NEDA Week Day 7: Lane 9, a Project

NEDA Week Day 7: Lane 9, a Project
NEDAwareness Week Day 7: Welcome to the Ninth Lane

I wanted gloves. It was a cold Saturday morning when we came together, and my fingers were pressed tightly within my thin sleeves. Jacket gloves, some would say. We were meeting by a nearby trail, a good friend of mine and a new friend. She was the first one there, also shivering. Small talk ensued until we saw Heather running down the trail, ponytail swinging. Hellos were exchanged, and watches chimed in unison. We started running. Sparse chatter evolved into a chorus of “Yes! Me too!” Hands slipped out of sleeves, and the pace quickened with excitement. Within a few miles, Lane Nine was born.

Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 7: Lane 9, a Project”

NEDA Week Day 6: Today

NEDA Week Day 6: Today
NEDAwareness Week Day 6: Silencing the Internal Critic

When I originally embarked on sharing my story, I thought I was in a place where I could separate myself from who I used to be – detach my present identity from this battle that consumed the greater part of my adolescence. I envisioned a polished essay with a crisp and neat conclusion. A happy ending. But there is no ending. I am in the thick of it. Weak and tired from years of being on the defense, this battle is still raging. You never fully recover from an eating disorder. You never fully rid yourself of anxiety. You don’t eradicate the voice in your head reminding you that you are not enough. You adapt. You cope. You learn to overpower the voice within you – to quiet the internal critic, if only for a moment.

Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 6: Today”

NEDA Week Day 5: Treatment

NEDA Week Day 5: Treatment
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. Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 5: Treatment”

NEDA Week Day 4: Eating Disorder, defined

NEDA Week Day 4: Eating Disorder, defined
NEDAwareness Week Day 4: Defining an Eating Disorder

The room smelled familiar – like antiseptic soap and one too many sprays of Febreeze. I shifted on the table, wincing as the paper scratched against the cheap leather. I had just finished another round of the Gardasil vaccine and inquired about remedies for dry skin – my hands used to get really dry in the winter – as in arid, cracked hands with knuckles that bled when I held a pencil. My doctor looked over my hands, brushing his moisturized fingers over the red knuckles. He set them down on my lap and looked at me very matter-of-factly. Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 4: Eating Disorder, defined”

NEDA Week Day 3: Running Away

NEDA Week Day 3: Running Away
NEDA Week Day 3: A (complicated) relationship with running

I started running when I was 12. The sport taught me resilience and the merits of grit and determination. During a time of social angst and growing academic stress, running was my sanctuary. It freed me from my anxiety and fears – every mile a reprieve from this internal battle. I relished my strength and marveled at what my body could do. There came a point, however, when things shifted. Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 3: Running Away”

NEDA Week Day 2: Perfectionism

NEDA Week Day 2: Perfectionism
NEDAwareness Week Day 2: The Burden of Perfection

I have always been prone to anxiety. I remember sitting in pre-algebra, my right arm warm from the dusty projector crammed between my desk and a peer’s. The week’s fraction quiz glared at me with a large red C circled in the top right corner. A brick dropped in my stomach, weighing me down to the point that my shoulders slumped and my chest tightened to bear the load. I blinked back tears and ended up in the nurse’s office. A “stomach ache,” I said. Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 2: Perfectionism”

NEDA Week Day 1: Anxiety

NEDA Week Day 1: Anxiety
NEDAwareness Week Day 1: Coping with Anxiety

For me, disordered eating and anxiety are intertwined. They feed off of each other until I am hollow. It’s a parasitic emptiness, one that consumes your every thought and action until you are emotionally void. The cycle is cruel – anxiety begets restriction and shame; restriction and shame beget anxiety. Ignored, the combination can easily spiral into depression.

We’re kicking off NEDAwareness Week with the root of my eating disorder: Anxiety. When I’m feeling anxious, I turn to pen and paper for comfort. This was one of those times. The following was written during a bout of anxiety earlier this year.


I should have gone to bed earlier, but I never do. The weight of the world becomes exceptionally heavy right around 10 p.m. The problems, the fears, the anxiety – they entangle me. I stare at the wall across the room and shift uncomfortably. I sink down into the cushion, staring, thinking. It feels as though pieces from five different puzzles are swirling within my mind, each trying – yet failing – to connect. I eventually break my stare and pull myself off the couch. I brew some chamomile, hoping to lull myself to sleep, and make a list of the things I need to do. Laundry, bills, call the grandparents, go to Target, find a therapist, write that blog you’ve been meaning to write. I set it aside (with the six other lists I’ve made this week) and crawl into bed. I pull the covers around me, eyes barely exposed, and breathe a slow, deep sigh. I continue my stare, fixated on the ceiling’s shadows. The cerebral fog begins to dissipate. My mind bounces from emotion to emotion – dread at the idea of repeating today, excitement for the week’s trail run quickly followed by an instinctual social anxiety. A craving to just be alone. I stare a little while longer and eventually roll over, reaching for my mug. I take a long sip, turn out the light, and return my gaze to the darkened ceiling. The tea was cold.

