A year ago, this week, I wrote an incredibly vulnerable piece. I said, “There will be days of denial, avoidance, and anxiety. I will probably exhaust myself with many perpetual, problematic Google searches before I am satisfied. However, there will also be days of triumph and gains. I’m excited to feel liberated from being shackled to my 0% fat Greek yogurt and training plans.”
I won’t document all the gains I’ve made in the last year, but here are some of the highlights:
I agreed to work with a sports dietitian and slowly I am adding different foods to my day.
I went on vacation and tried lots of different and fun foods!
I became more aware of recognizing when my disordered part of my brain is talking to me and gained skills to override those thoughts.
I am training for a marathon and feeling stronger than ever!
My eating disorder didn’t start with me wanting to be skinnier. It evolved because I was attempting to ascertain control wherever I could. In a lot of ways, my ED narrative doesn’t feel “typical”, but as I’m learning there’s no single story about EDs and how they manifest. Mainstream culture has an image about what eating disorders “look like”, but they’re way more complex than that! I’m also learning that eating disorders are practically, never actually about the food or weight! In a lot of ways, my story is more mainstream than I realized. It’s not that interesting or unique.
If you’re a thin, white woman who doesn’t feel represented by the push for eating disorder advocacy to center more marginalized bodies, IMAGINE HOW EVERYONE ELSE HAS FELT FOR DECADES OMG.
Finally, the narrative about eating disorders is changing, and that is so necessary! However, in this space, I’m just finding my voice and my bravery to own this aspect of my story.
So, it’s #NEDAwareness week, and putting semantics aside (I personally dislike the phrases “eating disorder” and “recovery” for my own story), I can relate to the tweets and posts I’m seeing everywhere and I’m connecting with people’s stories.
In the spirit of this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week’s theme “Let’s Get Real” – whose goal is to “expand the conversation and highlight stories we don’t often hear” – I’m going to share a real, messy, depiction of my experience on this journey!
There’s not much about choosing to make a change that’s cute or insightful (yet!). I know there’s not one “right way” to jump into this journey. In fact, what works for someone won’t necessarily work for me!
Realizing. I realized that going to therapy and nutrition sessions was a good start, but it was not the real starting point. The real starting point was when I give in to the fear and vulnerability and committed to doing the work. This took a long time!
Talking. I talk about food and spend more mental energy thinking about food than practically anything else I do during a typical day. (Here’s a secret: this only got more intense when I started making changes) Also, talking to my friends about any of this is super hard. They don’t get it at all. It’s mutually exhausting because I don’t know what to say to them, and they don’t know what to say to me either.
Feeling. There are so many feelings! On an emotional awareness level, this work is exhausting! On a logical level, I am getting used to feeling okay with the fact that I often want to eat at times when other people aren’t eating.
Reasons. My reasons are everything. My reasons to eat should be elevated, reasons not to eat should be silenced. If I can find a reason, I can work through the next steps. So, I make lists.
Choices! Everything, all day, every day is a choice!
Huger. I wake up feeling hungry and go to bed feeling hungry. This is new. My body is starting to give me hunger signals again and that’s super confusing and overwhelming.
Learning. I am learning, mostly via social media , that lots of people are having these same experiences! (Psst. Joanna’s Instagram is @the.middle.ground! – follow her!) I’m also learning a lot about myself!
Planning. This is so obvious, it feels like I don’t even have to say it, but I can’t eat if there’s no food available. So, I have to plan to have enough food in my house or to go grocery shopping, pack food for the entire day, and anticipate challenges when I can so I can mentally prepare.
Acknowledging that most days, I want to quit, and never giving up!
Knowing. I know this will be worth it. I know this is important. I know I deserve this next phase of my journey!
I never identified as a “runner” until someone else named it for me. I described my weekly mileage, the feeling of invincibility, the restlessness I feel when I’m not running, and they named it – “you’re a runner.”
Over a year later, I still wasn’t convinced. My friend even explained to me, “You’re a runner. I’m just someone who runs.” The differentiation wasn’t clear to me. One seemed affiliated with an identity whereas the other was associated with a series of actions or behaviors. I’ve been grappling with being a runner (tossing around the hashtag (#runner) and seeing how I “stack up” among other people whom I consider to be “runners”) for the last fourteen weeks. I’ve lamented over long runs, skipped out on social plans to get up early and run, thrown tantrums during taper week, and logged several hundred miles.
I told a friend who asked me about the race the following:
Well, it was perfect. I felt amazing. I was so strong and confident. I didn’t psych myself out at all! My mindset this time was so different for the training and everything – 3rd time’s a charm I guess! Hard to explain, but I learned a lot this time around. I am overall so much healthier than any other time. I like that feeling – it took a lot of work. I am really proud. I’m just excited to feel so great. It’s refreshing!
