Signs something’s wrong: baggy clothes

When I was in middle school, I used to want size 0 jeans. My dream came true last year, but not in the way I originally imagined. Due to my gastritis, I lost 35 pounds and bottomed out at 92 pounds last May. As a result, my size 5 jeans didn’t even fit me, and my smaller, size three jeans, still hung loosely on my hips. One day, I went to Goodwill and saw these very cute khaki shorts from American Eagle. I saw they were size 0, but I tried them on just to see. They actually fit, and I was shocked. I’m a size 0?! 

Size 0 misery

Thankfully, unlike gaining weight, you can still (usually) wear your clothes when you lose weight. I had to use a belt with some of my jeans, but thanks to my wide hips, some of my jeans still stayed up fine, even though they were baggy around the legs.

I didn’t actually realize how bad things became until I looked in the mirror one day and saw how loose they were. I could literally grab a fistful of my jeans in my hand. Basically, my legs only filled half of one jean. It was scary.

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Me at camp in August 2016. It’s crazy how loose those shorts are!

As a result of my very thin body, my doctors accused me of developing anorexia. They thought I couldn’t possibly have lost that much weight unintentionally––but I did. That’s how gastritis works. You don’t eat due to all the pain, so you drastically lose weight. Even though I wasn’t actually anorexic, I finally understood what it at least felt like to lose weight quickly and have my clothes fit differently.

At one point, I became so self-conscious when I wore shorts. As you can see from the photo above, my knees were knobby and I looked like a mutant (or so I thought, anyways). My legs also tilted in a bit because I lost some bone density, so my legs were too weak to support my body at times. As a result, I developed quite a bit of knee and ankle pain. To this day, I’m still doing my own PT for my ankles. It’s not fun.

A year made a difference

Despite what happened over the last two years, some of my jeans actually fit tight now due to all the leg muscle I’ve developed from several yards worth of kicking drills in the pool.  I’m really sad because some of my favorite jeans don’t fit anymore, so I have to go buy a bunch of new jeans. Great. As if I’m not already burdened with student loan debt. Hopefully, I’ll stay the same size over the next few years, so the investment will remain worthwhile. It’s kind of nice, however, because I actually need, not want, new clothes.

I can’t even wear some of my favorite dresses anymore, such as this one, because I actually have body fat now! Yes, fat is a good thing!

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I’m really sad I can’t wear this dress anymore. 

Anyways, if you’re suddenly losing weight without trying, please talk to your doctor. This usually indicates the development of an autoimmune condition, and it’s easier if you can nip it in the bud. If not, you’ll suffer the same way I did and experience tremendous pain, which is definitely not fun. Thankfully, those days are behind me, and now I’m physically healthy again, for the most part. You’ll find out the whole story in my book after it releases.

A new book on the horizon

Dear readers, I’m excited to announce my crazy health journey will become a published book sometime near the end of this summer or year! I’ve titled it God’s Grace Through Gastritis, GERD and Grit (because I love alliteration way too much…) and have already finished the acknowledgments, foreword, and chapters 1-4.

I want to thank all the people who have supported me thus far and everyone who follows my blog. I hope you enjoy the content I post and have learned some valuable lessons, whether those are about gastritis, GERD, mental health, general well-being, or God’s grace.

Here are some samples from each portion of the book. Click the arrows on the slideshow to browse. Enjoy!

 

 

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Why the model-thin life isn’t so glamorous after all

It’s almost every girl’s dream to fit in size zero jeans or have a flat belly, but let’s be honest––that’s nearly impossible unless you have a naturally petite build. Even then, you’ll still have belly fat and other things that you don’t normally see on models because someone photoshopped them out.  I’ve seen countless photos of girls on Instagram bragging that they’re losing weight and are now only 105 lbs at 5’4. Well, let me tell you that they’ll face health problems later on in life, just like I did after losing over 20 pounds from gastritis.

Here’s what the underweight life feels like.

Today’s Dietician states that being underweight leads to osteoporosis, increased illness, amenorrhea (for women), low muscle mass, hair loss, nutritional deficiencies, anemia, and more.

