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How survive the Freshman 15. One girl's honest battle with eating disorders and body image in college. An insiders look into the Gen Z, teenage girl experience.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Let’s talk about something a lil icky, weight gain. I’m 19-years-old, about to finish my freshman year of university, and medicated. But before I get into all of that, let’s start with some basics. I am 5’10, not nearly as active as when I was ages 10-15, dancing 30 hours a week. I’m busy with work and school, so I usually don’t have time for all 3 meals. I thrive on caffeine and a dream 99% of the time, slaying my classes and trying to be a functional person in my family. But recently when visiting the student clinic for a sinus infection, they took vitals as usual, blood pressure, temperature… and my weight. If I’d never had any predisposition for eating disorders or body image issues, this was enough to set my mind on fire.

Let me tell you, when you are already sick and exhausted the last thing you want to do is be weighed, but we all have to go through it. I try not to look at the scale when being weighed just because I know that I have some struggles with food, weight, and exercise. Now, my lovely, amazing mama tried her damndest due to her own eating disorders to make sure my sister and I grew up body positive, especially in the dance world. That being said, it was just kind of inevitable. Nothing was ever said directly to me, but constantly hearing your standard petite, very thin, best friend constantly be called “fat” or “a whale who eats too much” makes something in your brain flip. It happens just as quickly, if not faster, than turning the light on in your room. You start to think if this is what they think of her, wtf do they think of me? 

This was the beginning of the slow an steady hits to my body image. 

Now, I never really had an “aha” moment but it definitely started around age 12. Seeing myself in tights and a leotard 6 days a week surrounded by mirrors, oof, it was rough, and I never really discussed it with anyone because my best friend wouldn’t understand, she was nowhere near as “fat” as I was, she could only understand the hurtful insults constantly being heard. Picking clothes to wear everyday now that I’m no longer confined by uniforms, is such a nightmare struggle because I hate everything I put on my body. 

I never really brought it up to my mama because she struggled with her own eating disorders and I didn’t want her to feel like she “failed” in a sense that I was feeling this way. When I was 12 that’s when I stopped eating breakfast, just woke up and had my coffee. Lunch consisted of whatever yummy stuff my mom packed for me, because I stopped eating the cafeteria food, and that was enough until 4 or 5 pm-ish when I was home from school/before dance and when I would eat dinner with my family. 

The gradual onset of eating disorders is almost unnoticeable in the beginning,.

Now, enough about the origin story and back to the now. I was still, up until this weighing, only consuming coffee for breakfast and then eating dinner with the family. If there was any snacking it would be either another coffee or a granola bar of some sort. Recently though, I’ve been making small changes like a protein shake for breakfast, along with my beloved coffee, a salad for lunch, and then whatever happens to be on the menu for dinner. I try to move, walking around campus when not working on assignments between classes, but here in the midwest I must suffer from mother nature’s wrath and allergy season (which is all year round for this allergy shot girl). That plays a huge role in my ability to walk outside. I try to do lil 15 minute core routines on youtube but your girl is tired when she gets home, ready to pass out on the couch with my fur baby, Stella. 

Earlier I mentioned being medicated, I suffer from severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, and terrible/excruciating periods. Periods so bad with radiating pain and numbness in my back and legs caused by cramps that are so severe, I sometimes feel bed bound. At the start of the new year I was lucky enough to be put on and start birth control to try and help manage those symptoms, so I’m no longer debilitated during that time of the month. I also would have very irregular periods due to stress and life, that now is being helped as well along with several other things. But even with a low dosage, adding that medication can play a role in weight gain/distribution. I’m also being treated with mental health medications such as gabapentin and prozac, both of those are known to cause little to no weight gain, but with my luck I’m definitely likely to experience that side effect. 

I have to remind myself that I am in control of my actions, reactions and choices.

I decided in March (my birthday month) that I want to make some changes. I want to get in shape and be healthy, because at the end of the day I need to be happy with what I see in the mirror even if it’s not accurate. I feel like there are so many people, women specifically, my age that are experiencing so many changes with moving away for college and balancing work, school, social life, relationships, etc. that many of us neglect simple things like eating healthier and getting our steps in. 

