Near the end of my training program for running my first half marathon, I was running 9 miles at my local recreation center. I usually run outside but it was near 100 degrees and I knew that I would be wiped out if I tried to run in that heat, so I hit the track. A mile is 8 times around the track, so I had to run around it 72 times. I was feeling pretty good about the run— my legs were doing well enough, no shin splints or creaky ankles. It took me a good 90 minutes to complete the run so I saw several joggers come and go along the track. About 7 miles into the run, I noticed a girl and a woman had just arrived to walk around the track.
The girl had small weights circled around her ankles and wrists—at first, I thought they were shackles they looked so confining. I could not tell the age of this girl because her skin was pasty, her eyes were shallow, and her cheeks were sunken. Her legs and arms would have rivaled a toothpick for thinness. The woman walking with her could have been her mother, therapist, or friend, but it was plain that she had been assigned to help this girl exercise without militant fervor. In just one instant, this girl, struggling in her own right with an ED, brought back memories and feelings so heavy, I nearly fell to floor with the weight of it.
Every time I passed her around the track I felt a dark cloud as thick as butter engulf my mind. I suddenly felt claustrophobic and it had nothing to do with the scent of overly sweaty bodies and too much perfume. My legs felt heavy and with each step I took, my breath became shallower. I attempted to banish this cloud and its accompanying feelings from my mind and heart with simple mantras such as “This doesn’t bother me.” “I’m fine.” “I can do this.” However, those mantas were not adequate because it did bother me, I wasn’t fine, and I felt like I couldn’t do it. I knew I needed a stronger comeback. So, I stepped into my visual reality.
I am alone in a dark, dank room. I almost gag because the smell of rusty pipes clings to my throat like sandpaper. There are impenetrable chains immobilizing my wrists and ankles, locking me securely to a metal chair. I have been sitting on this chair so long that I lost feeling in my legs and every muscle aches. I long to stretch my limbs and be free of this chair, but my shackles mock me a prisoner forever. I do everything I think of to free myself—cry out for help, maneuver my hands through the chain holes—but nothing works.
After hopelessness enters my heart, I decide to give it one last-ditch effort and I simply yank one of my wrists free of the chains, and somehow, someway it makes sense now—I am free, forever free of them. The chair is ED, and I viciously yank off the chains that bind me to her. I crush them like grapes in my palm, and with tears glistening off my cheeks, I scream to the sky, “I’m free of her! I’m free of her!”
In this case, the “her” was not so much this girl walking ever so slowly with her mentor around the jogging track, but a symbol of my ED that stalked me all these years, ever present, seeping into every aspect of my waking thoughts, and lurking beneath every happy moment. This image of me breaking free from long-binding chains is much more powerful and it helps me finish my last 2 miles. Each time I pass her, I scream inside my head like a bell reverberating, “I’m happy! I’m healthy! I’m free of her!”