Marked.

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This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week in the United States.  I came across an article this week about two British parents who got matching tattoos on their legs so their young daughter would not have to feel bad about her natural birthmark.  You can read the story here.  Scrolling through the many comments, there were a lot of negative comments about how the parents should allow their daughter to be unique and not be the same  as everyone else, some of these people had visible birthmarks of their own, but I would guess, many probably do not.  I do, and so do my two daughters.

The article does not specific as to what type of birthmark the child has, but the American Academy of Dermatology has a great description of different types of birthmarks.  I was born with a cafe-au-lait spot on my chin. I hated it growing up and I hated it even more when people would make comments about it; “Did you know you have chocolate on your face?”, “Can I pull you aside for a moment?  You have something on your face,”  or at makeup counters, “Would you like to shop for something to cover that up?”  I always wanted to make a some snarky comeback, but usually, as my Grandma Herron, taught me, I would remain polite and simply say, “I know it’s there, it’s a birthmark, it’s been there all my life.”  I’m also know that there were guys who would not date me simply because of my birthmark.

When my first daughter was born, she started to show a hemangioma under her nose shortly after birth.  Hemangioma’s are non-cancerous blood tumors that grow for years but eventually start shrinking and may go away.  However, in the case of my daughter, her hemangioma grew large enough that by 2 months, it was blocking her nasal airway, making giving her breathing difficulties, and was also growing into her mouth, affecting her ability to eat.  At three months, she was taken to Children’s hospital and began therapy with the beta-blocker Propranolol, and her hemangioma began to shrink over a year’s time, at three she had laser surgery to take some of the remaining red out of her birthmark.  You can read more about Propranolol therapy for hemangiomas here.

It was a difficult time for me that first year of her life, there were non-stop comments about the birthmark on her face, really nasty comments, usually from adults; and they came everywhere we went, restaurants, in the check out line at the grocery store, even at church.  My second daughter was also born with a small birthmark that is not as visible on her forehead.

What are the chances that both of my daughters would end up with birthmarks on their face just like their mother?  I have no idea, I’m not a mathematician.  What I do know is that I was able to sympathize with them, because I had been there, which is probably what the British parents are attempting to do.  When my daughter got to the age where she was talking and understood what people were saying to her, she would ask about her birthmark, and I would respond that it was her “special spot” put on her face when God created her, just like God put a special spot on my face when he created me.

Our society bases so much of our worth on outer beauty, and people stare and comment if you look different, whether it be a birthmark, burns, or some birth defect.  If you’ve never had to experience what it’s like to go through life with something like that, you have no idea what it feels like.  When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted my birthmark removed and begged my parents to have the procedure done, at 29, I’m so thankful they didn’t listen to me, and here’s why:

I LOVE my birthmark, it is a part of me, it makes me who I am.  I mean, who would Cindy Crawford be without her trademark mole?  In high school when I was home “sick” (sorry mom I was probably just skipping), I watched an episode of Montel Williams that had Sylvia Browne, the psychic on it.  Now, I have never really been a fan of psychic’s or really even believed in them, but something she said resinated with me that day; after a question from an audience member about a birthmark, she explained that birthmarks are really just fingerprints that your deceased relatives leave on you to let you know they love you.  This may or may not be true, but I not only have the birthmark on my face, but one under my armpit as well, and they are both shaped similar to a thumbprint, so I held on to this explanation, I still do to this day.

Both my grandfathers died when my parents were young, I never knew them; but being the sentimental daughter of the family I thought about them often so upon hearing Sylvia Browne’s message, I believed my birthmarks were really thumbprints, I still do.

The point is, it took time for me to embrace my birthmark, there were days that the comments stung, there were days they stung so bad I would cry and wish I had been born “normal.”  Then I realized, I am beautifully unique, I’m not like other people, my birthmark is a part of me, despite what science has to say, I believe it was put there by God when he created me (with the help of my deceased Grandfathers).  What these parents in Britain did is, in my opinion brave.  Yes, their daughter’s birthmark may fade over time, but they will now have a sense of what she is going through when she comes home from school after wearing a pretty skirt crying because other children made fun of her.

My birthmark and my children’s birthmarks are a part of them, a part of who they are.  They are part of our stories.  My birthmark has made me more confident about myself, negative comments or questions no longer hurt me, I embrace them.  My hope is that if my daughters ever come home crying like I did when I was young, I can remind them how truly beautiful and unique they are; God chose them out of all the children to have their own unique birthmark🙂 and, as I always remind them, God never makes mistakes.  But I can also sympathize with them, because I’ve been there too.  And I can remind them, because I have embraced the beauty of my birthmark.

So to my beautiful daughters, remember that your birthmark does not define you, it makes you even more beautiful, it is a part of your story.  You are amazing, you are beautiful, you a unique and you are marked.

