This post was submitted by a runner who would like to remain anonymous. Her letter speaks not only to a younger version of herself, but perhaps also to others who are going through similar circumstances with disordered eating and injuries.
Dear Younger Me,
I know right now you are thinking, does it get better? You feel lost, stuck in a world of black and white, while everyone around you seems to be living in full color.
Everyone tells you that you’re at your prime. You’re a young, 19-year-old, Division I athlete, the dream for many. But I know to you that means nothing. You’ve spent so much time sidelined by injury instead of actually competing that you don’t feel you deserve the title anyway. You usually act as if you aren’t on the team out of fear of embarrassing your teammates — the ones who actually represent the school while you’re stuck at home.
I know you often wonder, how did I end up here? What did I do wrong? I did all of this so that I could run, and now it has disintegrated in my own hands. While this isn’t an easy pill to swallow, you have a long road ahead of you full of twists and turns.
The thing is, you never give up. Ten years later, and that hasn’t changed. Some call it stubbornness. I say it’s perseverance. Bear with me. It will get better. But it is a journey.
At 29, you still don’t have it all figured out and often feel confused. But you’ve learned a lot, lived a lot, and grown a lot. Many of the things that you think are important have since fallen to the side for one reason or another. But that’s okay because you’ve found importance in other areas.
It hurts me to think back and remember the pain you feel every single day. To be so absorbed in an identity that was never secure. You knew that then, but did everything you could to ignore it. So when you eventually lose running, you lose it all. It is gut-wrenching, but it was inevitable. You feel alone and trapped, like you’re looking at the world from the outside in. You cling to anything and anyone to gain a sense of control. Of security.
I know what you’re thinking. “Are we able to run now?” The answer is yes, but not in the way you envisioned it.
You will go through a lot of heartache over the next few years. It will start with leaving the cross country team. Shocking, I know. The next few years you will be plagued by injury on top of injury. You will get over one, only to met with a new ailment. It becomes a grueling, vicious cycle that lasts many years, leaving you feeling defeated and wondering if you’ll ever run “normally” again. The osteoporosis the doctors warned you about but you didn’t believe–spoiler alert–is real.
You will eventually get back to running, and you’ll begin to run faster and train harder than ever before. You will love the falling times and crave the thrill of crushing workouts. Unfortunately, it comes with a cost.
You’ll quickly fall back into the mindset of running being your only identity. You begin over-exercising and pushing your body too far. While the faster times is one sense of achievement that you thought would be enough, the falling number on the scale becomes more addicting. It’s a fine line and a problem that you deny because as a runner you are taught to push through adversity. It’s all you’ve known.
You’re so afraid of losing running that, eventually, that’s exactly what happens. The all familiar heartache ensues, but this time it is different. Running isn’t taken away because of an injury, but because your body has physically given out. It scares you because it’s something you can’t fix overnight. With time things improve, and you start to detach yourself from the thing you never imagined you could. You slowly start to find interests and appreciate new opportunities that you missed out on for so long. Life looks different, but you get through it.
Because I know you so well, your next question is, are we still struggling with food? Right now you think that one day you’ll wake up and your eating disorder will be gone. You’ll be free from the anxiety, the guilt. You believe recovery is assumed and that it will happen on its own.
Unfortunately, you are about to go through the ebbs and flows of anorexia. You’ll land in multiple treatment centers and spend years in therapy trying to get ahead of the disorder that has consumed you. It will be very difficult because many years will pass before you take action. And at that point, your habits have been engrained for so long they seem impossible to break. You’ll encounter a slew of health issues, which ultimately leads to your strongest attempt at recovery. Fortunately, you have an incredible treatment team who you learn to trust more than yourself, and they become your beacon of hope. You meet others going through the same thing, and they understand you in a way no one has before.
I’m not going sugarcoat it–it will be a hard, long and painstaking process. But I assure you, it will be the most rewarding thing you’ve done.
You will feel broken down and defeated. You will start to question your existence. The anxiety will become all consuming, and you will experience your first anxiety attack at the age of 28. It is frightening and will happen again, but don’t give up. You get through it.
You’ll take on new ventures that you believed were destined to happen. You’ll begin coaching your former high school’s cross country and track team, and fall back in love with the program that inspired the younger you. You always dreamed of that happening and now it is. You run countless miles and spend hours on end with teenage girls that you can see yourself in. You love every minute of it, and pray each day that you’re a positive influence. You have big plans of one day leading the team to a state championship and taking the team farther than it’s ever gone before.
I’m sorry to say that it falls apart completely. It happens so fast that you wonder when it went wrong. You will feel blind-sided. But even worse, ridiculed and rejected. It will hurt a lot. Unfortunately, it leads to your worst ED relapse yet. It will feel all encompassing for awhile and lead to your lowest of lows. But don’t lose heart. You get through it too.
I hope you notice the theme- you get through it. Although a lot has changed, some hasn’t. Your consistent, driven demeanor continues to gets you through.
You start trying to pick up the pieces. Many of those pieces you will forget until they pop up in your subconscious from time to time. You will lose what you once thought were some of the most precious relationships. You will soon realize that what you thought was most important is no longer that at all. It’s okay to reminisce but not go back. God has a purpose in the pain. And if you’ve learned anything, it’s that God will provide.
You start to realize your own self worth. It will come in fleeting waves, but as time goes, it will get stronger, and you will become more confident. You’ll start to see your own sparkle.
You realize that no amount of guilt can change the past, but it is up to you to create your future.
You will get so far only to fall again. But you will get back up. Everyone tells you, recovery isn’t linear and you start to feel as if you’re the textbook definition.
I wish I could go back and tell you this before it’s too late. But we both know, you wouldn’t have listened. It didn’t matter what the doctors said because “that would not happen to me.” But unfortunately it all came true. You learn through living, and you’ve started to be at peace with that. It’s molded you into who you are today. Your kind, gentle spirit senses things that most turn their head to, and you wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Hang in there. You will get though it.