The Secret That Could Have Killed Me

Preface: This post is about a very personal issue that I have remained quiet about for quite some time. Some of the things revealed in this article are things I have never told anyone, and never intended to. I chose to write this as part of the healing process. I knew if I was ever going to be healthy once again, I needed to understand the place I was in back then. As everything else on my blog, this is based on personal experience and is unique to my life. I am in no way an expert on the subject; I only know what I have lived through. I hope you enjoy it! 

          It’s a Tuesday night. I am staring into a toilet bowl with tears streaming down my face. I am throwing up what I ate for dinner: one banana, one rice cake, and one liter of water. When I am done, I will brush my teeth and lace up my running shoes. I will run five and half miles. The same distance I run every week day. And then I will come back home and cry myself to sleep… This was my personal hell for nine months. In that nine months, I embarked on one of the most difficult journeys of my life– a road paved with purging, calorie counting apps, and good intentions. I never wanted to hurt myself. I just wanted to be skinny… to feel pretty no matter the cost.

          I have always been the bigger girl. Growing up, I towered over my friends. I shopped in the adult section of stores while my friends were still buying clothes from Limited Too. I hit five foot eight in the 6th grade. I struggled with my weight throughout adolescence. My size made me a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court or the softball field, but it provided within me an internal battle. As a kid, I was an athletic powerhouse, but I just wanted to be small. I wanted to be petite and skinny– adjectives that had never described me.
          My junior year of high school, I let my weight spiral out of control. I ate out often and exercised little. By the start of my senior year, I realized that I weighed the same as my 6’3″ male best friend. So in August of 2013, I decided I was going to lose the weight. My parents had just split up, my two best friends had just moved away to college, and I felt like it was the perfect time to put all my energy into something I had control over– making myself beautiful. I truly believed that weight loss would solve all of my problems. And so it began.
           I started out where most do. I cut out soft drinks, downloaded a popular app to track calorie intake, and started running. I ate about 1,600 calories and ran a half a mile a day. Healthy enough. Weight flew off. I lost 15 pounds the first month and 20 the second. People were starting to notice, and I was hooked on the high provided by people’s admiration.
          I dedicated every moment of my time to losing weight. I was either working out, running, planning meals, or reading fitness blogs every second of the day. As the weeks went by, I ran more and more and ate less and less. On multiple occasions, people came to me, friends and teachers, expressing concern. I adamantly denied having a problem. I assured everyone that I had this under control.
           By Christmas, I had lost 55 pounds. I was in clothes I never even dreamed of before. I thrived off people’s compliments. I felt great, I looked great, and I was still healthy. I should have stopped there. But I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of gal, and I knew I could do “better.”
          Ten pounds later, I was slipping down a dangerous slope. My life consisted of nothing but running and eating my small “meals” that I meticulously planned and calculated to fit within my calorie budget. I became a shell of the girl I used to be. I quit hanging out with my friends. I quit playing softball. I eradicated anything from my life that wasn’t a part of my “fitness” journey. I had notes on my phone saved with all of my ridiculous rules: “on weekends, eat nothing but fruit,” or “on Mondays, eat only one chicken breast.” I understood it was hurting me, but not enough to make me want to stop.
          At my lowest point, I was eating 500 calories a day while running 7 miles a day. I weighed myself twice daily and recorded each weigh in. If I saw a change in the scale I deemed unacceptable, I would run until I literally collapsed on whatever road or trail I had chosen that day. I would make myself throw up the minute I consumed anything, and then run for a hour to punish myself for throwing up. It was a vicious cycle. Eat. Throw up. Run. Cry. Repeat.
FullSizeRender (Me, at my lowest recorded weight, with two of my (very supportive, absolutely wonderful) best friends)
          I had read all the articles. I’d heard all of the warnings. I knew it was dangerous. I was a smart girl. I knew what I was doing. But I couldn’t stop. I was in far too deep.
          By March, 75 pounds were gone. My food for the day would usually consist of an apple, a packet of microwave oatmeal, and a rice cake. I drank a gallon of water and tried to convince myself that I was finally where I wanted to be. I was finally beautiful. But I didn’t feel beautiful. I felt empty. And hungry. And sad. I had finally accomplished what I had always dreamed about. I was in control of the one thing that I had spent my entire life chasing after. I didn’t understand where I went wrong. I had started this as a journey to loving myself… and when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t love the girl staring back at me at all. In fact, I didn’t even know her.
          One day in science class, we were watching a video. The screen started to get fuzzy and the room started to spin. Before I knew it, I woke up on the ground. I passed out right there in second block. When the school nurse asked me what I had eaten that day, I lied. She gave me a box of apple juice and a package of crackers. I pretended to sip the juice and threw the crackers away– they didn’t fit into my 500 allotted calories. She asked me a series of questions and though I knew the correct answers, lies spewed out of my mouth. I couldn’t let her know the truth. I was scared she might tell me I had a problem. I was terrified that she might tell me I needed to stop.
          That same day, my mom made me visit my pediatrician. He asked me what I had eaten in the last twenty four hours and through tears I whispered the answer: nothing. He asked if I had run that day, and I knew before the words “six miles” left my lips what his response would be. He looked into my eyes and said “Emily, why are you doing this? I love you, and I have been taking care of you for a long time. I am scared for you. You can’t keep doing this. Eventually this will kill you.
          “Eventually this will kill you.”
          I just wanted to be thin… I didn’t want to die.
          Sitting in that room, I looked down at my hands. They were frozen– always cold, always shaking. And at that moment, I knew. I knew that my body, a body that had survived so much in its 18 years, deserved better. I knew that being “skinny” was not worth losing my happiness. I knew that being thin was too big a price to pay for my life.
          I have never admitted this before. I have never used these words to explain my experience. But here they are, for the first time ever: eating disorder. Because of those five syllables, I will forever be a statistic. I will forever be one of the nine million.
          I wish I could tell you after my doctor’s office visit, the stars aligned and I found perfect balance with my personal fitness and the rest of my life. However, this is simply not the case. During the past year, I finished high school and started college at Louisiana State University. I have gained over half of the weight I lost back. While some of it was necessary, a good bit of it was not. I eat lots of pizza and fast food and never exercise like I should. And I struggle with body image every single day. I am no where close to perfect, but this time around, I have a much better understanding of myself. I now know that a number on a scale or a tag will never define me. I understand that there are more important things than being thin. I understand that I never need to change who I am, but I should only ever strive to become a better version of me. The next time I go down that road, I’ll be doing it the right way.
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In Defense of Travel Ball…

