NEDAwareness Day 3: Life of a Runner
Running is one of my biggest passions. It has been a part of my life since I was in high school and discovered that I was fast at the 800m run. Since running my first 800 when I was 14 I have moved upwards to 5K’s, 10K’s, running at the collegiate level, and marathons. I poured my heart and soul into running. It was my catharsis. My release. My relaxation. My stress reducer and inducer. It kept me sane. Running for me was not the start, the cause, or the main tool for my eating disorder but the two have become more intertwined than I would have ever thought possible.
To keep a very long and winding story short, this post is only going to focus on my time leading up to and after my time spent in Residential Treatment at Roger’s Memorial Hospital. (I was initially diagnosed with anorexia and went through outpatient treatment in high school as a junior. I regained weight and was ‘stable’ for about 4 years before a severe relapse brought me to Roger’s.)
By nature, I have a restrictive based anorexia. In general, I would avoid food versus purge food. While my food intake decreased my running remained status quo, meaning I was still running upwards to 40miles a week while eating extremely minimal amounts. This combination of running and not eating are what my anorexia thrived on. It was food for my illness.
Entering treatment was a shock to my body in more ways than one. I am going to give three physical shocks to my body that, to this day, are vivid in my memory.
Shock 1: I had to eat again. I was put on a meal plan including three meals and three snacks a day; plus was hooked up to a feeding tube after a week of being in treatment. It seriously felt like I was gorging myself on 3 Thanksgiving Meals a day. During re-feeding a doctor must keep a close eye on you to make sure your body is processing the food properly. Sometimes, the body goes into shock and shuts down from the food being added. Needless to say, it is one of the worst physical experiences of my life.
Shock #2 came in the form of working out, or rather, not working out. My body was used to running. It was used to being mobile. I needed to be mobile. However, that was not what it got. Instead it had a bed, a chair, and a 20 foot hallway to the shower. Even the one flight of stairs were out of the question. When a person’s body is used to being constantly on the move the shock from being stationary puts the body into a state of confusion and it begins feeling like a sedentary person would feel if they suddenly ran 8miles. I was cramping, restless, achy, jittery, and sore. I needed to move, but I couldn’t. Combine increasing my food intake by, what my body perceived as, an insane amount, and decreasing my activity level to zero makes for a very confused, very angry man.
Shock 3: Caffeine. I was not allowed any form of caffeine. Two words: caffeine headaches. In fact, for a while I was not even allowed decaf coffee because it had “trace amounts.” Instead I got Sanka. If you ever want to know what a mud pie tastes like after a rainstorm, try Sanka.
Why do I say all of this? Because the pain, agony, and anxiety of treatment cannot be understood without understanding the physical aspect of eating disorder recovery. Take an active runner who was used to a schedule crammed full of pleasing others, working, school, volunteering, and socializing and put him into a single building with zero activity level and make him do the thing that causes him extreme anxiety (eat) and you can see the immediate stress put on that person. On top of it all, the sole reason of treatment is not about getting to one’s “goal weight.” It is about going deeper into the underlying cause of the eating disorder. It is about accepting yourself, loving yourself, and allowing yourself to combat the self-hatred and lies.
It is not an easy task and to this day I continue to struggle with fighting the negative thoughts. However, I have gained tools, support, and ways to cope. For me, art, journaling, guitar, and talking are ways I cope. Staying honest is my main tool.
I am still a runner; however, my running looks much different. Anorexia destroyed my body. It ate away not only at my muscles but at my tendons, ligaments, and supporting tissues and bones. I have low bone density and my supporting tissues are still rebuilding themselves 2 years later. I can no longer run the distances I used to, but I am not giving up. I believe that if I take it slow, focus on recovery, proper running maintenance, and have faith that I can return to my full level of running. But it will take time, patience,and perseverance.
Just like recovery.
In honor of NEDAwareness Week my wife and I are joining a Virtual Walk for Eating Disorders. It is a way for us to raise awareness and money to give help to those in desperate need. It is time we take a stand together and fight for those battling the most deadly mental illness currently known.
Take a Leap and join us in our fight against Eating Disorders and help raise awareness! Click on the following link to view/join our team: