It won’t be years or decades, if ever, that you will have some perspective about me. You may not ever understand why I am the way I am. And I accept that completely. I cannot ever be someone I’m not. And in writing this letter, my babes, I am being the most honest and open I’ve ever been. And I want you both to know that I tried, I am trying, and I will always try. For you both, first.
There are days and moments you both won’t remember because you are both now so small, especially one of you. I’m thankful the hardest years of my life have matched the first years of yours. Weird statement yeah? Wrong. These have been the years I’ve not been at my best so it’s perfect that both of you won’t be able to recall some of these days and moments. A blessing for me.
The days and moments I refer to are those where getting out of bed is psychological torture. The day is not something I want to face. My mind will be fuzzy. I won’t have a plan. I can’t possibly make a plan. I feel mentally drained before I even have to do anything. Sleeping only makes this worse during the day, because I know it’s not going to fix my mind.
I have been overweight since I fell pregnant with you, the eldest. Please don’t think I love being this way, but please don’t think I hate myself either. I don’t. But in the days leading to writing this letter to you both, I know I was getting close to hating myself. I don’t want that for me, or for you both.
My weight is an issue to me physically. It does not depress me. I still buy clothes I feel comfortable in. I can go for enjoyable long walks with you both and our dogs. I do not feel restricted in any way. The issue is I know that if I don’t start making weight loss my number one priority, I will not experience you both understanding this letter in decades to come because I’ll be dead. Simple.
The second issue my heavy weight raises is the example, a poor one, that I am consequently setting to you both. You have both made comments, like “Mum, why are you so fat?” and “Mum, why do you look like you are having a baby?” and it doesn’t hurt me emotionally. I laugh along with you. I don’t take it personally. But maybe it’s time to work on this weight issue so I am the example I know I can be to you both. And I will still be here, hopefully, in decades to come.
My weight ties to my psychological issues. The first psychological concern I remember involved obsessions (I used to run for hours at a time in 40 degree heat). It was insane. It took one comment from my Dad to change the course of my psychological wellbeing for years to follow. The comment was “You run like a spastic”. It was a throw away, typical nasty Dad line. A throw away line. But it was the first time I was compared to my younger sister and it hurt. We were not the same, are not the same, and never ever will be. I took an exception to this comment, because not only was Dad not recognising I was an individual, he was putting me down by comparison. I was 13.
My quirky self-regulating behaviours from that point until I was around 19 years old were not outwardly recognised by anyone I knew, who knew me, and could see that I was being destructive. As I mentioned, I started exercising in insane weather, for insane periods of time, with no food in my stomach and not enough sugar in my blood. I noticed that I could sustain myself for longer by dropping more meals every week. I’d go the whole day at school without eating. I’d sit in assembly in the gym and pray my stomach wouldn’t grumble. It always did. And people started to comment. But only on the grumbles, not on the weight that started to melt off me.
When the weight wasn’t coming off quick enough, I tried to make myself sick. It started as a couple of times a week. At its worst, it was twice a day. And I incorporated it into my runs around the neighbourhood so I didn’t have to be sick more than once at home. I hoped no one was noticing, but wanted someone to notice at the same time. I really needed someone to tell me to stop. Because I couldn’t stop.
Through this time, I was so malnourished the skin started peeling off my body and my hair was falling out in clumps. I saw this as something else I had to hide, so I carried moisturiser for my hands everywhere I went, dyed my hair black, and cut my hair short. Phew. No one noticed. But my Year 10 school portrait shows how bad I really was travelling.
After struggling through two and half years of this, I found out one of my close friends was facing her own battle with her weight. The teachers were very supportive of her and her needs. It was great and I’m so glad she got the help she needed when she did. I never knew she was sick, as sick as me. When I found out, I tried to stop my own unhealthy behaviours and support her, but I couldn’t. And I still couldn’t tell anyone that I was fighting demons too. I stopped acknowledging the “Wow, you look great” comments too. I stopped wearing figure-hugging clothing. And I resolved to go full tom-boy. It helped to hide changes in my body.
Through this time, I didn’t hate myself. I still felt like me. I wasn’t trying to be someone else. So with that said, I don’t know why I pushed myself for so many years. It got me nowhere.
If we fast forward to the year before my Dad died, we’d see that I was putting weight back on. I felt healthy and I wasn’t eating badly. I was enjoying food. Possibly because I knew it was a luxury. But the weight kept piling on and the exercise stopped almost completely.
Fast forward again, and I’m sitting here on the couch, tired just from a day at home of cleaning one room, and overweight to the point where I don’t buy new clothes because I’m waiting for the day that I can buy “that one size down”.
Putting weight aside now. I’m done with that part of this letter. As important as it is to my physical health and mortality, my shape is no reason for who I am or how I feel about myself, my family or my life.
