Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kristen's Story

If you're new around here, I'll let you in on a little secret. I never planned on being a blogger. When I first started writing publicly, there was no guarantee anyone other than my parents was going to read it. Did I want to be well followed? Sure. Did I think I could write enough that a reader could relate to? I hoped so. Did I ever think I would be a public beauty distortion warrior? Heck. No.

It's easy to forget the impact of the things we do. As a teacher, I get so caught up in lesson planning, classroom management, and teacher trainings that I forget I'm literally changing the lives of children on a daily basis. They're learning because of me. They're growing because of me. 

Being a blogger is really no different. There are nights I wake up in the middle of the night to write something profound, and there are nights I sit at my computer twiddling my thumbs because I have no idea what to say. I throw around important words. Important topics. Beauty distortion. Toxic culture. Self love. Depression, eating disorders, suicide... You name it. I seek to provide positivity and comfort for these dark subjects because while they are not ignored in today's society, they are not fully considered either. The real impact of them remains unseen because these warriors feel it is necessary to struggle silently. After all, they're better seen and not heard. Right?

I write about these things so often that I find myself numb to the subjects themselves. Have you ever noticed that a good majority of the people fighting for these things never seem to have dealt seriously with the issue themselves? That's because most of the self-help supporters are fighting while hidden. Because it's okay to fight for someone else who's hurting, but it's somehow not okay to fight for yourself.

One of my favorite things about blogging is hearing from my readers. I love getting emails and social media comments about everything from their stressful day to their identity and purpose in life. But every now and again, I have a reader who feels compelled to share her story. I usually listen with eager ears, because people fascinate me and each story is a little different. I find myself responding in an email with a thankful introduction, an empathetic body, and an encouraging conclusions. That's the  inevitable anatomy of a testimonial response.

But I recently received a story that threw me for a loop.

When Kristen Arata messaged me on Facebook saying that she had written a little something along the lines of my beauty distortion platform, I thought she was interested in appearing as a guest writer. I didn't know she was ready to share her story with me...and all of you.


I, like so many people -- young, old, male, female -- suffered through an eating disorder. For a decade, this illness controlled my life. Not a day went by that I didn't plan out everything I put in my mouth or even worse; didn't follow the plan and then felt guilty to the point where I had to do something about it.  
It completely consumed me. I missed so many dinners with family, conversations with friends, and unforgettable memories to sit at home and either decide to be stronger than my temptations or spend twenty minutes in the bathroom afterward because I couldn't hear what anyone was saying over the sound of the voice in my head.  
As I have grown older, I'd like to think that I have outgrown these habits; that I am more mature and in control of myself, but this is completely off base. Eating disorders are not something that you simply outgrow or conquer over time. They can affect anyone no matter how old or in-control they may seem.  
Each day is a task in itself: a fight with yourself to either do what you know you should, or do what your brain is telling you to do.  
Every shower I take after a big meal is a fight to keep my food down. Every day I choose to eat three meals, and I have to remind myself that I should be eating that often. Every delicious dessert I consume is followed by a necessary pep talk that I should love myself the way I am.  
The more I think about these daily battles, the more I have realized that eating disorders are not something that you simply get over. They are not something that can be conquered and forgotten. Instead, they are lifelong struggles that you live with for as long as that voice is inside your head. They are choices you make each day to live a healthy life.  
An eating disorder is daily fight. One that I will continue to win. 


Some stuff I knew about Kristen prior to this story: 
-- She attends Missouri State University with me.
-- She loves colorguard.
-- She is ridiculously flexible...
-- She has a boyfriend who golfs.

Pretty normal gal, right? Now...

Some things to note about my relationship with Kristen: 
-- Outside rehearsal, we've talked very few times.
-- I have been admittedly jealous of how she looked.
-- I see her every day. 

Mondays and Wednesdays I'm with her for an hour and a half. Tuesdays and Thursdays are two hours. Fridays are sometimes more. If we have a game or a competition on Saturday, I'm with her from sun-up to sun-down. And winter practices on Sundays have us together for a solid four hours. At least. I've known Kristen for four years now.

And I never knew.

I won't sit here and tell you that you probably know someone fighting an eating disorder. I'll blatantly tell you that you do know someone fighting an eating disorder. At least one. Probably more. The statistics are frighteningly high.

I don't write about this stuff because someone out there in another state might need to hear it. I write about all this because there are people in our class, in our workplace, and in our families who fear we don't consider their biggest fight to be worthy of our time. And I truly don't believe anyone is that heartless; I just think they're uninformed.

Why did I share her story with you? Well, a lot of reasons. One, because she felt it was important enough to share with me. But mostly to give you a wake up call. Friends, I'll say it again... I see this girl every day. The warriors I speak of each day on this blog don't just exist in rehab centers and TV shows. They live in your town. They go to your school. They laugh when they're happy and cry when they're sad. They're really no different than you.

The only difference is: they're hurting in some ways you might not be able to understand. That's scary sometimes. You might not feel prepared to be confided in. You might not feel like listening. But if they choose you, it's important that you take a moment to consider how difficult, how frightening, and how downright-nauseating that might have been for them to do. If you are in a position to help someone, please lay down your pride long enough to listen. If you feel a love and compassion in your heart towards someone, you are being handed an opportunity to make a difference in that person's life. You have to follow that love. Don't ignore it. Act on it. Somebody needs what you have.

Before I go, I want to personally thank Kristen for sharing her story. It is so rare to see someone confident enough to share a private struggle without letting it define them. To be so strong, yet so vulnerable, is a powerfully beautiful thing. Thank you Kristen, for the wake-up call that I, and so many of my readers, need to be reminded of. Stay strong. Stay powerful. Stay beautiful.

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