Updated: Oct 16, 2021
I’m just going to come right out and say it, I’ve been taking care of my mental health like an athlete training for the Olympics. So many of my struggles have been due to me not being self aware. Ignoring and avoiding my weaknesses, my positives, my unique makeup and inner being. The truth is, I have been working on this shit for a few years now, without doing so I may have never found out about my ADHD. But I want to be clear here: discovering this about myself is not what started the self awareness journey, the discovery came because I was already on it, putting in the work of reflection and curiosity. Finding out I have ADHD has transformed this journey for me in so many ways. I am not done, I have not completed this journey, and the struggle is still very real. I like to call myself Terri Strugbilla when I’m really fuckin’ up. But damn, I am closer to finding myself. I’ve started accepting myself and loving myself and standing up and speaking up for myself.
When you find out you have any type of psychological, neurological, developmental etc etc etc disorder or condition as a full grown ass woman… your entire life keeps running through your head. Not like a near death experience type thing, though in a way I suppose it was a death of my former self, of my past identity. I’m looking back now with new knowledge and love for Terri at 6, Terri at 11, teenage Terri (ok maybe a bit of a mess there, sorry mom!), Terri going to college & dropping out, Terri in relationships, Terri as a friend, as a family member, as a coworker… I can’t help but re-examine these past versions of me and all of my experiences. I don’t go there to dwell, I go there to understand and accept myself. To forgive myself for not knowing, for not being brave, or for just straight up being a bitch. Sometimes, I have to say “well what I could have done was this instead” (notice how I didn’t use the word “should”!) or “maybe this person didn’t have it all together either" or "so-and-so was acting out of fear”. I try not to berate myself: I learn the lesson, forgive myself or the other person, and act accordingly moving forward. Its not like I remember the time I drank way too much at a high school party and had to be hand delivered to my sister on the front porch by my friends and think ‘hmm, what a piece of shit 17 year old Terri was, such a lush, I should never drink again!’ Hell no! This girl enjoys a good glass of wine, some coconut rum and those citrusy Summer beers. I absolutely embarrassed myself that night, I absolutely got my ass in deep trouble, and I also lost my favorite fucking pair of shoes that I may never get over… but I learned the lesson (way earlier than my self discovery journey, just for the record). I know my limits, how much I am able to drink before getting like that, when to stop so I can still enjoy and have control of myself. And to be honest, I lose shit enough when I’m stone cold sober, I ain’t losing a good pair of shoes for a couple shots of whiskey. This example is actually quite lighthearted, I’m trying to bring in the humor and laughter before it gets a little deeper.
I’m just going to put this Trigger Warning out there right now in case this is something you are experiencing or have experienced, and are not ready to read another person’s story on the subject. The rest of this is about Disordered Eating.
I’m not sure when the thoughts first entered my mind: was it when I was 7, at the school Halloween parade, and I noticed how skinny the girl’s belly in the I Dream of Jeannie costume was? Was it a little later, at 10 when the girls started sharing what our jeans size was with each other at school? Was it that same year, when a boy told me the gap between my two front teeth was so wide he could kick a field goal between them? I mean, I know I absolutely had the seeds of disliking my appearance by the time 6th grade rolled around and I somehow managed to have a bus full of students hate me to the point where, each time we came to my stop and I got up to walk down the bus aisle, they’d all stomp their feet as if I was so huge I shook an entire school bus by simply walking, while also barking at me and calling me a dog. Someone please explain this part, I still have no fucking idea what it meant to be called a dog, was I THAT ugly? Like I had a dog face? Took me well into my 20s to stop freezing up and thinking people were making fun of me whenever a human would make a barking sound. The good news is that I am over this now, I can’t believe I actually thought I was fat back then, and even if I were, what the fuck does that have to do with my worth?
I have been so concerned with my appearance, never being good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, boobs too small, ass too big… I spent so long holding onto this self hatred. I didn’t even realize that it was still there a few years ago, until I was forced to acknowledge it.
