Still Struggling Strong
When I’m tanned I can see it better. The scar on my hand. I’m not sure if anyone else would notice it, or has ever noticed it, but when I sit down to type on my computer it is the first thing I see. A perfect half bite mark on my right hand from using my middle and pointer finger to make myself throw up.
I still remember the first time I ever purged. Hiding in the bathroom away from the three girls I was sharing a room with. We were on a trip for our college soccer team. They knew I was in there crying and didn’t know what to do with me. They were unaware that I would make a decision that shaped the next 10 years of my life.
I don’t remember what exactly pushed me over the edge that day or why that was the day I needed to do something more. Something different. To take action in a way I never had before.
That moment changed my life.
* * *
My name is Jamie Snow. I am a 27 year old personal trainer and the General Manager/ Head Trainer of a high-end downtown group training club. I also run my own personal training business, I teach kettle bell courses to other personal trainers through a great continuing education company and I like to believe I have become somewhat of a staple in the Toronto fitness scene.
If you ask someone about me, I’m modestly able to admit they’d say some pretty positive things. I’m kind, I’m friendly, and I’m an inspiration to many in and outside of the fitness world. An onlooker might think that I have it all.
Until recently though, I cringed every time I received a compliment or heard even the slightest praise. I truly believed I was a fraud and had everyone fooled. No one knew my deep dark secret.
I decided late last year that for the first time in my near 10 year struggle, to openly share about my longtime relationship with an eating disorder and mental illness. More specifically, my binge eating disorder, my daily battle with anxiety and depression and my history of suicidal tendencies. It’s been a terrifying journey since I made the decision to start sharing openly with friends and family. It’s been even scarier since I started my blog and opened up to the world.
The journey has lead to more personal growth than in the last year combined but it has also been filled with entirely new highs and lows. Old familiar lows and relapses. Thoughts of regret and uncertainty. And at the centre of it all, I’m still haunted by memories of what once was. What sometimes still is. What I hope to one day be no more.
Lying To Myself
Three years ago I went on vacation to Costa Rica to visit a friend. I stayed with a local. A friend of a friend. On a rainy afternoon a group of us were all hanging out doing nothing in particular. I don’t remember why but I left to go back to where I was staying.
I’m not sure if unconsciously it had been the plan all along, I can no longer remember, but on the walk home I stopped at a corner store and bought some chips. Then another bag. Then a jar of peanut butter. Then a bag of cookies. And then, feeling as though all I’d done was blink, I found myself back at the house with a pile of wrappers in front of me, a painfully distended stomach and an overwhelming feeling of self-pity and self-loathing.
This was a situation I’ve found myself in too many times to count over the years. Except this time, I was immobilized with fear. I had no idea what to do next because bathrooms in Costa Rica are not like at home. There would be no quick vomit and re-entrance into an unknowing world like normal. I would have to find another way.
Owning up to what had happened, riding through the discomfort and moving on? That was just not an option.
Going back in time and stopping myself before I started? I wish.
I continued to cross ridiculous thoughts off the list. I don’t know how long it took before I noticed the large, sturdy, plastic bags in the corner of the room. I decided instantly that was my solution.
Without any hesitation I sat myself down in the middle of the kitchen and vomited into the doubled up plastic bags. As the bag got heavier, I got lighter and I could start to relax into a sense of relief. Everything was going to be okay. No one will find out.
When I look back, I don’t know how I missed this call from rock bottom. I was really good at lying to myself back then. I was ‘fine’. I could separate from what had happened so easily when I needed and be totally ‘okay’ again. Until I wasn’t. Until the next time.
When I got back to my friends — a few hours later at this point — they joked that they assumed I had been finally hooking up with Africa, the young guy whose home I was staying in. I laughed and said “Definitely not. I decided to nap!” I lied, as I had so many times before and would do many times again.
I took a hit from the dube being passed around and sunk back into the Costa Rican way of life.
‘Pura Vida’ right? It was all good. Or at least that’s what I believed.
Binging, Bulimia and Suicide Attempts
I remember clogging my uncle’s toilet. I didn’t want to flush too many times. If I did they might question why I was taking so long upstairs in the washroom. My aunt and uncle already knew what my problem was. They knew it was at the heart of why I was staying with them in the first place. If I flushed too many times they’d know I was throwing up.
I’m not sure if this occurred after my first or second hospitalization, brought in unconscious and needing my stomach pumped. When I look back, those months are all a blur. As soon as I was legally allowed to leave the hospital, they brought me back to Montreal with them. So I could be around safe people. So I wouldn’t be alone. So I could be away from my dad, his wife and where it all happened. Maybe new scenery could help me change my mind about wanting to take my own life.
When I realized what I had done, that I would have to admit to vomiting again and clogging the toilet, I sat down on the edge of the bathtub. I cried. I cried and I willed myself to disappear. I don’t know for how long. I’m not sure if I have ever been more humiliated.
I don’t remember the words I used to tell my uncle what happened but he gave me the plunger and explained what to do. It was an old toilet, they had a very old home and I had to be careful.
When I thought I had unclogged the toilet, I flushed and it immediately started to overflow.
My aunt and uncle had been right in the middle of renoing the washroom that was about to be covered in my vomit water. The job was almost done except for the grout between the floor tiles. I froze in panic watching the water pour over the edge at a remarkably strong pace. The vomit water ended up leaking right through to the kitchen ceiling. A room they had just finished renovating.
I’ve never felt smaller. I’ve never been more embarrassed. I’ve also never felt more loved. My aunt and uncle were frustrated and at a complete loss of how to react or what to say but they didn’t get mad. They brought me in and held me closer.
