This post explores themes of depression, disordered eating, self-hatred, and shame. Read at your own discretion.
As I moved around a group of race photographers at Disneyland, the finish line came into sight. Every muscle and tendon in my body screamed at me to stop. My body had been yelling at me to stop for weeks at this point.
My feet yelled for me to sit down. My inner critic told the internal wisdom to shut up.
Get over yourself, the critic scoffed. After all, I had a little less than a fourth of a mile to run.
You can handle this.
With every step, I could feel my tendons rub over the outside of my foot like a rubber band stretching over a rusty pipe. I had started to limp around mile 8. Pain shot through the arches of my foot, over the outer edge of my foot, and up my calf. A crystal ball would show me that I’d spend the next few days hardly able to walk to the bathroom.
With my best friend beside me, I made my way to the finish line. Race volunteers ushered towards us, handing us our medals, a box of treats, and a water bottle.
I should have been elated, but when I got home that morning, I looked in the mirror, grabbed at my stomach, and shook my head in disgust.
52 miles and I still had the same belly, the same short-boxy torso, the same self-hatred.
Welcome to my shame.
I competed in three races last May. I ran over 50 miles, and not a single mile was run for me, for my body, for my health. I spent every mile proving a point. I spent every mile convincing myself that if I ran further and tried harder that maybe then I would be desirable. I spent every mile hating my body. I spent every mile at my ground zero. To be honest, I began this blog with the intention of writing about this experience. It has taken a full year for me to unpack all that went into it.
I had made it through my final race with the damage that still effects my peroneal tendon to this day and an injury that could have led to debilitating arch support issues. The doctor assured me that with that much stress, I was looking at significant fractures along my fifth metatarsal. I was lucky, he said. If those bones were in fact broken, I would be looking at surgery to repair the tendon and relieve the stress on the surrounding anatomy.
“A miracle in the form of a deep freeze would be the only thing I could think would heal this foot. I would suggest you get an MRI immediately.” The doctor insisted as his assistant stuck probes to my upper thigh, calf, and all around my foot. She then attached electric wires to the probes and turned on a machine. Microtremors vibrated the muscles under my skin as involuntary spasms made their way up my body in less than a second.
“I’m going to go on the backpacking trip,” I said sweetly. The spams grew in intensity.
“You shouldn’t go. Do you promise me you’ll keep the foot wrapped at night? Ibuprofen every 4 hours. You really shouldn’t go.”
He turned up the electricity and sighed. “I know you are.”
How would I ultimately choose to heal my body? At first, I’d try to destroy it a little more. 42-hours later I would pack up a 40-pound backpack, safely tucking my self-hatred towards the bottom of the bag. No one needed to know that earlier that week I could hardly walk. No one needed to know what the doctor said. It was my cross to bear, and it gave me a reason to suffer.
I would lace up my hiking boots, making sure to leave the right shoe a little loose for my tendons to breathe. 6 hours later I would be faced with water and freezing temperatures. The icy cold water of Colorado’s spring runoff would soak my shoes, socks, and that night my foot would freeze on Day 1 of a 5-day trip. It would stay frozen until I arrived back at base camp.
I hadn’t had time to recover from the marathon two weeks prior, let alone the half-marathon that sent me straight to a physical therapist in Denver.
I cried a lot on that trip. For many reasons. But I was beating myself into the ground. Rock bottom.
After the backpacking trip, I would nervously touch my toes as the digits defrosted; my foot swelled and turned a glossy pink color. In the following days and weeks, I would watch as random spots of skin began to peel away.
Two months later, I would joke about the toes I wasn’t able to feel due to the freezing that occurred on the training trip early that spring. By September I would have feeling back in my feet.
I’d hide the key to all of this though. Hidden behind the accomplishment and adventure was still a 12 year-old-girl who was bullied daily. The only difference was that the bully was now 26 years old and lived in my mind.