I never thought I’d talk about running like that! These days I rely on expected consequences of running like “runner’s highs” and the sense of camaraderie I feel when another runner nods at me when I’m out on my course. I talk about my workouts and training goals using lingo like “negative splits” and “form drills” because I know what those things mean! Settling into running as a hobby as opposed to a compulsion or as an act of punishment/retaliation has been a long, difficult journey. I’m so proud of where this journey has taken me!
It’s never easy to train for a race when you’re prone to compulsions, have a chronic physical illness, and have a history of regimented behaviors around food and exercise. This type of training took a special amount of conscientiousness. Trust me, intentional focus on my behaviors and my motivation, and a healthy relationship with food and exercise were essential to my success.
As I was reflecting on the past fourteen weeks of training and mental preparation, objectively there are several things that made a difference for me.
Here’s my recipe for success:
High Protein and Healthy Fats; No Carbo Load
3X Every Day
12 oz.; 3X Every Day – Or More!
Coffee w/ Truvia and Milk
No More Than 2 Per Day; Not After 11 AM
White Noise Machine
Allocate 8 Hours Per Night
Use When Sleeping
No Tracking, No Timing. Just Run!
Once a Week
Amazing Grass Supergreens and Fiber
Before Food or Coffee
1X Every Day
None 2 Weeks Prior to Race
[ Note – Inevitably, different strategies will help others feel successful. This approach worked for me. Find what works for you and stick with it!]
Primarily I believe I was successful because I stayed committed to my training plan, forgave and forgot missed or bad workouts, and celebrated the small victories as well as the big ones. And also because… cross-training. I can’t stress this enough. Cross-training made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
A lot changed for me during this training season. For example, rather than simply thinking of food as a necessity after a long run to replenish lost calories, I started relying on a consistent strategy for meals so that I could feel nourished and energized for my workouts during the week. The mentalities, “calories in, calories out” and, ” I run so I can eat” were both replaced by the simple, yet sometimes hard to digest (pun intended), concept that food is fuel. I ate food that made my body feel good and strong. I used my bullet journal to keep track of my meals and sleeping patterns; this mindfulness strategy helped me stay accountable to my training goals.
While there were several concrete ingredients to my success, on a subjective level there were also critical connections, realizations, and mindset changes that helped me feel successful.
For example, during one of my more difficult runs rather than struggling through, trudging along, and wondering “Will I finish?”, somewhere along the way, I started to think, “I will finish!”. This epiphany hit me like a breath of fresh air; it felt light, crisp, and perfectly necessary. I can’t quite explain it, but this realization empowered my mind and my body. I finally knew I could do it; there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish the run even if it was incredibly challenging. From that moment on, my training felt lighter and less burdensome. A heavy hunch that I might fail was lifted from my mind, and I felt like I could trust myself and my body in a way I never experienced before.
In that moment, running no longer felt like an obligation. It felt like it was a part of me – like a feeling rather than a task. In that moment, mileage or minutes didn’t matter anymore. I learned that I don’t have to race every run and often I’ll be better in the long run (pun again) if I listen to my body and respect all the cues it’s giving me about how to feel and be my best.
That was the moment I became a “runner”.
Changing my thinking during that run granted me confidence. Moving forward, I knew I was capable of accomplishing whatever I set my mind to – as long as I was consistent and intentional. The plan mattered that’s undeniable, but it didn’t matter just and only because it was “the plan”. It mattered because it was the right combination of training, self-care, and confidence – it was my recipe for success.
I did not experience that kind of freedom when I prepared for or ran my other races. Now, rather than running to grasp a sense of control, or running out of compulsion, I run because I want to and because I believe in my own strength! I run because I can.
I no longer see running as just a test of endurance. It is also a test of my preparation and self-care, and I am always going to be up for that challenge!
Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm
I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.
2016 was a remarkable year – literally.
As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.
So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?”
Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?
I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.
The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.
In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.
Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm. Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.
I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.
In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life. When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.
Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.
I once described my feelings about running like this,
“pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination. Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”
I’ve also described running like this,
“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.“
I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]
So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.
I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.
I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.
In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.
I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!
Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex trauma, impostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective.Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.
In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about. These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!
I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!
Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps
I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.
I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!
The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.
I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.
I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.
2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!
I’m a completely different person than I was a year ago.
I guess you could say, I’ve matured. You could say that I grew up. You could say that I’ve entered full-fledged adulthood – whatever that means…
I’ve overcome challenges. I’ve become more introspective. I’ve whatever… this boils down to: I’ve learned an incredible amount!