With the help of my wonderful therapist and supportive mama, I’m determined to work on these things and try to make myself happy by making a few lifestyle choice changes i.e. when picking out outfits for class, put some thought into it the night before instead of getting frustrated because I have “nothing” to wear ( which we all know is a lie because my bedroom floor discovered in new clothes), running late just to end up in leggings and a sweatshirt. It’s so exhausting and it makes me feel terrible.

Moms, talk to your daughters. Ask them how they feel about themselves when they stand in front of a mirror. I think there needs to be more discussions being held even though they are uncomfortable, but I know I’m not alone. Don’t stop asking, no matter how many times they roll their eyes or brush you off. My mom talks to us about everything, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. She’s taught me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that I can be happier and feel more in control of my own life. You can’t just ignore the hard parts, they don’t go away…they just grow and fester and get more uncomfortable. We just face it together and get through it, hopefully, less traumatized and triggered than if we tried to do it alone. We have to create an environment where our daughters, sisters, mothers and friends feel safe to be vulnerable. Because the truth is, body image struggles are all too common, affecting an estimated 50-80% of women.

To think about how I’ve felt this way about myself since I was 12 years old, makes me sad. Just like my mom when I have my own children I’m gonna do the same things as she did. Make sure my kids are comfortable with their bodies and being naked from birth. I wish more than anything that they never think of themselves how I think of myself. 

7 years, almost ½ of my life, I’ve hated my body and never said anything about it, because I didn’t want to upset my mom, or trigger my sister to think negatively about herself. The average onset age of eating disorders in women is between 12-25. 

Check on the women in your life that are between those ages, ask those older in recovery and ask how they are doing, eating disorders never really go away. It’s a daily battle to make the decision to eat rather than restrict or eliminate meals. This is something I will continue to struggle with for the majority of my life. 

One day, I hope I can genuinely be able to say I love myself, but until then I hope this helps others realize they aren’t alone. These feelings and thoughts, while unkind, are common to think. That’s the problem. Beauty standards are set for us since birth and we spend our whole lives unhappy trying to achieve them. Do the things that make you happy. I hope one day I can too, in the meantime though I’m working to make the changes. Even the Tinkerbell sized ones.

And to any other young woman out there who is battling her own demons when it comes to food, weight, and self-acceptance – you are not alone. I see you, I hear you, and I’m here for you. It’s a daily fight, but you’ve got this. Eat the bread, wear the crop top, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Together, we can break the cycle of body shame and learn to love ourselves, one small step at a time.

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how my mental illness manifests as a teen in 2022, being a teen in the pandemic

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Hi, my name is Bella and I’m new here at The TRUTH about Motherhood. Well, not really new, since you’ve all watched me grow up on this blog but this is the first post that I’m writing for the blog. It’s a bit personal but, after all, I am my mother’s daughter. Really, would you expect anything less than a complete overshare? Today, I’m sharing how my mental illness manifests as a teen in 2022. Be gentle, it’s my first time.

As a teen girl struggling in the world pre and post-COVID, well we have not really made it to post-COVID yet, things have been tough. The pandemic has affected me and my mental health. I’ve suffered from anxiety since I was about 10-years-old and it got progressively worse throughout middle school and high school. My freshman year of high school started in August of 2019, coincidentally, I suffered one of my worst panic attacks ever on the first day of freshman orientation.

As you can see where this tragic timeline is going as there was a series of very unfortunate events approaching. By March of 2020, my quinceanera was approaching and so was the Billie Eilish concert, which was a Christmas present for my 15th birthday, and it was all about to blow up in my face. My quince was canceled 2 days before the event ( after years of planning) and so was the concert all because of this thing called COVID-19. I really hate coronavirus.

This is how my mental illness manifests as a teen in 2022

It all started Friday, March 13th, which should have been a major red flag. Nothing good ever happens on Friday the 13th. My parents pulled me out of school early and told me to bring home all of my stuff. Second red flag. I was like alright I’m about to get a long Spring Break, then all hell broke loose. By Saturday, March 14th, the whole world was on lockdown. Stay inside, don’t leave the house type of shit, and me and my sister were dumb and like “Yay no school for a couple of weeks!” Then, 2 weeks turned into a couple of months and finishing the school year via eLearning because nobody, especially the schools, knew what the hell to do. Long story short, kids don’t get excited about unexpected “vacations” from school because it’s not going to be as awesome as you thought it was.

