“Oh, come on.”
Two weeks ago, I sat in McKinnon’s Irish Pub in Hartford with one of my best friends. We’ve known each other for about ten years, and chances are, if something funny has happened to me in the past ten years, it’s happened because she was adjacent to it. We were the girls in college that dressed up as Nickelodeon characters for Halloween (I was Ug, she was Patti Mayonnaise) and quoted Eddie Izzard’s Dressed to Kill special to each other until we couldn’t stand up straight from laughter. Now, we were hanging out in the early afternoon with a Guinness (for her) and an red apple martini (for me, because the only beers they had were gross and because I wanted to feel the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy).
At this point in the conversation, I had told my dear friend that in the course of my most recent relationship, I had put on a total of thirty pounds, but I had lost a majority of it. She looked at me with a dubious expression, and said “There’s no way. I saw you a ton during that time. You looked the same! And besides,” she said with a small smirk, “I look at my friends with love.”
I snorted, reaching for my phone and scrolling through until I got to one of me from last March – one of the few I didn’t systematically delete following the breakup. (When you feel like you’ve lost control, you’ll try to reclaim it in any way possible.). The photo is of me during a 5K race, and I look, well, big. I showed it to my friend, and her jaw dropped. “Man, she said, grabbing my phone to inspect it further,” I must have REALLY looked at you with love.”
We laughed, and the conversation turned to other things.
Since my breakup, I have come to understand how the body responds to depression. Some people lose weight. I gain weight. I gain it fast, and I gain it when there’s absolutely no reason to gain it. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
Depression has been linked as a viable cause for weight gain – a recent study showed that there is a definite connection between depression and anxiety and obesity. However, when examining the other way around, the connection that weight gain would cause depression is more tenuous. I can speak to this personally, as it happened to me.
In 2011, I had been a dedicated runner for a few years. I was getting quite fast, and I had trained for two half-marathons before injuries and other life events caused me to defer my entrance. I was also weightlifting, doing yoga, biking for fun, and also just being incredibly active. I had been an athlete. That athletic vibe continued into meeting my ex, but during the summer of 2014, my entire body fell apart due to depression, anxiety/panic disorder, and my arrhythmia. The arrhythmia had been solved due to medication, and the anxiety had been tamped down with the help of therapy, but I still felt like I wasn’t quite myself. It had seemed to come out of nowhere. I was sad all the time. I was unreasonably angry and pessimistic. I was bursting out of my clothes, despite the fact that I had slowly ramped up my workouts and was eating more normally than I had been, and I was trying to stick to my gluten free diet as much as possible. During that aforementioned 5K race, my ex had sprinted ahead of me after declining my polite request for him to run with me, while I hyperventilated my way to a very crappy final chip time. I felt like my legs were going to give out from underneath me. What happened to the girl who could run a 25 minute 5K? What happened to the girl who ate mostly vegan, who did yoga like it was her religion, and who laughed loud and long? Who was this girl I saw in the mirror, this girl who barely had time to brush her hair, who slept for days at a time, who had a closet full of clothes that didn’t fit, and who ate things she probably shouldn’t because other people were eating them and she didn’t want to feel weird? Who was this girl that was lonely, who cried at night when nobody could hear?
I knew what the problem was. I was in the wrong relationship, I was feeling emotionally compromised and abused, and it was making me hideously depressed and anxious. I’d known for quite a long time that I needed to get out, but I was too afraid to say anything because being in the wrong relationship seemed infinitely better than being alone, than starting over. So I kept my mouth shut. Then last spring, everything imploded and I found myself forced to walk away.
I spent that summer heartbroken, but I also spent it in a state of fascination by what was going on with my body. I hadn’t done a damn thing differently, but my weight slowly started sluicing away from my body like feathers off a molting duck. My clothes started to fit better, and then I found myself fitting in clothes I hadn’t fit into in four years. I started feeling stronger and more capable in my workouts, and I didn’t feel like I had to stuff my face at meals. I hadn’t realized how much my body had suffered due to my emotional compromises and toxicity. As a result, my body started to change drastically once I was out of that toxic emotional space. I’m not saying I hated how I looked when I was bigger. But I knew my body wasn’t necessary where it feels most comfortable, and the dramatic flushing of my weight once I was out of that emotional space was a sign that I had made the right choice.
As women, we are told it is better to be in the wrong relationship than it is to be alone. We are told not to say anything, to keep our mouths shut. To accept the compromise. To settle. We are told to abuse our bodies into thinness, but we aren’t told how to love it at any size. We are taught shame before we are taught love.
I started to realize that self-care isn’t just about going to the gym. It’s about knowing how to take care of yourself entirely, body and mind. It’s about mentally helping yourself out and knowing when to both say “yes” and when to walk away. And it’s about knowing how to love yourself as a woman, even on the days when you don’t want to. Especially on the days you don’t want to. Depression is going to lie to you. It’s going to tell you that you need to stay in one spot when you know that you shouldn’t, but you feel like you can’t or don’t deserve anything better. And your body, in an attempt to protect itself, will start to pile on the pounds in order to hibernate inside your feelings. If you feel like you’re in that kind of a spot, don’t hesitate. Get out. Your body, and your mind, will thank you. Loving yourself is a political act.
Now, I’m happily single. I’m busy with a lot of projects, I’m loving the time I get to spend with my family, and yes, I’ve dated a bit but nothing’s quite worked out. Eventually I know I will find someone special, but I’m not stopping my entire life for it. Which is probably how I know I’m in a healthier headspace than I’ve ever been – I won’t sacrifice the health of my body or my mind because I don’t want to be alone. Being alone, it turns out, can be the best possible form of love. And whoever I’m supposed to be with, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, will love the me I love. And that me I love? She always comes first.