Thomais | Healing Allowed
We had that one thick book in our library that was called Calorie Counter. At the age of 6, I opened it for the very first time and decided that it would be nice to try and count the calories I consumed in a day. A few months later I started looking for any kind of reflection the second I got out of bed in the morning while sneak eating became a way to cope with the shame I felt about my food choices.
Fast forward to when I was 12 years old. I wasn’t “chunky” anymore like my childhood doctor would say. I was an athlete dreaming of playing volleyball at a competitive level. Insecurities started to sink in because of my body transformation and binging episodes were more than just present in my life.
At 14 years old, I was viewed as one of the most promising liberos in the league. I was talented, young, motivated, and a hard worker. I was training hard, I was training to hurt myself. Whenever the pressure was just a bit too much I would take it all out on food. Bingeing episodes became a normal occasion in between important games. It was my way to cope so that I wouldn’t break down every other day. I was living my dream, but that dream was draining me. Nobody knew. Except me.
Our team made it to the Finals, but lost. After the last play, I went to the locker room straight away, locked myself in the bathroom, and I let everything out on that bathroom floor. I was finally left alone with the truth:
I wasn’t the toughest person on earth.
I was not okay, and I didn’t know what was going on.
It wasn’t something big. It was just a loss, a failure. But something in me broke that day and little did I know it had nothing to do with the result.
A month later, we had the first covid lockdown in Greece. That’s when it all went downhill. I turned completely cold. I wasn’t a person. I was a machine. I had a strictly defined eating and training schedule. I started obsessing over my body and how that affected every inch of my performance. I wanted to be the best. Overtraining, undereating, and trying to convince myself that this is how it’s supposed to be. I was exhausted but I didn’t care. Once the lockdown came to an end, I was already deep into my eating disorder and I didn’t even know.
I eventually hit the ideal weight that I was hoping for so it was time to stop dieting. But something in me wanted more. I couldn’t stop myself. Watching the number on the scale decrease, watching my daily calorie intake being really low, and training until I was on the edge of passing out was really satisfying in a way. And I couldn’t understand why.
I remember a random evening I came across a TEDx Talk from Victoria Garrick Browne, a former D1 volleyball player and founder of The Hidden Opponent, who suffered from depression, anxiety and binge eating disorder. That video was the awakening alarm for me, so Victoria, if you ever get to read my story I just want to thank you for saving me.
I remember telling myself: “Alright buddy, it’s a lot more common than you thought and it probably has a specific name but for now let’s just call it messed up. Anyway, you need to seek some serious help”.
I wanted to start healing but I was scared and unsure of what I should do. I was still alone in this until I eventually decided to open up to my best friend. She had tried multiple times to talk some sense to me but I was too deep into my mental illness to even consider what she was trying to tell me. I lied to her and told her that I was seeing a therapist. My world was falling apart and I still wanted to appear strong on the outside. It was hard. I was trying to recover on my own. I am pretty sure it was hard for my best friend as well because she was the only person in my support network and I get that’s a heavy weight to carry.
A few months later the situation got out of hand. I was stuck in recovery because I was still surrounded by athletes and coaches and people ready to hate on bodies and performances, and that was toxic. I was still overtraining and starving myself. But on some days I would just binge and then feel depressed for hours. That situation started to affect my performance on court and that’s when it hit me. I was never going to be the same again. It was an illness and not something that would pass by and I could keep on living my life. It stayed with me all day long, 24/7. I was burnt out. I started to isolate myself more, talk less and just try to focus on my job but it got hard to even focus on anything else but my eating disorder. I was completely out of control.
One day I just told myself that I needed a break. I messaged my coach and found a good excuse to take a 2-week break. I never could have predicted that I wouldn’t want to go back. During the break, I sought professional help for the first time. It was terrifying but it felt good to finally be able to open up to someone. After those 2 weeks, I woke up and immediately thought that I simply couldn’t keep doing this, it was killing me. I needed to heal. I arrived home from school and cried my eyes out. In between tears, I messaged my coach and told him about my decision. Legally he couldn’t stop me so that was it. In 5 minutes, I went from being an athlete and trying to secure a scholarship in the US to losing my whole identity. I had to adjust to a new reality. I was scared and mentally ill and so disappointed in myself that my biggest dream failed, but deep down I knew that I was doing the right thing.
The year that followed was tough. I was in the last year of high school so I was studying hard to pass the exams to get to the university. There was a lot of pressure. Long story short. I suffered from depression, I started self-harming, and suicidal thoughts kept coming my way. My eating disorder transformed into bulimia. Binging, purging, and starving myself became the new reality for me. After plenty of hours of contemplating whether I should end it or not, one attempt, a lot of battle scars, and a lot of time spent with my head down the toilet, I survived. It was exhausting but I had an amazing support network. My friends are why I am here today, alive and able to get out of bed in the morning and chase my dreams.
I am not an athlete anymore. I no longer get out of bed every morning and run to the scale. I no longer count every bite and I prefer feeling full over starving. I no longer spend time with my head down the toilet and I am not collecting sharpeners anymore. It’s summer and I am able to wear short sleeves again since I haven’t self-harmed in months. I no longer struggle with suicidal thoughts. I found a new passion in the likes of motorsport and I am exploring different aspects of this world. I am still the same person, a tough female, competitive and striving for perfection but I know that being “soft” isn’t a crime that I need to punish myself for. Emotions are a part of life and I am not going to miss out on that beautiful human thing anymore.
You know, I never thought I’d be writing down my story but I am. I survived. No depression nor bulimia stopped me. I am living proof that there is life after an eating disorder. I know it may seem impossible right now but you can do it, step by step, in your own way. Full recovery is definitely possible. I am not going to lie and say that it can happen overnight or that at some point it just goes away because that’s not the case. You may recover and live a full life but you will never forget. I remember everything vividly but when these thoughts are coming my way I embrace the feeling and remind myself that it’s all over.
I went from talking with agencies and trying to secure a scholarship in the US to going to therapy and trying to stay alive for one more day really quickly and saying that it was hard would be an understatement. Almost 2 years later I can proudly say that I am glad I quit. I am glad I allowed myself to heal. I didn’t think I would survive the fall. But I am still here and the sun still rises and the seasons still change. I survived, and you did too. And there is hope in that.
Thomais is 18-years-old and currently studying marketing. She played competitive volleyball until quitting to pursue recovery. She normally talks about motorsport, art and mental health. She mentions that, “sharing my story wasn’t easy but I really hope it was helpful for some of you.”