Chest Holes and Decisions

“You have a hole in your chest.” My memory of an event that occurred nearly ten years ago is cloudy, but the information regarding the pain I was having in my chest as delivered by my doctor at the time comes in clearly. I believe my parents stared back at my physician with a kind of disbelief, a disbelief heightened when they were told how this might have happened. That day on the clinic’s scale, I weighed in at under ninety pounds. Whatever physical activity I had managed to execute in order to keep my frame barely hung with flesh had combined with my malnutritioned state to produce a sort of hole somewhere in my upper respiratory tract. The morning of that fateful doctor’s visit, I had woken up and felt pain and a “rattling” sensation in my chest during respiration. Frankly, after the amount of time between the present and this event, I still have no idea as to the scientific classification for what happened to me. Indeed, from what I recall, my doctor wasn’t entirely certain where the hole was either–but she was concerned. I was told that if the hole was in particular parts of my anatomy, exertion could send me to the emergency room.

I believe it was on this day that my parents were fully hit with the state of my anorexic body. I had gradually whittled my way from 125 lb at age 15 to 88 at age 18. At a little over 5’2″, 88 pounds doesn’t look healthy, but it is possible to obscure the impact of a too-thin frame with clothing, and my gradual decent from a normal-range weight to an abnormal one was probably easy to miss until suddenly, one day, my body was in the process of starting to shut itself down because of its composition.

Suddenly, everything was Alert Level 10. I can describe my consciousness during this period of my life as one that peers out from down a very narrow, long hole. My memories of things that happened to me and things that I did around ages 17-19 are played through a frame akin to the bottom of a well. I had an EKG. I remember the sense of the hospital gown tenting itself around me and the sense that neither I nor the wires that attached to sensors stuck on my chest–sensors that, in a way that struck me as odd at the time, mimicked the size and shape of my nipples–were shielded from the view of the physicians administering my tests. I remember eating ice cream valiantly for the first time in years on one of the pivotal evenings at home following the chest hole diagnosis as I watched my parents confront how far I had gone on my self-destructive path. The ice cream night felt, at the time, like drunken victory. I had thrown open the freezer and grabbed for whatever carton of frozen dairy product lay within. I remember using the spoon to deliver the ice cream to my mouth like it was an object brandished in ritual. Slowly and gracefully the spoon dipped and rose between carton and mouth, and I was pleased to eat hundreds of calories in front of my parents in a show of solidarity with their desire to help me “recover.” I know that guilt over what I had done to myself had consequently done to them did not temper the movements of that spoon–that guilt did not exist until years after I ate that ice cream.

It took years to heal, redirect, learn, fear, fall, learn more, dismiss, forgive (myself) from my most acute period with an eating disorder. The day I truly experienced guilt for how my condition had taken a toll on my parents probably signified the day at which I could be called “recovered.”

This is me, age 18, probably only a matter of weeks to a couple months after The Hole.  And that's my dad. We kind of have the same nose.
This is me, age 18, probably only a matter of weeks to a couple months after The Hole. And that’s my dad. We kind of have the same nose.

I’m not sure how easy it is to stop guilt. You can be forgiven, you can forgive yourself, but you cannot obliterate the past. Knowing I caused another pain is, for me, the most egregious possible sin I can commit.

It is, then, amazing that I have been able to so thoroughly and extensively keep myself in mental pain via self-punishment for lengthy parts of my existence. I have been told to imagine how the way I relate to myself would be received by another human being, and picturing this shift of my punishing attention is difficult. If I treated anyone the way I do myself, I would consider myself cruel, unsympathetic, unyielding.

It is the root of this double standard that, upon introspection, made me choose to treat myself better by not giving myself a space for further self-punishment that was competing in 105 at this point in my life. Unfortunately, there is much in the wake of that decision that gives me opportunity to berate myself, to belittle myself, to feel “not good enough” for–if I choose to. Right now, my project is to try not to make this choice. I cannot mentally self-flagellate for not “sticking it out.” I cannot decide to attempt to eat more in support of my lifting efforts and then rule myself “gluttonous and hedonistic” for doing so. I can’t. Because my lifting will suffer for it. And those who know and support me will suffer from my own self-destruction.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about self-destruction in roughly a decade, it’s that its devastation never operates within an isolated bubble of your own consciousness. You cannot love, be loved, and expect self-destruction not to affect those who are important to you. Powerlifting had made me face myself before, and it has made me do so again. This time, again, I hope I can honor the sport for this opportunity by acting in my best interests–and hopefully pulling off some PRs along the way.

