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    Posted November 25, 2012 by
    Charleston, South Carolina
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    CNN Fit Nation: 2013 Triathlon Challenge

    Silent Suffering


    This is a story that I have never shared with anyone other than my wife and doctor.

    At age 47, I am a lifelong sufferer of depression, anxiety and obsessive behaviors. Never treated and never diagnosed until, through the urging of my wife, I sought psychiatric counseling in 1998. Through intensive sessions I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive preoccupation with imagined defects in physical appearance. It is classified as an anxiety disorder and can manifest itself in many different ways. I wouldn’t wish this condition on my worst enemy.

    As a lifelong sports enthusiast and a high school athlete having a body image accompanied by an eating disorder is not something that comes up in casual discussion. Years of denial, confusion and frustration created a tremendous amount of emotional scar tissue that became so bad that it began to affect my personal and professional life.

    A flash back to my high school years is the best way to illustrate the type of suffering and physical risk that I endured. Having chronic bad ankles, prone to ligament sprains, I still insisted on wearing low cut sneakers. The reason for wearing low cut sneakers was that I thought that my ankles looked grotesque in high top sneakers. Imagine trying to explain this to the casual observer and the doctor that insisted that I should wear high-tops.

    In addition to this preoccupation with my appearance there was a severe eating disorder which I still struggle with today. BDD can severely distort your idea of your personal physical image. Eating and diet have become at times an obsession with me. Although I am not fat, I always felt as though I was overweight. This obsession created a lot of personal tics which I have to hide or control to this day. Without treatment and guidance I learned how to punish myself through eating. In many ways this abuse is akin to being a drug addict. You know in those moments that the behavior is destructive but while you are doing it is becomes an escape.

    Of course my love of food led me to my career in foodservice. I have been cooking since I was a kid, but professionally I have been cooking as a chef for over 23 years. I love my profession but emotionally it can be challenging. I currently teach and mentor culinary students as an instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston in South Carolina.

    I have been blessed with the opportunity to marry a great woman who has been my support system through all of this. We have both been blessed with our daughter, now 13 years old and one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received.

    All of this was nearly lost in 2002 when I was hospitalized and placed in a psychiatric ward that treated patients at risk for suicide. I lost everything. I disappeared from the landscape of my own life. My own family couldn’t understand what had happened. I still experience the pain of having my, then 3 year old, daughter visiting me under supervision in a sterile hospital room.

    Why this is relevant to the CNN fit challenge? Through my sessions with my psychiatrist we have determined that exercise is one of the keys to keeping my brain functioning in a positive way. When I do exercise and take care of myself physically I am at my happiest. I still take Prozac to regulate my serotonin levels but one of my goals in my treatment is to get off of medicine permanently. One of the side effects of taking medicine has been weight gain. I have always been a lean 180 pounds until I started taking Prozac. Over the years I have been as heavy as 230 pounds on a 6 foot frame. Now my weight rests around 210 or so. I try not to weigh myself too often due to my condition. I know that I could be healthier.

    Over the years there has been exercise through various activities ranging from golf, swimming, health clubs and exercise classes and at home training programs. I have tried every gimmick and diet available with limited or no results. What is missing for me is a finish line, a goal, an end result which could lead to greater and more satisfying results both emotionally and physically. What is missing for me is consistency or at least the ability to be consistent.

    I have several friends who compete in various forms of racing, kayaking and triathlons. My daughter is a year round competitive swimmer. These people are all secretly my idols because of their commitment and dedication to their competitive goals. On the outside I am critical of adults who spend their free time training to compete. I mock people with 26.2 bumper stickers or car window stickers. I have come to realize that deep down I am envious. I have never run except when told to at basketball practice or during a sport activity.

    As my daughter gets older and more into fitness I know this is something that we don’t have in common and I want to change that. As part of her training she also will compete in short road races. I would want nothing more that to be able to run with her. I want to be accountable just like she is for the 6 am swim practices on Saturdays when all of her friends are sleeping in. I feel like being part of this fit challenge would give me a real reason to be accountable, on task and to push through those barriers that have held me back all of these years.

    Not only would I benefit from a health standpoint but I hope to be able to be happy and healthy and emotionally available for my wife, daughter and friends. Ultimately I would love to be medicine free and I don’t think that I can do this on my own.

    The greatest goal though would be to bring more awareness to this condition for males. I know that I can’t be the only one out there that suffers in silence. Most often information about health is focused on the physical and I would like to shed more light on how we can also benefit mentally. If I could have success as part of this team I hope that it could encourage others to take control of their lives. For those that suffer the knowledge that we can have the opportunity to wake up and be happy with who we are is the greatest gift that I could give.

    I thank you for your time and consideration of my story.

    Scott Stefanelli

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