‘I was 8, ‘dating’ everyone in my grade for validation. I was acting out to feel something, ANYTHING.’: Woman overcomes body image issues, finds online support community

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“My heart lies in higher education, social media, and public relations. I realized I was a storyteller at a very young age when I would pull out every stuffed animal and play teacher. All throughout high school, every teacher and my sister-in-law told me to get into public relations. I found my dream school, graduated with distinction, and continued to do social media within the school.

graduating high schooler holds up sign
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

I personally believe I should have been diagnosed at a younger age than I was. I truly believe having a good doctor is the best start to your healing journey. I believe I had body dysmorphia, depression, and anxiety as early as eight. Unfortunately, I was constantly told my ‘stomach aches’ were for attention or just an excuse to go home early. I was told therapy would solve all and that I was too young to be dealing with the things I discussed with the doctor.

I moved when I was eight. I went from a large elementary school where I fit in and had lots of friends to a new city and a tiny elementary school where everyone knew each other from kindergarten on. There were rarely any new kids, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was ‘heavier’ but in my mind, at that age, it felt different than it would today. I wasn’t actually ever overweight or ‘heavier.’

Child struggling with mental health graduates
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

I began feeling ‘sick’ during classes. Someone would make a comment or I would feel myself sweating a little extra, and I would get sick to my stomach. I was going home early from certain classes, I was bullied, I was self-harming. At eight years old. I knew I had something going on, but it was hard to find someone who would give medication to someone at such a young age. But I needed more help than I was receiving. I needed more help than conversations and reassurance: I needed someone to take these anxious thoughts seriously.

Initially, I used social media to seek help. Turning to Tumblr to discuss my feelings in blogs, connecting with like-minded people, and offering help to those who needed it. I was scared, but I never once felt alone because of social media.

Teens showing support for one another
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

When I started high school, the self-harm turned into ‘starving myself.’ I use quotations because, in reality, I was neglecting breakfast and having a single bite for lunch, then eating multiple plates of dinner. I now realize that may be closer to binge eating than anything. It took more effort to convince myself to eat properly than it did to just ‘listen to my body,’ which I had trained to never feel hunger.

When I turned 18, I switched doctors. This was a huge step in my journey. I knew from the beginning this was something that would never just go away. I just hoped I would find a better way to cope than discussing things.

I told my new doctor what I had been dealing with since I was little, and they seemed a little shocked. Immediately, I was given coping strategies through Ontario’s therapy systems. I started TAO learning and began taking anxiety medication. This changed my entire life. I went from spacing out in class due to anxious thoughts taking over to being able to calm down before it even hit. I stopped freaking out about arrivals and departures, being late, assignments, work…everything just calmed down. I realized then this was more than just anxious feelings, it was a chemical imbalance in my brain. Therapy can help, but it cannot always be the sole solution.

Before getting proper help, I was acting out to feel something, anything! I was a young child, ‘dating’ everyone in my grade for validation. I was posting heavily edited images of myself for attention. I was covering up while going out. I would leave places early. I would avoid certain people or situations. I would be layered up in the winter or wearing revealing clothing for attention.

een struggling with mental health
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

I started accepting myself and became a source of information for my friends dealing with similar issues. While I may never be fully rid of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, depressive episodes, and body image issues, my goal is to help normalize dealing with these issues and make the process easier for others.

I never felt alone because of Tumblr, but Instagram and TikTok are way different than Tumblr was. I posted a TikTok explaining the ‘Sit Test,’ where you sit in the mirror to see how your body looks in your outfit. This skyrocketed from one view to one million views within hours. I did not receive a single mean comment.

Woman doing the sit test
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

I posted the same on Instagram, but thousands of hate comments came in. At first, they rolled off my back. But then, I realized all of the 1.2 million viewers who related to this were being subjected to that hate. I stood my ground: I made sure people knew the haters were wrong. Your body is literally meant to bend and fold, no matter how ‘skinny’ it is.

When I was at my lightest weight, with the worst eating habits, my stomach never flattened. And that’s true for a lot of people. I think that’s something society doesn’t talk about enough. 

I exercise, I eat properly, I’m handling my mental health and partaking in therapy sessions on and off. It’s helpful. I get a lot of DMs about people asking for help, and I think that’s a huge step. You have to be ready to help yourself.

With anxiety and depression comes anger. I think that’s what I’m dealing with the most these days. COVID made everything so much harder. I’m caught between ‘I can’t just say ‘this is who I am’’ and ‘I love myself.’ I’m working really hard lately to love myself but have it be a more positive experience. Outbursts are normal but can’t be the norm. I’m working on healing my inner childhood trauma so I can trust and treat others properly.

My support systems consistently changed throughout my life. Some days, my family, my friends, my online connections would be the greatest…other days, not so much. Healing and support aren’t linear. Sometimes you become too much for people, and that’s okay. I can’t even count how many people left my life and waited until I was more stable to pick up the friendship where we left off. I’ve accepted the fact that life is all about distance, healing, and supporting and loving each other through it all.

Woman stretching outdoors
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

I plan on continuing to post like no one is watching, with a hint of post like everyone is watching and say what no one is saying. I want to post about things that society forgets about, especially when it comes to body issues and anxiety.

I’d loved Dear My Anxiety and all of the other powerful women posting about their experiences through mental health and body issues. We are all warriors! We are all healing on different journeys. It is beautiful how the internet can truly connect us all.

I’m sending everyone so much love.

Please follow me and shoot me a DM if you ever need anything.

Xoxo

Abbey Cole”

Woman enjoying nature.
Courtesy of Abbey Cole

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Abbey Cole from Oakville, Ontario. Follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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