I have a running list of things that I hate- socializing, mayonnaise, hard boiled eggs, the smell of fish, being tickled, etc… My friends laugh every time I say going out makes me stressed because that means I have to talk to people.
No one’s laughing when I say I hate my body. It has a long and complicated history from childhood traumas to serious asthma to strength. My body is a phenomenal thing. I could make a list of great things it is capable of, yet I have another, longer, less funny list of things I wish I could change. My hair would be less boring, my eyes would be prettier, my stomach flatter, butt and boobs slightly larger. (The only things that get to stay the same are my legs because they’re the only parts I’ve always liked).
My relationship with my body has ebbed and flowed for many years, so picking the hardest thing I’ve ever done is in itself a challenge, because nothing ever got “too bad”. (Do I still get to say I suffer from an eating disorder if it never gets “too bad”?). But let’s go back to the summer before senior year of high school. I was a junior counselor at camp, overwhelmed by the freedom to keep candy in our secret room. I would indulge with the rest of my friends, then sneak off to purge. My dining hall meals shrunk down to just salads as I attempted to winnow my already narrow frame down to something comparable to the prepubescent girls in my care. Until one day my counselor cornered me. With the nurse. “We’ve noticed that you’ve been lethargic lately and people have noticed that you’re eating less.” I finished the summer feeling watched and ashamed, yet slightly relieved that someone else was monitoring my food intake so I wouldn’t have to. When I got home, I focused on school and my senior season of cross country, and after a while I could say I had recovered.
I feel strongest after I finish a workout. Except for when I can’t. This season of crew, something happened, and I found myself hyperventilating for over an hour. I lost feeling in my hands and legs. I could’ve gone to the hospital (instead I went to sleep). That was my first major asthma attack in over three years. The health center told me I “had the symptoms of asthma” (thanks!), and with no real idea as to why the attack happened, I had no way to feel like I could prevent another. Every practice terrified me- would this one send me to the hospital for real? Could I actually race? That fear seeped into my everyday life, and my constant panic over my lungs helped ruin some friendships. I resorted to controlling the only thing I knew how- my food. I stopped eating and started puking. My body was back to being the enemy.
So back to the prompt- what’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done? Maybe it wasn’t being cornered by the nurse years ago. Maybe it’s now. Maybe it’s looking back at all I’ve done right and wrong and moving forward. I leaned too hard on someone until they couldn’t support me anymore, so I had to learn to support myself. While I resented them at first, I’m that much stronger now. I’m taking the spring season off of crew to focus on my mental health and to rebuild my relationship with myself. I’m making tangible changes to my routines- I’m moving, joining new clubs, trying new things. For now I can continue to hang out with my crew friends, but as the spring approaches, they will become more busy. Then what? I’ll have to socialize? With new people? Change is terrifying and I am throwing myself to the wolves. Yet, after all I’ve done, I see no reason I can’t come back leading the pack (I’ll just also have my inhaler in my hand).