Writer: Beth Hallman | I’m sharing my before and after pictures, but there’s a twist in the end. Stick with me. This top photo was taken four years ago at my oldest daughter’s senior night. Isn’t she absolutely gorgeous? She was the high school drum major back then. Our other two babies bookend our sweet family. My mister has his band directoring face on. I was a miserable soul.
I was three days out of the hospital after a heart attack scare. I wanted that heart attack more than anything. I had a great oatmeal pie suicide plan. I was gonna eat myself to death. My kids, my mister would never know I did it on purpose. I didn’t say it was the best plan, y’all. Such were my Crazies. Turns out, I didn’t truly understand how bodies work. I have a strong heart. And I got fatter than I’ve ever been.
Then, I decided I was going to get help for the unchecked mental illness and childhood trauma I was juggling. Part of that help involved a “healthier” body. I stopped bingeing on oatmeal pies, but I went hard in the other direction. The gym became my church.
I used to use the woman in this photograph as my before photo. When I was pushing my body so hard, I’d vomit in the gym parking lot. When I was eating less than twelve hundred calories a day and working out four hours each day, five days a week. I’d cut my family out of this picture and show this fat, sad woman. The after photograph was always me in some extravagant pose- blonde, a big smile on my face. I’d write that I was happier, because I was healthier. Healthier. Isn’t that funny? I mean, in a sad, ironic, I’m telling this story, kinda way. I suppose my body was smaller, but my Crazies were just as big.
For the next four years, I worked. At first, I abused my body, losing and gaining back one hundred pounds. Then, I had this idea to love myself just as I am and I published a self guided journal for other women like me. Some of you have used it on your own journeys. I stayed at the mental hospital a few times. I tried to kill myself again, only this time I didn’t bother with any oatmeal pie cover ups. I’ve done intensive therapy. I’ve cleaned up other people’s messes, faced some demons, addressed some of my own bullshit, stayed on my medication, and worked my own self help book. I graduated from therapy.
I did work hard to make it, friends. I did messy, embarrassing work, some of it I did right out here in front of everyone. I continue to make choices every day about the management of my mental illness. Will I get out of bed? Not can I. Do I stay inside my house? Not I can’t leave. Will I circle my wagons or reach out when the Crazies come to call? Not I am alone. I have choices. My life isn’t a contest. I don’t win or lose each day. I show up, pay attention to the details, enjoy the miracles, love myself and others as best I can. I learned slow and steady is a better path than the balls to the wall mentality I’ve used my entire life.
The magic in the first photograph isn’t that woman. We all know she makes it. She isn’t the only one who survives and thrives. Her whole family does. That’s the real magic. A fierce, beautiful understanding is cultivated here. Not all families are as fortunate. They don’t all survive the carnage left behind by mental illness. This family did.
The photo below was taken last week. I weigh almost the same as I did in that top photo. You scrolled back up, didn’t you? You’re thinking no way, right? Same weight, friends. The difference is the story I just told you. The difference is the woman in that first photo makes it, fights, knows she’s capable, loves herself. The woman in the second photo isn’t thinner. She’s happier. I wear happy well.