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  • Ghosts Are Afraid of Mirrors: The Moment I Gave Up My Ghost For Good

    Our October theme for HerStories Voices is fear. So many young woman today look to Hollywood and fashion runways for role models and develop unrealistic expectations of what it means to be beautiful. In the age of photo shop and flattering photo filters, I fear my daughter will measure herself against unrealistic portrayals, which can lead to dire consequences. This week’s essay, written by Gina Paulhus, paints a harrowing portrait of an eating disorder that shook me to my core. I’m so grateful that our author has recovered – and that she’s bravely shared her story for others.

    —Allie

    HerStories Voices

    Ghosts Are Afraid of Mirrors: The Moment I Gave Up My Ghost For Good

    It had been a lonely summer. I hadn’t seen any friends in a long time. In fact, I hadn’t made a friend in years. I was twenty-one, on break from university and suffering from chronic depression. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be alive. I found myself engaging in bizarre behaviors that made little sense and were dangerous. And yet, I couldn’t stop these bizarre behaviors. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to stop.

    I was a gymnast, which was the one thing that tethered me to any sort of reality that summer. As much as I loved gymnastics, it was just one more place in my life that I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up. That I wouldn’t be accepted. That I wasn’t good enough. This fear drove me to create rules for myself that I would never imagine inflicting upon another person. This fear clouded my thinking and dictated my every waking move.

    My coach closed our gymnastics club for three weeks each summer. This left me with an empty slate of time that was begging to be filled. For a depressed girl with too much time on her hands, it was destructive. I had an unreasonable goal to weigh less than 100 pounds, for no reason other than to see if it was possible. And maybe, just maybe, people would finally notice that something was wrong. I was terrified and excited about the prospect.

    I decided to spend those precious weeks off by not eating any food for the entire twenty-one days. Seemed simple enough, except that I was bulimic. I’d left my days of the tidier eating disorder of anorexia behind. This was my sad reality and I was determined to make it work.

    I rolled out of my bed on a steamy July morning. The sheets were tangled and sticky from the tossing and turning and nightmares that had transpired throughout the night. The breathtaking view of the river outside my window did little to alter my sullen mood. I was unsure as to what the day would entail, but like always, it would start with judgment time.

    I kicked off my pajamas and went to the bathroom to pee to reduce any extraneous weight. Must. Reduce. Weight. I gingerly tapped my toe to the scale to trigger it on. The familiar grey letters jolted to life as I lightly stepped onto the heartless device that would dictate how I’d spend my entire day. I rationalized that the more carefully I stepped on the scale, the lesser the number it would register.

    • 105.1.

    This was no good. No good at all. I peered out the window to ensure I was alone. Mom’s car wasn’t there. Perfect. My weight always dropped after bingeing and purging, probably due to dehydration, but no matter. I was all about results. I proceeded to ransack the kitchen and binge on anything and everything I could find. The supplies were low on this particular day, which had a lot to do with my sinister habit. So I bolted to my car, with fistfuls of chewed up blueberry muffin in hand to keep me busy on the ride. I hit up a bunch of drive-thrus and binged for a couple more hours. I ate until my jaw throbbed and my stomach was stretched further than I’d ever stretched it before. I ate until I forgot everything else that hurt.

    Now it was time to pay the price. I locked myself into the bathroom, even though I was home alone—you can never be too careful—and purged until I was sure I got everything out. This exhausting task was unpleasant to say the least, but the calm buzz and sense of completion I experienced afterward made it all worthwhile.

    • 103.2.

    This was simply not working for me. I was so sick of staying still. Nothing is worse than staying still. I was due back to gymnastics practice in less than a week. My goal was to be under 100 pounds, and I simply wasn’t going to accept this disappointing turn of events. Double digits or nothing. I was done playing games.

    I threw on my sweatpants and a jacket, even though the temperature was 95 degrees. The hotter I could get, the lighter I’d be when I finished. I began jogging, with no particular destination in mind. Several hours later, my legs finally began to seize in protest and I hobbled back home.

    • 101.0.

    Ok, this had potential. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. From the front, I thought my stomach looked grotesque, in spite of the ribs poking through and the vacant space where my breasts used to be. I grabbed my handheld mirror to use it to check my appearance from the rear. When I saw myself from behind, however, I was shocked.

