I signed up for the Circuit Factory January Challenge
my friend messaged me in her pure, unhinged excitement.
4 work-outs a week for 1 month, and I can barely move after the intense session today.
Instead of matching her excitement, or feeling repulsed by the idea of anything called Circuit Factory, shattering anxiety immediately filled my mind and body. I had to join as well. Suddenly, it was a competition. I couldn’t live with the idea that she would get more attractive, while I stayed here, stagnant, in my fat and imperfect body. In that moment, my mind began to fill with images of her, with a tighter ass, more slender legs and an even better bikini bod. I started to picture even more people liking her, wanting to be around her, and wanting to sleep with her and date her. My mind went everywhere, running in hamster-wheel-circles outside of my self.
Suddenly, I was consumed with this idea of Circuit Factory and my undying need to enter the challenge immediately. I began researching, watching videos, and going into a state that I go into when I begin to compare myself with others, and indulge in the “I’m not good enough” thought vacuum.
As of late, this destructive mindset has resurfaced its ugly face several times in varying spaces- friends, work, exercise and food. This level of comparison that reaches beyond what would be considered normal or manageable. Comparison that takes over your mind and your body, to the point that you are completely not there; not present. You are somewhere else, in a land of self-hatred and self-sabotage and the idea of removing yourself is unwelcome. You love being there. Soaking in the pain of hating yourself. It’s safe. It’s controlled. It’s comfort.
It’s clear to me, that the reason behind these frequently re-occurring thought patterns, is the instability and transition in my life. It’s been a year of major change, some wonderful and some painful. I got engaged, I left my full-time job to pursue my business, my partner and I decided to begin a plan to move to a new country, I met Cheryl Strayed, I made some new soul-friends, I attended the Summit at Sea cruise, I met Elizabeth Gilbert…and a toxic and damaging truth was revealed in my family. Aka, I failed, I couldn’t save anyone and after all my efforts, I couldn’t fix it.
Suddenly, it was as if all the good things in my life were outweighed by the one huge event that had been ruling me, my whole life; my parent’s relationship. My family issues. Before even hearing the revelation, I had a deep feeling that something was coming. That transition was occurring and that my life, as I know it, was about to change. For several months, I felt unsettled, as if I knew that I couldn’t save my parents and that something was about to crash.
Enter self-destruction mode.
I developed eating disorders at a young age. I grew up with a lot of instability in my family and was exposed self-hatred, self-destruction and poor body image from my surroundings, my home life and media itself. I suffered from eating disorders for many years, and they were what I used as a form of control; a method to deal with and hide from the out-of-control life I felt like I was living.
I remember experiencing these thoughts and anxieties ever since I was a little girl. Ever since the days of gym class, when I would watch my friends in hateful adoration as they would annoyingly flirt, folding their school-blue shirt sleeves and navy shorts to a less than acceptable length, to expose their perfectly slim arms and legs. I was always the “friend”. I was the one whose role was to pass messages between my friend and her courtier. Everyday I would secretly wish that as I spoke to the boy in the scenario (who occasionally just so happened to be my crush as well) he would suddenly kiss me, or tell me that he liked me. I would wish that he would scoop me off of my feet, and for once, everyone would look at me in jealousy.
Unfortunately, for many years, this is not what happened.
And then I found exercise. Or, I suppose you could say that it found me. It all started on the day of the quarterly PE (physical education) mile run. For some reason, after s many failed attempts at a decently competitive time, I rocked it. So much so, that my teacher passed my time onto the Cross Country Coach, who soon after cornered me in the locker room.
I was in.
Within a few days, I was running Cross Country and within a few weeks, my body began to transform. I loved it. I felt like I was on top of the world. I had a new community, people started to notice me, and best of all- I was being complimented on my appearance for the first time since I was a cute blonde doll-like infant. It fueled me.
At the same time, my family life was undergoing a decent amount of instability- my parents fought a lot and because of his job demands; my dad’s time at home was decreasing month by month.
Food (or lack thereof) and exercise was my way of managing the pain that I was exposed to, and what I felt. At first it wasn’t noticeable, my weight loss was simply attributed to running- it made sense. That is until I started fainting in practice.
I’ll never forget the first time it happened.
Believe it or not, it was during another mile run. I ran an amazing time; I ran so fast, I pretty much sprinted the entire mile. As soon as I finished, I walked my self to the locker room, barely able to see where I was going. I felt so light and dizzy, and my legs were senseless. I pushed the pool-blue ladies bathroom door open, skidded across the wet tiled floor and sat, banging my back against the locker wall.
The next the thing I remember, my Cross Country coach, gym teacher and three good friends were huddled around me, holding a towel, a bottle of water and a can of 100 plus (Malaysia boleh!)
Chloe, what happened? Are you ok?
Maddy, can you go grab Chloe something from the cafeteria?
I could barely gather the energy to speak or sit up, but as soon as I heard the word cafeteria I immediately jumped to attention, and realized that unwanted food was coming my way.
I’m ok! I pushed.
Chloe, you fainted. We need to get you some food, my teacher insisted.
As you can imagine, the food came, and I sat there, as if I was on a platform, putting on a show, and I slowly ate, baby bite by baby bite, the pizza bread from Connie’s. I felt disgusting. I hadn’t eaten these carbs or cheese in months. I hadn’t eaten anything outside of green grapes or fruit salad in weeks. Suddenly, I was being forced to eat this fat-inducing piece of pizza bread, slathered in cheese and grease. I felt like I was going to die.
