Friday, June 25, 2010

My Running Career, Eating Disorder and Healing

As a young girl I played soccer with the boys and outran the boys. On the playground one day in elementary school my childhood friend Dougie said, "you should join the soccer team." So from that moment forth the the rest of my life and passion for running unfolded.

I think I took more joy out of running up and down the soccer field than I did clobbering girls twice my size to steal the soccer ball away from the other team. I was a fierce and tough soccer player as a child. I played goalie once and hated that I had to stand around. Playing soccer as a youth automatically propelled me into my running career which started when I was 15 years old. There was nothing more freeing than running. It was me and the road, track or trail.

I was excited to be a part of a generation of young women and girls involved in athletics. And I was involved in the most intense athletics around - cross country and track as a long distance runner. My Mother's generation was not encouraged to participate in sports. Many women were barred from athletics in all sorts of sports. A famous runner, Katherine Switzer, will forever be known in the running community. She entered the all-male Boston Marathon in 1967, five years before women were allowed to compete in it. Those who entered races such as the Boston Marathon, excelled and showed the world! I was honored to participate in track and field and cross country as a part of the Title IX generation.

As a freshman in high school I was rookie of the year, qualified for the state meet in two events and had high prospects for excelling as one of the best athletes around. Yet, the rest of my story is one riddled with injuries, illnesses, inconsistent and bad coaching. My first cross country season began in my sophomore year in high school and I ran 19:57 for a 5K just a month into the season. A few weeks later found out I had several stress fractures and this cut my season short. I had dreams of glory and competing with the best runners in the state of Michigan at the state meet. I knew I would of been in the top ten because I had the guts to be one of the best. So for the remainder of the season I watched league, regional and state meets from the sidelines.

For the next two years I dealt unknowingly with a severe progressive case of iron deficiency anemia. Instead of my concerns being taken seriously by coaches or team mates I was told my strife was "all in my head." My anemia affected my academic performance because I dealt with extreme lethargy and depression. In turn, this affected my cognitive ability and my grades plummeted during this time. During the summer before my senior year in high school started my body was falling apart bit by bit. I had a consistent temperature of 99.2, my heart would race up to 160 going up a flight of stairs, my legs were heavy and I had extreme difficulty breathing. I dealt with all of these symptoms months before the cross country season began. Before the season started my team mate Joel said to my Mother, "I think Cece's problem could be more physical and mental." Right away my Mom drove me to the doctors office. The doctor took one look at me and because I get really dark from the sun he couldn't see that I was pale but my skin had a "yellowish" color to it. The blood work was done and the results were no good. My hemoglobin, was 6.6 g/dl and normally for women it is supposed to be 12-15 g/dl. I was near death, literally, and at risk for a heart attack while running. My doctor advised me to stop running and get blood transfusions as soon as possible. I was against blood transfusions because I could go a more "natural" way by taking 3 iron supplements a day. It took three months, tons of patience and another season of being on the sidelines but I recovered. My senior year in track was the second best season in my high school running career. I qualified for the state meet in the 3200 meter run and I made it through a whole track season as a healthy athlete.


I walked onto to the team at Michigan State University to run with some of the best runners in the nation. I was a bit intimidated at first but eventually began to show my stuff in practice. I kept up with some of the best runners in speed workouts. Yet, when race time came my confidence lacked because I did not have the high school or college base that these runners had. So my races were nothing to boast about. I did improve my times - 19:20 5K, 11:14 3200 meter run, 5:30 mile. I also dipped back into my anemia and had to make a decision about running with the top dogs. The coach at Michigan State wanted me to stay on the team and he said, "you can be successful at this level." I was utterly intimidated and overwhelmed and felt the right decision was to transfer to Wayne State University in Detroit. I improved my times at Wayne State immensely. I ran an 18:32 5K and a 38:55 10K. Yet, my love for running began to unravel the faster I became. The sneaky entanglement of perfection and performance inched the eating disorder along fast. I had no idea I was in the eating disorder line before it was too late. Depression and dark thoughts messed with my life, relationships, practice and performance. After my last race in college I waited one month until I officially quit from the team. It felt like a huge relief but it was also a step off the plank into tremendous darkness.

I severed the cord from my love and life was very hard at the time. It felt like a piece of my soul was taken away from me and it truly was. I had no other choice at the time but to let go of running. I let go of my main source of happiness and a healthy release from the stress of life. My crutches that held me up to prevent me from engaging in unhealthy addictive behavior were snatched from my sides. My family wasn't supportive in the darkest times of my eating disorder and I lived with them. This was because of other issues taking place within the family circle. Much of the origins of my eating disorder came from my family, our heavy history and being an adult child of alcoholics.

After I quit running in college I wanted to forget about running for many years. I got rid of all my expensive running clothes that took years to accumulate. I kept some things for nostalgia because my Mother encouraged me to do so. My uncle, who is an avid runner, also encouraged me to "never say never," and that one day I would want to run again. I didn't believe him at all.