I hate feeling this way. This “I’m going to listen to the same four Lorde songs on repeat and lay on the floor” feeling. I’m experiencing life through a pair of smudged, cloudy glasses, and my typically optimistic and bright perspective now has a hazy, blurred lens. Everything just feels hard. Things I normally enjoy – making dinner, weekly group runs, journaling – become laborious and taxing. The smallest grain of sand is enough to uproot my entire existence. I’m not sure what led to this – stints of anxiety, the occasional bad day, uncertainty regarding my future – small things, sure, but not enough to lead to this sinking, darkening feeling. I recognize bits and pieces of this lens: the desire to run away (and the increased weekly mileage in an attempt to do so), the same Spotify playlist, the increased social anxiety and desire to isolate myself, the self-criticism and body shaming – but some things are new and difficult to navigate. The increased heart rate and shortness of breath, the periodic (and inopportune) bouts of tears, sometimes losing visual and mental focus, dreading the everydayness of my still-new routine. I am craving change, not necessarily in scenery (although that seems like the quick and easy fix), but in purpose. I feel listless and disengaged. Mediocre and unmotivated. I hate this feeling.

I’ve tried to run away from myself before. Many times. Every so often I become incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. It scratches like cheap wool and wrinkles in all the wrong places. I am displaced within myself. Anxiety creeps in, and I crave an easy out. Isolation. Restriction. Obsessive tendencies. A dangerous cocktail of criticism and control becomes my coping mechanism. Anxiety tightens its grip and, in return, I tighten mine – disordered eating, obsessive exercising, social unease, and loneliness. I desperately want an out, to be free from myself. To run away. But no matter where I go, no matter how far I run, I take myself with me.

Also – today we’re launching the Lane 9 Project – a project by active women for active women. We aim to empower women struggling in the ninth lane. If you’re an active woman with disordered eating and/or amenorrhea, we want you to know you’re not alone, you’re not stuck, and you’re not done. This project will be your community, and hopefully the start of your recovery. If you’ve been there, these are your people.

To learn more about the Lane 9 Project, visit our Medium page and follow us on Twitter.

Three months in a new home

Three months in a new home

 

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No Service read across the top of my phone screen. I looked up to see speckles of sunlight peer through the leaves. A chorus of cicadas echoed, and a subtle, unassuming creek flowed in the background. The soft, humid air enveloped me, and each breath was matched with sweet, fresh relief. The stillness was intoxicating.

It has been three months since I landed in Washington, D.C. Three months of wrestling with my anxieties; of swallowing my insecurities and tripping every other time I try to put my best foot forward. Three months of continuously seeking the courage to show up, say yes, and make vulnerability my greatest ally. Three months ago I was surrounded by cardboard boxes in a foreign city with a job I felt deeply unqualified for, feeling profoundly, terrifyingly alone. Three months ago I sought solace in isolation – running from the fear, the anxiety, and the loneliness, only to realize I had nowhere to go. Three months ago, I wanted to be anywhere but here.

The sun set over the horizon, and stars gazed through the canopy of leaves. I craned my neck, hoping to meet their gaze. The night sky came into focus, and I felt incredibly small. The burden of the last ten weeks loosened its grip. I paused, neck still craning toward the sky, and noticed the newfound empty space within me. I was fulfilled.

Today, this city still feels big and overwhelming, but it also feels like home. The Potomac no longer mocks me, reminding me of the 600 miles between myself and my family. I am finding confidence in my work – challenging myself without the incentive of a grade or professor’s praise. I am building a community and finding solace not in isolation, but in shared experiences; in those moments where you look someone in the eye and say “You too?! I thought I was the only one.” What was once a strange and foreign city has not only become home – it has become my home.

The creek whispered in the background, and the sky was showing the first signs of daylight. The air felt thick with dew, and I turned onto my back, silently marveling at the stillness. I looked to my right and couldn’t help but smile. My soul swelled with satisfaction.

Planting my life in new soil has been tricky. Initial stubbornness led to reluctance, reluctance to surrender, and surrender to realizing my own self-forced starvation. Out of desperation, I finally allowed just one drop of this foreign soil’s nutrients to be absorbed into my decaying roots. My roots dug a little deeper, and desperation became acceptance. Life reclaimed its vibrancy. My leaves stopped craning toward the Indiana sunlight. Washington D.C. is bright enough for me.