Why Insurance Problems Don’t End After Recovery

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After having my daughter, I immediately began to plan for her future and saving for her education.  Being the planner that I am, I also created a will and starting searching for good life insurance companies so that if anything ever happened to me, she would be taken care.  That’s all we want for our children isn’t it?  To be taken care of?  After spending time of the interest requesting quotes and talking to representatives who assured me that the process would be easy, I felt confident that as a healthy person, I would be able to obtain life insurance for my daughter.  But I was wrong, and the result has let me to fight even harder for insurance coverage for those who suffer and have suffered for eating disorders.  After hours spent on the phone with the insurance company, going over my health history, being as honest as I could be (as an attorney’s daughter, I’m well aware of the implications of lying to the insurance company about your health history), I was ready for the physical exam.  When the nurse stopped by my house, after cooing at my young daughter she let me know that she would submit the information to the insurance company and added that I seemed  like a healthy individual and wished me the best.

After a follow-up call from the insurance company letting me know that my application was being processed, I played the waiting game only to walk out to my mail box a few weeks later to find a letter from the company denying my request.  Their reasoning? To quote the letter exactly “Your history of depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.”   Even after the denial the insurance company kept calling me to follow-up with me.  I “kindly reminded” them that they had denied me and on what basis.  Thier response?  “That doesn’t seem like something we would deny coverage on.”  My response.  “Well apparently you do.”

As devastated as I was I surely thought that if I called another company I would get different results…again a few weeks after the physical exam I received a denial letter stating “We are denying your request for life insurance based on your history with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.”

At this point I’m beyond frustrated but after talking with my dad and venting my frustrations that I only wanted my daughter to be taken care of, he suggested I approach an insurance agent.  I did and after meeting with him and disclosing everything regarding what has transpired with previous life insurance companies.  He told me that he would call around, make the companies aware of my history and see if he could find someone to provide coverage.  Needless to say I was hopeful when he told me that he had a company who said despite my past history of “depression, anxiety and an eating disorder,” they would review my information.  After a 2 hour phone conversation with the representative, I awaited to schedule my physical exam.  But the physical exam never happened.  As I took my daughter for a walk one afternoon, I checked my mail box; in it was a letter from the insurance company denying my request for life insurance–wait for it–“based on your disclosed history of depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.”

Really?  Do all of these companies have the same person writing their denial letters?  After talking to my insurance agent he informed me that this particular company told him that I should contact them in another five years.  Short answer.  No.

After all I have accomplished in my recovery, after all I have worked for and all of the hope that I have seen this was like taking a dagger to the heart.  Because the coverage is not for me, it is not for my benefit, it is to assure that my daughter will be taken care of is something ever happens to me.

The reality is I know I am not the only one who has received denial after denial from life insurance companies, my story is not unique.  As advocates we need to remind our leaders that denial is not just happening when you struggle with an eating disorder or any other mental health issue, it’s happening after you recover.

I’m still hopeful that I will be able to obtain life insurance for my daughter.  And I will continue to fight for better insurance coverage for those who suffer with eating disorders.  Again, my story is not unique, it’s just one of many.

Thank God For Another Day

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I was recently driving home from work one day when my iPod, set to shuffle, starting playing Natalie Grant’s “Another Day.”  As soon as I heard the intro to the song, I turned it up and started singing along (albeit not very well) to the lyrics.  The chours going something like this…”I thank God for another day. Another chance to love the ones I love. To find my way. To laugh. To Dance. And watch the sun come up. Another day I get to live as if every breath could be the last I take.  I get another day.”  The last couple of weeks have been a little disjointed as I returned home from Eating Disorders National Lobby Day in Washington, DC and a wonderful and humbling time spent with friends to some personal things that were hard for me and my family to deal with.  Not only that but after hearing a heartbreaking story at Lobby Day of a mother who tragically lost her young daughter to an eating disorder, I began reflecting on how blessed we should be to just wake up in the morning.  My dad reminds me, as Benjamin Franklin did so many years ago, that there are two certainties in life, death and taxes.  We are all going to die at some point, it’s inevitable, so why would we live our lives consumed with what we look like on the outside or what material goods we can collect in our lifetime.  While in DC, my very amazing friend and mentor gave me one of her equally amazing pieces of artwork in a frame (I am lucky enough to say this is the second piece of artwork she has gifted me) with her motto, words that we all should live by “It’s a given that you are beautiful because you are alive.”  Whenever I am having those days when I feel self conscious or that crazy eating disorder voice tries to sneak its way back into my head, I remind myself of this.  I recently attended a gala with another great friend and inspiration to me, on the way to the gala we discussed how we as women tend to talk about weight whenever we are around each other.  We compliment each other on it, we tell each other how are diets are going, if we “cheated” that day and ate…heaven forbid…a dessert!  Do we have nothing more important to discuss?  Are we not dumbing ourselves down as females when our conversations revolve around the new diet trend and what size jeans we are wearing?  Can we not just be thankful to be alive and celebrate the beautiful human beings we are?  I can promise you that those who have lost a loved one do not remember them for how great they looked in a bikini or for how flat their stomach was.  Instead they remember the person, the heart, the personality.  So, even though there are days that I wish I didn’t have the stretch marks or the birthmark on my chin, the days I wish I didn’t throw away my skinny jeans, those are not the days that I will remember when I look back at the life I lived.  I will remember the days I spent at the park with my daughter or at the lake with my family, the Saturdays I laughed with my grandmother and cried with my mother.  Be thankful for the life you have been given because you have been given it for a reason (even if you are still searching for that reason or waiting for it to be revealed to you). Tomorrow morning when I get out of bed in the morning, I will look at my nightstand where there is a picture of me holding my daughter, a picture of me with my late grandmother, and a magnificent piece of artwork that reminds me as I wipe the sleep away from my eyes that it is a given I am beautiful because I am alive.  And I thank God for another day.