Alright, I just wrote all that heavy stuff. Time to get heavy by finding this brick of onion rings and eating it. This thing is my dream of dreams.
Alright, I just wrote all that heavy stuff. Time to get heavy by finding this brick of onion rings and eating it. This thing is my dream of dreams.



9 thoughts on “Chest Holes and Decisions

  1. Your writing continues to impress me with your composition and imagery, but more importantly, touches the place in me that knows where you’ve been and why powerlifting is as important to you as it is. Ths you, and please keep writing.

    1. Absolutely will do. It’s extremely helpful to me to write about things that I grapple/struggle with on a daily basis. It’s kind of ridiculous how helpful it is, actually. I’m glad you get something from my musings.

  2. Wow this is really amazing stuff and thank you for sharing your story. First this is unbelievably well written, seriously. It grabs you, pulls you in. I felt like I was right there with you eating that ice cream. Besides that your story is so inspiring. You give others hope and remind all of us to focus on the important stuff and to never lose sight. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so, so much Colin. I feel like I am not as positive an influence the world as I could be so I hope my blog kind of works to begin to make up for it. I’m going to keep trying to “give back” to powerlifting, I just have to figure out the best ways to do so!

  3. I just want to put this out there as there may be young girls reading this. Your statement “At a little over 5’2″, 88 pounds doesn’t look healthy” caught my critical side. I just want to say while that may be very true for you. This is not true for everyone. Every “body” is different. And each body carries weight differently. Is it all bone mass? well bones and skin? or is there some muscle and I hope fat too!! I don’t mean to be negative here but absolute statements like that tease me on a personal level. I am 5′ 2″ myself and I don’t tell most people my weight because of overly generalized statements like that. Well last time I weighed myself I was 86 lbs and I may be skinny (although I prefer to use small-framed) but I have some curves on me and I have been doing bodybuilding for quite some years to ensure I carry some muscle on those bones, so no I am not skin to bones and I have never been able to get over the 100 lbs, and I am healthy as can be. now that said, I also was 85 lbs a few years back, and went through some ulcer issues, and I was skin to bone, a tiny belly, and unhealthy. The difference in lbs was only 1 lb if we only look at numbers!! I am sure you get my point. I really hope you don’t take this personally. You as a person, and your blog I follow for a reason. That is because you inspire me. And I like how open you are with yourself as well as with the rest of the worlds. So keep it up girl. Cheers.

    1. Duly noted, Sara–you make some good points here. However, this is a case in which BMI is, I think a good indicator of a problematic body weight. It’s easy to laugh at the BMI measurement that calls an extremely muscled, fit individual obese, but there’s really less to be questioned when a BMI suggests that someone is underweight. When you’re underweight, you have less tissue that might either be lean mass or fat. Doctors often diagnose an individual as anorexic when he or she cannot maintain a BMI above 17.5–this is a fluid standard, and I’ve seen this number be as low as 16. Guess what my BMI is at 5’2″ and 88 lb? 16.1. Your BMI at 86 is 15.7. That is an extremely low number on the BMI scale.

      I’ll apologize for saying that 88 lb on a 5’2 frame does not look healthy, but it’s my opinion. It’s an opinion commensurate with standards that suggest that a 16.1 BMI is unhealthy and puts an individual with such stats at risk for such problems as osteoporosis. I have a family history of osteoporosis, by the way, and I’m not going to let myself dwell at a weight and bone density that puts me at risk for it. I have a choice.

      In all honesty, there is little difference between 85 and 86 pounds. If you weigh yourself multiple times in one day, you will find, unless you do not ingest anything the entire day, that your weight will increase 2-4 pounds by the end of the day. Be it 85 lb or 86 lb, you are at an extreme end of a weight range for your height. It puts you at a higher risk for osteoporosis, among other issues. Putting on weight can be HARD work–literally gorging yourself multiple times a day, taking digestive aids to digest your food properly, and choosing what you eat based on maxing your calories-to-mass-consumed ratio. Many men have to work extremely hard to overcome their body’s inclination towards light bodyweight. Many men do this work and manage to generate more muscle with which they can then lift more, and lift more with a body that can support their activities.

      Honestly, I just can’t condone and promote bodies that lie on extreme ends of the size spectrum in relation to strength training. I don’t feel it’s ethically right to do so. I do believe that everyone has a right to be whatever size they wish, but in relation to strength sports, my opinion becomes much more narrow. If I were working with you in a training capacity, I would be asking you to gain weight or I would probably refuse to train you for heavy lifting.

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