I stepped out of the tent and inhaled the damp morning air. I waited for the familiar sound of a plane overhead or a siren down the road; instead I was greeted with the unfamiliar sound of silence. Time slowed to a soothing clip, and each movement developed a sense of purpose. I stood, motionless, watching this small corner of the world come to life. The present became enough.

 

A few weeks ago, I went camping. As in legitimate, pee-in-the-woods, sleep-in-a-tent, look-out-for-bears camping. I managed to forage all of the necessary gear from some friends (thank you, friends), and stumbled out of the city and into the wilderness. You could say my camping history is spotty at best – the last time I went camping we had showers, air mattresses, and parent chaperones grilling burgers every night. I was not a fan of camping back then – in fact I swore against it. Never again would I sleep on the ground in a tent in the woods. And yet, there I was. On the ground, in a tent, in the woods. And I loved every minute of it.

It’s funny how things change.

I remain the same Samantha, and yet my perspective is constantly shifting. I recently spent some time back home, in Indiana. During my stay, I found myself yearning for D.C. – for what has become my home. This was confusing. My Midwestern soil, while still providing the irreplaceable nourishment of family and familiarity, became stagnant. I was no longer comfortable there – or, perhaps, I was too comfortable. I thrive at the balance of security and uncertainty – finding the space where I feel grounded enough to act courageously. In the last three months I’ve realized that too much comfort makes me uncomfortable. Indiana is safe, but it is also easy. The path was paved for me and the concept of home is wrapped around memories beginning with others’ actions, decisions, and theories. While this foundation of love, family, and support has been pivotal to my development as a young woman, it is also why my roots now crave this foreign soil. Because it is here that I have the opportunity to make what was foreign, familiar. For the first time I get to craft home from scratch. I define its boundaries and routines. I welcome its guests. I choose what to surround myself with and with whom to share experiences and build memories. As I open myself up to the relationships, and opportunities my new home has to offer, I feel my roots dig deeper and deeper, building this home into a mosaic of challenge and opportunity, of comfort and adventure.

I rested my heavy head into my hand, dirt lingering under my fingernails. The soft hum of the radio filled the air-conditioned car. In the empty space between sleep and consciousness, I felt myself smile. I opened my eyes, and a wave of contentment flowed through me. I made eye contact with the only other person awake in the car and laughed. “What’s so funny?” He asked. “Nothing,” I replied, returning my head to my hand, resuming my semi-conscious slumber.

I get to create my own home. I get to change and yet remain the same. I get to laugh in the silence, because sometimes smiling just isn’t enough.

 

 

Taking Root

Taking Root

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There’s this tree on Roosevelt Island. Or at least there was. Toppled onto its side, roots and limbs exposed, trunk decaying – uprooted. I ran by this tree nearly every day during my first month here. Sometimes I wouldn’t notice it, other times I would stop and stare. At one point I stopped and took a picture of it, artfully crafting some Instagram caption detailing how I am this tree – I have been toppled onto my side, vulnerability and fears exposed, decaying – I am uprooted. But I never posted it. I continued on with my run, and my day, and my week, eventually forgetting about this tree. Eventually forgetting about my exposed limbs and vulnerability, my insecurity and uncertainty. I stopped trying so hard to take root here – to continuously dig into this foreign soil and force this raw and exposed version of myself into it. I set down the shovel and walked away.

 

It’s been weeks since I took that photo, and something has clicked. I’ve fallen in love with my job; I’m finally sleeping through the night; and I’ve connected with some fantastic people. I wake up, look out my window, and smile. I no longer feel like I’m just surviving, but I’m yearning to thrive. I’m yearning to take on the challenging assignments, to go to the Senate hearing without being asked, to talk to the stranger on the group run, to prioritize my health. Virginia and DC no longer feel like a strange, foreign land. It feels like home. I think I’ve taken root – A tiny, wisp of a root is settling into the soil here.

I’m reminded of freshman year of college, when I was unsure of what to call “home” – my dorm or my parent’s home. And while Indiana will always have my heart, I think, for right now, I’m home. Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. is home. I feel safe. I feel welcomed. The more I discover here the more I realize that I belong. I have learned that home is not bound by geographic lines or where you were raised or even how often you get lost trying to find Target, it’s the people. It’s the experience. I may be miles from my family and the only city I’ve ever known, but something tells me I’m home. Perhaps it’s the community I’m forming – finding a friend I can confide in and look up to, even if it’s on a 6 a.m. run; finding the courage to start a conversation with someone in the trailhead parking lot; finding solace and inspiration in work and my colleagues. I’m finding my people. There’s something to be said for having a community. For seeing familiar faces, faces you know you can trust. If I’ve learned anything the last seven weeks, it’s the importance of community. The people you surround yourself with – the roots with which you share the soil – that’s home.


