NEDAwareness Week Day 5: Asking for Help
It was 9 p.m. on a Wednesday somewhere in the middle of Kansas. I scrolled through the pale pink web page, eyes squinting in my phone’s harsh light. I was partway through a cross-country drive, eventually landing in San Diego, Calif. for a summer internship. I was also headed to the San Diego-based eating disorder clinic I had decidedly entered myself. The deposit was paid, and the application was finalized. My certainty, however, was not. I kept scrolling through the clinic’s homepage, doubts rising. Three separate professionals had diagnosed me with four separate eating disorders in the last year: anorexia, disordered eating, obsessive-compulsive exercise, and orthorexia. The titles were comforting; they provided a level of legitimacy to my dizzying experience. What they didn’t provide, however, was relief. Maybe it was denial, or just the wrong fit, but the underlying anxiety, the need for control and order, persisted. I turned on the bedside lamp, eyes blinking to adjust to the light, and opened a new browser. “Body image, athletics, anxiety” sat in my search bar. I stumbled across a woman’s website; her work focused on perfectionism, body image issues, and athletic identity. I kicked my feet out from under the starchy, white sheets, savoring the sudden chill, and returned to the pale pink web page. I canceled the next week’s appointment.
I didn’t make any friends that summer (besides my roommate, who was very cool). A bike crash kept me from training and racing, and my internship wasn’t as strenuous as I had hoped. It became a summer of forced self-discovery and exploration. I couldn’t run away from myself – I had nowhere to go. Miles from any familiar face, I was alone but no longer lonely. I gained ten pounds. I got my period for the first time. I no longer fit my size double-zero jeans, and that was okay.
By the end of that summer, I recognized bits and pieces of myself again. I began to doubt that loud and consuming voice. It became less powerful, and I became stronger. The therapy helped. Focusing on perfectionism provided a fuller picture and revealed my deeply rooted fear and anxiety. I cried a lot. I looked in the mirror and forced myself to see the strength and grace looking back at me. I peeled back layer after layer of expectations, disappointment, and self-loathing, until I found the raw, untouched version of myself. She was timid and meek after years of being silenced, but she was incredibly strong and resilient. I wanted to get to know her. I wanted to get to know myself.
I fired my triathlon coach that summer and ended a troublesome relationship. Little by little, I learned to listen to my body again. I slept more and trained less. I made an effort to reach out to friends. I cooked for myself and ate until I was satisfied. I took up strength training and taught myself Ashtanga yoga. I embraced emotional vulnerability, even when it hurt. I took risks and trusted myself. I welcomed failure with arms wide open.