For anyone trying to find the courage to recover or for anyone in need of a spark to keep going… this is for you.
I truly believed that I did not have a problem. I thought my life was going in the right direction. I felt that I had everything perfectly under control. Little did I know, I was running on fumes, dangerously near empty. I could not see the magnitude of the damage I was doing to myself until I almost lost my life.
To know me is to know that I am a perfectionist at my core and a natural born competitor. From gymnastics, to swimming, to lacrosse and field hockey, to running and a plethora of other athletic endeavors; I have been there and I have competed! My body proficiently runs in a continuous state of overdrive. “All gas, no breaks” has been my unofficial motto since day one.
This has been both a blessing and a curse. This driven, goal-oriented mindset has helped me to thrive academically, succeed athletically, and be the person I am today. However, I have seen (and lived) the depths to which this trait can take a turn for the worst.
I didn’t realize that I had an eating disorder; I just knew something was not quite right.
I was thriving externally. I was excelling academically and winning and breaking records in my cross country and track seasons. I had a paradoxically close-knit, yet vast circle of friends. I was involved in a million activities and an executive member of every club I participated in. Yet, I felt awful the entire time. There was this constant, un-pinpoint-able, nagging, dark, jumbled ball in my chest that I felt would soon swallow me whole if I did not expose its roots.
I now know that I was subconsciously using severe restriction as a way to numb my anxiety and perfectionist-driven OCD. I stayed afloat for a really long time, but it got to the point that I felt like I was a zombie from The Walking Dead. I had 80+ small fractures in each foot my junior year of high school, was chilled to the bone and entirely numb in all of my extremities, would wake up in the middle of the night with full-body cramping. I could barely made it up flights of stairs without my eyes going black, could hardly stomach food anymore and would pass out on the floor of my bedroom multiple times a day.
I felt trapped in a vicious cycle of knowing that I needed to stop beating up my body, but feeling incapable of doing so. I kept this a secret (or so I thought) from everyone. I pushed away my family, my friends, coaches and even my dogs. I was miserable more often than not and took it out on the people who loved me the most.
Eating disorders thrive in isolation, and it breaks my heart to know just how hard I pushed against help and how much worry and stress I caused the people who loved me the most. My parents later shared with me that they would take turns going into my room periodically during the night after I went to bed to feel my heartbeat, making sure my weakened heart was still holding on. This absolutely kills me. I wish I had been able to see the amount of damage I was doing; not only to my body, but to my mind, my relationships, and my overall health.
My eating disorder took and took until there was barely any trace left of the life-loving person I had always been. It spent seventeen days of inpatient at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, five of which were spent in the Cardiac ICU fighting for my life with multiple organ failure. My barely beating heart finally forced me to realize that my restriction would be the death of me if I kept going.
Recovering is really, really hard. Honestly, it’s the single hardest thing I have ever had to do. But, living the rest of my life trapped inside my eating disorder sounds much harder (not to mention fatal).
If anything, recovery allows me to show up unapologetically and fully human.
It has not been an easy road to travel, but the lessons I learned and the life I gained in choosing recovery are insurmountably amazing. Overcoming this made me a more resilient, kinder and more understanding human being with a solid foundation to build on. After all, our bodies are our greatest investment! Recovery has allowed me to be fully present, to experience the highs and lows of life, the good days and greater days.
I am working on channeling my vulnerability into strength. I am honest about where I am, and I harness a genuine love for the life I lead. I am able to show up fully for my loved ones and am learning to lean on them for support in the tough moments. I get to be the best athlete I can possibly be, training at the Division 1 level at a university I dreamed about representing my entire childhood. I get to give my all in pursuit of my goals day in and day out. I am grateful to finally say I am almost completely healthy and I get to be a COLLEGE ATHLETE (which is amazing because everyone thought I wouldn’t make it to year 18).