Some photos from the last month of adventures, featuring the Shenandoah:

 

 

 

Finding Home: Washington D.C. Edition

Finding Home: Washington D.C. Edition

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Cars hummed on the bridge above me. A jet thundered across the sky, like clockwork, creating a shadow on the packed dirt trail. I sharply inhaled the damp, stagnant air. My legs ached, and my heart pounded. I was running – as fast as I could – away. Away from this city. Away from this anguish. Away from this reality. Away from myself.

Minutes earlier I was on the floor in my apartment, weak from sobbing. I pulled myself up, looked in the mirror, and stared blankly at a woman I no longer recognized. Her eyes were dull; cheeks tear-stained and red. What is happening? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This was not glamorous. This was not shiny and new. This was difficult, incredibly, overwhelmingly difficult.

For those that didn’t hear, I decided to graduate a year early, pack my life into my Subaru, and leave the only home I’ve known for a policy consulting job in Washington D.C. It was my dream job. It was my dream city. It was going to be perfect.

I should have known.

I’m terrible with transitions; change uproots me and warps my perception. When I’m out of my routine and in unfamiliar places I’m slower to combat my internal critic and less apt to have perspective. Unfamiliarity and discomfort weakens my internal optimist. I was known to write letters asking my parents to come get me at summer camp. I almost pleaded my way out of a summer program in France. It took me eight weeks to be okay with living in San Diego for a total nine weeks. Change is hard. And Washington has been no different.

For the past month, I often woke up confused and dismayed to realize that I was in D.C., again. Most days ended tear-streaked and taking to the trails – running as far from my reality as I could, only to begrudgingly return to it miles later. The permanency of my situation weighs down on my conscience. There is no end date to return home and tie a nice bow on my experience. This isn’t a summer internship or semester-long program to be captured and turned in for a grade. This isn’t a test-run. I am in Washington. For an undetermined amount of time. With a job, a job with contracts, benefits, and expectations. I am not in my safe and sacred classroom anymore. I know how to handle the classroom – I’ve been navigating classrooms for the last 15 years. School is my safe place. Corporate America, however, is a strange and foreign land, and I forgot to buy the guidebook.

Since moving, I have felt uprooted and misplaced, as though I lost myself somewhere between Indiana and D.C. This is not my home. This is not my dream. I don’t belong here. I have spent the last five weeks imprisoned by my own grief – grief over the loss of who I was, of my past experiences and routines. Grief over the absence of familiarity and the overwhelming presence of the strange and unfamiliar. I shoved my sadness under the rug and chastised myself for feeling anything but grateful. You’re not supposed to feel this way. This is your dream job, remember?! You’re not allowed to feel sad; you should be grateful for this opportunity. Get it together.

But I’m not together. I’m not okay. I’m tired, I’m confused, and I keep getting lost trying to find Target. Maybe this isn’t my dream job. Maybe, at the ripe age of 21, I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I’m not ready for this. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s not until I recognize this grief, look it in the eye and say, “Yes. I see you. I understand your pain, and it’s okay.”

It’s okay to be afraid leaving the only home I’ve ever known. It’s okay to be apprehensive in new situations and challenges. It’s okay to be lonely. I have given myself permission to feel sadness, to stop resisting the uncertainty and fear, and in this grief, I have made space. Space to grow and learn. Space to fill with new experiences, opportunities, and relationships. By acknowledging and accepting the grief, anxiety, and loss over who I was, I can finally embrace who I am becoming.

So no, my new life in Washington is not as wonderful as I had anticipated – yet. But it’s also not a new life. I’m still me – the mildly introverted, somewhat obsessive, nerdy me. The girl who would rather run ten miles in the woods than sleep until noon. The one that collects miniature Buddha’s and old, family Bibles. The one with the lobbying and consulting job on K Street in Washington, D.C. It’s all me. And while change is hard, nerve-wracking, and out-right scary, it’s also necessary. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. I still don’t really know how to get to Target. But I do know I am here. I am here to learn, grow, and explore this next chapter. I am here to relinquish my white-knuckled grip on life and embrace each moment’s opportunity. I am here to discover the young woman I am becoming. I am here, and I am no longer running away.


Also, as evidence that I have done more than think deeply about life, below are some photos from my adventures the past few weeks in D.C. For more, follow me on Instagram and Twitter! (I have been known to live-tweet Congressional hearings, you have been warned).