Body Image Mental Health

The Truth Behind this Photo

This photo popped up on my Facebook feed recently. You know the kind—the ones that make you remember how your gravitational pull used to be thirty pounds lighter, and how that cute little dress you got in China used to look on you, and how happy—oh how utterly happy, and carefree you were!

This photo did immediately make me think that I needed to go on a crash diet to lose 30lbs, well let’s say 40 so I could BEAT my goal weight, and work out twice a day so that I could have more energy—just look at that image—she has so much energy!

It beams from her!

It was only three years ago after all, how could you have let yourself go so quickly

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People must be so disappointed with you for putting on more than half the weight you originally lost.

Look at all the comments and likes!

STAHP. 

I’m calling bullshit.

I. WAS. MISERABLE.

The truth behind that photo, in that happy-go-lucky-caught-mid-laugh photo right there, was that I was absolutely miserable.

Let me tell you about that Chloé.

That photo was taken on New Year’s Eve in 2014.

I had flown the thirteen hours home after living in China for almost a year, and had a whopping ten days to spend with my family and friends before heading back to my job as an ESL teacher in Wuhan, China.

At that time in my life, I spent every waking hour overwhelmed by crippling anxiety and self-doubt.

​I was fresh out of an abusive relationship with someone who was mentally ill (a verrrrrry long and messy story for another time). 
​It was the type of heartbreak that completely incapacitated me.

My parents urged me to end my contract with the company I was working with early so that I could come home and be surrounded by people who loved and supported me, but I had it set in my mind that I needed to get through it on my own. 

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The Truth Behind This Photo: This was right after my ex had been hospitalized for his mood disorder. I spent the days working and nights at the mental health inpatient facility that was a far cry from the standards of care we see here in the US. At the time I was barely sleeping, let alone staying glued together.

It was a very long year. 

My depression and anxiety swallowed me up.

I started to question the reason I had ever decided to come to China.
I questioned my intentions for wanting to travel.
I questioned my values—after all, how could I say the most important things in my life were friends and family if I had decided to give it all up just to travel and experience this?

​What kind of person would do that?

My eating disorder quickly got out of control, and I was binge eating every night after my nightly hour run through town. 

I isolated myself because social functions felt forced, and I convinced myself that I was unpleasant to be around because I could rarely find anything to say. 

The only friends I had were the friends that hosted movie nights or art meet-ups so that I could focus on the movie or the task instead of focusing on what to say next. 

I was constantly at odds with myself. 

Every thought I had, I questioned. 
Every free hour I had to spend, I would labor over what I could be doing, or should be doing, and never end up picking a single thing.

When I finally visited home, I remember the flight from Beijing to Detroit. 

The flight attendants were so Midwestern it made me cry. 

They had the warm fuzziness of my Mom, but the hard voices of women who had smoked for 20+ years. They had fake-n-bake tans, tattooed eyeliner, and bleached perms piled high on top of their heads, and all I wanted to do was hug them, and cry, and thank them for flying to China to come to get me.

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The Truth Behind This Photo: I loved to travel, but travel had lost its luster for me the longer I stayed in China. My depression at the time was so heavy that it was hard to be around people.

Tough Decisions

Being home those ten days was a blessing and a devastating blow all at the same time.

I got a taste of what life could be if I decided to take the leap and move home.I loved and relished every second of it, but at the same time the underlying anxiety of my countdown back to China draped an impending dread over my visit.

I kept waiting for some kind of sign that would allow me to stay in the US, but it never came.

When the day came for me to fly back to China, I had convinced myself it was the right move despite every cell in my body protesting.

The “Old Me”

I had, after all, been promoted to something the “old Chloé” would have considered a dream job, and it would have been a wasted opportunity if I didn’t get back on the plane.

I had to do myself the service of at least discovering if my “dream job” was something I really wanted.

Well, I spent the next months doing more of the same: occasional emotional outbursts, anger, impatience, confusion, paralysis.

I was more isolated and lonely than I had been before, as my job required me to switch locations every few weeks.

I spent literal days in silence, days where I interacted with no one, and endless sleepless nights obsessing over what it was I was going to do with my life. I had the ever-ticking clock counting down wasted seconds as if my time were somehow running out.

I hated it, but I hated the idea of being a failure more.

​ I was frustrated that my “dream job” made me so miserable, and I was panicked at the prospect of being stuck in a worse job that wouldn’t pay the bills back home.

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The Truth Behind This Photo: This was in the floating forest, on a weekend trip with my colleague. My anxiety and depression made me too exhausted to do much of anything, so we spent only a few minutes on the rafts, and about an hour on our hike.

Calling it Quits

I gave it my best for another six months, but ultimately decided that my unhappiness was a good enough reason to call it quits.

​The anxiety started to fade the moment I decided to go home, and the more steps I took to cement my life back home reduced my baseless worries about the future.

​Looking back, I learned endless lessons from the experiences I had in China, and if faced with doing it all over, I absolutely would.

I learned that I wasn’t immune to abusive, manipulative relationships. I learned better how to recognize the warning signs, and I learned most importantly to never try to save someone from his or her own self. 

Every person is in charge of their own mental health, and taking on other peoples’ problems solves absolutely nothing.

I learned, simply put, that I can get through whatever craziness life throws my way.

I learned that this idea of “failure” is something we sometimes make up because we’re sometimes too afraid to make a change that will get us out of the horrible situation we’re in. 

Failure is rarely failure because most perceived failures are just opportunities waiting for the right perspective. It’s okay to admit that something you thought would be perfect for you isn’t right for you. 

It’s okay to surrender, and change your mind.


I learned that taking a step back is not a bad thing, and sometimes it’s the best thing. We can have multiple versions of our life in this one lifetime, but in order to get to the next one, sometimes we have to go back to home plate.

The important people just want you to be happy. Anybody else can suck it.

But anyway. Back to the photo.

I think I just wanted to show you just how good we can be at faking it.

Here’s a photo of who I am right now.

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The Truth Behind This Photo: I’m in my kitchen because it has a great place for me to prop my phone up for self-timer selfies, and the lighting is also great.
​The truth behind this photo is that I’m 30 lbs heavier, but I’m a million pounds lighter without the weight of the intense anxiety I felt then.  

Even though I still have anxiety, deal with depression, and face self-doubt often, I ultimately have a grip on it. I have anxiety, but I’m no longer the embodiment of anxiety and self-doubt. I’m in touch with reality, and I’m doing everything I can to be honest with myself, and face those things head on. 

I share this because it was a really great reminder for me that things are rarely as they seem on social media. 

Timehop is a gift, and an annoying surprise visit from your previous self. 

This particular Timehop started as the standard “hurling insults at my body for changing in a natural, healthy for me way” into a reminder of the crap I went through to get from there to here. 

It’s really refreshing to know that even when I feel like I haven’t learned a thing, I’m actually trucking along and learning little, meaningful bits along the way.

Don’t look at photos from the past and fall into the trap of thinking everything was better then. 

Photos take all the complexities of life and freeze them into a sliver of a moment that only tells a fraction of the truth. 

30lbs lighter doesn’t mean happier, or healthier, or freer. 

​You were doing the best you could then, you’re doing the best you can now, and you’ll keep doing the best you can tomorrow and the day after.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    downonlakestreet
    July 10, 2019 at 8:32 am

    What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!! It’s easy to look back at the past with rose tinted glasses.

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