by Pearl Choi
Note: This post originally appeared on His Grace, My Joy and has been cross-posted with permission.
lately, i’ve been reflecting on my slow, painful, transition into adulthood. i’m sure many of you reading this can empathize with how difficult adolescence is, and how the trajectory into being a full fledged adult is no easier. yet despite the tumultuous seasons of life i have experienced, i am so grateful for all of it. though life has certainly not gotten easier, my joy is so much greater and my love for living has blossomed. someone recently told me i’ve changed drastically since high school. and i agree. but the best changes are in my love for life.
like so many of us, high school was the most awkward phase of my life. from the ages of 13-19, i was constantly uncomfortable with my body. it led to a dramatic weight loss my sophomore year, and then a rapid weight gain the following winter. this led to a cycle of weight fluctuations and destructive lifestyle patterns.
now to preface, i don’t want people thinking that i believe i looked worse back then. because i think i look just as beautiful (albeit ~teenage awkward lol~). and i don’t want people to think that i’m associating health and wellness with a certain body type or size. because health and happiness looks different on each person. the subtle difference between this and a typical “weight loss before and after” is that my weight was never the problem or the issue. my weight– as well as an inability to maintain it at a set place– was a symptom of an eating disorder and the subsequent depression. the constant yo-yoing weight loss and weight gain was a result of my very unhealthy relationship with food.
at the time that the first column of photos was taken, i was buying in so hard into diet culture, and i justified it as “part of recovery”. it was around this time that social media exploded as a platform for health and fitness “gurus”. being an impressionable young adolescent living in a high pressure world, i succumbed to a lot of fake “nutrition science” and “diet advice”. i had an image in my head of what health looked like, and i associated my happiness with that.
depression often develops in people with eating disorders– that played a huge role in my unhappiness. but it was also the stressful life circumstances and growing pains i was fighting through that made life so heavy, breaking, and dark. it felt like there was no point, because i couldn’t see past my own deep rooted struggles. i’ve come to believe that being able to see the light at the end and finding the joy in each day is a practice. gratitude doesn’t develop spontaneously, but over time. and as a 17 year old, you don’t know how to do that. so when you’re drowning in your problems– both big and small– you have no way of coping with it because this is one of the first times in your life that you have to fight your way through it.
and so i often resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms– anything to remove myself from the pain. i felt alone, and subsequently isolated myself. i don’t have many memories of friendships in high school because i rarely spent time with friends outside of class. it was a miserable time in my life. i would cry and cry because while i didn’t want to continue living, i didn’t want life to end either. and i just remember believing that this was what the rest of my life would look like. but that could not be further from the truth.
when i was 19, a significant relationship ended, and it left me the most damaged and empty that i have ever been. i didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. i was still in a very rocky place with my faith. God saved me through running- it was my grace. the physical pain with each breath and each stride melted away a lot of my angst. running gave me goals and challenges to focus on– reasons to continue, reasons to get up each morning.
and as i began to heal my relationship with myself, i also began the tough feat of healing my relationship with food. i let go of calorie counting, macro tracking, paleo dieting, and every other diet out there i tried to follow. i began the long process of intuitive eating, with a focus on plant based nutrition. for the very first time in my life, i shifted my focus away from my physical appearance to health and happiness. and my body changed in response to that, naturally and happily.
so we arrive at the second column photos. i have somehow made my way through 7 out of 8 semester of nursing school. i have become inspired to pursue my passions within healthcare. i have discovered the joy in morning coffee, puppy photos, and strangers who smile with kindness. i have developed a love for food, health, and everything in between the two. i have been touched and saved by Jesus. and most of all, i have found myself. I’ve gone through much hardship since those days, and the world never stopped spinning. but i have come to understand that there is great beauty in the pains and sorrows of growing up.
so if you’re a young, 17 year old like i was; or even if you’re 60 years old and much more wise and experienced, i want to leave you with this: the bad seasons are just that– seasons. they do not last a lifetime. they are not your “forever”. if you’re in what feels like the ugly stage, the awkward stage, the “i don’t know what the hell i’m doing with my life” stage, know that someday you will. and even thought that doesn’t change your circumstances, i hope it shifts your mentality and brings you hope. because while it may feel like finding yourself and your happiness is impossible, i promise you– it’s not. trust me.