I’ve been trying to write this post for months now and I just haven’t been able to find the right words. Lately, I’ve been seeing many statuses and articles pitting travel softball against league softball. Many have negative opinions when it comes to travel ball, saying it’s detrimental to high school programs and ruining community leagues. I wish I could say that I understood these accusations but I cannot even begin to comprehend them. You can say what you want about select softball, but it produces quality competitors and fosters talent in a way that is incomparable to anything else. This post is just my perspective of league softball and travel softball, because they have both made such an enormous impact on my life.

 I would not believe in love at first sight had I never picked up a softball. From the first time I stepped on a field when I was nine years old, I was hooked. I started out where many do, playing league. I loved the rush of game days, the thrill of sliding into home, the smell of freshly cut grass. I attended every game and got better and better, practicing with my team and on my own, pitching every chance I got, and eagerly awaiting any opportunity to compete. League ball provided my foundation. It was there I learned the fundamentals and how to win and lose with grace. However, by the time I was ten, my parents realized that the athlete in me wanted and needed more than the ten games per year league ball could provide, and thus, my nine year long relationship with travel ball began.

I don’t think my family quite anticipated the impact travel ball would make on our lives. In my almost nine years as a travel ball kid, we spent birthdays, Easters, and anniversaries at the ball field. I’d come home from a tournament in Oklahoma at 2 AM on a Monday to sleep for three hours and wake up for school. I missed homecomings, football games, and proms. I played in hundreds of games per year, sometimes eight or nine per day. I played through brain surgery, broken bones, and staph infections. I made numerous sacrifices for travel ball and yet, it never seemed that way to me. I was just doing what I loved. I was chasing my dream.

By the time I got to high school, I had played in hundreds of softball games. I knew the game, and I knew it well. I earned a starting varsity position as a freshman, as did the three other girls from my high school that played travel ball with me. In fact, all twelve of the girls on my tournament team at the time earned a starting position on her high school’s varsity team.

I continued to play travel ball throughout high school. My freshman year, my select team changed our mission from winning trophies to securing scholarships. There is no doubt in my mind that travel softball is an effective way to earn the opportunity to play at the next level. Of the fifteen girls I grew up traveling with, thirteen ended up with scholarships to play softball at the university of their choice. Off the top of my head, I can name at least fifty other girls (probably many more if I wanted to think about it) I know personally that played travel ball and ended up playing in college. That just doesn’t happen in Dixie or even for girls who play strictly high school. At any given large exposure tournament, there are anywhere from fifty to sometimes hundreds of college coaches present. I would venture to say that in the softball world, it is now next to impossible to play collegiate softball without playing travel ball. (Baseball is a bit different and this is not so much true.) Softball has evolved… things don’t work like they used to. It is difficult to even compare community leagues to travel ball because they serve completely different purposes. If you just want to have fun and learn the game, league ball is the way to go. However, if a scholarship is your ultimate goal, travel ball is undoubtedly the best option.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been a Dixie umpire for five years now, and Dixie has affected my life in ways I never thought possible. I have made lasting relationships with the girls I call for and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching them progress as athletes and people. I understand that Dixie provides things that travel ball cannot, such as sense of community. I am in no way knocking the advantages of league ball. I am just attempting to defend the one thing that has occupies a bigger part of my heart than just about anything else.

My softball story does not quite have a happy ending. Somewhere along the way, after a few visits to various schools with scholarship offers and many months of deliberation, I realized that collegiate softball did not have a place in my future. Before my senior season even began and to the shock of my parents and teammates, I retired my cleats. It was the hardest decision I have ever made and it was certainly not one made due to lack of passion for the game. It was a very personal choice and it was simply what I needed to do at the time. I have never regretted my decision and I know it was what was best for me.

