What does it mean to be yourself?

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Be Yourself Blog is a chance for Little Voice to share the stories of those finding their little voice, those struggling to hear it, and those using it to inspire others. These are the stories about people just like you, and how they listened to their inner voice to build, create, explore and discover.

AFTERTASTE is a unique three part blog that shares the personal story and struggle of Little Voice’s illustrator Samantha Clusiau-Lawlor.

“When Samantha came to me with her story and her hope of sharing it with others, I immediately stood by her like any partner would! Little Voice is more than just a children’s book, we are a movement. Not just one movement, but many movements. Whether we are supporting Alzheimer’s disease or other causes in our community, or even Samantha’s story, we want to use our platform to support every little voice; in times of strength and times of weakness.” – Amanda Bernardo, author

Last week on June 2nd, the world came together to promote the World Eating Disorder Action Day. Today, Samantha is opening up with all of our readers on her own personal experience in an effort to promote a worldwide knowledge of eating disorders and the need for comprehensive treatment.

Graphic for article
In Samantha’s own words:

There I was, starring down at the meal placed in front of me. My mind was racing, my palms were sweaty and my anxiety was through the roof. My table was filled with the laughs, joy and carelessness of my closest friends. They ate their meal like it was no big deal. ‘’How?’’, I thought to myself. ‘’How could it possibly be this simple? They all made a choice and ordered what they wanted. Now, they are digging in, enjoying their food without a care in the world.’’ Even though I was surrounded by a table full of friends, I had never felt so alone, abnormal and trapped.

Orthorexia nervosa – Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.

Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous. – National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

While my friends were eating and talking amongst themselves, I was too busy living inside my own head. I was sucked down the rabbit hole. This big, overbearing voice in my head that was criticizing the meal I had chosen. I was thinking about the quality of my meal: the calorie content, the fat percentage, the carbohydrates, the sugar – oh goodness, don’t even get me started on the sugar! I had to be good after this one meal. Is this organic? I knew I should have suggested the other restaurant where I could see the calorie count on the online menu and calculate exactly what I would have so that I would not go over my ‘’daily allowance’’.

Darn it, I’ve started to eat the meal.

‘’It’s DELICIOUS!” a tiny little voice exclaimed in my mind.

‘’NO.’’ The bigger voice came through and told me I could not ‘slip’ like this again.

The voices continued in my head: “I am the worst, I can’t even control myself around food. I’ll have to do a fitness routine when I get home to burn all of these calories. I don’t care if I get home at 12AM tonight, I need to work out. To get a head start on my workout I’ll get off at the mall and walk home. That’s a solid 20 minute walk. I’ll be putting myself in harms way by walking alone that late at night, but at least I’ll be burning calories and getting my steps in.”

I did this for 6 miserable years.

The negative self talk, the workouts, the portion control, the guilt after eating, the constant worry that came before every single bite of food I would eat. From low sugar attempts to no sugar attempts, I was beginning to grow tired of being at war with myself. Something was wrong. I had set out to become the healthiest I could be, and instead I ended up at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The worst part, nobody knew. Nobody knew this struggle that was battling on inside me as I smiled at dinner, or ate like everyone else. They didn’t realize the lengths I was taking to justify the calories I was eating. How could they know? As a self-published illustrator who championed behind others to listen to that positive voice inside them, I was struggling with the negative voices trapped inside myself.

Here I was; an accomplished straight A student, a graphic designer for the House of Commons, an illustrator for a popular children’s book, a volunteer, etc… and instead of recognizing all of these accomplishments, all I could focus on was my obsession to maintain and control my thin, frail body.

Nobody had any idea of the battle that continued to play in my mind day after day, that is, until today. 

Read Part Two of Samantha’s three part story today at 3:00pm.