This is an anonymous post written by a Lane 9 Project contributor. Names have been changed to respect the privacy of family members.
“I’m not Emily! I’m not Emily!” Brett screamed hysterically over and over again until I moved my backpack, my books, and physically removed myself from the room.
Suddenly…everything had changed. Brett needed help. He no longer knew who he was and required his name plastered to every wall in our house. Garage door: BRETT. Kitchen wall: BRETT. Bedroom doors: BRETT. I remember those yellow strips of tape and bold, black Sharpie vividly–each one with the letters B-R-E-T-T.
My middle school brain couldn’t comprehend what this craziness was…
Was Brett making all of this up? Was he trying to get attention? Was he purposefully ruining our family dynamics? Why was he most bothered by my presence, my name, and my voice?
It was all so…bizarre.
Lacing up my shoes was salvation, an escape–my own escape.
During this volatile time in my life, Brett and I had one piece in common: he lost his identity, and I lost mine…but in a much different way. At home, everything had changed: I was no longer “Emily” but instead “Hey, you” or “Sis” or…really anything but my real name. I despised not hearing my own name, my own identity, because of someone else’s issues. Other names bothered Brett too much. Hell, I couldn’t even place my backpack in his presence without sudden screams, thrashes, and anger ensuing. Why did I bother him? My unique presence was stripped from my being and pretty soon nothing was left–I was a nuisance. It was at this moment that I suddenly felt lost and unwanted and isolated.
Opening the door for a long run was liberating: just me, my thoughts, and nature. No one else in my way or controlling my existence.
Brett had severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it was out of control; the only control OCD had was damaging–it strangled our family dynamics every second of Every. Single. Day. Concurrently, I was losing control, too, control of my existence and self.
Amidst the chaos, I desperately looked for control over my life, so I turned to my diet. After all, food was one of the few pieces in my day that my young teenage self could control; I was the only person who could decide what / how much to eat. Brett’s disorder created dysfunction in our family household, so I was determined to not worsen the dysfunction with my disorder.
Unlike Brett, my search for identity and control was subtle, quiet, secretive, stealthy. A list of “food rules” was ingrained in my brain: rules that I created, that I followed, and that no one could force out of me. No fat. Low calorie. Food three times a day. Look at every label. Eat in front of people so no one questions you. Absolutely no desserts or sugar of any kind.
These food laws became habit, and the demons in my head began to form, telling me to restrict, restrict, restrict every single piece of food that I put into my body. It was all about low fat and low calorie, and I was determined to hide my derangement.
After lacing up my shoes, my feet find a cadence that is soothing to my soul, pounding the ground, one after the other like a metronome. Running gave me an outlet from the chaos inside my head and from the dysfunction inside my home.
Sure, I’d eat breakfast and dinner because my parents were watching, but lunch at school was up for grabs. Vivid memory haunts me as I remember slowly, secretively scraping off the fattening peanut butter which was slathered on the bread that my mom lovingly packed. The voice in my head would scream over and over, until I finally listened. “YOU’LL LOSE ALL CONTROL IF YOU LET ANY OF THESE RULES SLIP…YOU DON’T WANT THAT, NOW, DO YOU?” So, I listened to this voice day, after day, making sure that nothing deemed “off limits” would enter my body.
Food ruled my life; my body was deprived; and it was breaking down.
Did I care? NO. Did I want to admit what was happening? NO. Was I acting out of fear? YES. Did I feel alone in my struggle? YES.
Running is my escape: thoughts go this way and that way: thinking about my day, wondering what the day is going to bring, but, soon, all of that mind chatter disappears, and it’s just me, my shoes, the trees, the birds. Peaceful, calming, serene. Running was my escape, is my escape…the longer I run, the more confidence and relaxation I feel. So I run, and I run long to numb the pain inside my brain.
In my brain, I was gaining control over myself by listening intently to the inner voices; however, looking back, it’s clear that my eagerness for control was actually forcing me to lose control over my spirit and the positive voices that fed my being.
