- Sara Mann
* A note before you read this blog. I actually wrote this blog months ago. I just couldn't bring myself to post it. I think there is a certain shame that comes along with sharing the hardest parts of my recovery process. I also have fear about what other people will think. I know that certain people read my blog and do I really want to share this stuff with them? BUT, every week I receive messages from random people around the world who relate to every word I say and they are relieved to find someone who feels the same....so I've decided to share this blog in the hopes to encourage someone else going through the same thing! The first part of this blog is what I wrote months ago, The second part was written today.*
There are moments during my recovery where my head starts to spin, I feel dizzy and out of sorts, my palms get sweaty and my hands start shaking, I can’t focus, my eyes tear up and I start hyperventilating so bad I can’t catch my breath.
I hate them.
I’ve had them at the store when I’ve ran into someone who hasn’t seen me since I weighed the same as a feather. I’ve had them in the middle of a church service when I saw myself in a missions video. I've had them when I'm asked to be in a photo. I’ve had them home alone, on walks, at restaurants, at the beach, while I'm working, you name it.
They come on quick and I have no ability to stop them. It’s like I have to ride the wave of it and do my best to breath and get through it.
I had one today.
This summer I’ve been playing keys at church. It’s with a band. The main keys player is gone for a few months. The music is very Bethel/Hillsong/Elevation. When I play it’s in front of about 700-1000 people give or take over two services. When I was first asked I didn’t want to do it. Why? My freaking weight. I don’t feel like myself and I don’t look like myself. I’m embarrassed. I don’t want people to judge me. No one knows my story. Everyone else on the team is fit and thin. I don’t have cute clothes because of my swelling. It’s just the worst.
BUT, I decided to say yes. God gave me the gift of playing piano and I need to use it. I LOVE playing in a band, it’s fun, I help people worship and I’m not going to lie, our worship team is really really good!
Every Sunday morning I wake up, look at my leggings and kimonos and pick one I feel comfortable enough to wear on stage, do my hair and makeup the best I can and sigh, this is as good as it’s going to get right now. I have thoughts wishing I was back to my normal weight or wishing I could wear the amazing clothes I have packed away. I hate wearing leggings all the time. My swelling makes it hard to wear anything else, but it doesn't matter what you wear, right?
Most of the time I’m using a million coping skills to go on stage. I’m checking in with my values, doing breathing exercises, praying, staying present etc. Every time I play I have a really great time. Seriously, I love it! For fifteen minutes I feel like myself again. I forget about my weight, my eating disorder, my pain and I’m just playing and worshiping and watching others sing. Its great! It's like once I get out there God just takes over and I'm able to for a few moments care about something more.
Until I see the video.
When I play I have a hard time listening to the sermon. I have to go back out on stage to end the service so I never get to hear the full thing. So I always look for the youtube video afterward so I can watch the sermon.
Well, how can I watch the sermon and not watch the part where I’m playing? I'm literally RIGHT THERE on the stage.
That’s when it happens…..every time….a panic attack.
I see myself in the video and I think, “HOLY $HI#….that’s what I look like?!?!?!” and then it begins. My hands start sweating, my brain starts pounding, I start to feel light headed like I’m going to faint, the room starts to spin, I tear up and before I know it I’m hyperventilating because I cannot believe how fat/bad/not like me I look in the stupid video. All the feelings of empowerment and joy I felt from playing are crushed with a wave of embarrassment, shame and anxiety over my weight. Some tell me I don’t see myself right. They say I see myself as bigger then I am. I have no idea what is real and what isn’t because of my body dysmorphia. I just know that when I see myself I’m shocked and it takes me a day to two days to recover every time.
The last time this happened it cost me a couple of meals. I couldn’t eat. How do you eat when you see yourself as huge and disgusting? I try to check the facts. I was anorexic. I almost died. I entered recovery. My body rapidly overshot and did this to be safe. I don’t over eat. I’m very active. I wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for losing their hair, stop judging myself for gaining weight because of recovery and medical reasons. Nothing helps. I have to let myself get through the panic attacks, deal with the aftermath, and slowly crawl back out into the light, find my values and faith again and keep on going.
When I see myself in pictures and videos I have panic attacks. Every. Single. Time.