The water stains on the kitchen ceiling stayed there for years and the shame would hit me like a ton of bricks every time I went back to visit. It was just one month ago, during the holidays, that I noticed they’d finally fixed the stains. We never once spoke about that day and I’ve never told anyone that story. Until now.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
I can remember vomiting in the public bathroom at the Bay in Montreal because I’d binged in my car and needed to rid myself before going back to my aunt and uncle’s house.
The time my dad walked in on me with a tub of becel and 2 loafs of bread, my old ‘favourite’ binge option. I can still see the pain in his eyes. I have caused him so much pain over the years.
The time his wife walked in on me with boxes of crackers and cheese and nuts and all the other endless easy bulk snack things that were my kryptonite and that she refused to rid the house of. We made eye contact. She turned around and walked out. I went upstairs to continue my binge. We never spoke of it.
I wish I could forget the time I was caught shoplifting binge foods at Loblaws. I was taken to the back office and scolded. I cried. They called security and eventually let me go.
I once lied about my grandfather having a serious fall to cancel a commitment because I was in a dark place and couldn’t find my way out. He actually passed away a few months later.
I remember ordering Thai food with my dad and sister. When I excused myself to go upstairs my sister made a snarky comment under her breathe. We all knew I was going to throw it up. I was so lost at that point I didn’t even care.
And there was the time I late-night binged the food my then roommate had prepared for herself for the next day. She blew up at me and told me I was pathetic. I can still hear the disgust in her voice.
I can remember sitting at my kitchen table in my first ever condo thinking that I deserved to be fat. That I deserved to be fat and miserable because I had promised I would keep this a safe space, free of binging and purging. I turned out to be too weak to keep that promise.
I’m Not Alone
I’ve spent years alone in my head trying to ‘fix myself’ with little success. A conveyor belt of proof that because of all the fucked up things I’ve done I must be broken circling around and around. When you believe you are broken, believing in yourself and your ability to make any real progress is near impossible.
My real push to change things once and for all came last winter. I found myself back in a place where day after day I’d go to bed and wish I could just sleep forever. I had returned to a point in my life where at night my only escape from brainstorming ideas of how to end my life was to binge. Then I’d hate myself even more for bingeing again and so the cycle would continue. The same ‘binge, lie, repeat’ cycle that landed me in the hospital 9 years ago.
My friends don’t know this, I don’t know that anyone does, but I think my birthday party last year might have saved my life. The party was huge and filled with people who loved me. I received so many unexpected gifts, cards and kind words. Truthfully, I didn’t care about the gifts and lots of people congregating in my honour only drags out more insecurities, but I could no longer avoid one fact: people do care about me.
Regardless of how terrible I often felt about myself, my life and what seemed like a hopeless future, that party helped me realize I was not alone and my decisions would impact many people outside of myself. I wasn’t my 19 year old self anymore and I would not allow myself to be so selfish as to take my own life. It helped me realize that I was no longer in a place where I could ever do to others what my mom did to me. This new mindset gave me the opportunity to turn things around once and for all.
So here I am a year later and I truly want the best life I can have. I want to be alive. I want to have a positive impact. I will continue to help people in both big and small ways. Not just by teaching them how to better squat or properly hinge, but to help them appreciate themselves for all they are and all they are not.
This last year has been filled with good, bad and ugly, but I survived it and in the process learnt that I’m actually pretty awesome, that I have a lot to offer and that I am entirely capable of doing great things. Everyone deserves to say and believe that about themselves.
Just a year ago my winter holidays were defined by my symptoms. The symptoms I had and the symptoms I was able to just nearly avoid. This year, though not perfect, I remember it by the people and the experiences, not the binges, the purges and the tears.
Now, I am taking it day by day. Sometimes hour by hour. Sometimes minute by minute. I have good days and bad days. I still have binges and I still almost always follow them with a purge. I still have mornings where I don’t want to get out of bed and face the world. But each episode is more spaced out. Each episode is met with more self-compassion. Each episode is met with a quicker bounce back. The difference now is that I’m not only saying I want to get better. I am taking every opportunity I can to actively do something about it.
So What Now?
I genuinely believe I’ve spent the last decade as lost as I’ve been so that I can experience deep compassion in my quest to help others. This journey has brought me to extremely dark places, missed opportunities and hurt relationships. It likely has impacted my health in lasting ways that I’m not even aware of yet. It has also taught me so much. I believe more than anything, it has strengthened my ability to help others.
I get what it’s like to hate yourself.
I understand what it’s like to feel hopeless and truly believe you are all alone.
I know the feeling of drowning in plain sight.
I have planned all the ways to end my life and I’ve tried to make that a reality.
But I also get what it’s like to want to be here so badly.
I understand now how it feels to be simultaneously struggling so intensely and yet so confident that I’m on the way out. Kicking this illness once and for all.
I know what it’s like to feel hopeFUL.
And I want more than anything to let others know they are not alone.
I have a lot of work to do, I’m still not ‘better’ and my struggles are certainly not over, but after spending years trying to fix myself I’ve finally realized that it is not about ‘fixing’ myself at all. It is about accepting myself. And the biggest part of acceptance is being open and honest about who I am and what I am going through. The good, the bad and the ugly are all a part of what makes each of us amazing. I don’t know what lays ahead for me, but if part of my healing journey is helping others make this same realization, I’m on the right track.
So share your story, whatever it is. Be open. Be kind to yourself. Struggle strong.