The fact that anyone could ever say that travel ball does more harm than good is absolutely mind-boggling to me. It is not for everyone, and I understand that. I cannot speak for everyone but I can say that travel ball gave me the best memories of my life. I have had opportunities and experiences that most young athletes will only ever dream about. I am so thankful for my travel ball days and the many life lessons I learned during them. I would not trade the weekends I spent at tournaments for anything in the world.

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When “Perfect” Falls Apart

Recently, there’s been a Thought Catalog post circulating Facebook entitled “When Your Parents Divorce When You’re Just A Kid.” It’s a heartbreaking narrative that describes the ways the author’s life was forever altered because of her parents’ divorce. If your parents are no longer together, I’m sure many points of the article resonate with you. Divorce is never easy, and though I consider myself to be well adjusted, the word itself still shakes me to my very core—the same way it did when it was first spoken in my household. While my parents’ divorce completely changed my life, and I would definitely consider it a defining facet of who I am, I am convinced that I came out of it better than I was before.

Step-parents, shared custody, multiple holidays—these were all things that eluded me for 17 years. I watched as one by one, my friends’ families fell apart. I listened as they told stories, using “mom’s house” or “dad’s house” instead of just “my house.” I counted my blessings and wrongfully assumed it was a world I would never be a part of. Divorce was not something that could happen to me. My family was happy. My parents had been married for 20 years. Surely, they had already weathered any storm that could leave our family in shambles. Surely, we were safe.

Wrong.

I cannot explain the crippling sadness that befell me when my mom explained to me that my dad and her were separating. I cannot explain the way it felt like I was drowning while standing on solid ground. I cannot explain the way I could taste my heart breaking—sorrow indeed has a flavor. And I cried. I cried for the weekends I would not see my father. I cried for the anniversaries that would never come. I cried for the perfect family I no longer had.

The first few months were almost unbearable. I could not figure out how to live life without both of my parents in my house. As I attempted to focus on my daily routine, I could not escape the gaping hole that was my father’s absence from my home. My dad would call often, and the phone calls were the hardest. My parents were good at acting like nothing happened, but I was not. I did not know how to make small talk with my dad. How were we supposed to talk about my weekend when my entire world had crumbled beneath me weeks prior? How was I supposed to act like nothing was wrong? How was I supposed to pretend that it was perfectly normal that I could no longer kiss him goodnight?

We had taken a family picture two days before my parents announced their separation. If pictures were worth a thousand words, surely this one had a story to tell. I cannot tell you how many nights I spent staring at that photograph, searching for signs I may have missed about the catastrophic storm that would hit us two days later. I stared at the four of us for hours on end, a normal family. How could I not have known?

I never knew what to say to either parent. I loved them both with every ounce of my heart, but I was so angry. I didn’t understand how they could ever think this was a solution. I was going to college next year. I was supposed to be enjoying what I had left of high school. How dare they take that away from me?

My relationship with both parents at that point could be described as dysfunctional at best. Because I was hurt and resentful, I decided that if I wasn’t happy, no one would be. Because I was miserable, my mission in life was to make my parents miserable as well. I became increasingly difficult and at times, downright hateful. My parents did nothing but love me through it all. They did everything in their power to try to make things okay for me, to make sure I was adjusting well, to make me happy. And I, stubborn and contrary, wanted no part of it. I was determined to wallow in my self-pity.

If there was one thing I hated more than the thought of the divorce itself, it was the thought of seeing my parents with other people. I avoided the topic altogether. When my dad met a woman, I simply pretended that she didn’t exist. When my mom met a man, I acted as though I was completely unaware. It was not that I disliked them—it was just that if they were around, I had to face the reality that my family as I once knew it was over. As long as my parents were single, I could perpetuate the idea that one day, they would realize this was all a big mistake. I still clung to the hope that my parents were going to live happily ever after with one another. My prayers however, were never answered.

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, I watched my parents fall in love with other people. I experienced a side of them that I had not known in a long time—pure and utter happiness. I watched my mom laugh louder and my dad speak with delight that he could not contain. Somewhere along the way, I understood that this was God’s greater plan. I have never been more thankful for unanswered prayers. I cannot explain the joy my heart feels for all of us. I love these two people more than they will ever know for loving my parents so much.

Sure, my family was divided, but I am convinced that the love was multiplied. I now have four wonderful people that love me, care about me, and would go to the ends of the Earth to make sure that I succeed. I have four people who are proud when I ace a test. Four people who call me on my birthday. Four people who love me when I don’t deserve it and welcome me with open arms when I need a place to come home. My family is not broken, but finally whole.

This is never how I expected my life to turn out. This was not in my plan. I did not choose my parents’ significant others, but I am eternally grateful that they chose us. If life has a happy ending, this is ours.

The original Thought Catalog post can be found at http://thoughtcatalog.com/jamie-varon/2015/02/just-a-kid/.