I Advocate for them Because they Advocated for Me

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On Sunday I will be leaving for my favorite city in the world and the place I used to call home (if only briefly), Washington, D.C. to take part in the Eating Disorders Coalition’s National Lobby Day, where people from all over the United States will emerge and tell Congress how important it is to pass the F.R.E.E.D. Act (read the bill here…F.R.E.E.D).  I went to my first Lobby Day two years ago when I had just entered recovery and was amazed at the stories people told and the compassion that was shown by everyone who showed up to be a voice for eating disorders.  Although it was sometimes discouraging to talk to some of our lawmakers who seemed uninterested and lacked compassion and understanding, I left that day with a sense of hope that eventually, if we keep working at it, we will pass this important piece of legislation.

It’s no surprise to those of you who are struggling with an eating disorder and have been through treatment or have tried to obtain treatment how inadequate the insurance coverage is, the disease is chronic in most cases (because it’s hard to obtain proper treatment) and treatment is expensive (usually $1,000-$2,000 per day in a residential setting).  After being in residential for a mere two days (after three days in a hospital setting) I was informed that my insurance wanted to cut me off and I was on the verge of packing my bags just as soon as I had unpacked them.  After being in and out of treatment for the past eight years I knew that I was ready to commit to recovery, I was ready to reclaim my life and because insurance thinks that I’m “all better” because of vital signs and their belief that my body weight was “within a normal healthy range” they thought I was ready to go home, the magic fairy dust had been sprinkled and I had been cured!  As soon as I got the news I begged to email the one person I knew would stand up for me and be a voice, the person who had told me that I needed treatment and she was ready to take me herself.  After the frantic email she notified me that she would contact my Congressman and advocate to insurance on my behalf.  During this same time another girl was going through the same situation–it’s a common situation to be in if you “lucky” enough to be covered by insurance for residential care–when I told her that she needed to have someone to advocate for her she said that she would wait it out.  She was one of the unlucky ones and had to leave treatment after the insurance’s company’s doctor thought it was no longer necessary.

Lucky for me, however, my therapist came in the next afternoon and said nine words that I will never forget “You have a lot of people who love you.”  My insurance company had allowed me thirty days of treatment.  I made a decision at that moment to make each day count so that when I walked out of those doors after those thirty days were up, I would never see the inside of a residential facility as a patient ever again.  I am immensely thankful to that friend who I will see this weekend and I pray for her and her work everyday because I am not the only one she has done this for, I am just one of many.

She is the one who has inspired me in everything I do, she reminds me on the days where I struggle that I am worth  so much more than a number on a scale.  Most importantly she has inspired me to advocate for others, to work to pass F.R.E.E.D until the lawmakers listen, to get the word out there until all of American knows how deadly and dangerous eating disorders are.  I will advocate until every person suffering from an eating disorder receives the treatment they need.  This bill WILL save lives.  If you have never been to a lobby day I encourage you to go, you will be changed.  I was, and I have never looked back.

