“Now I look back and see that at that point I wasn’t ready to let go. While I knew my body was struggling I wasn’t aware of just how much. I wasn’t aware of how much change needed to happen in order to heal myself. I was not capable of letting go of my past and working to create a stronger and healthier future. I relapsed.”
Disclaimer: if you have or are currently struggling with exercise addiction and/or an eating disorder, please read this post at your own discretion.
Dropping from the Death Race may have been one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made, however I will never regret that decision. It may sound silly to some as I say dropping out a race took courage, but it did. After training for over a year, having an article published in the local paper, and being focused on finishing the race – dropping was the last thing I intended to do. It ended up being what was necessary because my body in that moment could not go further. I had pushed through too many warning signs, through too much pain, exhaustion, and dug myself into a deep and dark hole.
The amount damage that had piled up upon my being between 2011 and 2012 was quite intimidating. A double stress fractured tibia, peroneal tendon inflammation, talus stress fracture, SI joint problems due to a prior injury from early adolescence, knee issues, not to mention the miscellaneous medical complications that were beginning to pop up from years of an eating disorder. I was told to stop. Completely stop all that I was doing and rest. I was told to let my body heal, treat it with some respect, and give myself time. While I was able to stop training, I was not able to take care of myself. My brain was consumed by the eating disorder and I was not able to overpower it. It’s not that I was weak, it was that I didn’t want recovery enough, I didn’t see enough of a problem. I relapsed. August 11, 2012 I relapsed. It’s a weird feeling that I remember the exact day. I also have a hard time saying that I relapsed because I was never really out of the headspace that the eating disorder filled but the situation took a turn for the worse.
I missed being in the gym and pushing my physical limits on a daily basis, as that was a huge component of my life. For a long period of my existence I defined my value as a human being by how much I was physically capable of doing. At this point I did not feel adequate because I was not capable of much in my own eyes even though I still had quite the full plate. Classes were about to start up for the semester and I had my hands full with being a full-time student commuting a little under a hour each direction, while also working two part-time jobs, and trying to heal both mentally and physically. I cannot explain the amount of pressure I was placing on myself during this time.
I was a ball of anxious energy, unable to discuss how I was feeling and kept the negativity close to myself. I wanted to hide the pain I was experiencing from those I loved because I had already burdened them in the past. In a rather abrupt manner I began using more and more maladaptive behaviors. I needed the high I was missing from not training. I needed to numb out my anxious energy, and my what I call “mile a minute brain speed”. I was always go-go-go and did not want to let that go, because how could I possibly not do everything all at once? How could I possibly take care of my body? It seemed so foreign. I limited my food groups, counted every morsel of food that passed through my lips, loaded up on more coffee than imaginable, lied to my family, lied to my friends, became extremely hyper focused, and obsessed over how I was spending my days as I wanted to ensure I was using my precious time wisely.
“Stop taking pride in your ability to destroy yourself.” – Michelle K.
Being actively in an eating disorder is an extremely dark and traumatic place. I felt vulnerable every single second of every single day. Vulnerable of failure, of not being good enough, of doing just one thing wrong. It was never about my goals, my entire being was focused on pleasing the voice inside my head. I was a slave to my eating disorder. The crazy part is that the voice isn’t a physical object, it’s all within the mind which just increases the madness. How could I possibly explain this feeling to anybody? Sure I had a therapist but I also had convinced myself that I was ok. I was invincible after all.
My daily routine consisted of nothing more than constantly thinking about what I last ate, what I was going to eat next, second guessing it was the correct choice, school, either job number 1 or job number 2, sleeping, and telling people not to worry. I was numb from all emotion. My thoughts were not coherent and a majority of the time I was not able to make sense of what I was doing to myself. I became very sick very fast.
I was freezing cold all the time no matter how many layers I was able to pile on, my already low blood pressure dropped lower, my heart rate began abnormal beating patterns, still no period, I was bloated all the time, could not sleep for more than 2-3 hours, was exhausted, could not sit for long periods because I lacked body fat and muscle, my anxiety increased, my teeth started loosing the white pigmentation, my hair was falling out, and I experienced random muscle pain throughout my body. My blood work also became concerning as my liver function tests were all high, along with miscellaneous antibody presence, low WBC, high protein, high BUN, and high creatinine.
My body began to shut down and for the first time I recognized it. I knew that I needed to snap myself out of this, I had done it before and I was strong enough to do it again. I called my doctor and booked the soonest available appointment. I told her the truth. I told my parents, told my friends, met with a doctor in Boston who specializes in ED treatment, and began the process of weight restoration and recovery.
I do not remember this period of time all that well, whether that is because it was traumatic and my mind is subconsciously blocking it out or I was simply too malnourished to form proper memories. I journaled my way into and through recovery so I have the memories from reading my words. I wrote “I’m not sure at this time why I relapsed. I’m not sure why this path was the one I went down where in my mind I knew it was the worst possible direction. It’s as if my ability to think rationally was removed. I quickly became focused on pleasing the voice. By this point [of dealing with an ED for over 9 years] all of the maladaptive behaviors were habitual, the process of slipping back into them was natural. Heck at the time it even felt like a good idea, which just goes to show I was not in my right mind. I wasn’t sure how to explain it to anybody, even if I were able to how can someone help you overcome this? It needs to be a self choice, you choose to recover for yourself and nobody has the ability to make that decision for you. After all, how can you explain to someone that you are killing yourself to prove yourself to a voice inside your head. It’s almost as if there are two separate people, there is Sarah on one hand, and Sarah’s ED on another hand. Right now all I know is that I am terrified. I feel my body shutting down and I’m not ready for that. I want to get better. I want to recover. If I had the power to drag my entire being into the ground all this time than I damn well have the power to get myself healthy and create a better life for myself. I will recover.”
“Self-acceptance comes from meeting life’s challenges vigorously. Don’t numb yourself to your trials and difficulties, nor build mental walls to exclude pain from your life. You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously. You will find peace not in denial, but in victory.” – D. Walters