Life is a journey. It is filled with the unexpected. There are valleys, mountains, rocks, sticks and flat places. Sometimes there is water and things get muddy. Other times, life is filled with leaves that cloud the once known path. Other people will pass you on your journey and you might walk with them for a little while. But in the end, you end up having to part ways and go the way you have set out to go. In life, you have to choose which path to take. Sometimes the paths will not be clear and seem overwhelming, but that is the joy in life. Every person’s journey in life is different. Everyone struggles, everyone experiences joy, pain, and sorrow, but nobody leads the same life. Sometimes in life, you don’t have a choice. You may have been diagnosed with a disease, had a loved one die, or were born into poverty. You did not choose that life, it was not your fault. However it happened to you. And now you have a choice. Will you fight? Will you overcome the obstacles? You can’t change some circumstances in life, but you can change your outlook. Your fight. Your passion. What will you fight for?
As I climbed up the mountain I thought over the events of last semester. I went into this semester with no expectations of what was ahead of me. I was naive to the struggles and demons that I would face. I was unaware of what lay ahead. I had no idea that I was walking straight into a valley. As I journeyed down the semester I became a two-sport athlete. I went from cross country practice to tennis practice each day and my weekends were spent traveling away for tournaments. I worked four different jobs and I took 16 credit hours.
Life seemed like it was going great. Until one day I couldn’t run anymore. I was frustrated that my body seemed to be failing me. I channeled my frustration into trying harder. The next day I ran as hard as I could but I still was not close to where I had been just days before. My body ached. My heart throbbed and my muscles burned. After several days of the pain and frustration, I realized I had to stop running and tennis for a few days. I thought that a few days rest would restore my body. It did not. I ended up driving home midweek to Indiana to get tests done. I knew something was wrong and I was annoyed. I wasn’t scared yet, but I was so frustrated. I was frustrated that I had dropped two places on the cross country team, frustrated that could not get to all the tennis balls and frustrated that everyone seemed to be thriving except me. The doctor checked me and told me I had signs of malnutrition. That I should not be doing any physical activity for a while. He told me that if I did I could go into cardiac arrest and die. I tried to bargain with him but he was firm. If I continued to run, I would ultimately end up in a hospital bed.
The next day was spent going to doctors offices and in hospitals for tests. The EKG on my heart came back and showed that I had Bradycardia. I asked every doctor if I could run and do any physical activity. All their responses were the same, absolutely not unless you want to die. In the midst of this valley, I felt confused, weak, frustrated and alone. I did not know how I was going to get better. I wanted to fight this, but deep down, secretly I felt like I couldn’t. I felt hopeless. I felt engulfed by this disease. The doctors told me “Just eat. Eat more fats, proteins, and dairy. Gain weight. Rest and eat fattening foods.” But I couldn’t just eat. Every time I ate I felt guilt. A strong guilt that shook my body. I hated the feelings after I ate. It was worse than my body aching and my heart burning; it was worse than my physical symptoms. The regret and guilt I felt after nourishing my body was intense.
Going up the stairs was exhausting. I withdrew from friends, community, and things I once enjoyed. I had no drive to do anything. My body was fighting for its life. The guilt and shame wrecked me. If i did not eat, I would die. If I did eat I would feel a shame and disgust that was unbearable. If I did not eat my “brain” felt okay and I was at peace, when I ate my body felt no different and my mind would not shut off. See, the thing with malnutrition is it takes a while. Eating good one day will not make me feel better. It takes days, weeks and even months to regain strength and begin feeling better. I wanted to fight this but I feared I could not. After a few months of living like this, I stepped on the scale. My body hurt and I looked at myself. “How did I get to this point?”
I left school the next day and finally came home. I wanted healing. I wanted restoration. I wanted freedom. And I needed love. I came home to open arms. My parents hugged me, supported and with tears in their eyes whispered to me “You’re going to get through this.” I knew at that moment that they loved me and would do anything to help make my recovery possible. Since that moment it has not been easy, it has not been simple. My journey has been filled with sleepless nights, extreme guilt and struggling but I have found something that trumps all of that. I have found freedom and hope. I have regained my life back and I’m remembering what it is like to truly live. I no longer life in fear of death, but am able to think about my future. I can eat without the overwhelming guilt. I can enjoy life and indulge in some of life’s little joys. I can laugh with my friends, I can eat chocolate, I can run around and laugh without fear that I am dying. I am free.
The thing with eating disorders are that they control you. They give you the illusion that you are in control, but that couldn’t be more from the truth. They control you. They tell you what to eat. They tell you how to feel. They make your body weak. They try to kill you. Once you break free from the lies and the grip of an eating disorder, you begin to see the beauty in life again and realize that life really is beautiful. You are bigger than your eating disorder. No matter how much you weigh, how malnourished you are or how terrified you are, you can find freedom.
I am an athlete, friend, daughter, and sister.