    I observed bones protruding through areas that used to be smooth—more than I ever had before. I felt like I was looking at myself through an evil funhouse mirror at the carnival. Everything looked distorted and wrong. The most disturbing sight, however, was the back of my knee. My knee was now wider than my calf, and wider than my thigh.

    My knee was the widest part of my leg.

    At that moment, on that July day, I realized that I could not make my knee smaller, no matter what I did or didn’t eat. My bones were not going to get smaller. Something about the refusal of my body to transfer itself into what I wanted it to be served as a reality check. This reality check somehow managed to accomplish what so many loved ones and self-help books couldn’t. I realized I was striving to achieve an ideal appearance that wasn’t possible due to the God-given structure of my actual bones. If my bones were going to be steadfast, my options were limited.

    The rear view vantage point provided me with another perspective that I was unable to see before. What I thought was my goal turned out to be a farce. I was chasing a house of cards—and for the first time I knew it. From that point on, I vowed to attempt to eat—to keep it down—and to exercise within reason and not with excess abandon. I vowed to become my best self—a self that might not be suited for the cover of a magazine, but a self that was my only option to fully live the life I had been given. I vowed to own my space in the world. For the first time, I accepted that some things in life just cannot be changed. This realization was both disappointing and freeing all at the same time.

    My fear of gaining weight was briefly replaced with a fear of the unknown. How do I eat like a normal person? I ignored the worry and walked over to the toaster. I slid a slice of bread into it and pressed the lever. The second hand on the clock ticked incessantly. I had never felt this uncomfortable, this unnatural. I pulled the toast out and grabbed a knife and a stick of butter. I spread the butter on the toast, hands shaking, with steely resolve.

    I sat down at the kitchen table and ate a piece of toast. I was twenty-one and hadn’t eaten toast since I was twelve. I savored the toast, and felt a sense of calm and peace wash over me. At the same time, I mourned the ending of a battle that existed only in my mind, with a prize that was nothing more than an illusion. I had been chasing something that was meaningless for so long, and I was tired. So very tired.

     

    ginaGina Paulhus, CPT struggled with eating disorders for many years and has since recovered. She owns her own in home personal training company called ‘Home Bodies’ that services clients throughout New England. Gina holds a Bachelor’s degree from UMass Lowell in Psychology and Business. She volunteers with MentorConnect—When relationships replace eating disorders. She also writes for Recovery Warriors. She is passionate about helping people from all walks of life learn how to efficiently and holistically manage their health, both mental and physical. In her spare time she enjoys yoga and practicing and competing as an adult gymnast.

    Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

     

    **Allie is accepting submissions for our November Voices column– the theme is gratitude. See submission guidelines here, and email Allie at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com.

    **There are still a few more days to enter our book giveaway in honor of our two-year HerTake column anniversary! Read Nina’s post and enter here.

    **Have you ordered your copy of So Glad They Told Me yet? Available in Kindle and paperback!

    **Check out this amazing deal on blog course bundles! Limited time only– just through Tuesday!– so don’t miss out!

  • The Social Media Cold Shoulder

    In this month’s HerTake question, Nina discusses what to do if you think a friend is purposely ignoring your posts on Facebook. Have you been on the receiving end of a digital dissing? Have you ever purposely withheld likes and comments from a friend?

    Dear Nina,

    I’m confused by one of my friends who is great in person, but ignores me on Facebook. Yes, a modern “problem,” but one that does affect our relationship or at least how I view our relationship.

    First, some background: I met “Jana” in a support group as we were both going through infertility. We hit it off and have been friends now for eight years. (By the way, we both have babies so it all ended well.)

    When we’re together, just the two of us, whether in person or on the phone, we have a wonderful time connecting, and I feel like she’s one of my closest friends. But then she completely ignores me on social media. We are friends on Facebook and Instagram, and I see that she likes and comments on (seemingly) everybody else’s feeds but mine. I also write a personal blog that I know she reads diligently because she mentions things she’s read there, but she has only commented on my site twice in the last eight years.

    To see the rest of this question and Nina’s answer, please visit Nina’s post.

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

  • So Glad They Told Me Publication Day is Here!

    It’s finally here!! We’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of this book ever since we chose our fantastic contributors nearly a year ago, and the day has finally arrived! So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood is now available for purchase as a paperback or e-book!