My next psychological issue after obsession, became anxiety. Panic and excessive worry to the detriment of my wellbeing. I know that this arose when I was cheated on by my first long-term partner, during the same period in which he promised to support me through the terminal illness and tragic death of my Dad. And at the same time he started becoming physically violent.
I felt myself becoming more and more alone. I lost trust in everyone. I became quiet. I felt cheated and ripped off. As I spent more time with my family, who deserved my whole attention and presence, my partner took it upon himself to move on and away from me. This tore me up inside, but left me relieved. It was at a point in my life where everything was breaking down as much as I tried to keep everything going.
After Dad passed, I panicked about more and more in my every day life. I worried more that Mum would also die before her time. I worried I’d be alone and never find someone who would love me as I was. I worried I’d not fall in love with a career that took over every part of me. The panic and tears that followed would become the most difficult issue in my life.
Then I met your Dad. We spent time getting to know each other and spending nights out with each other. I started to let my hair down. We got engaged, we moved in together. We bought our dogs. Then I fell pregnant with you, my eldest.
I loved my first pregnancy but my panic was still there and morphed into something that when it struck, I had to give in to. And that meant giving up everything I was doing at the time and not being able to listen to anyone around me. It was strangling me.
The panic came from being exhausted and from having hyperemesis. I developed Panic Disorder with emetophobia. It literally was gut-wrenching. And when you were born, my eldest, the relief didn’t come. It shifted into something more sinister.
My fear of death, after having to face it so much, and overwhelming panic at the thought of losing my baby gripped every part of me. It became so difficult to live with. So difficult that one day, I just lost it. I was too scared to leave the house. With this fear came never-ending vomiting and nausea at the thought of not getting enough sleep or getting sick with a stomach bug that could lead to vomiting. Your Nan had to tear me away from the house and drove me, with my head stuck in a bucket filled with vomit.
I ended up sedated by the GP and with the help of a psychiatrist, my problems were laid bare for my loved ones to see. They became the biggest part of me and something I’ve never been afraid to talk about. My panic attacks and anxiety would floor the strongest of men. Yet today, I can get through them and even in the middle of one, where my heart rate is elite-athlete in the middle of a 100m sprint, the nausea has built up passed my rib cage and I feel like I could die, I still have a little voice that seems to play out in my head, saying “It’s okay Lauren, you’ve done this before and you know it doesn’t last”. It’s my voice and I learned to talk myself through.
With you, my youngest, your birth raised me higher. I was happy, in love and surrounded by those who loved me. I thought the cloud I covered myself in, made of panic and worry, had dissipated. But then, only weeks into your life, we lost my Mum and I thought the world would engulf me again. You know what though? I didn’t get lost. And even in the depths of the worst grief I had felt for my Mum, I was strong and determined to get going again. And I did. And even today, when I think of how I coped in those black days, I don’t even know how I coaxed myself through. Maybe it was that little voice again? For the first time in my life, I went from being okay with myself and who I was, to PROUD. Damn proud. I think I did my parents proud by just moving forward step by step.
There is no shame in not being a hero in your own story. Who ever said it had to be done, without exception? My story has had many ups and downs, as you have come to see. And you both will too in your lives. But fact that I’m here right now, writing to my two little loves about why I want you to know where I’ve been and who I feel I am and who I want to be, is enough for me.
I hope it is enough for you both, to know that life can be very hard, but all our “hards” are different and we shouldn’t be scared of how we feel. We face each challenge differently and we shouldn’t ever listen to people who want to compare us to themselves or others. We need to listen to our inner voice and those who encourage us to be who we really are. Just be who you are, it is sometimes that hardest thing to do, but it is the best thing you’ll ever do.
You both now know a bit about my mental health and how it has shaped the person I have become. Nothing that I have been through is an excuse for me to act out, to be rude to anyone or to ask for pity. I am not a victim. The things I faced early in life are building blocks which I have either used to make myself stronger, or to stand on to see new things in myself and life that I couldn’t see before.
I do not feel like the most competent Mum, who has surprises and treats planned for every day. Some days we don’t leave the house, but fill it with love instead. While other kids are out at the movies, or camping far away on an adventure, we are home, but we are together and not once have either of you complained. And not once have you both not cuddled me at the end of a day, no matter how busy we had been together that day. I know with every ounce of me that even in my more difficult moments, I think of you both first. I take a breath and think of you both. Even if today is not my day, it’s never a bad day. Because my days start and end with you both.
I cannot promise that we will be rich. I cannot promise when our next family adventure might be. I don’t know where we will be in five years, or even next week, because I can’t afford to think that far ahead right now. But I am promising that with every day from today, I will do more to make you both happier and healthier than ever. Because even though I can’t always take care of myself, I know I am damn good at loving you both.
I couldn’t live without you both. Together, we are everything.