I’ve always been a “process over product” girl. I thrive off of the opportunity to learn! I appreciate most the experiences that garner ripples of knowledge, and layers of impact that, in some cases, I’m still realizing the effects. My mental endurance and, exemplified, agility drive me to crave knowledge and information. I want to uncover the “why” and the “reasons”. My refusal to quit and inability to stop fuels me each day! Naturally, to me, the journey toward clarity from chaos is exhilarating. In fact, in hindsight, all the experiences that have been the most influential for me were also the most challenging; those experiences taught an inexplicable amount.
Before I proceed, I’m going to briefly recap this past year both to give context to this piece, and to own it for myself.
I graduated, and left a school where I was thriving. I spent nearly every day for four years feeling on top of the world. It was amazing. I felt unstoppable. I left everything I knew, and everything I loved. I left what felt safe, and supportive, and leapt, basically unwillingly, into something that was incredibly risky, ambiguous, and into something that I wasn’t sure I would be any better for doing. I left my mentors and friends for a glamorous name, and what I expected would be the next best step for my personal and professional development.
I had such high hopes too! I wrote, “it’s okay to be scared. I hope this fear will actually fuel me to make the most of this opportunity rather than cripple me. And, if my past experiences could inform my next steps, I’d say that based on those outcomes, and how influential they were for me, Brown can have just as big of an impact.”
AND, it had a huge impact. AND, I was miserable. I was absolutely miserable.
After months of struggling silently I found respite, and strength in writing, some amazing friends, and a hefty dose of much needed therapy. I jumped into my own uncharted space. I started to connect with myself, and others in a really vulnerable, and public way. It’s been hugely influential to my personal growth, and exploration. The outcome of this past year far surpassed the simple, although not so simple, accomplishment of getting to May 29, 2016, earning my Master’s degree, and being done with school. I longed for that commencement day; I yearned for this year to be over fast, and for time to travel by at warped speed.
And then it was over. As I anticipated, and wished for, it was as if I was traveling too quickly down a hill in my car, and I pulled up on the emergency brake right before my car flipped. It was just over. The danger was gone, and in front of me possibility glistened. If I could do this, I could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that this year was one of the most difficult in my life.
This year, I struggled with claiming my sexuality, achieving my professional aspirations, abandoning and admitting to several variations of self-harm, losing friendships, and family feuds – to name a few. I wouldn’t listen to my friends; I lost so many friends. Yet, I had no idea how to even begin to navigate these challenges. It was scary, dark, dangerous, and lonely. I didn’t crave the solution, I craved the end.
It’s only been a short time, and I’m already noticing that I’m in such a different place. Some days, I can’t believe I ever experienced that depression. [Side note: crazed journal entries don’t lie – it happened. It all happened]
At the end of it all, I, now, stand corrected. Leaving UConn was the best thing I could have done! I had to leave to learn how strong and capable I really am!
I’ve regained my feeling of invincibility. I truly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. I learned that it’s okay to be terrified because we grow most from the experience that evoke vulnerability and uncertainty.
I wrote my graduate school personal statement based on this mantra:
“Do Three Squishy Things a Day You know you are truly leading when you do at least three things a day that make you uncomfortable” (City Year)
I learned to live up to the words that pierced my mind for so many years, and in so many moments. Those words continue to propel me to serve, lead, and learn each day!
I wrote previously, “there’s something to be learned from every experience… We are truly influenced by everything around us and by all of our experiences.” I grew to strive to live by the principles that ground me and, ultimately, in the face of this cascade of challenges, I learned to thrive own my own.
I learned to love, and use the phrase “what I heard you say is…” I practiced actively and reflectively listening. I found value in really listening. LIKE really, really listening.
A good friend once told me that, in her opinion, good conversations are what college is about. I realized that I don’t need to be the person occupying the most space in a conversation for it to be a good a conversation. With time, even in this new space, I had several more invigorating, thoughful conversations, and continued to fortify existing relationships. I had to be really intentional about it, but it was worth it!
To that note, I learned that my relationships, and the people that I was afraid to leave would stand by me (most of them anyway…). I discovered that relationships are like the tools in a toolbox. They’re necessary to build us up! I realized a good friendship is rewarding and special – it’s a privilege.
Most importantly, I learned the importance, and value of reciprocity and vulnerability. Like a pendulum swinging, I swiftly wavered between not letting anyone in, to burdening my friends with my suffering yet not knowing how to accept their support. Finally, I resided in the middle both valuing my friends’ contributions and conversation, and being valued for my insight and influence too.
I also discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. I gained emotional intelligence, critical awareness, and intuition. Feeling didn’t have to mean feeling out of control. I found “calm and content”. [Just so you know, it’s WAY different than complacent.]