My emotions were all over the place when I was underweight. The smallest thing that went wrong,––such as the time when I tripped going up the stairs to one of my classes and spilled coffee literally all over myself and was nearly late to class––will make me cry.  I’d also cry anytime my stomach pain flared up. I had days where I was so emotionally unstable that I no longer wanted to be alive, which is clearly not normal. Random things, such as the sound of someone chewing, would annoy me. I often felt groggy and isolated myself from people because I feared that’d I’d snap at someone. I’d feel happy at one moment and distraught the next. My emotions got so out of control that my anxiety became extreme and I also developed some depression.

That’s just one problem.

I had other physical problems in addition to my emotional imbalance. I’d shed hair like a dog and frequently pulled out clumps of hair. My chocolate brown hair later turned dark umber and then grey on the top layers. My eyes always hurt and I felt lightheaded due to extreme fatigue. My bones were so brittle that I felt like I was always walking on stilts.  And now that I’ve gained back 20 pounds, I have to wear an ankle brace because my ankles are literally too weak to support the additional weight, plus I have to go through PT for the damage Due to my restricted eating from my gastritis pain, I became nauseous whenever I ate. When I tried to eat normally again, I developed Gastrophic Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which is essentially chronic acid reflux, because my stomach treated everything like an invasive species. My heart rate became so low that I had to see a cardiologist.

All this happened because I lost so much weight. I’m ashamed to say I used to be one of those girls who wanted to stay super thin (but I never intentionally tried to lose weight, I just wished for a thinner build), but after this experience, I’m content with a healthy weight.

So, please, don’t freak out if you’re 5’5 and 120 pounds. That’s completely normal, plus you need to account for muscle weight, especially if you’re an athlete. You weigh a certain amount because your body cannot perform key functions without that extra muscle or fat. It’s important to make sure you don’t become overweight, but there’s nothing to worry about as long as you’re within a healthy weight range. If you’re naturally underweight, find some healthy ways to gain a little extra padding, such as dipping apples in peanut butter or pouring olive oil on salads.  If you have an eating disorder, please find someone you can confide in and get the help you need. Being underweight comes with significant health risks, and I’d like to spare as many people from going down that road as possible.

Ecclesiastes 1: “Absolute Futility”

When you ask a Christian what their favorite book of the Bible is, most would pick one of the gospels, a narrative like Genesis, or one of the smaller epistles like Colossians. Few would choose anything in the Old Testament. I’m one of the rare people who actually enjoys reading through the wisdom literature, so much that I took a class called Wisdom and Poetic Literature for one of my Bible classes as a sophomore (and most of the people in my class were juniors or seniors). I readily took on the challenge.

Although I love the book of Job (if you couldn’t tell from my blog’s tagline), Ecclesiastes is actually my favorite book in the Bible. Some people may call me crazy since the book’s material is difficult to understand.  However, I’ve read it several times and discovered the meaning of Solomon’s message, which is both profound and beautiful. God speaks to me so powerfully through Ecclesiastes that I read through it frequently. I read the first chapter again this morning and realized it relates directly to a lesson I learned this semester –– people can aim for success, but at some point success is futile. It’s a paradox that some can’t readily grasp, but I’ll try to explain it.

No, I don’t struggle with having too much luxury like Solomon. However, I do know what it’s like to work hard day after day and how that produces positive and negative results.

Everything is Futile (Ecclesiastes 1:1-12) 

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
What does a man gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets;
panting, it returns to its place
where it rises.
Gusting to the south,
turning to the north,
turning, turning, goes the wind,
and the wind returns in its cycles.
All the streams flow to the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
The streams are flowing to the place,
and they flow there again.
All things are wearisome;
man is unable to speak.
The eye is not satisfied by seeing
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
It has already existed in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of those who came before;
and of those who will come after
there will also be no remembrance
by those who follow them.

Absolute futility

Solomon says everything is “absolutely futile” (other translations use “vanity of vanities”).  He’s overstating a bit, but he’s making his point clear when he says “there is nothing new in the sun.” In other words, everything is the same on earth.  The Hebrew word he uses here is hebel, which means can mean a vapor or something fleeting. In other words, all our work and the praise we receive for it vanishes after a while. Each generation does the same thing –– works until sun up and sun down. Each generation has famous people, who become lost in history books within time (verse 11). We become jaded because we’re so used to routine.

