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Like most women—or people, for that matter—I have a complicated relationship with my body. Whether the awkwardness of my teens or dieting in my college years, it’s been a long road. And to be honest, I’m still working on getting to a place of acceptance and contentment with how my body looks and fits into clothes.

I’ve gone through bouts of working out, limiting foods, and negative self-talk when I looked in the mirror. And the age-old lie that I’d be happier or actually get a boyfriend when I finally got skinny.

So about 5 years ago, when I started to drastically lose weight, seemingly out of nowhere, I didn’t take it as a sign of something actually being wrong with my body.

I just took it as a blessing. A gift. A lucky metabolic shift after years of trying to figure out how to lose weight. I mean, yeah, it was definitely mysterious, but for one of the first times in my life, I was considered conventionally skinny. I could actually fit into a size 10 for the first time since middle school.

Even though I’d noticed that I had drastically dropped weight over the course of a month, I just chalked it up to it being summer. Fresh fruits and vegetables were in season, and I spent more time walking around outside, right? But that overall nonchalance mixed with my desire to lose weight also made me downplay other symptoms, like constant thirst and shortness of breath. Once again, I just chalked it up to the summer heat.

Somehow, this allowed me to rationalize the idea I’d lost about 30 pounds in a month.

But turns out it, this weight loss was more than just the summer.

On September 5, 2014 I was sitting at my office desk with my lights off; the buzzing and fluorescent light were too much for me to handle.  After an attempt to get some work done, my coworker came in to see why my lights were off and told me to go to the hospital. To be honest, it was probably closer to a demand. Paired with her “Jess, you look unwell,” and the look on her face, I knew this wasn’t just an overreaction. She was really concerned.

I drove myself to the hospital thinking I had a stomach bug. I’d be out in no time, right? Wrong. The ER doctor took one look at me and told me I had Type 1 diabetes. Though it’s commonly called “Juvenile Diabetes,” I had gotten it at 22.

And you want to know what’s really fucked up?

Upon hearing my diagnosis, the first thing out of my mouth was “Oh, so guess all that weight I lost wasn’t water weight, huh? I really lost that all?” At the time, it seemed funny, but looking back, it shows how warped my body image was. Yeah, I could fit into a size 10 dress, but at the expense of a chronic illness. Which then led to me feeling awkward when people would comment on how good I looked after all that weight loss.

How didn’t any of us realize I was actually really sick?

Depending how you look at it, the funny or sad part about all of this is at my pre-diagnosis weight, I was the most comfortable I had ever been in my own body.

I accepted it, and knew how to dress for it, and was able to look in the mirror and say, “Wow, I look really good.” Finally, after being on diets, Weight Watchers, and constantly tracking food intake since I was in middle school, I felt okay with my body.

Now I had to do that all over again. But this time it was somewhat different because I needed to get to that mindset in order to properly live. Still, all the anxiety of dreading food and forming a new relationship with food started to hit.

Even though throughout the five-day hospital stay I had been pretty accepting of my diagnosis, I started to freak out. This news had hit two-and-a-half weeks before my birthday, and my binary, doomsday brain started to tell me I couldn’t have any birthday cake or drink a glass of wine ever again, and I was going to have a miserable time. The nurses assured me this was not going to be the case.

Over time, I’ve gained a lot of the weight back that I lost from that pre-diagnosis period. Except this time it’s been harder to accept my body and all of its changes. I’m still working on it.

Because my default mindset is still to want to be skinny, at all costs.

When I see a photo of myself from 2014, I just see a skinny person. Which is truly some mind-fuckery, because I don’t see a sick person, whose body was attacking itself, losing weight regardless of any diet or level of exercise.

But I’m trying. And instead of fixating on the number on the scale, I’m trying to focus on the number of sugars, because that’s ultimately more important.

And I’m getting there. Some days, I feel great about my body and the rebound I’ve made. Now it’s just a matter of getting the mental game stronger. I want my feelings about my body to match the physical improvements I’ve realized.

Hell, I even did a half marathon this year, which is something I never thought I’d do. And having this accomplishment is helping me realize that appreciating my body and living a healthy lifestyle is ultimately a marathon—not a sprint.

Jessica Lulka

Jess Lulka is a Boston-based creative. When she's not writing or editing, you'll find her at any bookstore, art museum, or looking at cat pictures.

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