There is a point in which I hated my body so much that I’d do anything to give it the middle finger, all in the name of health. By the time I was able to feel my toes again, I had eliminated most foods out of my diet.
But I’d cheat, because who can live off of squash and avocados alone.
Sometimes, late at night, I would find myself driving through Jack-in-the-Box and ordering the largest burger I’d ever seen. I’d drive to the furthest parking spot, inhale the burger, drink a huge coke, gobble down the fries and throw away the bag. No evidence of my gluttony or hypocrisy.
Then I would go home and wish I could throw it all up. I wasn’t strong enough to do that. But I could run again, and I could swim, and I could eat a bag of lettuce the next day, and I could watch the scale and hate myself. I was good at that.
No one would have ever said that I had an eating disorder. No one knew that the emotional lows of the past months were being masked by a series of highs that kept me above ground for a few days. From the outside, doctors wouldn’t say that my behavior was flawed. With a routine like mine, I could hide under the radar for as long as my defeating self-talk and depression would let me.
And then one day, at rock bottom in a therapist’s office in Pasadena California, 4 weeks into my Master’s degree, a few days before Halloween, I took off my mask, and I broke.
I sat in the office and casually brought up my restrictive eating habits, the links I had made in my habits, and how much I disliked my body.
He looked at me concerned. “This hasn’t come up before. I didn’t see this,”
“I know,” I answered. I could barely comprehend that this had become my reality.
Tears began to stream down my face as I talked about my intense desire to eat meat, to freely eat bread, to drink milk. I talked about the fraud I felt I had become. “Freedom,” I said, “Is being 10 pounds heavier and loving every inch of my body.”
That day I drove to Whole Foods, bought a steak and a loaf of bread and said “Fuck It” to my inner critic.
And I began the hardest endurance test of my life. I began the arduous process of loving myself. I diligently began to fill myself with truths and positive intentions. I began to look at my stomach and thighs. I forgave myself for over ten years of disregard. I began to rub my hands over my hips, repeating in my mind how much I loved my body over and over and over again.
And one day I began to believe it.
My inner critic, the place in which shame festered off of years of rumination and poor body image, had been useful in my childhood but she was no longer allowed to live in this mind.
That inner critic died a little that day. She died a little more the next day. And the next. She dies a little every day.
She died the day I looked at the scale and danced around my bathroom with joy. I was up 10 pounds, and the world wasn’t crumbling! I liked my hips!
She died the day I went on depression medication and started taking my mental health seriously.
A piece of that shame broke away when I walked away from an identity in ministry that built me up just as much as it tore me down.
A piece of that critic died when I realized that my figure was someone’s cup of tea.
A piece of her dies every, single, day.
Replacing that critic is a woman who is stronger than hell and strives to cultivate inner wisdom that loves and cherishes every fiber of her being. Not every day is sunshine and roses, though. Regardless of how difficult it is, she learns to listen compassionately. She dances, every Tuesday and Sunday, to tribal music and beats on the floor as she shakes her hips and twerks. She forgives and shows gratitude. And she hopes to inspire others as she shows up, wholeheartedly, to the act of falling in love with every inch of her body.
I’ve gathered some statistics from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) that I found validating, surprising, comforting, and sickening:
- Anorexia is the third most common chronic disease among young people, after asthma and type 1 diabetes.
- Among female high school athletes in aesthetic sports, 41.5% reported disordered eating. They were eight times more likely to incur an injury than athletes in aesthetic sports who did not report disordered eating.
- By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.
- In a study of women with eating disorders, 94% of the participants had a co-occurring mood disorder. 92% of those in the sample were struggling with a depressive disorder.
- An estimated 3% of gym-goers have a destructive relationship with exercise. Some studies have found that number may be even higher, including a 2008 Paris study that found that up to 42% of gym-goers have a destructive relationship with exercise.
Read more of these facts and see how you can get involved with NEDA or The Body Project at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
If you’re suffering now, call the helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for free resources and guidance towards treatment.