Journal

Coming Home

Coming Home

Nine months ago, my psychologist recommended I go on antidepressants.

I was numb. Detached. Passively watching the world fade in and out of focus. I lived in the spaces between panic attacks, and my disordered behaviors around food and training intensified. I was claustrophobic, trapped inside a version of myself I no longer recognized.

Since that appointment, I’ve made some major life changes. I quit my job and co-founded a nonprofit. I admitted to myself, and the world, that I have an eating disorder. I prioritized my health and wellbeing above my professional endeavors. I stopped asking for permission. I allowed myself to dream again.

I also booked a month-long trip to Colorado.

Impulsive? Maybe. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But nine months ago, I wanted to run away. I wanted an escape. Now, sitting at 10,000 feet with the Sawatch Range lining the horizon, I know that even surrounded by mountains, I can’t escape myself. And I no longer want to.

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Over the last few years, I lost my sense of self. I grew a layer of skin that was not my own. It scratched and chafed, leaving me raw and insecure. It was a mask, affixed to my being in an attempt to please others’ expectations – and my own. I tried desperately to shed this skin, to reveal the raw flesh – my flesh – lying underneath, waiting to breathe the cool, fresh air. But my fear and anxiety forced me to cling to this tattered skin, to the sense of safety and familiarity, to what I felt was expected of me. To the woman I no longer recognize.

Over the course of this trip, I’ve shed that layer of skin. I am uncomfortable and anxious. Challenged and in awe. I am vulnerable and dependent on others’ kindness and generosity. I am asking for help and grappling with my ego. I depend on others’ advice and know-how. I am trusting others, and, in that process, learning to trust myself. I am struggling, growing, and achieving. And yet, I am finally sitting still, at peace with my current self.

Prior to this trip, I was anxious. Taking this time felt selfish and unnecessary. Unproductive and lackluster. I should be climbing a corporate ladder, or at least working on my grad school applications. Instead, I’m climbing mountains. And I’m okay with that.

After weeks of running trails, reading and writing, and eating Puffins Cereal in trailhead parking lots, I feel an unfamiliar sense of ease. A strange sense of calm and acceptance. I’ve stopped tugging at my shirt, attempting to hide parts of my appearance. I’ve lost my mascara and worn the same dirty running skirt three times. I am not mentally cluttered or emotionally burdened. I am tired, yet rested. Humbled, yet empowered. I am here – within the mountains, but also within myself.

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This trip reframed my perspective. It exposed my limitations and strengths. It led me to a mountain ridge, gasping for air. It allowed me to camp miles from civilization, free from obligations and expectations. It created new relationships and strengthened old ones. It forced me to trust and depend on others – and to trust and depend on myself. It taught me that home is not a location, it is the people you chose to surround yourself with, including yourself.

The mountains have a time and place, and I am grateful that time is now and place is here. And while I am ready and excited to return home from this adventure, the mountains’ rugged and unassuming beauty will always compel me. The mountains will always bring me home.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

HGTV hummed in the background and a stack of gossip magazines were lazily stacked on the table next to me. My hands rested on my lap, tightly woven together. Thumbs anxiously pressed against each other, I hummed to myself. A combination of Beyoncé and Sylvan Esso circulated through my head – my pump up music driving to the office. I was nervous.

The room had that typical waiting room sense of calm and fatigue – a damp heaviness reminiscent of a summer evening in DC. I wrung my fingers and trapped them under my thighs, hoping to ease my nervous energy. Thirty seconds later they were back on my lap, twisted into an anxious knot.

I was at the doctor’s office, waiting for a routine check-up and exam. Typically a mundane way to spend the afternoon, but this was different. The nurse called my name and pointed me toward the first room on the right – I saw the scale in the corner. She took my blood pressure and attempted light conversation. Her voice was in a tunnel, and I just laughed and nodded when the time seemed right. She gestured to the scale, and, not wanting to make a scene, I stepped on. The burden of years of anxiety, restriction, and inadequacy weighed heavily on my shoulders. With that same dry tone she used to say hello, she announced the number and scribbled it on her clipboard.

In college, I weighed myself regularly. Every visit to the campus rec center involved stepping on the scale two, maybe three times a day. Miles and reps were added to workouts if the number was deemed too high; meals skipped even if it remained the same. The scale had a hypnotic power over me. An allure I could not deny. For years, the scale determined my attitude, appetite, and confidence. It honed my ability to control my cravings and cut off all communication with my body, physically and emotionally. My sense of worth and empowerment was transient, and the scale provided a clean and easy means of measuring my value to the world. The ritual was sacred.