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    We are so proud of the 60 talented contributors who shared their stories about motherhood with us, and we think there is something for every parent in these pages, whether you’re newly pregnant, immersed in the first year, raising teens, or experiencing a brand new empty nest.

    This book was inspired by our #SoGladTheyToldMe social media movement and viral essay; here is more info from the back cover of the book:

    In the increasingly competitive culture of modern motherhood, parenting advice can often be judgmental, unrealistic, or smug. Or sometimes, there isn’t anyone there to offer advice or support. Mothers may feel isolated and lack a support network to provide honest advice, and others may face a barrage of unwarranted, unhelpful tips or warnings.

    This collection of essays from 60 mothers will empower and unite parents with real, honest advice from women who have been there. These writers share the advice or support they received—or wish they had—on everything from pregnancy to surviving the first year to parenting teens to empty nest syndrome. Inspired by the viral essay and #SoGladTheyToldMe social media movement, this book aims to change conversations about motherhood by presenting a broader, more realistic, and more balanced image of motherhood so that women will feel less inadequate, adversarial, and isolated. So Glad They Told Me is filled with compassionate, honest advice, and the poignant, painful, and sometimes hilarious truths you wish your best girlfriends had told you about motherhood.

    And to give you a taste of exactly the type of supportive, honest advice you’ll read in this book, here are some photos of our contributors sharing their messages in their own words.

    This collection will share advice on surviving the early years of parenting:

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    And work-life balance:

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    It speaks to the importance of finding a tribe and being there for other moms:

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    And being honest with one another:

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    With so many fantastic contributors and a foreword by the incredible Ann Imig, founder of Listen To Your Mother, Jessica and I are bursting with excitement to release this book. We would love your support today! You can order a paperback or e-book here. Here are a few things you can do to help us spread the word and make our release day a success:

    We are having a Twitter party on Thursday evening at 9 pm EST to celebrate the book, interact with the authors, and share our own motherhood stories. We’d LOVE for you to join us. Use the hashtag #SGTTM and join us! Details here:

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    We are so thrilled to finally share this book that has been over a year-and-a-half in the making. You can learn more about the project here. We can’t wait for you to read our contributors’ stories– we are so glad they shared them with us, and we think you will be, too.

    ~Stephanie & Jessica

  • Introducing Our Foreword Author, Ann Imig!

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    We are getting SO excited about the upcoming publication of So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Our 60 + contributors are diverse, dynamic, and incredibly talented, and we absolutely can’t wait for you to read their words. So naturally, we had to find a foreword author who fit the mission of this project and further represented the gift of storytelling and honesty our contributors share. And one person instantly sprang to mind: Ann Imig, founder of Listen To Your Mother. I was honored to produce the 2016 Boulder show and previously participated in the casts of LTYM Denver and LTYM Boulder, and I can’t say enough about the gift that Ann and Listen To Your Mother have given women, families, and communities. If you aren’t well-acquainted with Ann and her work yet, let me be the first to introduce you!

    annheadshotAnn Imig is founder Listen To Your Mother, LLC, the storytelling series in 41 cities and video-sharing company. She is also editor of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER:What She Said Then,What We’re Saying Now (Putnam & Sons, 2015). Ann’s writing appears on CollegeHumor, McSweeney’s, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post. TV appearances include ABCnews.com NBC Nightly News and the webseries Battleground (Hulu.com) and The Louise Log. Ann won the 2016 Iris Awards “Game Changer of the Year,” she’s a former Babble Top 100 Mom Blog/Top 50 Twitter Mom, A BlogHer #VOTY, and SheKnows Top 5 Funniest Mom. 

     

    We are SO honored to have Ann as the foreword writer for this essay collection; she truly is a game changer, and has done so much to give a voice to motherhood, representing all that is beautiful, painful, hilarious, and poignant about having a mother and being a mother. We can’t wait for you to read her words, and the words of our other contributors as they share stories that span pregnancy, infancy, the school-age and teen years, all the way through empty nest parenting. Our book releases next month– August 23rd– so make sure you have subscribed to our email newsletter to stay up to date!

    ~Stephanie & Jessica

    Other HerStories Project News:

    Create, Connect, Reflect (1) **Our newest online writing course, Create, Connect, Reflect: A Summer & Back-to-School Writing Program for Parents and School-Age/Tween Kids, is now open! Join us as we teach our kids a joy of writing and help them polish their craft, connect with them creatively, and give ourselves the space to reflect and express ourselves!

