It was a single picture of me that did it.

I looked at it on my screen and saw “me” all over it. My spirit. My joy. My contentment. My true self. It was such a different look on me than I had seen in pictures in the past images that had a fake smile that hid sadness, anxiety, fear, and isolation.

These last several years for me have been about mental and spiritual growth.

Learning how to maintain my sense of self in the midst of motherhood. Getting used to being vulnerable with my struggles. Shedding the need to people-please and gaining the strength to speak my truth. Loving who I am and giving myself grace when I misstep. Looking anxiety in the face and vowing to give myself the tools to battle it.

It was an unsteady climb, but the true spirit emanating from that picture was worth every tear, anxiety attack and tough look in the mirror. I can confidently say my spirit is the most authentic it’s been in my adult life.

But as I moved my eyes down the image my heart sank.

Because the body that’s carrying all that authenticity doesn’t look the same anymore. For months I’ve been trying to pretend that it didn’t matter, but seeing myself in that picture struck lightning energy into my negative self-talk voice.

Because before authenticity I was skinny… and always thought it was just my “genes” because I really didn’t work out that often.

But it wasn’t about that at all.

It was about stress. It was about being so busy I’d forget to eat. It was about worrying so much I didn’t even have an appetite.

But now that I’ve got a better control on my mental health, the pounds that anxiety held off for YEARS have stampeded through the gate—17 of them to be exact—just a few pounds shy of how many I gained with my third baby.

It leaves me in a strange place. I’m grateful for my happiness, but at times feel bitter that it comes at the price of living in a bigger body in which I feel uncomfortable.

So I decided to change that, and nine days ago I started a new workout program.

Nine days ago I was thinking about fitting into jeans, and not having to squeeze my sides into them. I was thinking about smaller numbers on a scale and on my pants sizes.

But in a short amount of time, I have already realized that’s not what this is about at all.

This is one more step in showing anxiety that it doesn’t control me OR my body anymore.

Because while anxiety was the one that stood like armed guards against jailed pounds, now I’m the one standing guard . . . and it’s anxiety that’s locked up.

And this is one more lock I can put on its cell . . . and I want that.

Because this is me saying I care about taking care of my body the right way. I care about mental toughness. I care about having more energy. I care about feeling stronger.   I care about setting an example for my kids. I care about my mental health AND my physical health.

I care about choosing me.

So to those extra 17 pounds, thank you for that gift.

I know the discomfort you put me in was meant to push me even more in my journey to my true self.  I know you are a symbol of victory, in a sense . . . that I finally set you free from the unhealthy way I was holding you back.

But while I appreciate you transforming me… my friends, it’s time to transform YOU.

Into strength. Into self-love. Into mental toughness.

Into (the real) authentic me.

Originally published on The Thinking Branch

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and speaker who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. She also owns newborn, children and family photography business Photography by Brea. She and her husband raise their three young children in Pittsburgh, PA.