weird neck hump”, because apparently my scumbag brain thinks I’m Richard III.
But this time, I just looked in the mirror and thought. “Huh. I got fat again”, and went to join Chris inside. The movie was terrible but the popcorn was delicious.
Yesterday, I woke up, barely, in time for class. I had a migraine and was in that “should I or shouldn’t I go” mode while I waited for my overdose of Excedrin to kick in. I stumbled to my closet, and pulled out the first pair of pants I could find, only to get them about midway up my thighs, where they remained stalwart and unyielding. “Oh”, I thought, “I grabbed the old ones”, rummaged around, found a pair that fit, and rushed out the door.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in class and listening to a heated debate about the textual authorship of Star Wars (because this is what happens when you let a bunch of nerds study Shakespeare) when I realized that something profound had happened– my jeans hadn’t fit –and I hadn’t freaked out.
Normally, this would have set me off on a spiral of self-hatred, shame, guilt and self-harm that would have lasted two or three days. I would have cried, thrown a really attractive tantrum, then eventually resigned myself to relapse, all the while pretending that everything is fine.
It’s really, really hard. That cycle of self-hatred is exhausting, especially when paired with my need to appear at all times like I have my life together.
Last semester this time, my life was brilliantly together. I was going to the gym four times a week and doing neat crossfit weight lifting things, then graduated in the summer to running the lakes in Winona. I lost about 30 pounds, and I was proud of how I looked. I took selfies from high angles to show off my new, fancy crossfit arms and bought pants a size smaller than I was used to.
Then I started writing my thesis. That transition, from gym rat to library mole, was difficult. I felt guilty. I felt like I was letting someone down. I felt like I should be able to handle it all, do all the things, maintain the fitness and write the thesis and do the hard classes and plan my life– but at some point, I had to admit that I just…couldn’t.
My depression had reared its ugly head, worse than ever before, telling me that I was awful, that I was a fuck-up for barely being able to get out of bed in the morning, that all the good actors wake up at 6am and go to the gym and write three theses a day, so what was wrong with me that handling school was such a struggle? I’m Catie Osborn, it’s supposed to be easy.
I realized, one night, as I cried (all over Chris), that this wasn’t working. Doing it all was destroying me, physically and mentally. I was depressed and on the verge of a major eating disorder relapse. My fuckity back was fucked again, from trying to push myself too hard in the short amount of time I’d found to exercise that day, and my motivation to do anything had just disappeared. I was hurting, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
So I prioritized. The two hours of gym and clean-up time became two hours between classes spent working on my thesis. The five mile runs around the lake became marathon paper writing sessions. And I started to feel better. I admitted defeat on my thesis and shamefully asked for an extension, and had one granted to me with a beautiful message of support and understanding. I was so afraid to fail that I forgot to ask for help in my success.
Sure, I gave up the gym (for now), but I gained a master’s degree (I mean, let’s just hope at this point, or this post is going to be really embarrassing in about a month). I sat, literally, on my butt for the better part of a year researching a play I love and writing something that I’m proud of.
That sitting around taught me about my body, what it feels like when it’s just…there, not being pushed or asked to lift weights or run for miles, and it turns out my body is broke as shit. Literally, total garbage. Who pulls a muscle getting out of bed in the morning? Seriously. I’m working on resolving the medical side of things, but allowing myself to listen to my body allowed me to realize something wasn’t right and prevent further injury.
I studied, I read, and I fell in love with a new area of scholarship, which was a huge deal for me. After a semester of failing to find the motivation to do anything, I am excited about school again and throwing myself into research and academia in a way that I was too afraid to attempt before. I feel more confident in the future. I discovered that I am in love with an incredible person, friend and partner who has listened and put up with me through one of the most difficult years of my life, unquestioningly and with unfailing support.
I discovered, this year, that gaining weight doesn’t mean that I lost anything at all.
A temporary change to my appearance does not fundamentally alter who I am. My body will shift and change from year to year, hell, from month to month based on the quality of pizza in the town I’m currently living in, but who I am at my core does not change with the size of my jeans.
This morning, when I looked in the mirror and saw the bra lines and the change in the fit of my clothes, I didn’t panic. I just picked up my backpack and headed for the library to finalize the last draft of my thesis and get it submitted by tomorrow– the second to last step to finishing this year and graduating with a master’s degree.
It’s a beautiful day.