Preface: This is the second part of my story of my battle with anorexia. While the first section highlighted the physical battle (read it here), this story delves into the mental struggles that have to be overcome to fully recover from this disease. Part one ended on a high with running my way into two All-America awards at Nationals and my body humming with the excitement of what was to come in the future…
As I allowed food to enter my body, I couldn’t control my cravings and urges. All of what I shut out for a year, came back in full force. While my body became healthy, my mind deteriorated. I was cruel to myself. No one could be harsher in criticism. I stood in front of the mirror and ripped my body to pieces in my mind. I stood on the scale and loathed every pound that I gained. I berated myself for my lack of control to stop eating, to calorie restrict, to go back to my old habits.
I found myself swallowed up by darkness. I chanted my mantra “relentless courage” over and over again as my guiding light.
I ran, I cried, I wrestled with demons calling me fat, thunder thighs, and chubby cheeks. Going into the post-season of cross country, I was undefeated. I was someone to watch in the nation.
I toed the line as the gun went off on a chilly fall day at Regionals. I kept pace with the lead pack, ticking off the first mile. We made a turn, and then another turn and began a march up a hill. Lead filled my legs. I found myself being gapped. 2 miles. A girl passed me. I willed my body to cling on. No response. Another girl passed me. 3 miles. We turned into the final straight away. I begged my body to kick. No response. Two girls passed me in the long stretch to the finish. I crossed the line and crumbled into a heap of defeat. 8th place. One spot away from my Nationals bid. I put my sunglasses on and went for a long solo cool down as I mourned my shortcoming.
What did I do wrong? Why did this happen to me? Vicious thoughts swirled around in my mind. I found myself entering a black hole…
Days blurred. My heart ached for my failure, but I knew I had to pull myself together and get out of my funk. I needed to go back to my purpose of it all, my why. I found myself posting the reasons why I ran, over 50 of them on Facebook, as I tried to rediscover myself.
Some were simplistic: Reason #3 why I run: walking takes too long
Some were for reprieve from the real world: Reason #34 why I run: I don’t have to think about bacterial genetics!!
And others were about things that I learned about myself: Reason #38 why I run: because the terrible, hard days are the ones that make us stronger!
Every single one was tinged with positivity, as I tried to claw my way out of the pit of despair. But, I was a torrent of emotions. I studied my body’s reflection in every glass surface. I struggled to find a single nice thing to say to myself. I let my words use my body as a punching bag. I heard someone ask if “that was still going to fit me?” I cleaned out my closet of tight fitting clothes.
I kept trying to break through the negativity that had corrupted my once naive mind.
Track season led to another disappointing finish, one spot away from Nationals. My confidence crumbled under the weight of the defeat. I started to believe I was a fluke, a one-hit wonder. I second-guessed myself. I decided to try not to care too much about running anymore, it hurt less to just go through the motions. I couldn’t disassociate myself enough. It still hurt. I saw fat as the culprit to downfall. I still believed I was never going to be as good as I once was. I ran anyways.
Racing no longer was a test of will, it became a line of comparisons. It wasn’t about the 3.1 miles of strength. It was about the girl next to me who had skinnier legs. It was about the girl on the end with the flat stomach. It was me telling myself everything my contorted mind thought I wasn’t instead of telling me everything I am. Instead of trusting in my training, I fixated on body image. The races, once my favorite part of running, became dreaded.
I went from one of the top in the nation to barely placing in conference championships. That fact alone took it’s toll on me. What little confidence I had left quickly evaporated. I faked confidence. Again and again and again, trying with all my might to build myself back up.
My journal became my outlet for dark thoughts as I kept pushing for recovery, for health, for finding myself again. I faltered, as I struggled with the deception that anorexia was telling me:
“I know I should be pushing these thoughts [anorexia] away. But instead, I’m welcoming the monster in, like an old friend. And now that he’s here, I want him to stay, get to know him again. I’m trying to fight, but he’s a charmer, he’s hard to fight against when he makes you feel so good. Monster, don’t go, stay with me for awhile.”
I began to have more good days than bad days. I stood in front of the mirror for an hour telling myself all positive things about myself. I cried as I tried to reword the thought process of my brain. I did this again and again, rebuilding myself. Every now and then, I would misstep:
“Again, I’ve slipped. I’ve woken the monster from hibernation. I’ve told it good morning and offered to make him the breakfast I won’t eat. He always gives me such an eerie sense of control.”
Coming back from a slip-up, began to take less time, from two weeks, to one week, to only a matter of days. I was healing.
I found myself on the doorstep of the Olympic Training Center. I was a mix of emotions: extremely excited and honored to have been given the opportunity I had been dreaming about since I was 12 years old; and extremely nervous with a twinge of feeling like I didn’t deserve to be there.
I worked hard, read positive quote after positive quote to continue to build back the confidence that I had lost and was working hard to regain. Slowly, I began to feel like my normal self. I began to hit new benchmarks. I got into a groove. I was starting to find my wings again. I began to believe.
Then, a bout of mono and a sinus infection later led me to be 10 pounds lighter and fighting my mind and body against the demons of anorexia. That high that I once had from losing weight was back. I confided in my dietician. She made a plan for me to gain weight. I refused to follow it. Deep down I knew I was walking on a dangerous thin line.
I confided in my coach. She spitballed it back in my face, screaming and yelling. With a huge stroke of courage and strength, I decided I needed to leave the place I had so desperately wanted to be. I needed to be healthy and I refused to go down the same road I had followed only two years before.
The demon became tangible in my mind. It was as if admitting it was there, made it something I could touch and feel, a black goo covering over the front part of my brain. I battled, trying to find some way to eliminate it from my body. Day after day, I visualized removing the tar from my brain. I noticed days went by without a negative thought. Then a week. Then before I knew it, I went from having consecutive bad days to having none.
Nothing tastes as good as freedom feels. The shackles and chains were gone. The scale was no longer my universe.
My dad asked me “was it worth it?”, meaning, was losing weight to become one of the best in the country, only to fight like hell for health and fall behind the pack in running, worth it?
My answer was (and still is) a resounding yes.
I learned willpower, resilience, courage, and strength. But more than that, I lived to safe a friend’s life. I lived to mentor others. I lived to be an inspiration. I beat a disease that has the highest mortality rate amongst any mental disorder.
Every year, during National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I share more of my story in the hopes that I can touch just one person’s life. This is how I overcame. Anorexia is of the past, it no longer has any grips on me. It is just something that happened to me and now I use it to give hope to others. Recovery is possible. Every battle can be won.