I avoid them at all cost. It’s kind of one of the great things about being a photographer. You can always take the picture and avoid being in it.
I know that I’m worth more then what I look like and the fat percentage on my body. But, I also can be honest and say, “You know what? This is really freaking hard.” It’s hard to live in a body that doesn’t feel like your own. A body that most of society shames. A body that you now have because of years of starvation. A body you are stuck with until it decides to heal.
I pray every single day for God to heal my body. That it will trust me and my hard work in recovery will pay off. I pray that one day I will be back to my normal weight and feel strong again, that I will look at a video of me and see more then just my size and love myself at any weight. I’m not there yet.
After seeing this video, having a panic attack and then calming down, I swore to myself I would never play piano at church again. It’s too embarrassing. I’m too ashamed of my weight. I should hide until the recovery weight comes off.
But then a notification popped up on my phone that said so-and-so has requested you to serve and play keys the following Sunday, and you know what I did?
I hit accept.
BECAUSE THIS F’ING EATING DISORDER WILL NOT WIN.
I will stand in front of my church and I will play piano and I will worship God along with them because that means more then the circumference of my stupid stomach and a bit of a bingo arm. My eating disorder is still very strong, but I’m stronger.
Panic attacks in recovery are THE WORST. Videos and pictures during recovery are THE WORST. Being fatter then you’ve ever been because of recovery is THE WORST. But you know what? Being dead is even worse then any of those. If this is the road I have to travel to get better then so be it. I hate it. It’s hard. I’m doing it anyway.
Fast forward to today....
Am I still playing keys at church?
Am I still having panic attacks from it?
How/why am I doing it?
Well, a few reasons. First, as I shared my constant panic attacks with close family and friends they were empathetic but spoke truth into my life.
I don't see myself right. We know this. I know this. Body dysmorphia is very real and very hard on me.
I work hard, but satan works harder. It would be exactly what satan wants for me to stop using my gift to worship God and help others worship him too. Of course he would take something amazing and manipulate it and cause doubt to enter my heart and mind. When I think I am too gross or embarrassed to get on stage I have to sit back and think, "Who told you that?" Nice try satan. Sara - 1, Satan - 0.
My anorexia and recovery have taken a LOT from me. It's simply not going to take this. Playing at church is within my values, it gives me worth and I love doing it. If someone in the crowd doesn't like how I look then I hope they find their way to this blog. (And I secretly hope God hits them with a lightening bolt). My playing on a stage, during recovery, in a healing body is a testimony to others that we can still live life and have worth as we recover. God will use you and me, in ANY body or health condition.
I stopped watching the sermons. Don't worry....I still listen to them, but I won't watch them anymore. Knowing there is a video of me out there that my Eating Disorder can scrutinize is almost as hard to avoid watching as it is for a bug to not fly into the light and get zapped. I simply got tired of being zapped so I decided it was healthier to just wait a few days for the podcast to come out. I'm usually not a fan of avoiding things, but whatever (insert eye roll), it's what I'm doing in this situation.
I practice coping skills. There are times panic attacks are unavoidable. I get on Instagram and BOOM there is a photo of me playing keys at church, or I go wedding dress shopping for my sister and I'm stuck seeing myself in floor to ceiling mirrors for 8 hours, or I run into someone I haven't seen in forever and I just wasn't ready for it. I can't control everything. So I immediately whip out my list of skills and do my best to become calm. I count the floor boards around me, use the STOP method, slow my breathing down, check my values, remind myself I don't see myself right, call a friend, pray etc. If those don't work and the panic attack still comes on then I ride it out and then rest and practice self care and self-compassion the remainder of the day.
Panic and anxiety attacks in recovery are very real and very scary. It has taken me a really long time, with a lot of prayer, times on medication, help from therapists and support from friends and family to be able to deal with them in a healthy way instead of restricting, and even then, I fail sometimes. But that's ok! Rome wasn't built in a day and my recovery won't happen in a day either.
I want to leave you with this. If you suffer from panic and anxiety attacks, seek help! There are therapists, doctors, meds and support groups out there to help you!
As for me, you can see me playing keys on stage at my church a couple times a month! Will I have more panic attacks about it? Probably. But I'm going to do it anyway :)