“Often, when someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ll answer by saying “let me go weigh myself.” While I don’t necessarily advertise it, it is not a secret that I am a childhood sexual assault survivor and have been dealing with chronic depression and severe anxiety my entire life. When you add an eating disorder into the mix, it makes it pretty obvious to the outside world as to when I am struggling with the pain of those mental health issues. The bigger I am, the worse I am doing.
While I was never super-thin, I haven’t always been grossly overweight. I was a three-sport athlete (basketball, volleyball, softball) in high school, and became a swimmer and springboard diver in college. I hid my mental issues for a long time, too long. I’m smart and I’m a good performer, so I could fake my way through a lot of things and remain functional. But chronic mental health issues, untreated and unaddressed, take a toll on you, and mine really began to catch up to me when I was about 20 years old. As I retreated into my own world of pain and sadness, the friend I took with me was food.
People who struggle with mental health issues will do anything to numb that pain – so many people who suffer as I do develop addictions or engage in destructive behavior, including self-harm, to escape that pain. While I am grateful that I have been able to avoid serious addiction issues and mostly avoid self-harm, it’s difficult when your coping mechanism of choice is food. You can’t hide it, and you can’t not do it. Addicts can cut out drugs or alcohol – I can’t cut out food. Everyone can see the consequences of your behavior, and so many people feel entitled to comment on it. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that most people are well-intentioned, but unless I ask you, I do not need nor do I want your comments on my weight or my eating habits. Our culture is not kind to people with weight problems. For someone like me, who already has severe self-esteem and self-image issues, my weight issues are hopelessly tied in with feelings of shame and self-loathing. When someone comments on my weight, that shame intensifies and only contributes to falling further inside those dark places in my head, which then triggers more abusive eating, and it is very difficult to extract yourself from that spiral when you are in the throes of that pain.
I did not seek help for my mental health issues until I was 40 years old, and it was only then that I finally told someone about my sexual assault. A huge part of my treatment and recovery was learning to like myself and to believe that I am worthy of being happy and healthy. It is something I have to work on every minute of every day, and it is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. What I think most people don’t understand is that weight loss isn’t as simple as eating right and exercising. If that was the case, I’d have been a size 8 my whole adult life. You have to want to be healthy, and a prerequisite to that is caring about yourself enough to make that a priority. My treatment consisted of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, along with intensive work on active skills and practices to manage my mental health and stay in front of the destructive aspects of it. You have to commit to it, because if you don’t, your mental health issues will manage you. I do my best, but I am not always successful. I too often allow work and other outside forces to be a priority over my own mental health, and when that happens, the pain intensifies and I turn to my usual remedy, food.
My fitness journey is inextricably intertwined with my mental health. When I am doing the right things to manage my health, fitness is a huge part of it. It’s one of the few times a day that I can turn my brain off and focus on me. It’s self-rewarding, which pushes me to be consistent with it, which then puts me on a good spiral – I work out, which makes me want to do better in workouts, which makes me focus on the food I put in my body, which pushes me to work out harder, which pushes me to continue to eat right…you get the picture. I would not be able to commit and be consistent if I was not in an environment where I feel safe enough to be vulnerable. By “vulnerable” I mean that I am not afraid to try and fail. I’m not afraid for people to see my struggle. I’m my harshest critic, and that is putting it lightly. I can be downright hateful to myself. Coach John has been on me from Day One about addressing my negativity toward myself – he doesn’t tolerate it. I appreciate that so much because he forces me to take the time and make it a priority to be kind to myself, which allows me to believe that I deserve health and happiness, which turns me into the Nakamura that I want you all to see.
I spent a long time suffering in silence because I did not want to be a burden to anyone and I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my issues. Please do not ever let that happen to you. You are not a burden and you are not alone. It’s okay to need help and it’s even more okay to ask for it.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my journey,