    Sign up today!

     

    **You can still take advantage of our spring/summer bundle and enroll in the self-paced versions of Publish Your Personal Essay and The Balanced Writer. Details here!

    **Our Voices column will be accepting submissions for September starting August 1st! Email our assistant editor Allie with your submission at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. Our September theme is friendship, and you can read full guidelines here.

  • Announcing Our Newest Writing Class–Create, Connect, Reflect!

    We are so thrilled to share our brand new online writing course! And we are doing something different this time– for the first time, we are offering a writing course that parents can take WITH their kids!

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    This class is a great opportunity to connect with your school-aged/tween child in a creative way, and it’s just in time to help your child brush up on some crucial writing skills in a FUN way before school starts. So many of us want to keep our kids’ skills fresh during the summer months to prevent that dreaded “summer slide” and be back-t0-school ready, but let’s be honest: the break from homework is the BEST, and we don’t want to waste our summer weeks having power struggles and doing boring busywork with our kids.

    Enter Create, Connect, Reflect. The purpose of this course is to help refine your child’s writing skills while also giving YOU some space as a writer (professional author, published freelancer, blogger, or brand-new writer with a notebook full of poetry or short stories, or the mother with a daily/weekly journaling practice) to reflect on your writing journey as well as your parenting experience.

    This self-paced course is great opportunity to connect with your child through writing, give yourself a create outlet and reflect on your writing, and provide your child with some fun and useful exercises to keep their writing skills sharp and polished as summer wraps up. The course is designed for kids approximately ages 8-13, but you can absolutely adapt the exercises for kids who are younger or older. My almost-ten-year-old will be participating as my “assistant,” and there will be some great opportunities for our young writers to connect and interact with each other as well!

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    The best part? There is NO schedule at all. Sign up today, later this week, next week, or mid-August. The class is completely self-paced, which means you don’t have to “show up” at any specific time. You can write in your pajamas and give your kids their assignments to do while you’re desperately trying to get some work done or just enjoy an uninterrupted dining room coffee date with your best friend. Make the class work for you!

    Here’s what you can expect:

    • Week One: Why Do You Write?
    • Week Two: Getting Ready to Write and Setting Yourself Up For Success
    • Week Three: Getting Writer’s Block, Feeling Discouraged, and Taking Care of Yourself
    • Week Four: Telling Your Story
    • Week Five: Telling Your Family’s Story
    • BONUS CONTENT: Focus On Your Craft and Polish Your Writing

    Each week’s lesson will have exercises for each of the three components of the course: an opportunity for you as a mother/writer to create, an assignment for your child to complete independently, and an exercise to be completed with your child. You can start ANY TIME and take the class at your own pace.

    This class is for you if: 

    • You love to write
    • You want to share your joy of writing with your child *without* power struggles
    • You want your child to keep his/her writing skills sharp before school starts *without* spending a fortune on summer school or writing camps
    • You’re looking for a way to connect with your child creatively
    • You want to make time to reflect on your own writing life
    • You’d like to improve your own writing craft with revision and editing strategies, tips for more dynamic personal essays, writing prompts, readings, reflection, and connection with other writers.

    The tween years can be a tough time for communication and connection, and this class offers some fun, engaging writing prompts for you to do with your child including collaborative storytelling and journaling. Sometimes it’s easier to express ourselves on paper, and you may be surprised at the connection that comes simply through WRITING with your child!

    You can get full details for the course and sign up here. Remember, the course is now open so you can enroll any time and be immediately added to the class! I am so excited to write with you and your child this summer!

  • Exceptions and Sisters-in-Law

    UPDATE (2019): FIND NINA AND HER COLUMN AT HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE

    In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a question from a woman trying to forge a friendship with a sister-in-law who seems to only have an interest in a civil relationship at best. We love that our community helps each other in the comments section. Don’t be afraid to add your two cents.

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

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    Dear Nina,

    What is the expectation level of friendship within family? And how do we deal with disappointment when it’s clear that no friendship is likely to emerge from a family relationship?

