That time I almost died (but hey, I looked great)

Months ago, in the middle of a horrible week, which included at least two meltdowns, being blown off by a dude I really liked, and some hurtful friend drama to boot, I was standing in a cold room, half-naked and crampy.

What compelled me to drag myself across town and let a semi-stranger see me in a state of undress generally reserved for the beach and lounging around my apartment? Project Lady Lines — a project that showcases different women, their stretch marks, and their relationship to their body. (It’s showing in Austin soon! Come see, if you’re local!)

But why did I want to be in it, specifically, instead of enthusiastically supporting from the sidelines?

Let’s take a step back to 2013: the year I had three nervous breakdowns.

It went a little something like this:

  • March-April: the worst anxiety spike I’d had to date, ruining my ability to eat barbacoa tacos, which was the final straw in making me go to the doctor
  • April-May: went on meds for said anxiety
  • June-July: had comically bad reaction to meds, including insomnia and extreme loss of appetite, and took some 6–8 weeks to realize the meds were the root of the issue
  • August: endured withdrawal from going off Zoloft and Klonopin at the same time (big thanks to the jerk doctor who treated me like a junkie — I left that appointment sobbing) (also, for the record, I really do not recommend this experience)
  • October: one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve ever had, resulting in a grey month I don’t really remember

As a result of these stacked catastrophes, I lost a solid 30–40 pounds (already not insignificant, and extra-so on a 5’1” frame).

That year, all I wanted was to make it through the day-to-day. It was already boss-level difficult. Something that made it that much harder were idiotic comments from (well-meaning?) acquaintances and friends.

More than once, the following conversation ensued:

Them: “You’ve lost weight! You look great!”

Me: “Yeah, I’m not doing too hot, I’ve been really stressed out.” or “Yeah, I had a really bad reaction to some medication I was on and it killed my appetite for six weeks.”

Them: “Oh, haha! I wish I could have side effects like that, I’d love to lose some weight that easily!”

Me, in real life: blinks slowly, tries to think of appropriate response while fighting back tears

Me, in my head: “Bitch, I will straight up have a toddler-style meltdown right here, right now. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in six weeks. SHUT THE HELL UP.”

I may have looked great, but I don’t remember feeling great.

Obviously, there was the crushing depression, anxiety, and feeling of everything being completely out of control while I clung to sanity by my fingernails. Not exactly a party.

Aside from that, what I do remember is being so thin I couldn’t get comfy at night. No matter how I laid down, my ribs and my hips dug into me.

I remember being cold all the time. I remember looking at food and thinking that I should be hungry, but that I really wasn’t, and gagging when I tried to eat (because I knew I should). I also remember a few people making snarky comments about how I was getting “too skinny,” or that I was wasting away, and, once again, having no idea how to reply.

Me, in my head: “Yes, I am wasting away and I’m terrified because I don’t know what to do about it. Thank you for reminding me!”

It was halfway into 2014 before I was back to my pre-trainwreck weight.

This last summer wasn’t as bad as 2013, but it was pretty unpleasant.

I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with a mystery illness on the heels of a shitty breakup, but it’s not fun. For a bonus dash of “sometimes my life is a terrible sitcom episode,” that mystery illness mimicked pregnancy to the point where I spent a solid 2–3 weeks thinking I was probably pregnant with my ex-boyfriend’s child. 0/10, would not recommend.

The good part of being sick in the summer is that at least the weather doesn’t suck on top of everything else. The bad part is that it’s summer and you’re stuck inside on the couch, trying not to vomit.

After two and a half months that felt like an eternity, things started to come around in late July. The clincher was that many rounds of useless testing and doctor visits finally resulted in a stupid-restrictive diet that cleared up all my symptoms in a week or two. I could get around again! And I wanted to DO THINGS. NOW.

At first, I was afraid to exercise too much. I didn’t want to be cold and hungry and uncomfortable again. But I knew it would help stave off my tendencies to anxiety and depression. And I was ecstatic to be able to move at all without getting the dry heaves.

So I did it like I do everything, jumping in with both feet and signing up for Brazilian jiu-jitsu (something I’d been meaning to do for ages), starting mostly-daily yoga again, and biking when I got the chance.

Five months later, I feel so much better.

It might sound silly, but all that physical activity has been my lifeline. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, my stress levels are better, and I’m making new friends. (I also love BJJ more than any sane person should probably love being stuck under someone twice their size that’s sweating profusely on them, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It feels like I was living in a house that looked just fine from the outside, while the inside was all overrun with black mold and poltergeists and shit. After busting my ass for months, the outside of the house has a fresh coat of paint, but — more importantly, by all reasonable standards — the poltergeists and black mold are gone.

And yet, I keep having this conversation that’s somewhere between baffling and infuriating.

Person: “Did you paint your house? It looks great!”

Me: “Oh, yeah, I did, but it was kind of a side effect of getting rid of this bad stuff that was hiding in the walls. It’s a lot more liveable, it’s a huge improvement!”

Person: “That’s awesome. Your house is so shiny now.”

Me: “Thanks, I guess. Mostly, I’m just happy my house isn’t trying to murder me in my sleep any more.”

Person: “Well, your hard work is paying off, because this new color is so pretty.”

(Case in point: I wound up blocking a dude on a dating app in exasperation, after the third time I said low FODMAP isn’t a weight loss diet, and he responded with, “Well, it’s working, because you look great!” No bro, it’s working because I’m not fighting back the urge to vomit every waking moment.)

End result: I’m left standing there wondering, “What the fuck is going on? Is this a real conversation I’m having or a particularly annoying piece of performance art?”

I guess the better question is, why doesn’t anyone care what it feels like to live in this house?

And so, that is how I wound up mostly naked in front of a virtual stranger letting them take photos of my stretch marks for an art show.

Because every body, every single one, has a story to tell. And those stories are so much less about how those bodies look, or what other people like about them, or what society approves of about them. And they are so much more about what it feels like to live in them, and the struggles we’ve gone through and the things we’ve overcome to continue living in them.

A few months after writing this, I thought it was apropos to add in a photo of me + the photographer at the aforementioned show: