Smile and Mean It. A Sure Way to Improve Self-Esteem.

Guest blog by Monica Carbone

My mom has a quote written in blue marker on her mirror in her bedroom. It says: “Wake up in the morning, smile, and mean it”. She used to tell me when I was younger that that was her goal. Back then, I never completely understood how you could smile and not mean it, until I battled my eating disorder, depression, self harm, and anxiety. Now, I’ve made it my goal too.

When I was 12, and for the following ten years, I hated myself. Every time I looked in the mirror, it was like I was in a fun house. I would stare at myself, blink really hard, close my eyes, shake my head, open my eyes, and the distortion was still there. I pinched and pulled and squeezed my body, often crying, and wishing to be different. Wishing to be thin…even though I truly was. My eating disorder was my way of punishing myself for not being perfect, a way to stay in control, a way to deal with changes and incidents I couldn’t quite cope with.

I was secretive, constantly lying and making excuses, especially when it came to avoiding food. I had mastered putting on a brave face, a happy face, and acting like everything was fine when in reality I was crumbling. I was spiralling downward, and after ten years, at age 22, I finally saw that what I was doing to myself was slowly killing me. I got angry. My eating disorder had taken away pieces of my life that I would never get back again, and I had enough. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I put myself into treatment, and decided to learn to love myself.

It was hard. It was probably the hardest I have ever worked in my entire life. I had to undo years of damage that my eating disorder had caused my body, and especially my mind. I had to really get to the root of why my eating disorder started, and learn to cope in healthy ways. I hated it at first, all the crying in therapy, breaking down, feeling weak, feeling like I was giving up “my best friend” who got me through rough patches. Then I realized that my eating disorder wasn’t getting me through tough times, it was my tough time.

Now, 3 years later, I’m me again. I’ve found things that I love about myself, like my silliness, my nurturing personality, my optimism, my fight. And you know what? None of those things change with how much I weigh. The numbers don’t matter. I matter. My happiness matters. Not everyday is easy by any means, but I work hard so that it becomes a little more natural each morning to wake up, smile, and mean it.

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Megan’s Story: Finding Self-Esteem after Anorexia and Depression

Megan is a 17 years old teen girl who sees her self-esteem as moderate to low.  She was an obese child in grammar school and lost 40 pounds by eating healthy and swimming regularly. She was bullied and teased relentlessly because of the weight. That had a very damaging effect on her. She then swung the pendulum in the complete opposite direction and between eighth-grade and freshman year of high school she became anorexic.  As an anorexic, she counted calories and every chew. To this day she needs someone to distract her when she’s eating or she will count the calories and not eat enough. She also suffers from depression, which was obvious to me from the start of the interview. I’d say Megan was the saddest girl I interviewed for this book. She smiled once during the whole interview, and that was when I asked her what made her happy. Her response to me was “food” with a dreamy smile on her face.She has an unhealthy love affair with food. Her family situation is far from ideal, like many girls her deal with eating disorders. She has no relationship with her father, literally. Her parents are still married, although it seems they shouldn’t be based on her story. They all live in the same house, which seems to act like a prison for her mother.  It seems to be a very depressing environment.  She said that she learned a long time ago that it’s not worth trying to please her dad because it’s impossible. For years she tried and only failed over and over again in her father’s eyes. She clearly identifies the eating disorder and depression as directly related to her father.  Or rather, the lack of relationship with her father. She talked about how cruel kids can be and how she would never bully anyone because she knows what it feels like firsthand. She identifies and hangs out with a group of girls who “could be” considered bullies at her school. I’m assuming this is a strategy or defense so that she herself would never be bullied by them. She still struggles with her relationship with food and has very poor body image. When she looks in the mirror she still sees that obese child. She sees a therapist weekly and takes antidepressants. She still laments for the time when she was anorexic.

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