Before this year, my life was a hectic, hot mess – to be frank.
Imagine the pieces of a package scattered across the floor: the box, the gift wrap, the bow for the top, and the contents – a myriad of shapes and sizes. This year, step-by-step, that package was assembled, wrapped, and tied together with a bow on top! A complete, confident me emerged – looking pretty spiffy, and ready to face my next adventures!
I can’t precisely put my finger on it, but I’m definitely different. And, when I stop to think about my life, I simply feel happy and confident. I also feel proud.
Now, I say things like “there are no counterfactuals in life”, and “relationships are not bound by geography”. I remind people that the biggest regrets stem from the opportunities we didn’t take. I share that the incessant wondering quickly spirals into an interminable game of “what if”. That type of wondering will wear you down to the core of your weaknesses. Some of my weaknesses are vulnerability, change, and ambiguity – I learned this too!
Can you give voice to the areas where your strengths can be capitalized to cultivate your personal growth? Can you recognize how empowering, and exciting that feels to give voice to all the ways you can direct your own positive energy and strength to bolster your personal journey and self-exploration?
Two cliche, not new assertions and three scenarios are the motivation for this post:
Sometimes hindsight is 20/20.
Most things are easier said than done.
I’m standing in the kitchen debating with a nine year old what’s worse: having ice cream for dinner or having no dinner at all.
Later that week, I’m fighting with a six year old because his throat hurts and he is refusing to eat breakfast. This time, I’m standing in the kitchen refusing to send him to school without breakfast. He had to eat something!
Most recently, I’m picking a fight with a nine year old about why a Chewy granola bar isn’t the best choice for breakfast.
Here we go!
In the midst of these disputes I calmly and directly present common knowledge about nutrition and bodies in stylized child-friendly language as the foundation for my perspective. I say things like:
Your body needs calories. So, if you’re choosing not to have dinner or to eat ice cream for dinner, pick ice cream. Calories are energy and after a hard day working and learning you need to refuel your body to get ready for the next day. I also share that some types of energy are more sustaining to your body. I explain that while ice cream has dairy it also has a lot of sugar. It could give you energy in the short run but make you hungry or needing more energy in a few hours.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You can’t go to school without breakfast because your brain won’t be ready to learn. You need to eat a healthy breakfast to tell your brain and body it’s time to start the day. [I then go on to encourage some healthy breakfast options such as eggs, cereal, fruit, etc. Which, brings me to the granola bar argument…]
Chewy granola bars are processed foods, I say. Your body can process foods all on its own, but it prefers whole and natural foods. You can tell if something you’re eating has natural ingredients by looking at its label. If there are words/foods you can’t recognize on the label it’s likely your body can’t recognize them either, and it’s going to be difficult for you to digest. Which means, your body cannot get the nutrition as quickly or completely. [And then, we’re back to them importance of eating breakfast…]
I say these things and I believe them wholeheartedly – just apparently they don’t apply to me! My perception of my body and what my body needs is so distorted right now. I know my brain and body need nutrients and energy. I realize some foods are easier to digest than others, and protein gives you more sustained energy than sugar. I contend 100% that breakfast is important. Yet, I’m struggling to eat at least 700 calories a day, and it’s shockingly, incredibly easy for me to justify and rationalize this! These morning spats have become my daily reality check – my conscience is screaming “listen! just listen and take notes.” I’m standing there insisting they eat a healthy, hearty breakfast yet I finished my second run of the day at 10 PM the night before (only 9 hours after my first run) and didn’t eat anything before I got to their house. I’m firmly convinced that coffee is food, and it’s the only type of energy I need.
Sill, I firmly persist on my pursuit of serving a nutritional breakfast each day.
I know I should take my own advice!
Here’s the thing, the brain is wickedly deceptive. Most days, I truly think I’m absolutely fine. There are even moments (ex. when I’m researching or running) where I feel absolutely unstoppable – invincible even. I feel purposeful, diligent, excited – I feel alive! In those fleeting moments, I can’t believe the other frenetic days/feelings were real. I can’t believe I felt/was/am that out of control. And in hindsight, I realize those are the moments I’m MOST out of control. I’d like to be able to discern between real control and what’s so terrifyingly out of control it feels good – maybe even calm.
I realized how hard it is for me to practice what I preach, when I acknowledged how crippling it feels to do things that are “good for my body”*. Hence, most things are easier said than done.
*this is meant in the most literal sense. I’m not food shaming, dispelling bouts of “fitspo”, or claiming to understand nutritional science. Also, all bodies and all bodies’ needs are different.
“I used to wear clothes that were too big for me too” – someone said that to me this week! They also said, “Your pants are too big” and “you’re so skinny; are you losing weight?”