The darkness of my eating disorder encircled me for years. It makes you feel isolated and empty. Utterly lost, alone and hopeless. I battled extreme depression, anxiety and social phobia for many years all of which are intertwined with my family history and eating disorder. I also battled this dark and negative voice that told me I was absolutely worthless and unlovable. It was hard enough to have grown up in an abusive alcoholic family system as Native woman. I dealt with enough oppression and this negative voice only buried me in more oppression. Undoing this dark and negative voice took eight years of very hard inner work and many tears were cried.

I raced onward in life into treacherous and often very dangerous situations where I wanted to rid myself of my identity and existence as a former athlete. I wanted nothing to do with training, performance, watches, monitoring what I ate or preparing for a race. So I attempted to craft a new identity that often left me defeated and fighting against myself, friends and family.

I began to feel healthier by the time I attended graduate school. I felt the aftermath of my running career and the competitive mind (its like a bug) was over. Unfortunately, I still had a huge competitive mind and it was not the time to run again. Nor was I healthy as I relapsed into my eating disorder by the end of graduate school. I was burnt out on internships, jobs, school, projects and writing my thesis and this propelled me into not taking care of myself. I was 24 years old when I finished my Masters degree. I returned home to Michigan from Colorado a wreck. I had extreme burnout on life.

Years have past since I tried running in graduate school. I tried to run in Fall 2009 but I still had this weird competitive mind. The bug wasn't gone. This Spring 2010 I have tried running again and for the first time I can run without thinking of competition. I don't wear a watch and just run how much I feel. It feels great to run again with a healthy body and mind. I guess my Uncle was right and you can never say never.

I believe you can reclaim something you love in a healthy way. I think it just takes time and patience. There are lessons in the darkness as scary as it sounds. I am not advocating that an eating disorder is the way to experience this darkness by any means. But the darkness of what is inside the soul can be found in abrupt and unsettling changes in life. I feel I stopped running to catch up and be still in the turmoil of life. I couldn't run because I had to enter rooms and walk down avenues of darkness that offer lessons. As my family and I have healed this has made way for the release of trauma and old heavy layers. In turn this has helped me to heal my body, mind and spirit. I have been able to return to wholeness because of this healing and therefore I am able to run again. I am in love with one of my first loves - running. I have a piece of my soul back. I can have a healthy relationship with it again and this opens up doors for so much more in life. I feel this, truly.

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Helpful Resources

Something Fishy

NEDA - National Eating Disorders Association

Body Positive

Blogs


ED Bites

The-F-Word.org


Weighing the Facts

9 comments:

Shell said...

I agree sometimes we have to walk through darkness to learn wisdom and heal. Though it sucks when your going through it.
Now, that your first love running is back in your life, like you said other doors can open now for you.

Anishinaabekwe said...

Shell - Yes, it is not pleasant to walk through the darkness. There is a book called - Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light through Darkness Meditation. I have never read it but it seems like it would be a good guide to have when going through a dark night or many dark nights of the soul. Yes, now that I have my first love of running back it will definitely open other positive doors!

randombabble.com said...

Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes it is difficult to share these stories (it always is for me because I have not been able to take my body back because of disability), but I try to spread more awareness of it at my other haunt, FWD/Forward. Talking about ED is still difficult for me, but eventually I'll get there... reading success stories like yours helps...in a way...

Anishinaabekwe said...

Brandann - Yes, it is good to share these stories. I hope you can share yours when you are ready and comfortable to do so. It is healing to share.

gr8widget said...

Wow! I related to so much of your story. I felt that I was reading my own autobiography. Our running histories are so similar. I also have suffered with eating disorders on and off since highschool, through college (I was a walk-on at a Div I school), through grad school and to this day. Even now as an addictions counselor in recovery I struggle to find an identity apart from my running, to separate the beautiful act of running from the need to compete. You write beautifully. May you maintain your peace.

P.S. Here is a blog I posted about running:

http://hoppersjunk.blogspot.com/2010/06/i-used-to-run.html

tgarbett said...

Hi Anishinaabekwe,
I was completely captivated by your story and your struggle. I am a 2nd year university student and am too struggling with an eating disorder which may have in fact stemmed from the competitiveness of running cross country and track. Because of my struggle, and stories I read like yours I am writing a feature article for a magazine class. I would like to ask you if you would be interested in being interviewed through email about your struggle with your eating disorder so that I may share your story in my feature article. If you are interested please let me know by response and I will send you my email address. I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

Anishinaabekwe said...

gr8widget - I wanted to respond to your comment and thank you for coming by here and reading my story. Thanks for the link as well to your blog.

tgarbett - Yes, I would be interested in being interviewed. If you comment again with your email and I won't publish the comment. Then we can get in touch about doing the interview. Hope to hear from you soon!

Tiara Beth Folkes said...

Hi Anishinaabekwe,

I was completely blown away by your story and your struggle.

I am also aboriginal. I am from the Blackfoot confederacy.

I too suffered from an eating disorder from the time I was 12.

I discovered running and it has helped me over come my disorder.

Thank you for sharing.

Anishinaabekwe said...

Tiara, Miigwech for reading! I appreciate the feedback.