I even think back to my “famous moments,” like when I received the John Philip Sousa Band Award my senior year of high school, when YMI Today published one of my freelance articles, and when I earned employee of the month for my job at one of the campus cafes. The rewards and compliments I received for my hard work felt great, but they were only temporary. Everyone forgot about these moments within a week and focused on other things in their life or praised other people for their accomplishments.

As Solomon asks, can we really say anything is new? (verse 10). There are always people who will win academic awards and scholarships, people who snag an awesome internship, and people who successfully climb leadership ladders.

Pursuit of success

It’s important to work towards these goals, but how important is the pursuit of success? In the end, unhealthy obsession with goal-setting and overachieving can produce devastating consequences, just as it did for me.

I consider myself straight-A/ A- student, yet I earned my first two B’s ever in college this semester. I’ll admit, I was disappointed a bit at first. I already learned how to separate my academic achievements from my true identity ( read about it here), yet I still was not happy. I hoped to preserve my 3.7/4.0 grade streak, and I earned not one, but two B’s this semester. I could’ve tolerated one B, but the second one really hit the bullseye and shattered my heart in pieces. Why? It’s because I didn’t achieve my goals.

Fear of failure

Missing the mark meant that I was a complete failure and that even one of the hardest working individuals couldn’t fulfill her promises. After reading through this passage, God showed me that I worked myself to death and that my work was in vain because I placed my grades before other important things. During March, I only got four hours of sleep for about two weeks because I wanted to complete every last assignment perfectly.

Naturally, this made my gastritis/ GERD worse and I almost took a medical withdrawal because I couldn’t handle the pressure along with increased health problems. In addition, I took on extra hours this semester for both my jobs and worked an average of 25 hours each week. The lowest amount of hours I recorded this entire semester was about 18. The most was 35 (which is 10 overtime hours). I even worked 13 hours one day during finals week. Some of my shifts were also back-to-back late night and early morning, which hurt my already sick body and caused me to sleep 13 hours straight one Saturday afternoon.

The effects of workaholism

Why in the world did I push my body to exhaustion? I really can’t say why at this point, and I do regret some of the choices I made. After careful analysis, I discovered that I feel pressured to always be productive and also fear post-graduate debt. As a result, I work hard to save money and keep myself busy at the same time, which is a deadly combination for anyone, especially someone with an autoimmune illness. I’m 29 days shy of 21 and I’m a workaholic.

That’s just the work side of the equation. When it comes to school, I feel compelled to always do my best because everything I create reflects on God, so it seems like anything that’s not perfect does not glorify him. This was also another unhealthy attitude I had this semester that I hope to change for the upcoming year. Solomon describes how water flows into the streams, yet they never actually become full (verse 7). That’s how my work was –– I constantly gave more and more of myself, yet it was never enough. I can complete each assignment perfectly, but there will always be more papers, more projects, and more exams. Perfect results will never satisfy a perfectionist because they always seek improvement.

Where does someone draw the line?

Yes, hard work is important, but only to a certain extent. God is just as pleased if we try hard, give ourselves some relax time, and earn a B than if we push ourselves to our breaking point, can barely function because we’re so exhausted, and earn an A plus. Something that once excites us can also lose its meaning (verse 8). We seek more of something that brings us pleasure once we get it, whether that’s food, money, or something else.  I personally felt like I was never earning enough to pay my debt and that nothing  brought me joy anymore. I didn’t enjoy my favorite coffee, books, or musical instruments. I became apathetic as a result of overworking.

My poor choices this semester showed me that my work was in vain, even though I sought to glorify God through it. It was in vain because I put my health on the back burner in the name of personal success. I didn’t make time for doctors appointments, even if it meant getting an excused absence for class, hardly ever rested, and never gave myself leisure time, even if it was only 15 minutes of reading after I finished an elaborate project. Furthermore, I often had emotional breakdowns because I felt so overwhelmed and feared I would never reach my goals (which I didn’t anyways, in the end). What did I gain from all my vain efforts? (verse 3). Pushing myself to breaking points was not worth it and has forced me to spend this summer in recovery.

I encourage you to read through this passage several times and ponder what God’s trying to tell you. Know where to draw boundaries and don’t let your work become vanity. Set goals, but don’t set the bar too high and make sure to leave room for failure. Learn to let go and move on if things don’t turn out as expected. Lastly, know that you are loved despite the work you produce. God loves you simply for being you, not for the things you do.