My responses: “Okay”, “I know”, “Depends on the day” respectively. I wanted to scream “WHY ARE YOU FIXATING ON MY BODY?!?!”
Writers find their inspiration from anything; it could be a conversation, an observation, a “thing”, a book. You name it! So, I heard those words and instead of calling out their fixation with my body, DAYS later I’m still fixating on them. Since I’ve lost weight, people aren’t as impressed with ME. They’re impressed by my body. They ask me how I did it. They compliment my looks rather than my accomplishments and my incredibly determined, quality-driven work ethic.
Until now, the only time I can remember people commenting on my body was to tell me to I was too big. As a teen, I was a 4’11”, size 16 gymnast. I was also a person living with a chronic physical illness – go figure! So, needless to say, my relationship with body was anything but “typical”. Thanks to BMI, I had doctors telling me, at 16 years old and 182 pounds, that I was morbidly obese. I hated shopping (still do). Buying clothes felt like being pushed on the ground every time I finally stood up – nothing ever fit (still true). I didn’t even want to go to prom because I couldn’t stand the thought of having to find a dress!
My mom thought if I found a dress I felt confident and beautiful in that I’d change my mind (she thought I’d find that same confidence and beauty after my second breast reduction too). She routinely told me, “You’re beautiful no matter what.” Her words, although I knew they were sincere, felt empty. What I recall of those experiences are shopping trips that felt interminable. I tried on dress after dress (or every colorful, lace bra in the “regular” stores I could finally fit into) with increasing disappointment. There were so many tears.
So far, I’ve hated my body at every size – and not just because of my size.
Now, I’m trying to practice body positivity – which is something I support and encourage for everyone. For me, it’s really difficult to embody that line of thinking. I’m working on body neutrality instead which Melissa Fabello describes as “the acceptance of our bodies as-are, for the understanding that we are already enough”. When you call me “skinny” what I’m really hearing you say is “I’m more interested with how you look than who you are” or even “I’m grounding my perceptions of your worth in your looks”. Those comments – what you think are compliments- don’t make me feel any happier or proud of myself than the relentless notions of necessary change I was pressured to pursue as a teen made me feel disappointed or imperfect.I hate when people call me “skinny”!
Regardless of my turbulent relationship with my body, one thing has remained constant: I am an athlete. I started drastically losing weight when I began searching for sanity in exercise. I felt lost. I felt out of control. The adjectives I used to describe myself – evidence of my perceptions of my self-worth – felt so far away. My focus, motivation, support, was gone. Running saved me – it still does- from hitting absolute rock bottom (I’ve been close!). Eliana Osborn shares “[she] felt purposeful and strong… While [she’d] been running, [she’d] been alive. Not [her] best self, but [herself]. Without it, [she] struggled to exist.” I can so relate! When I’m running, I feel unstoppable. I feel invincible.I’m inspired to explore how fierce my body can be. For minutes, moments, the world stops spinning and there’s clarity. I feel so in charge. It’s a feeling I’ve missed. It’s like I’m winning the never ending race to find myself. The faster and harder I push myself, the closer I get to the finish line. I’m picking up clues along the way. I know I’ll get back there soon. And so, I feel like I need to keep up my athleticism – so I can find control. Which means, I may lose more weight.
Being an athlete is my hidden weapon. It’s what I pull out in moments of self-doubt to prove to myself (and others) that I can do it – that I’m good enough! It’s not about being “skinny” or looking “fit”. My body is amazingly resilient and strong. It’s also been fat, skinny, deprived of nutrition, greedy, exhausted, caffeinated, and a whole host of other things.
When you call me “skinny” you’re indelicately weaving together my ideas about my strength and resilience and your pervasive, hierarchical, and restricting beliefs about “what is “normal,” “real,” or “correct.”Please stop!
I’m writing tonight because something great is happening here – people “get it”. Right now, that’s so necessary and meaningful. I’m inspired. Thank you!
I don’t cry. That was one of the first conversations I had with my new friend Sam. Today, Sam’s piece made me cry TWICE! This piece got to me. BIG TIME.
Where to start? Where to start? This is hard.
Okay, “What is control?”
When I Googled “control” I found about 3,020,000,000 results in 0.67 seconds. Control means to have power over something. It is when you restrain or direct influence over something/someone; regulate. It implies regulating to keep order (merriam-webster.com).
To me, control is ANYTHING that can make the chaos feel like it’s my fault. Control is what I can call on to mitigate the feeling that I can’t keep up with the chaos anymore. Control is making myself miserable because then at least I’d be responsible. I’d be in charge. Control is cultivating order at all costs. It’s doing whatever it takes to rescue the person I used to recognize as unstoppable. It’s the opposite of spinning – as in spiraling out of control.