A series of injuries and a shift from collegiate triathlon to amateur cycling forced me away from the gym. Away from the scale. The ritual became more infrequent and, eventually, nonexistent. Pathways opened, and I began the process of healing – of learning to listen to my body and isolate my worth from metrics.

But the familiar comfort, the sacred nature of the scale, continues to taunt me.

When I stepped on that scale two weeks ago, I was terrified. It wasn’t the number that scared me so much as myself. Diminished self-worth seemed imminent, and stepping on that scale felt as though I was opening the door for my eating disorder, welcoming it into my home, and inviting it to stay a while. It brought me eye-to-eye with my past struggles and pains. And yet, in that split moment, as I registered the number on the screen, I felt nothing. No remorse. No pain. No rejection. I felt the exact same as I did before I knew the number. I opened the door, and no one was there.

I finished up the appointment and walked into that stagnant waiting room elated. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride for my body, for its health and resilience. Its strength and curves. Being a woman no longer seems like a burden, and being an active woman no longer seems so well-defined. I am an active woman. At any weight.

I have a newfound sense of ownership and gratitude. This is mine. Every pound. Every curve. Every muscle. It’s me. It’s unapologetically me. An athlete, a friend, an advocate, a woman.

—-

This was originally published for the Lane 9 Project here.

Lighting the Flame

Lighting the Flame

My first-ever run was on a hot summer afternoon at sixth grade cross-country practice. I hated it. Every afternoon I purposely ran on roots, sticks, and uneven ground hoping I would trip, fall, break an ankle, and never have to run again. I quit the team within two weeks.

Three months later, I was watching a video my science teacher had created about his mini-marathon training program. His classroom was adorned with race bibs and finisher medals, and he had an infectious endorphin-fueled outlook on life. In the dimly lit halls of my middle school, this teacher was a ray of light. Every year he coordinated a program for students to train and race the Indianapolis Mini Marathon together. It was a daunting challenge, especially considering I had declared my hatred for the sport, but with encouragement from my teacher and pressure from my peers, I signed up. My parents doubted me, and for good reason, I couldn’t finish a three-kilometer race — but I was determined.

Training began in February. We ran laps inside the middle school, and by “ran,” I mean we sprinted down hallways, giggled at boys, and walked until we had to run and hide from our pre-pubescent emotions again. It was fun.

As we shifted our training to the outdoors in the spring, my dad decided to join me. Twice a week we ran, together. Slowly, deliberately, gleefully. While it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be running with my dad, I cherished these miles. My father taught me the mantra, “slow and steady wins the race,” which became the soundtrack of my journey as a runner. Miles ticked by as I vented to him about the tribulations of being a twelve-year-old girl. He listened as I lamented about cliques, classes, and life’s lack of fairness. He provided insight and wisdom, laughter and inspiration. He taught me confidence, self-belief, and humility. He believed in me when I didn’t know how. He could see a soft flame flickering within me, waiting to be ignited.

Middle school Samantha racing the Indianapolis Mini Marathon

We ran my first half-marathon together, stride for stride, without walking a single step. It took three hours, and most of my peers beat me. But I finished my first race, with my best friend and greatest training partner, and it was exhilarating.

I kept running.

Over the next three years I ran multiple half marathons, each faster than the last. There was no more chasing boys, just miles. My dad continued to be my trusted training partner, and I started to run with my mom as well. She became my sounding board for life’s conflicts, failures, frustrations, and victories. We shared laughter, tears, wisdom, and love on the pavement. My parents were so much more than training partners; they became trusted confidants and mentors. They taught me to run, and eventually, like a child riding without training wheels for the first time, they let me run without them.

It was in this solitude that I found myself.

Every footfall, mile, and race was an opportunity to discover another layer within myself, to dig deep into my adolescent mind and find so much more than a mess of hormones. I unraveled every layer, finding my relentless drive, deep anxiety, and enduring tenacity; I found my need for acceptance, longing for validation, and hunger for a challenge. I continue to peel away these layers today. The solitude of a quiet run pulls back each layer revealing my vulnerable, raw, and unearthed remains, building this intricate account of myself I aspire to know.

Running is my sanctuary. It is where the push and pull of my muscles brings stillness and calm to my mind. It is where the comforting rhythm of my breathing reminds me that I’m alive. It is where I find myself — broken, grateful, whole, and yet never complete. One footfall after another, running is where my story begins.


This story was originally published with the Lane 9 Project here.

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”