If you were to scroll through my Facebook timeline, Instagram feed, or online performance list from the year 2019, you would probably come to the conclusion that I had a pretty perfect freshman year of college. In my first collegiate track season, I was able to break a 35 year old school record, win a conference title, and qualify to the NCAA national championships. Not to mention, I got fantastic grades, made amazing friends, and even started my own successful scrunchie business. The reality of my freshman year far surpassed any expectations I had when I first arrived on campus. I had a fantastic track season, a great team, and an amazing support system. Like I said, from an outsider’s perspective, my life was pretty perfect.
For as long as I can remember, I have been motivated by the goal of perfection. I wanted everyone to see me as the “perfect girl” who had everything together and was effortlessly good at everything. I wanted the perfect clothes, the perfect grades, the perfect family, the perfect body. I even went so far as to try to achieve the perfect handwriting. Starting college allowed me to present myself in this perfect package to a new group of people, especially to my new teammates and coaches. I was determined to show no weakness and make an immediate impact on my team. As the year went on, my high jump results improved and I felt increasingly comfortable with my new team environment. While I wasn’t perfect, I was achieving excellence and making others proud. No one realized that on the inside, I was completely falling apart.
I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was twelve years old. I used to spend hours on end standing in front of a mirror ridiculing each flaw I saw reflected back at me. Sometimes, I couldn’t even look at myself without having a breakdown. I saw my body as an imperfection and I thought that in order to fix it, I had to make myself smaller. At the time, I wanted to disappear. So, I stopped eating. What started as an attempt to lose weight turned into an eight year struggle with food and body image. The demons of my eating disorder haunted me everyday throughout middle school and high school. While I worked to maintain my image of perfection, I was struggling and telling absolutely no one.
During the summer before freshman year of college, I thought I had everything under control. I was riding the high from an amazing senior season and was ready to face the challenges that college would bring. I worked to continue my facade of control and perfection while meeting new people and adjusting to my new life as a collegiate athlete. As my performance on the track improved, my mental health deteriorated. My eating disorder began to take over my life. I was so uncomfortable in my own body and became obsessive about the food I was eating. I developed severe anxiety and depression that ate away at me, especially before a competition. At the time, my entire identity revolved around being an athlete. I worried that if I stopped jumping high and winning meets, everyone I cared about would no longer love me. Every competition brought with it the fear that I would fail and people would realize I wasn’t as confident as I seemed.
For so long, I believed that achieving perfection would solve all of my problems. I went through my days believing that happiness would instantly come if I could just achieve my goals. If I lose five pounds then I will be happy, if I make more friends then I will be happy, if I qualify for nationals then I will be happy. It was these obsessive thoughts that fed the ideals of my eating disorder and contributed to my anxiety and depression. I carried this mindset with me through my first two years of college. My constant desire for perfection took me away from the present moment and ruined so many experiences that should have been fun and memorable. Instead of accepting myself for who I am, I was always looking for a way to hide my imperfections and avoid my inner demons. Despite the constant war going on in my head, I was afraid to speak up and seek help. Dealing with my mental health on my own was impossible, yet I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I needed help.
I have never felt comfortable sharing this part of my life. I have always worried that if others were to find out about my battles with mental health, their perceptions of me would change. I feared being viewed as weak or even crazy by my teammates and friends. I viewed reaching out for help as admitting defeat. This could not be further from the truth.
Admitting you need help is not weak, it is one of the most courageous things you can do. Once I spoke out about what I was feeling, I was able to find resources that have helped me immensely. I now work with an amazing team of therapists, dietitians, and psychiatrists that have helped me feel in control of my life for the first time. Reaching out for help is so extremely brave and can feel impossibly terrifying at first. Taking that first step and talking to someone will change your life for the better.
Sharing your struggles can be scary. For me, I was so afraid of those around me discovering that I am not perfect. I now realize that no one is perfect, and it is our imperfections that shape us into who we are.
There is nothing wrong with needing help. Having struggles and hardship does not make you abnormal, if anything it makes you human. I am still working through my eating disorder and anxiety, and that is okay. There will never be a day where I wake up fully recovered. Recovery is something you work towards everyday but there will never be a finish line. What I have learned about eating disorders (and other mental health issues) is that they thrive in secrecy. I no longer want to be held back by my fear of imperfection, but rather, embrace myself for who I am and be proud of how hard I am working. If my story can help even one person who is dealing with an eating disorder or any mental health issue, then it is worth sharing.
You are enough exactly as you are, and your hardships do not make you any less of a person, or any less of an athlete. Things can sometimes get messy, but that is what makes life worth living.