About three years ago, I knew I had some health I had to work on with exercising and eating better. I put on a little weight and was a bit sluggish, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have ~things~ going on at the time, but really when don’t we? So, I decided it was the Summer I would get back to healthy and active Terri. I wasn’t seeing weight loss or going down sizes in clothing as the top priority, I just knew I wanted to feel better. Then I found out my mom has some weird ass gene marker for some weird ass heart condition. I don’t remember the name, even though I researched it extensively at the time, but they called it the killer of healthy young people. She found this out by giving a blood sample for some research thing, when they told her she was like “What the fuck, you could have literally said anything else is genetic with us, every type of cancer I wouldn't be surprised, but there have been zero heart issues in my family.” When she told me what the symptoms could be, I started to get nervous. She of course was going through a more rigorous process of testing to see if she had the defect, and I didn’t even know if I had the gene marker yet, but hearing that heart fluttering, occasional shortness of breath, and some other things were common for this, I freaked the fuck out. I had these issues regularly and seriously always thought it was just my anxiety and low blood sugar. Could this be the reason I have insomnia? I stopped seeking answers to that one when the goddamn cardiologist reviewed my sleep study results and declared it “restful sleep” even though the sleep tech verified that I had in fact stopped breathing and woke up a ton of times. I digress. So my exercise would have to wait, I could not risk dying on a run if I had this. I did start to eat a little more healthfully during this time though. By the end of the Summer, I got the results back and found that I do not have the genetic marker for this defect, so I do not have the condition and I would not be passing it down to my children. I also found out that my mother does not have the condition, just the marker. Thank fucking god. Now I was ready to REALLY treat my body right and be active. I hadn’t looked at my weight in years, but I did the beginning of that Summer so that I could gauge where I was at as I began the journey. Then after the whole heart defect thing at another doctor appointment, I actually let the nurse tell me my weight and I was so surprised at how much I had lost! I didn’t really feel it or think I could see it, but it gave me the boost of confidence I needed to stick with my routines. I didn’t cut any food groups out, I wasn’t running nonstop, yet I was feeling more energized. I was actually doing this the healthy way and seeing progress.
That Fall, I decided to do this big contest thing for work the following Spring. It would involve me getting on a stage and giving a speech in front of a shit ton of people in the industry. Like, a lot of high ranking people. I was competing to be the “youth ambassador” for the whole state. This made me so nervous but I felt like it was just the shake up I needed to get me out of a rut and into some good experiences. I gave a small speech that October for our local chapter, and woooo baby! I was a shaking mess, but damn it felt good and was so exciting, and I knew I could do better the more I practiced. Everyone was so excited for me and so encouraging. And then I saw the picture used on our company’s Facebook page to announce that I would be representing our area… it was a couple years old and in all honesty, I freakin’ hated it. It really wasn't that bad, but all I could see was a little girl with a potato head, tiny teeth, and chubby cheeks. It was then that my past insecurities took over. Nothing seemed more horrifying to me than being on a stage the following May looking like that. Being laughed at for my appearance, or worse: ignored for not being beautiful. To be completely honest, I spent more time and energy focused on losing weight than I did on my speech. By Christmas I dropped 4 sizes, hardly fitting in anything. Some of the things I held onto that were too tight on me, I still couldn’t wear because now they were too loose. The people around me noticed, they said things like “I think you lost enough weight now, you can stop dieting” “eat a cheeseburger” (this one has always fucking eluded me, if you think about it a regular cheeseburger is a perfectly nutritious meal and not something that will instantly make you gain weight) “how often do you workout?!” And the list goes on. I had a lot of compliments too though, and those are the comments I used to validate myself and justify my new habits. I would get SO angry at the people telling me I was too skinny and needed to put some weight on, like did they even fucking get that was the opposite of my goal right now?
I was working out every single day. I’d get up early and go for a run, either on the treadmill at the gym or in the dark on the backroads where I live (so goddamn unsafe with all the bears, oh my god what if I was attacked?!). I also lifted weights a few nights a week, and the nights I didn’t lift I did some other sort of full body workout. I was running myself ragged. What made it worse was that I was restricting my food intake so much, that I wasn’t even getting enough nutrients to do these workouts. I tracked fucking EVERYTHING. Fitbit told me how many steps I had, how many calories I was burning, and how many calories I consumed. I swear I would have entered the goddamn air in the tracker if it had calories. I would weigh my food and portion everything out perfectly, planning the 300-600 calories I’d allow myself to eat during the day, knowing dinner was always the biggest meal. I would internally freak out if we were going out to eat somewhere that didn’t list the calories or it was too hard to guesstimate based on the meals. I shit you not, I entered every single stick of gum I consumed. I remember having a mini meltdown when I was out of my usual gum, and had to chew a stick that was 10 calories as opposed to the 5 calorie ones I normally had. Not that the 10 calories was the problem, but that I undoubtedly just doubled my intake for an item. I was like freaking Jim Carrey in the movie 23 with counting calories. Sometimes I would choose a pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups over a decent sandwich for lunch because they only had 220 calories, and I at least got some chocolate out of it. I was obsessed with burning twice as many calories as I took in. I actually lost my period during this time, my body decided it was not a stable environment to house another life, so it would cut out any possibility of it happening for the time being. Six. I lost SIX months of my period because what nutrients I was getting weren’t enough to keep my organs all running properly. After the first two I knew I had a problem, but I wouldn’t even address it with anyone until after I got through my competition in May. Not only was I on some dumb shit about my weight and being on stage, I was stressed the fuck out with studying for the exam and writing my speech. I knew I had to look “professional” and had to somehow develop the persona of a woman with her shit together. I was lost, everywhere I looked, I was lost.