Too often these days, there’s no clarity. It’s like everything is in a fog and I’m just barely present ever. It’s so loud and fast in my head most of the time I’m not even able to hear or focus in conversations or meetings – like I can’t listen. I can’t think! The truth is, I’m overwhelmed all the time (and angry too!). This type of persistent whirlwind is distracting and dangerous. It’s frightening and lonely. It’s my reality. I think the feeling that I can’t make it stop even if I wanted to and the fact that I’m getting used to it rather than trying to change it is what’s freaking me out.
Sam NAILED IT when he said, “I start to hate myself a little when I think about how restricting [and other forms of self-harm] like this can feel good – can feel really, really good – because it gives me this illusion that my feet are on the ground.” That’s what it is. It’s an illusion. It’s another attempt to keep up appearances and be “fine”. If I feel like I’m in control and I’m choosing it, then, to me, that makes it okay.
I’m no longer in control. That’s not okay. I’ve moved from portioning meals (let’s be real. apples, trail mix, and hard boiled eggs are snacks) so that I have enough to eat, to portioning food so I won’t over indulge. I need to control EVERYTHING that my body endures. Most days, my ENTIRE caloric intake for the day equates to less than a single meal or has, imperatively, been dissipated by an intensive cardio workout – a workout which eases my mind, boosts my mood, and puts ME back in control . That’s not control. For now, I’ll call it organized chaos.
The appearance of control is deceptive. It makes me SO feel good. It’s when I experience the kind of fast, logical, coherent, intentional thinking I crave – the mentality I miss. The good days mess with me! They make me think “it isn’t really that bad”. I can justify this; I can make it rational. If it’s rational, it’s alright. If the fury can be tamed it’s fine. I’m fine.
Everyone’s positive energy building up to the New Year is absolutely contagious. I want to join!
Here’s my list of 15 good things from 2015:
*not in chronological order or order of importance*
I was awarded a Chapter Distinguished Service Key (DSK) in Alpha Phi Omega (APO): Upon receiving this fraternity honor I wrote “I feel like this status should go something like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or “nobody said it was easy…” but actually, in all seriousness, it was truly an honor to be awarded a Chapter DSK today. I am so thankful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had as an active Brother and I cannot wait to continue to serve with APO as alumni!” Just a few weeks later I was offered a position on Region 1 Staff! This fraternity has given me more than I could ever ask for. APO continually shows me the the meaning of brotherhood in ways I can’t explain.I made some of the best friends and learned some of the most important lessons and skills of my life.
I went on Birthright and spent my 23rd birthday in Israel!
I finished my honors thesis: but really 53 pages later! This seemed like an impossible task made manageable only by consuming inappropriate amounts of coffee and working ALL THE TIME. I still don’t know how I did it all. Before this project, conducting my own research seemed like a task that was beyond the scope of what I expected I could accomplish as an undergraduate; my advisors’ commitment to me and my project convinced me otherwise and showed me that I can accomplish more than I expect. Having an advisor who saw enough value in my ideas and capabilities to believe in my project was imperative to the success of this work and was necessary for me to grow both academically and personally. My confidence and pride was ignited because she didn’t tell me no. Rather, she pushed me each day to excel. This project not only taught me the research process but was instrumental in creating a foundation for both my future professional and academic interests. Now, I want to be a researcher! Of course, none of this would have been possible or as fun without my amazing HDFS honors cohort. We were a great bunch and I loved every minute of our learning and lamenting together.
I became a runner: I used to have a witty excuse as to why I hated running. I’d say, “it’s physics. It’s just logic. If you start where you end then you’ve displaced nothing. So, why would I run if displacement says at the end I’ll have accomplished nothing?” I clearly didn’t really understand running or physics then. I still don’t understand physics. Now, whether I’m running to escape or running to gear up to something, running is important for me. It gives me time to think. It gives me order, control, discipline, expectations, freedom, and strength. Some days, the best we can do is put one front in front of the other and face the day. That’s what running has taught me. There are no unconquerable obstacles, just different paces with which we overcome them. On June 4th I posted this photo [yes on Facebook] and pulled the caption from the first time I publicly shared this picture during my senior year of high school public speaking class last lecture. I wrote, “In the face of a challenge, face it. You never know what you can do until you try”.Then there were sentiments of continuing to persevere until you reach your goals and never stopping until you achieve what you want. Apparently my 18 year old self was more attuned to grasping at opportunity than I realized and, I may never learn to stop!