I am finally in a place where I can appreciate food, for how it brings me closer to others, nourishes my body, and allows me to play the sport I love. I now have energy to partake in every endeavor that piques my interest and the brain capacity to do so with passion. I am able to love my body for the miles it carries me, the amazing things it is capable of, and the connections it allows me to make with others –instead of belittling it for a peace of mind that restriction never brought anyways.
I still struggle, but I am now able to see clearly that my thoughts are simply just that: thoughts.
Though I am in a much better place today, implications of my rocky past with anorexia nervosa still follow me. I am currently healing from a femoral neck stress fracture that had the potential to derail my entire running career if I did not take time off my feet to allow my bone to rebuild. In the words of our sports medicine doctor at school, “this year is going to be the year you face the repercussions of the actions of your past.”
In the long run, lessons learned through my experiences is will allow for longevity in my running career and has helped me to fall in love with the sport even more! Never will I take a single day of training for granted again. I struggle with osteoporosis in my spine and osteopenia at 18 years old. Thankfully, I am not completely done growing, so this is partially reversible! I have to get my vitals checked weekly to ensure I stay stable and am still nursing some low level nutritional deficiencies. I will never scratch the surface of 5”2’, let alone be able to eat without medicine due to digestive dysfunction and have a highly accelerated metabolism due to the trauma my body withstood.
All of this because I almost let my illness win.
I was told that if I hadn’t been taken to the hospital on May 5, 2020, I would have died in the next 48 hours.
I flatlined for seven seconds on the second night of my hospital stay and immediately was rushed to the cardiac ICU.
My eating disorder drove me into the ground, yet without hitting rock bottom, I would have never found the strength to get better. It was a long road, however, I now have the courage to share my story. I fought incredibly hard to get my life back and will continue to fight, never settling or succumbing. The eating disorder almost won, but I came out on top. This victory is ultimately mine.
In sharing pieces of my story, I hope to shed some light on an illness that affects so many, but is seldom brought into conversation. So many people struggle in silence every day with such a stigma being placed on openly speaking about battles with mental illness. My hope is to open an honest conversation around eating disorders to make it a bit easier to talk about. I am a diligent student, an elite level Division 1 collegiate runner, decorated athlete, a friend to many, an avid reader and writer, and a wonderful dog mom. I also have an eating disorder. In the past this was debilitating, but it does not define me. Struggling is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to be ashamed of. An eating disorder is not a choice, it is a perfect storm of biological predispositions coupled with a cocktail of co-occurring environmental and physiological factors that threaten to take everything from people that seemingly have the world wrapped around their finger. These illnesses will take and take until there is nothing left.
Unless, an individual decides to reframe the narrative and face their “storm” head-on.
Eating disorders are not a choice, but recovery certainly is.
This being said, recovery is not a “magic bullet.”
It is (and always will be) a work in progress for me: a conscious decision to ignore the automatic inclination of my mind to restrict myself; to override my intrusive negative thoughts with an unconditional positive regard for myself; choosing to fuel myself despite these challenges so that I can continue to do the things I love; maintain stability physically and mentally and be able to go after my goals with uninhibited drive.
Recovery will be exhausting and at times all-consuming. Each day requires an immense, overwhelming, unfathomable amount of strength. It is a tumultuous, rocky, and seldom linear process; setbacks are inevitable but make wonderful opportunities for growth! In complete honesty, some days are still really damn hard. I still struggle. I am still learning to trust my body. I still find myself fighting to keep disordered thinking patterns at bay. Recovery is a lifelong endeavor, but it does eventually get easier. Staying on track becomes habitual and the thoughts eventually fade to fleeting whispers. It takes time, patience, persistence, resilience and a whole lot of unconditional self-love, but light eventually prevails. Recovery is not perfect (is anything really?), but a chance to live full life –a life without limits, free from the confines of an eating disorder –is worth putting up a solid fight.
All discomfort is temporary and small steps eventually lead to great strides. It only takes a single step in the right direction to start.
Let go of everything holding you back, wear your scars like wings and fly free.
Step by step, stride by stride, victory by victory.
Sending so much love and support,