    My brother-in-law got remarried about a year ago, and I was really hoping that I would be friends with his new wife. I made a lot of effort at the outset, calling and texting and giving presents, but my overtures were met with a cold politeness (at best), and, at worst, hostility. If it were just a potential friend or acquaintance, I would move on and stop trying, but since it’s family, and we live in the same town, I don’t feel that I can just brush her off (even though she is brushing me off).

    What’s worse is that I see her being friendly to other people, I hear about how nice she is from others, and it’s really hard for me to not be hurt by the feeling that she is choosing to connect with other people but not me. She never calls, never texts, it’s all very one-sided and very unsatisfying. Also, we seem to look at the world very differently, so even on the rare occasion when we talk, it’s very strained and awkward.

    How do I balance the difficulty of “doing the right thing,” which is to keep being friendly and not burn this bridge, but managing my feelings of aggravation and disappointment.

    Thanks,

    Wanting a Friendly Family

     

    Dear Wanting a Friendly Family,

    Your question will touch on a sore spot for many readers since we can replace sister-in-law with mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, and any other familial relationship. How many of us hold onto expectations for our family members and inevitably feel frustrated and disappointed with the wide disparity between our expectations and reality? Too many of us, I’m sure.

    My gut reaction is that recalibrating your expectations to something more reasonable is the first step here. “Wanting a friendly family” is a workable and commendable goal. Wanting to be friends with your family, even with the new members married into the crew, is probably reaching too high. I wonder if it would help you to expect less from your sister-in-law if friendly rather than “friends” is the goal.

    Your question made me think about my three sisters-in-law. I feel a close and special friendship with all three of them, but those relationships developed over many years and there were some lows for us, too. It took maturity, empathy, and changes in behavior for all parties involved to rise above the fray. And the four of us live in four different cities!

    Back to your sister-in-law. There may be all sorts of reasons she is not responding to your attempts at forging a friendship. She may not like your husband. She may have grown up in a family where one does not have good relationships with in-laws or with siblings. She may not “get” how a close family works. She may feel overwhelmed by the new family or by marriage.

    I admit that it would feel less like rejection if you were hearing bad things about her. It’s human nature to feel better about ourselves if we have confirmation that the lack of chemistry is truly about the other person. But I want you let yourself off the hook even though you’re hearing she’s sweet towards others. You’ve done what you can so there’s no reason to worry if there’s something about you she doesn’t like. You’re not going to change for her so there’s no reason to over-analyze. Remember: your new goal is friendly not friends.

    As a special bonus answer, I reached out to a wise friend of mine who has had a tumultuous relationship with her sister-in-law for many years. She read your question and here’s what she wrote back to me.

    “Oy, Nina, you would think I wrote this myself, right? I believe actions are more important than reactions. So if it’s in the letter writer’s character to always show up pleasant and happy, then that is how she should show up. After many years of trying to create a better relationship with my sister-in-law who clearly had no interest in the same kind of connection, I woke up and said, ‘I have a village. I have people who are my friends. I have people who are my family. Sometimes it’s both. My energy is better spent investing in the relationships where it’s reciprocal and stop forcing it where it’s not.’ I decided that as long as the dynamic with my sister-in-law is polite enough for my husband’s family to eat dinner together, then I’m being a good partner in this. 

     The one holding the cards, in this scenario the sister-in-law, isn’t the only one who dictates the boundaries. When I made the commitment to just show up with a smile on my face but gave up hopes of anything whatsoever from my sister-in-law, that is when my sister-in-law started being nicer to me. She appeared at more family events like my kids’ recitals or birthday parties. She made more conversation with me at family get togethers. The commitment I made to myself was this: I am not going to play the victim. I’m responsible for what I bring and don’t bring to this relationship. My feelings were definitely hurt at times. That’s just life. Ya, know? You get through it. You stop being petty. You move on. It’s literally flipping the switch from reaction to action, which is a good lesson to learn in all relationships.”

    Isn’t my friend smart?

    Bottom line: You don’t have to be friends with your family. It’s noble you tried, but at this point it seems it’s best to be friendly and keep the door open as you never know what the future may bring. I’ve seen family crisis bring family members closer, and while I hope it doesn’t take something like that for you, it’s good to have the idea in mind that relationships can change in time. You keep being YOU, but keep your expectations of others reasonable.

    Good luck and report back if you can.

    Nina (and Nina’s good friend!)

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

    We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.