Yup, I Still Struggle Sometimes

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I know what my mom is thinking as she reads this title…”Just sometimes?”  Okay mom, noted. Yes, it is true I have been in recovery for well over two years but I am not recovered.  There are still days where I fight the urge to revert back to my old ways, jump back into that relationship with my old boyfriend ED, it was comfortable after all despite all the abuse, oh and the fact that he almost killed me.  Actress Demi Lovato admitted in a recent radio interview in London as well as a mini-documentary on MTV,  the she still struggles with body image and self injury after treatment.  The truth is this, there is no special potion or fairy dust that is sprinkled over you when you enter treatment for an eating disorder, you have to work and work hard if you want to recover.  It’s not going to be easy, and some days it won’t feel worth it.  There were many mornings when I woke up and felt like this…

 

But I had to get out of bed anyway.  I had to wake up, get dressed and follow my meal plan and work on recovery for one more day.  The biggest obstacle to my recovery was my pregnancy, well actually after my pregnancy.  You see pregnant women, even very pregnant women, or overly pregnant women in my case (I went a week and a day over my due date) are viewed as beautiful and why shouldn’t you be, you are carrying and nurturing a life inside of you!  But after the baby is born, then the pressure is on to get off that weight that you put on during pregnancy and get it off fast!  I mean Heidi Klum was on the runway five weeks (yeah that’s right five weeks) after giving birth for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in her underwear!  My postpartum body was so foreign feeling to me.  Like most new moms, I spent the first few months in sweat pants, or leggings hoping I could avoid everyone I saw because I know they would be looking at me and judging my body rather than the beautiful child I have just given birth to right?  There were nights that I sat rocking my daughter to sleep and refuse to put her down in her bassinet for the night because I knew the moment I would put her down I would revert back to my old behavior again to speed up the post-baby weight loss the best way I knew how, my eating disorder behaviors.  When my mom would come over and point out that my cabinets were empty I would give the excuse that I was a busy single mom that didn’t have time to grocery shop.  And on a trip to look for a dress for a friend’s wedding I was attending, I was so horrified with the body that stared back at me from the mirrors placed so conveniently throughout the store that I sent a text to a friend and mentor that read “I hate this body, I just want to go back to ED” and I did, I was ready that night to give up everything that I had worked so hard for and go back to the life that I knew so well.  Her reply (which came in the form of a note on Facebook) said “But your body loves YOU” and reminded me that I hated my body when I had my eating disorder and going back to my eating disorder would only cause more disdain for my body.  What I have learned in my recovery–and from that Facebook note–is that my body is not broken down into “pretty” parts and “ugly” parts they are all just parts and they serve a purpose.  Without a HEALTHY body I would not have been able to have the  beautiful daughter that I hold in my arms today.   If I still had my eating disorder I wouldn’t be able to chase her around and giggle and play and find excitement in the little things of everyday life because my life wouldn’t be consumed by her, it would still be consumed by my eating disorder.  Yet there are days where I am unkind to my body, days where the images that I see on television or in a magazine have me comparing myself, days that I asked my mom if she thinks I look fat.  On those days I remind myself what my body has done for me and what it has allowed me to do for myself and then instead of looking at my body with disdain…I take a step back and with deep gratitude tell my body “thank you.”

So if today you are looking in the mirror and pointing out all the things that are wrong with your body, back aware from the mirror, get out a notebook, and write what you are thankful to your body for!

Jessica Fletcher Gets a New Typewriter

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Murder She Wrote has always been one of my favorite television shows, one of the items on my bucket list is to watch each and every episode.  Currently, I am on Season 6, Episode 17, Murder According to Melissa–I would be further along but I only just discovered that every episode is on Netflix, I was just buying to box sets as funds became available.   They don’t make shows like Murder She Wrote anymore, actually elderly female lead characters just don’t exist anymore, they have been replaced with young heroines in tight clothes, but I have many more blog posts to delve further into that topic.  I have wanted to blog for sometime but have not been able to because of an ancient MacBook that held some sort of sentimental value.  But the relationship with my MacBook needed to come to an end, it was just not good for either of us anymore.  The computer didn’t work unless it was plugged into the wall, and every time I wanted to end the night by writing to relieve a little stress, it would remind me that there was no more room on my hard drive. I could tell that it was ready to retire, but I just couldn’t let it go yet.  Finally, after getting over the hump I call my frugality, I decided to make the investment and get a new computer. That brings me to the purpose of this blog, last night as I was setting everything up I was looking for a good background that would give me some writing inspiration.  I came across a background that simply said “Be Happy.”  Simple, to the point and something we should all remember.  After struggling with an eating disorder for 14 years I lived a very unhappy life for a long time.  I have officially been in recovery for two and a half years and speak and advocate for those who still struggle and those who have lot their lives to a disease that affects millions of Americans.  So I hope you will join me on this new adventure of mine, of taking all of those writings that I usually do before I close my eyes for the night, and making them public here.   There is an episode of Murder She Wrote where Jessica trades in her typewriter, which has been her comfortable for her writing for so many years and upgrades it to a computer–you know, the super boxy  first generation Mac–although its uncomfortable she knows that she needs to “catch up with the times” and her editor tells her how much more efficient she will be.  I’m not like Jessica in the sense that I can not wait to start using all the bells and whistles of my new computer, and see all the adventures it will take me on, and all the things I can explore as an advocate, a speaker, a concerned citizen and most importantly, a mother.