What are you running from?

L9P Community Post: Katy Harrison

didn’t always have an eating disorder. Once upon a time, I was a carefree kid with no hang up about food and genuine pride in my ability to eat numerous tacos. Now, I’m in the thick of recovery and working back to explore when and why I started running from myself.

I was a super active child.

My lack of hand eye coordination kept me from excelling at team sports, but that didn’t stop my limbs from being in constant motion. Running happened without thinking. I got from point A to B and back again with a unique, joyful clip, and was known to pace a room when explaining an emphatic point. To fuel my buzzing body, I ate when I was hungry, which was often. My mother knew to offer snacks frequently, and I even kept cashews in my locker in case my blood sugar dipped.

Throughout college, I maintained my youthful hyperactivity, and appetite to match. But something new happened during those years: I began gaining weight. This was terrifying to me; I have difficulty with change, and as I neared college graduation, I sensed additional changes on the horizon. So what did I do to cope? I met that change with a change of my own.

I adopted a dieting mindset.

First, it was just a generalized awareness of nutrition and food content — “let’s stick to whole grains;avoid overly processed snacks and super sugary drinks.” With these minor changes, I saw the extra pounds I had gained disappear. This was comforting. When I felt like my world was changing and I had no power stop it, restricting my diet helped me feel in control. I wanted more.

Then the counting started.

Counting calories was like a game to me, except better: I made the rules, and I judged the contest, so I could always win. When I was bored, anxious, fearful or insecure, I could find solace and satisfaction that I was under count for the day, or that I avoided a dessert that was offered, or that I staved off hunger longer than usual by filling up on baby carrots and coffee.

After college, I was determined to be a successful working adult — thin, in control, with a good job and good friends. Notice I put “thin” first on this list. Somehow, thinness, something that was not a matter of concern in the past, had become the top factor in which I judged my success. So even if I wasn’t proud of my job and felt insecure in personal relationships, I could feel proud and secure about my food choices and my weight.

I was hired as the Program Manager to help found and launch a new non-profit called Run Hope Work. My job was to create a program that uses running to teach at-risk youth the skills they need to be successful in the workforce. Going into this job, I felt grossly under qualified, but I was emboldened by my drive to avoid failure. “I’ll do anything to make this program a success,” I convinced myself.

The organization was up and running within 90 days.

I was the only full-time employee of this company, but that didn’t stop Run Hope Work from pulling together a functioning program, curriculum, social media presence, volunteer corps and funding stream. To do all of this, I sacrificed: my body, my social life and my mental health. I was a very occasional runner before this job; as the program manager, I ran four or five times per week. I felt like being in top running shape was a necessary part of my job. My personal identity, my professional success and my fitness regimen became intertwined. I spent so much time running, working, and devoting my emotional energy to the at-risk youth we served that I lost sight of the third part of our title, “Hope.”

Hope, as we defined it, is what inspires a person to move forward.

Hope:

It’s what inspires a marathoner to keep pushing through the 26.2 miles, or inspires a social worker to do what it takes to help a child succeed.

When I ran, it was not towards something better, but away from something sinister that was licking at my heels.

I was pushing through the runs, and I was doing my job everyday, but I was motivated by fear, not hope. I remember as a child, I was afraid of the basement, and would run up the stairs with fearful urgency as if some unknown beast were chasing me. This basement run was much different than when I would dart gleefully around the living room or sprint through the halls to celebrate a victory.

After almost two years of running from the monster, my body quit for me.

I began having severe panic, to the point of constant breathlessness and tears. I was also frequently confused, disoriented and short tempered since I wasn’t fueling my body properly.

I made the decision to the check into intensive outpatient treatment for my eating disorder. Luckily, my boss was supportive of my choice to leave Run Hope Work and take care of myself.

I pushed “paused” on my running regimen, took some time off work and finally began getting to know myself a young woman — something I had been avoiding for years.

This is how I’m recovering:

I still struggle with intense, uncomfortable fears of the unknown. But under the guidance of a registered dietitian, I recently began re-integrating running to my life. I also work with a therapist who helps me process my feelings about food and body and has given me coping strategies that help deal with negative thoughts and emotions.

Running is now an enjoyable activity and stress reliever when I can do it with a healthy mindset. One way that I can check my intentions when heading out for a run is to channel my inner child, the hyper active part of me that I cherish and loathe, and ask her “Are you running from the monster in the basement?” If that’s the case, I know it’s best to stand my ground, kick the monster in the face, and then flee in joyful victory! Or, if I’m not feeling it, go for tacos.


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