What’s even more important (and timely/relevant) about this picture is this: it’s the first time I ran and triumphed over RSD (circa 2007). And now, I consistently surprise myself by running farther, faster, and longer than I have in my entire life. Not pain free but, still confident and owning it! In 2015, I tracked 426 miles and ran a 10K (6.2 miles) in 1:04:47.
I started this blog! When I started this project I said, “I’m starting this project to make space to wonder…I’m also using this blog to find a space to reflect. That’s a word that wasn’t in my vocabulary a year ago but, many great mentors and conversations later, I’m craving that necessary “me space”. However, not even my best mentors or friends would willingly sign on to interact with my every thought, question, challenge, insight, funny link, or freak out moment. So instead, there’s blogging. ” I’ve grown to love exploring and thinking on things. Sharing my work has been exhilarating and making connections through my writing [and my online community] has shown me that even when I’m feeling lonely there’s someone out there who “gets it”. My list of “things to write about” is growing longer and longer each day. These days, you won’t find me without a notebook in hand in case something sparks an idea. It’s been a risk, it’s still a risk but, I’m really loving this project.
I learned about the importance of relationships and gained some amazing friendships: And of course the only appropriate comment here would be from Grey’s, “We’re friends, real friends. And that means, no matter how long it takes, when you finally decide to look back, I’ll still be here.” – Grey’s Anatomy
I practiced saying what I need, asking for help, and being a better communicator: I started with being okay with things not being “okay” or “fine”. I found an outlet through writing and some great, trustworthy friends to express myself more honestly without worrying about being a burden or being a toxic friend.
I graduated from UConn! It’s true, some of the best learning happens outside the classroom. At UConn I was challenged, pushed, mentored and questioned both inside and outside of class. Rather than feeling inadequate or frustrated I was inspired and thankful for all that I learned and all the ways I grew. At UConn, I truly thrived! I felt supported and confident. I did it all and then some and, I had an amazing network of friends, mentors, advisors, and professors encouraging me along the way. This quote rings true for me and is so applicable right now, “I’ve learned that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”― Cecelia Ahern. I miss UConn *literally* every day and I am SO proud to be a Husky!
Logically what comes next, I started at Brown University in the Urban Education Policy Program: While this hasn’t been the BEST thing in 2015, one thing is certain, (in a paradoxical way) I know that if I never came here and if I stayed at UConn I wouldn’t ever know that I truly didn’t like it. I mean, beyond speculation. Also, and I guess obviously, the things I don’t like aren’t the things I was most nervous about so I suppose there’s value in that too. Regardless, I’ve had some amazing opportunities here to continue to grow as a researcher and an academic (whatever that means). I also learned the value of networking and connections beyond the colloquial saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m working hard and making it work day by day.
I fell in love with stories and great conversations: I traded social media connections for authentic, personal connections and I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I’ve been listening a lot and also searching for those stimulating conversations that ignite wonder and create more opportunities to learn. The kind that leave you thinking and questioning long after the formal discourse has ended. I craved thinking critically and conscientiously. I’ve learned that when you’re open to allowing a conversation to change your perspective and you’re a partner in creating the space for meaningful, intentional interactions you’re facilitating change. Hence, this year, I adopted the use of the phrase “thought partner” in every, even sort of, appropriate context.
MUSIC: Just music. But really, from country concerts and Broadway musicals, to the sounds and spirits of Kabbalat Shabbat I was reminded of and gained a new appreciation for the ways in which music connects us and fills a room (or a person) with such unique energy. Music fills the quiet space that so often feel lonely. A quote from one of my favorite movies August Rush seems appropriate here, “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” SO TRUE! And of course, Taylor Swift gave me more reasons to love her.Including most recently, topping DoSomething.org’s Celebs Gone Good list for the fourth year. Gotta love her!
I traveled! In 2015 (and the last days of 2014) I went to the APO National Convention in Chicago, Israel with UConn Hillel, New Orleans with Honors Across State Borders, NYC, the first ever ParentCampUSA at the U.S. Dept. of Education in D.C., and more!
I recognized and reclaimed my body: It’s easy to learn to ignore your body when you’re living with chronic pain. Too much attention to your pain can be detrimental because then you can get stuck focusing solely on your pain. We’re taught (in the chronic pain world) to find ANY strategy to ignore the pain and distract ourselves. In 2015 I reclaimed my body and grew stronger! I’m more physically fit than I’ve been before. I pursued strength for me – starting with an earnest desire to be able to run a mile. Rather than my pain owning me, I owned my pain and I was in charge of my body.