The demonic thoughts were daily, but just like any routine that forms, I got used to my disordered eating and fed off of the self-deprecating jargon; it gave me self-confidence and control and strength and prowess. I was stubborn and took pride in “hiding” my food restrictions. Family members, friends, and coaches started to question my physicality saying, “are you alright”, “you need to eat a hamburger”; “you surely can eat whatever you want”; however, this dialogue aroused the voices that ruled me even more. Every gathering with family and friends was stressful beyond belief. When my fifteen-year-old self should have been excited to celebrate with family or friends, I immediately stressed over the food that would be served because that was something I couldn’t control. Lies were abundant as I ate half my plate: “I’m not hungry”, “I’m not feeling well”, “I ate before I came”…these were certainly all viable in my brain.
Eating disorders are like parasites that slowly eat away at you if you let them. They are vehemently destructive–a slow battle that really doesn’t ever totally disappear. There’s shame, guilt, and a sense of worthlessness because many people just don’t get it. Acceptance of the disorder is the first step, then you have to start taking action to fully heal yourself. It took me about six years after being diagnosed to admit what had strangled me during my teenage years. Up until that point, I played constant games with myself thinking: Everybody goes through what I went through. These thoughts and subsequent actions are just part of growing up.
Running (verb): The act of bearing my soul to the pavement. Running sees my triumphs and my tears and my fears. It is and was the only constant in my life: the friend I would turn to and resort to when I just couldn’t deal with the trauma around me and inside of me.
When I finally took the plunge into reading about other people’s eating disorders, I started to own the turbulence that altered my teenage years. Even though I am much healthier physically, I have started to own that my mentality with eating is still not completely productive. I’ve set small goals for myself and am learning to accept that the demonic thoughts will never completely disappear. However, I continue to work on quieting them and ignoring them when I acknowledge that they are there. Yung Pueblos astutely argues that “healing yourself will ask more of you: more rest, more self love, more letting go, more time for learning, more space for transformation, more honesty about how you feel, more time developing good habits, more courage to try new practices, more time cultivating your inner peace, more faith in yourself and the process.” This advice is a foundation that I can learn from and grow from.
Just like running, healing is a process, and running has taught me just that. Running is the catalyst; it’s the constant in my life that gives me power and reminds me to love myself. However, it has also broken me down too many times to count and every repetitive injury has forced me to stare at the ED demons inside–the demons that have told me for years that “I’m not good enough, can do better, should look like this or that, or do this or that to please so and so”.
Healing physical and mental trauma takes time, and that’s completely natural and necessary. It’s a process that needs validation and nourishment. There will be upward and downward slopes, but as long as you are moving more times forward than back, progress will come. I’m finally learning to honor this process and seek out people who care. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to cry about it and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.
Running celebrates my victories and feels my failures. I feel pain and elation with running. I learn lessons so I can learn about myself. Running has been my saving grace in so many ways, acting as my friend and partner for years and endless miles. It’s not my identity but rather a beautiful passion that has allowed me to inspire and be inspired. Running heals me in ways that no person or therapy or doctor can. Like any trusting friend, it has also taken a break from me over and over again but has always welcomed me back when the separation performed its purpose, and I have to deal with my eating struggles without relying on running to ease the echoing words inside my head.
Running, you have inspired me to chip away at my fears and struggles.
Running, you have connected me with the most wonderful running family and caring friends.
Running, you have unearthed my intuition and faith.
Running, you have ignited my passion to compete and coach.
Running, you have taught me self-worth, self-love, and self-confidence.
Running, you have pushed me to grow and be fearless.
Running, you have given me the courage to share my story.
Running, you have taught me that joy is simplistic.
I still yearn for control over the echoing demons; I am accepting that these voices will always be there; healing is a non-linear process. This is unfortunate, yes, but also a piece of my life that I am gradually improving. Healing is not a one-shot ordeal; rather, we heal through admittance and conversation and connections with others who have struggled. I am the only one in charge of controlling the demons and ignoring their falsifications. I’m Emily, I’m Emily, I’m Emily, and this life is mine, not the voices swirling in my head.
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236
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