I knew what I had to do.
But I needed to get rid of everyone, so I could do it in peace. It took all my energy to stand up, and walk over to my locker and create a scene that resembled me being ok. Luckily, they believed me. I told a half-true story that I had forgotten to eat that day, because I was late for school and had to do homework during breaks and lunch. What I didn’t say is that I actually hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s breakfast, aside for a handful of grapes and 3 diet cokes. But they didn’t need to know that.
When they finally let me be, I only had one option. I had to remove that disgusting pizza bread from my body. So I did it. Despite my shaking hands, light head and blurred vision, I courageously pushed my fingers down my mouth, into the tips of my oesophagus, scratching my throat on the way down. I purged the pizza in the girl’s locker room. I was late for class because I had to wait for my friends to leave. But I did it. I was back in control.
That was when bulimia and I made friends.
Our friendship lasted a long time, all through middle and high school, as well as University. For a long time, I truly felt like she was my best friend and that we loved and supported each other. She was always there for me, and rarely gave me a hard time, even when I had a lot of unreasonable expectations on her. Once I moved from Malaysia to Canada for university, our friendship started to get shaky. I met a new boy, I had new friends, and my secret friendship with Bulimia was no longer secret and not accepted. I wanted to keep her, and stay safe, but she began causing me more problems than I could handle.
When people ask me about how I developed eating disorders, what it was like and how I recovered from them, I am not always sure what to say. I’m not sure of which story to tell, to inspire them. I’m not even sure somedays if I’m the right person to speak to them, when the truth is, that I still have emotional episodes, I still think the same thoughts when life gets tough and I even may experience an episode once or twice a year. Some days I feel like the strongest and most inspiring person, and then there are moments where I don’t know what to do. Anxiety and its related illnesses are strong and can dictate a lot of power over who we are and what we do with our lives.
For those of you who have experienced a disease such as anorexia or bulimia, you’ll know that after many years of repetitive behaviours and mechanisms of control- they do not just vanish into thin air when you decide it’s time for them to leave. It’s like what they say with alcoholism…once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
The second you allow your ego to think that you’ve cut the habit and are invincible again, that’s when it’ll sneak up to get you.
We are not invincible. We are not here to control everything. As with anything in life, it takes daily practice, daily love and daily mindfulness.
There is no one reason why someone develops a disease like bulimia. It’s a complicated creation. There is no a + b = c sequence of logic. When I go through my story, it’s clear that anorexia, bulimia and exercise addiction all came to me at a time when I was completely lost- and grew up feeling shame, guilt, anger, and sadness. I grew up feeling like I was unlovable, despite the fact that I had a family who all truly loved me.
To this day, I have beautiful relationships with both my parents and my brother. They are all my best friends, and I love them dearly. However, I was exposed to a lot of instability in my home. Being an empath, and so sensitive, I believe that I absorbed a lot of the pain that circulated the walls of the structure I called home.
I truly believe that we go through experiences in our lives for a reason. We have good days, and we have bad days. There is never one explanation for why something happens, and throughout time, we have tried our best to find answers to unanswerable questions.
In my mind, the issue with looking or seeking answers is that without them you are in a place of resistance and avoidance, or fear. More so, once you find your answer, more often than not you end up being unsatisfied or soon after you’re seeking again.
It all comes down to your beliefs and your belief system. We are all creatures of our environment and our upbringing, and sometimes, in order to understand whom we are and what we are going through- it is important to go back to the beginning.
For me, I had a deep-rooted belief that I was not good enough, not pretty enough and not thin enough. I carried with me the idea that no matter what happened or who came into my life, I would always be alone and unloved. This belief is what extended into the many areas of my life, including eating, exercise, friendships, work, school, and socializing. My behaviors, such as comparison and jealousy were all formed from these fundamental beliefs.
It’s quite interesting once you begin to break down a belief system and see how complex and deep it goes. It is rarely just about what is on the surface. The idea is that you allow your thoughts, anxieties and fears to be, here, and focus in on the moment. You focus your attention to your breath, your heartbeat and your limbs.
When you begin to unwind your beliefs, you can begin not only to understand how you work, but also what motivates you, what stresses and strains you and where your balance is.
For me, eating disorders were an experience that brought me incredible pain and incredible gifts. I would absolutely not be where I am today, doing what I am doing, without my eating disorder. I believe that I am here to heal, and I lost my way through childhood for reasons that I may not ever truly understand. However, I look at my past with gratitude, and breath deep into the pain that I feel as I write this. It is that pain, which allows me to live, to be alive and to connect with others. It is what offers me the opportunity to fulfill my gift and role as a healer.
The practice of being in the moment is the true challenge for us.
Whether you are starting the year, starting a yoga challenge, writing a book or at the ‘beginning of a health journey’, I highly encourage you to focus less on the destination and more on where you are right now and how you feel right now. You will not be a failure if you don’t complete the challenge and you will not be more liked if you do. You will still be the same person. That deep part of you will be unchanged.
Wherever you are in your life, and whatever you are going through, I encourage you to breath into the experience and allow what is here, to be here. Chances are, it is here for a reason.