Since that tragic freshman year, I’ve spent all of my sophomore year navigating what my school referred to as “mode 3”, which basically meant I was home every day, not going into school, doing a combo of TEAMS meetings and assignments online, essentially teaching myself subjects like genetics and geometry. That was fun. No, it wasn’t. If you thought I had depression and anxiety pre-covid, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

I won’t lie, some of my teachers weren’t very understanding of the whole online thing and they couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just come into school and wear a mask like everyone else. Well, the thing is my dad has underlying conditions and my mom is a diabetic. So for me, my education was an unnecessary risk to the people I love. If I had to choose between my mom and dad not dying and not struggling with school, I’d always choose my mom and dad. Not going to lie, last year was really effin hard. But, soon enough the school year was over and I was finally free of online school.

However, throughout this whole time obviously, my family believed in wearing masks, getting vaccinated and staying home as much as possible. We only went out when absolutely necessary. My parents mobile ordered our groceries and picked them up and everything else we needed, we had shipped to the house. We didn’t travel or get to do any of the normal things people do for 17 months. Honestly, things are still not back to normal and I hate it.

As a teen during this time, missing my friends and family, there was also a lot of anxiety about going back into the real world because I couldn’t help thinking that I could get this virus and potentially kill those closest to me. Basically, my whole high school experience has been stolen from me. No proms, formals, homecoming, football games and no hanging with friends, sleepovers or boyfriends. You can’t do normal things when you can’t even be around people in person. It was like life was called on account of covid.

I did what every normal person in the 21st century does, with access to the internet, I fully embraced my shopaholic tendencies, which might be my favorite and most financially damaging coping mechanism. This was how my mental illness manifests as a teen in 2022. I know it’s serious but there is something about filling an online cart that makes me feel better like things are “normal” and that’s all I want to feel.

The problem is that when you have no other outlet for those feelings of anxiety and depression because you can just feel the vibes are off in the house, and you’ve run out of movies and shows to binge on, the only logical option left to me is to shop online. My top 3 go-to places were Princess Polly, GymShark, and Arie, since then they have somewhat stayed the same, but instead of GymShark I’m drawn to Free People (specifically the movement collection) and Zara is another kryptonite for me.

Seriously, every time I have money, I want to buy new clothes. I’ve always loved fashion and shopping but the pandemic really made me understand what the term “retail therapy” means. Filling online shopping carts and planning travel are what seem to calm my anxiety.

I do love procrastinating doing my homework and spending time with my dogs just as much as the average teen, but there is something that is so satisfying about filling a cart of things you like, and hoping you can buy some of it because, well you aren’t traveling, or eating out, or seeing people why not get dressed up pretty and feel like you’re going somewhere, even though you know the only people going to see you in your cute outfits are your parents, your little sister, the dogs and some friends on TikTok. The only way to feel anything was to shop and feel like something was going to make me happy even if it was just a few days while shopping and opening that box when it got to my house. That is if it wasn’t delayed 10,000 times due to the shipping problems COVID caused.

Since August 2021 and returning to in-person school, where masks are not required, for my junior year of high school, where all we do is talk about SATs and college, my anxiety has kicked into an even higher gear. I can feel those shopping carts calling my name. It has been brought to my attention by my parents that if I want to support this habit, I’ll need to get a job this summer to pay for those carts. I’m not sure I’m quite there yet because a job means being in public and being in public means exposure to cooties and there are not enough carts in the world to be worth that anxiety trigger. Just an FYI, since the start of this nightmare that I’ve had to call life for the last 2 years, I did start therapy, and my therapist is basically my best friend besides my mom. She’s probably the reason I just keep soothingly filling carts and not hitting the buy now button.

In a couple of months, I’m finally supposed to be having my quinceanera, this time with my baby sister who is now turning 15. I keep waiting for apocalypse part II to happen any day now because that’s just my luck. I’ve got to say, if it happens again, there are not enough shopping carts on the internet or Prozac to make me feel better about it. Here’s wishing us all a very boring and uneventful summer filled with nothing but normal things like beach days and family vacations and a long-awaited quinceanera celebration that’s 2 years past due.

How have you been taking care of your mental health and dealing with the pandemic?

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