Youth Doesn’t Equal Health

I was 34 years old when I went through my serious illness, and I’ve always looked young for my age. As the illness progressed, I became extremely thin, which made me look even younger. People expected me to be healthy and happy because that’s how I looked to them. One day, while sitting in the lobby waiting to see a neurosurgeon, because an MRI scan had shown a brain abnormality that the neurologist thought was a tumor, an elderly man looked at me and said, “You don’t look sick enough to be here. You look too young and healthy.”

His words struck a painful chord in my heart. By the time that I got to that neurosurgeon’s lobby, I’d been accused of lying about my illness so many times that I’d actually begun to question my own veracity. Not because I wasn’t being honest about my illness, but because everyone around me seemed to believe that I couldn’t be as sick as I was. Multiple doctors told me that the problem was really anxiety or depression. If I’d had the energy to appreciate irony, I would have smiled at their desire to diagnose me with a mental health problem instead of a physical one because, as a psychotherapist, I was just as qualified to diagnose anxiety and depression as they were. I was afraid, yes, but it was as a result of the illness, not the cause of it.

After being disbelieved and turned away, my desire to be heard and to be helped with what I was going through became somewhat desperate. This didn’t help my situation at all. The doctors felt my desperation, and it further convinced them that I was simply an anxious person, not a sick one. A cycle developed.

As a psychotherapist, I was taught that I am not the expert on what the client is going through. Clients are the experts on their own experience, and it is my job to explore and respect that experience. It’s my belief that if medical professionals would adopt this stance, people would get the help they need to get better much more quickly and easily. Patients would feel heard and understood, and there is evidence that experiencing compassionate understanding is medicinal in itself.

Injuries, like the one that led to my illness, can happen to anyone at any age. Illness is the same. In fact, there are illnesses that primary affect the young. Just because people look OK on the outside, doesn’t mean that they are OK on the inside. I would like to ask the world to stop telling other people what they feel, what they are experiencing, or who they are. If you think about it, it makes no sense for me to tell you what you are experiencing. How on earth could I know? Ask questions. Reserve judgment. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn about someone if you do. And you never know; the knowledge you gain might just save a life.

Thinness Doesn’t Equal Wellness

I’ve been spending my morning searching health and wellness websites and blogs, and I’ve been rather shocked by how often a search for health and wellness turns up a website about diet and exercise. While I do believe that fitness and healthy eating are important to a healthy life, the message seems to be that being thin equals being healthy.

I used to believe this myself, and I spent inordinate amounts of time trying to be thin even though my body is happier on the curvier side. Then, I became terribly ill, and was unable to eat or keep down food for over a year and a half. My body shrunk down to the thinnest I had been since graduating high school. All of my bones were visible through my skin, and I barely even needed to wear a bra.

It was weird just how many people thought this was an attractive look for me. People started stopping me in parking lots and asking for my number. One woman even asked me if I was famous. Another person who was close to me, and knew what I had been through, said, “You look great. Have you been working out?”

Instead of enjoying this attention, it made me angry and sad that the message that thin equals healthy and beautiful is so pervasive in our culture. I was not healthy. I was literally starving to death. Through this experience, I got a taste of what it must be like to live with an eating disorder. Although you’re slowly dying, well-meaning people keep saying that you look great. What a confusing message.

Having recovered my health as well as my former curves, I do my best to love my body and myself just as I am. Being model-thin didn’t make me happy, like I had once believed it would. In fact, I had never felt worse than I did at that time, and I hope never to feel that bad again. In sharing this story, I hope to empower others to love their bodies just as they are. That doesn’t mean that you don’t do your best to live a healthy lifestyle. It simply means that you are worth more than what you look like. You are worthy of love and belonging just as you are, and you are especially worthy of your own love. So, give your body a hug and thank it for carrying you through life and helping you to experience the world. You deserve it.