This month we feature the recovery story of Kristy, a collegiate athlete who learned that the eating disorder was keeping her life at bay. And while recovery isn’t always smooth sailing, she was able to cast off from the pattern of self-destruction and chart a course to a happier tomorrow.
While the rest of my boat loudly cheered and gave each other sweaty hugs, I found myself running to the stuffy, foul Porta-Potty to do what had become second nature at this point. You just won Pac-12s, I thought to myself as I was simultaneously trying to throw up without breathing in any of the Porta-Potty smells, what the hell is wrong with you? This is a question that both my parents and I would repeatedly ask a couple months out, but at that time, I was so deep into my eating disorder/cognitive disorder that I couldn’t be bothered thinking it through. So, instead, I did what I did best which was thoroughly wash my hands and run back to my teammates with a huge smile on my face and resume my position as the positive, bubbly leader everyone knew me to be. No more throwing up until after NCAAs, I promised myself. I tried to believe that I independently had full control and power over the mental illness that was wreaking havoc on my body but deep down I knew better. For once in my life, I couldn’t out-stubborn or out-work this problem.
That realization alone should have been enough of a motivating factor to get help but in true Kristy form, it wasn’t. I told myself that I was getting help by talking to my assistant coach and that I could just stop if I truly put my mind to it. I am forever in debt to my coach who went above and beyond in every way possible to help, counsel and provide support but in hindsight, I needed professional help (ironically, she said the same thing daily). It wasn’t simply about food, body image or weight concerns but rather a coping mechanism for when I was stressed, my back was flaring up in pain, or anxiety was taking over. Eating disorders in general are usually never about the food but have complex, psychological mechanisms behind them. This is why having a support team and professional help is so important yet when you’re in the midst of an eating disorder, is incredibly difficult to recognize, accept and exit it. It wasn’t until I graduated that June and returned home for the summer where things went from bad to worse that I fully understood and recognized that.
My parents were aware that something was wrong prior to me returning home. I was much thinner than I was in high school, obsessively exercised and they knew I threw up. They just didn’t know the extent or how much it mentally and psychologically affected me. This became abundantly clear however when their 22 year old perfect daughter returned home from the cliched post-grad Europe trip and was for lack of a better description, a hot mess. Normally the logical one, dinners would culminate in screaming and crying matches with expletives being yelled from both sides as my three little sisters watched in shock. It was that summer where I couldn’t ignore the facts anymore. I had ruined friendships, severely strained my normally close relationship with my parents and sisters, and was wrecking my health. I had two options: I was either going to get help or I was likely going to end up killing myself.
Fast-forward three years and I can confidently say I am in a much better place. I finally utilized my support system and sought professional help. By no means was this a quick recovery process and there were certainly hiccups and relapses along the way as is often the case. Each person’s recovery is different and what works for one person may not work for another. Eating disorders aren’t a one-pill-fixes-all type of illness which is often times why it is so hard to initially get help and maintain recovery. What helped most for me however was making lifestyle changes. Accepting a job in San Francisco and moving out of my parents’ house allowed me to feel like I had a sense of control again. I started dating my now boyfriend of two and a half years whose personality was incredibly helpful. Saturdays were no longer spent doing double workout sessions and cramming as much as I could into one day, but rather, spent having a late brunch with friends and hanging out in the park. To say chill is his middle name is an understatement. I needed to chill. To this day I still have moments where I look at old photos from college and think “I looked so good back then,” but remembering the self-inflicted hell I was secretly living in reminds me it’s not worth it. To anyone who is in the same boat, or suffering from an eating disorder, I want to simply say that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it will get better, but you can’t do it alone. Take it from an incredibly stubborn individual; reach out and get help because this is one battle that you don’t want to fight solo. Sometimes you have to take the leap and step outside your comfort zone to seek help. Sometimes you have to rock the boat.