That March, I took part in the local St Patrick’s day parade, walking in it with my family for my step dad’s company. Every sip of beer (how many calories?) all the candy I ate (another tire around my belly). Needless to say, when you are shriveling away, alcohol hits a lot quicker than usual. I was drunk, all consumed with my weight and taking every “you’re so skinny, eat some food!” as a compliment. I was caught between having a good time, enjoying myself, eating my favorite candy like a kid and mentally keeping note of each calorie that I consumed. There was a buffet afterwards with all the local restaurants, I’m talking 15 different types of pizza and allllll the good stuff. I ate - I ate so much and I hated myself so much. When my cousin left to take his kids home I jumped on the chance to get dropped off at my moms, so I could be alone and avoid anymore binging. And then I ended up purging. I wanted every fucking tootsie roll, slice of pizza, lollipop, and bud light out of my stomach before the calories could imbed in my body and grow into fat (that delusional thinking I had.. I can see it now). The relief I had after making myself throw up was short lived, I knew the calories were already inside me and the damage could not be undone this way. I had to workout. I had to workout and then restrict my calories even more than usual for the rest of the week. If I’m even allowed to be proud of this, I will note that this was the only time I made myself throw up. Not that what I was doing was any healthier though.
It’s May: I’m at the convention and the competition is underway. I am a goddamn high-strung child at this point. There were so many other things psychologically and professionally going on here, but that's another story for another day. The night of the speech, after we did our exams and had our interviews, the winner was announced. I did not win, and honestly for as much as I put into it, I was glad. I felt free. I could stop pretending now. I knew if I had won that I’d have even more pressure on me to appear a certain way. I knew I couldn’t handle it anymore. Now that the event was over, I could address my issues. I would call the doctor about my missing period, I would start to eat more and exercise less. I would have a glass of fucking wine and enjoy it without Googling "How many calories are in 5 ounces of Cabernet?" So, that night, after freeing myself by losing the competition, I drank. I danced. I ate a huge ass pretzel with all the beer cheese. I laughed and I spoke like I actually speak. I shed that mask I had been wearing, the one I thought was requested of me. And in that, I decided to never do what is expected of me if it meant endangering myself again. I decided I would get my health back and I would love myself. I decided I would face my demons and I would fucking come out the other side better for it. I decided to be me.
It wasn’t an overnight accomplishment. I had limiting beliefs to address, an inner child to heal, and a self to get to know. I read personal development/self help/whatever type of books you’d call it to improve my mindset & address these things. I asked others I trust for their honest opinions on some of my weaknesses. I set boundaries. I learned about my interests, my values, and what brings me joy. I started setting realistic and healthy goals for myself. There were some ugly realizations and some hard truths to face -but I did come out the other side. And I am so fucking grateful that I didn’t give up.
It was during this time that I decided to go back to school. December 2019 I marched into the open registration at the community college nearly 10 years after dropping out and I enrolled for the following spring semester. Little did I know COVID would be right around the corner too. In a much, much healthier place psychologically (and physically) I was able to look inward when things started getting too hard. That is when I learned I had ADHD, and lucky me, I had it all along! It was just missed because it presented differently in me compared to the boys who were studied, and my people pleasing tendencies paired with my anxiety coping mechanism somehow allowed me to stumble through life.
As I’ve been learning about my brain and the way I am wired, diving even deeper into this journey of self-awareness and self-acceptance, I found how my past eating habits were able to manifest so disastrously: I was seeking dopamine so I binged; I lost track of time or got distracted by too many things so I forgot to eat; I had a “hyper fixation” and developed an obsession with calorie intake. Holy fucking shit. Now, I am not the best meal prepper or anything so I don’t really do much of that, to be honest the last time I did that I took it a biiiiiiiiit too far. But, I always make sure to have one of my favorite healthy protein bars in my purse, so if I forget to pack a lunch or eat breakfast I at least have something with nutrients to get me through until I can get something to eat. It helps when I have no appetite too, knowing that I have something I will eat even when I’m not really hungry helps make sure I do actually eat at those times. I don’t even know what the calories are for some of those, and I don’t care. I know they have nutrients my body needs.
With this being ADHD Awareness Month, and last week having Mental Health Awareness Day, I wanted to share one of the biggest struggles I’ve had. I wanted to show my vulnerability and my understanding. I share this so that people are aware of what’s going on in someone’s head while they’re in the midst of a breakdown or disordered eating or undiagnosed neurodevelopmental condition. I share this so that people feel less alone in their own struggles. I share this so people can see there is a way out of whatever mess you’re in. I share this so people know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I will be there shining that mother fucker for you while you venture through it.
Sending you positive vibes wherever you are at in your journey,
XOXO - Terri