I accomplished everything I wanted! 2015 was the year of doing too much and not knowing how (or when) to stop. With coffee as my lifeline and internal motivation I didn’t even know I possessed (once described as a glowing purple ball inside my body that was constantly radiating energy, and another time described as “robotic” – as I operate with the same amount of energy and efficiency at all times) I did some amazing things! And, perhaps more importantly, I learned that I am more than the list of accomplishments that fill up my resume or the things I do each day to feel productive or worthy. With the encouragement of some amazing mentors and lots of hours spent thinking (reflecting), I found myself when I intentionally took the time to critically consider my experiences. I started attributing credit to myself for my accomplishments rather than luck. Told myself “I earned this. I did this. I am good enough” and slowly I started to believe it. Judith Bulter wrote, “life histories are histories of becoming” and that notion has been a driving force compelling me to consider what I’ve experienced and why it’s been influential in my life rather than just considering how it’s going to propel me on toward the next “best” thing. I am done quantifying my success by how others view my accomplishments. This year rather than reaching the top step and turning around to find 15 more steps to climb I’m standing proud on the top, looking down with satisfaction, attributing value to what I’ve accomplished, and just letting it all soak in.
I feel like most of what I write is critical or negative. I want to take space to acknowledge the positive when I can. That’s important. That’s probably called, or may resemble something like, balance.
So, today was a good day!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about “owning this” and talked, generally, about how I’ve been experiencing some tough stuff and what that feels like. Those challenges are still incredibly real. They’re pervasive and unbelievably difficult. They’re even a bit dangerous in the ways they present themselves. [It’s a huge accomplishment for me to recognize and state this – just saying] Since then though, I’ve had some amazing conversations with friends and mentors. I realized the utility of a support system in a different and more meaningful way than I have in the past. I appreciated my friends who created a space where I could articulate how truly miserable, scared, and uncertain I’ve been feeling. I privileged honesty and speaking my struggle in spaces where I felt safe.
I really hit a low point (I’m sill very much there) where I felt out of control. It’s like you know rationally that the behaviors you’re exhibiting aren’t healthy but you can justify them, contort them, and separate them from “you” right up until the moment when you can’t anymore and then the reality, gravity, and urgency of the situation feels so heavy, so crushing, it’s unbearable to attend to or face. I didn’t have the words to argue when my friends suggested I needed some support. It also wasn’t a time that I was asking for support. [you know you have amazing friends when you don’t need to ask] I’m pretty sure that when you get to such a defeated place, the arguments against seeking some help don’t hold water anyway. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to face it. I felt like if I did nothing in response to their concern that it wouldn’t be real. If I could keep avoiding it then, maybe,”I” wouldn’t need help. Turns out, the effort I spent avoiding all of this was, perhaps, more cumbersome than facing these struggles head first and bringing them into the light.
This past week, I heard a lot of things I really didn’t want to hear but I also realized the importance of both seeking out and receiving support. Throughout all these conversations two statements have been super influential for me: “I believe/hear you.” [validation] and “What do you need [from me]?” [support]. However, aside from just hearing these words, what’s been essential has been how I’ve responded to these statements. I accepted my friends’ feedback, their care, their warmth, attention, love, and guidance. Previously I didn’t want to respond to their outreach. I didn’t want to acknowledge their concern. What was different this time was that I shared my space, made myself vulnerable, and felt the true reciprocal nature of friendship. Specifically, I learned how necessary it is to allow or welcome [I tried “let” but it seemed too tied up in oppressive language, like laying down and “taking” their help] others’ supports. You don’t have to face this all alone. Asking for help or accepting it represents a different type of strength. It more closely resembles self-awareness and demonstrates that you know how to harness and leverage your resources in a way that lets you present your best self each day.
So, this week I did some evaluating and made some important, necessary decisions (with the help of some amazing friends and a little motivator called accountabili-buddies [in other words, my friends getting on my case – because they care]). The interesting thing is, when the clouds parted and the sun shined through [that’s my interpretation of how it feels the moment you experience relief – when you realize everything is not hopeless and things will in fact be okay, with some work and a whole lot of “next steps”] I acknowledged how seriously deep and detrimental this struggle has been.
Acknowledging and naming this, owning this, has been one of the most difficult and also inspiring and empowering things I’ve done in a long time. So, today was a good day. Today I did something so incredibly scary but also so necessary. I did something specifically for me. And many of the anxieties I had were lifted when I realized it was okay to not be “okay” and that for even an hour I didn’t need to spend all my energies on keeping up appearances. I could be genuine and admit my personal truths. Recognizing myself in this moment [even when this version of “me” feels so unrecognizable] had a positive impact I wasn’t prepared for. Embracing support didn’t feel as scary or weak as I expected it to feel. Rather, it felt reassuring. I felt like I could finally breathe today, like I could focus today. Today I felt worthy and (recently) uncharacteristically energized. I felt light and most importantly I felt safe.