My big sister was and has always been my hero and favorite teacher. When we were little, she was my protector. She would shield me from the demons under the bed (though she usually made me sleep on the outer side, just in case). She would protect me from bully’s on my way home from school. She would be my shoulder to cry on and my hero to emulate.
As we got older, she was the one who would hold my hand and make me brave enough to face the world – whether that world contained a killer history test, or crippling heartbreak, or a dream on the other side of a great big ocean. She was always my 3am call and nothing was ever real until we told it to each other.
When we were growing up, I remember my sister struggling with confidence. I could never quite understand it, cause she was the coolest person I knew. Her hair feathered more easily than mine, her jeans could tight roll flawlessly. But, as is the case with all of us, we are continually fighting our own demons that tell us quietly and with persistence, that we are not enough. And those demons are not always easy to squelch.
I was scrolling through Facebook one day (as you do), and saw my sister had posted a story about her own personal journey to self-acceptance. By the time I got to the end, I had tears rolling down my face, cause I realized my sister is still my hero. And she’s still teaching me things.
I asked her if she would be willing to let me share her story with my readers, which I knew would resonate with so many of us. Ladies and (if I have any) Gentlemen readers, meet my incomparable sister:
It feels like a good portion of my time is trying to remember something I have forgotten. Do I need to get milk at the store? Did I feed the cats? Why did I come into this room? And then there are these moments, for whatever reason, stick in my head. When I was growing up there was a milk commercial with a little girl standing in front of a mirror. The reflection started out with this gangly little girl and as the little girl drank milk, the reflection changed until eventually there was a strong young woman standing there. My mom once commented that the commercial reminded her of me and from that point on whenever I’ve looked into the mirror, I look for the girl who is drinking her milk.
Regardless of the size I was wearing, there have been times in my life when she was easy to spot and I gave her a high five as I strutted by. And there have been moments when I hoped to catch just a glimpse of her in the eyes of the woman looking back at me. I didn’t grow up as gracefully as the girl in the commercial. I was dorky and most of the time felt alone, even in a room filled with friends. I always felt that I should be better; I should see that strength reflected more often.
My relationship with food complicated things. Food could be a comfort or something that could be controlled; if I was really happy it could be a reward, there is no way for me to explain it really. There were times, typically through a very restrictive diet, that I would get into that “skinny dress” and stare into the mirror, hoping that the girl who drank her milk would be staring back. I would feel good for a brief period of time. Overall, it was a game of hide and seek. At age 25 I was finally diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease and a lactose intolerance, and finding that strong young woman didn’t get any easier.
In August 2011 I discovered that I was pregnant. Over the next nine months, I put on 55 lbs and struggled to maintain a balance. When I looked in a mirror the woman who stared back was tired, cranky, and uncomfortable. I was drinking my milk (lactose free) for two. Again, I felt like I should be glowing more, I should be happier. I hated going for my check-ups because the nurse always commented on my weight gain. She would make a face, look at my husband and then say softly – should I talk about your weight? I felt terrible. After I had Brynn, I lost the weight rather quickly. It wasn’t a healthy weight loss, the woman in the mirror wasn’t happier. It was quite the opposite really. I didn’t feel strong. As it often does, life gets hard and my weight flipped. After 7 months I was at 180lbs, I was diagnosed with Post-Partum Depression. I was tired all the time; I missed a lot of work. I didn’t care. The weight gain was a symptom, not the cause of the exhaustion. My soul was tired. I stopped looking in the mirror.
Then I lost my Mimre (grandmother). I sat next to her bed one night at the hospital, while she was in a coma, and told her it was OK to go. I was going to be OK; I was going to be strong. I needed to be strong. I needed to be strong for my family; I needed to pull myself out of the black hole I was in. I needed help. I went to a counselor and started taking anti-depressants; however for me, there was still something missing to the solution. I felt like I was coping, managing. I was not getting stronger, I was not overcoming. The woman in the mirror was a stranger.
In 2013, I found the missing link, a personal trainer Hannah May. Through working with Hannah May, I learned about healthy eating and how to nourish and not restrict. I read books on how our gut is link to everything. Having been diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, I was aware of how gluten affected me emotionally and physically but didn’t put it all together. I started taking supplements that helped me strengthen and not cover up. I found a group of people that I looked forward to seeing two times a week. A group that picked each other up, cheered each other on; even pushed when needed. It was not long before I started recognizing that woman in the mirror more often. I felt strong. I felt capable. I had goals and was determined to meet them. Within that first summer, I was able to stop taking my anti-depressants. I lost 45lbs over the first year. When I looked into the mirror, I didn’t rediscover my old self; there was a whole new woman being reflected back and she was wearing a wiggle dress from Unique Vintage and my favorite red shoes.
It is important for my daughter to see that strength is beauty, it is important for my students to see that even when you are at your lowest, you can get up. You get stronger. It still takes some time, every once in awhile, to find that woman staring back at me. However I just grab a glass of lactose free milk, my new favorite wiggle dress and say “Ready or not, here I come.”
I hope you all found this story as inspirational as I did. May you all be spending the Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones. And most of all, may you spend this holiday loving yourself.
Lip Color: Ruby Woo