How to achieve the impossible

Half blinded by sweat, I looked down at my phone. 13.1 miles glowed bright and clear on the running app I use every time I train. My legs were heavy, my heart raced fast, my breathing was shallow, and I was happy. No, I was ecstatic. In the midst of the summer sun blazing down on my sweaty skin, I got chills. I had achieved the very thing I once thought impossible. I just ran a half marathon.

This was not a race. I will run my first half marathon race on July 14th. Today, I reached the height of my training in preparing for the race in July. It’s easy going from here on out. There was nothing easy about my run today, and I am pretty sore now from pushing my body to its limits. However, I feel like I’m on top of the world.

Many have asked me why I decided to train for a half marathon. Mind you, I have never been a runner. I’ve never even ran a 5k race, yet here I am, training for a half. The answer may inspire you, just as I have been inspired in my journey.

I always hated running. Plain and simple. In high school and for most of college, I could not run a mile. I was very active as a dancer, so stamina was not the issue. My problem was that I repeatedly told myself I couldn’t do it. The mind and body are so, so connected, so because my brain said I couldn’t run, my body believed the message.

Throughout college, I battled an eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, and other things. I began running during my Junior year of college, as it provided a physical release for the debilitating levels of anxiety I faced on a daily basis. For the first time in my life, I told myself I could run. I believed that with practice, I could run a 5k. After a month of training, I ran my first 5k around campus, and my anxiety had dropped to nearly nothing. Running released my anxiety in a healthy way and I felt safe in my body for the first time in years.

I continued to run that summer, and I fell in love. The very thing I once hated became my saving grace. Senior year, I faced my eating disorder once again. By spring, I was frustrated with my inner turmoil and lack of progress in therapy. Once again, I turned to running. This time, however, I needed a goal so big it would consume me. I needed something to take the place of my eating disorder and make me feel alive and strong.

So, I decided to train for a half marathon.

Since the beginning of my training in April, I have learned far more about myself than I ever thought possible. I learned that my mind is even stronger than I gave myself credit for all these years. I learned the power of faith in my body and my character. I discovered that I do not quit very easily. I came to know a deeper self love than I ever dreamed of having and I learned how to feed my body to support the activity that I have become so passionate about. I learned the art of pushing my body and my mind just enough and backing off when I truly need a break.

My advice to anyone going through a difficult time is to think of a goal that terrifies you. Reflect on it, pray about it, and if this goal is healthy for you, chase it fearlessly. Do the very thing you once thought impossible– no matter how big or small it may be. When you push yourself further than you ever dreamed, you will fall in love with the beautiful person you are and find a deeper respect in your heart for yourself and those around you. I can certainly testify to this gift.

Running has saved my life. I don’t mean that at all dramatically. I don’t plan to be some crazy fast marathon runner by any means– I’m just doing this for my own sanity and wellbeing, and I am very happy. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to feel loved– by others of course, but also by yourself. Make a new goal and strive to achieve it no matter how scary it may be. Feel the fear, and do it anyway, because one day, it won’t be scary anymore– achieving this goal will be one of the best moments of your life.

“The Best 4 Years of Your Life”

I remember the car ride down to North Carolina. I was bursting with excitement to be starting as a college freshman. After a tumultuous high school experience, I firmly believed college would be a breeze.

I remember the anxious anticipation of meeting my roommate for the first time. Would she like me? Would we become friends, or would we hate each other? I was so excited to make new friends– friends that would last a life time.

I remember countless adults firmly telling me that college would be the “best four years” of my life. I was ready to embrace the happiness and freedom that college was supposed to bring.

But I did not find rainbows and butterflies. College was, in many ways, harder than high school. College was a battlefield, and at times, I did not think I would make it out alive. I wanted to give up. I wanted to fly home and run into my parents’ arms so I wouldn’t have to fight my battles alone– going to school 8 hours from home proved to be more challenging than I anticipated.

Despite the amazing support of my friends at Elon, in Chapel Hill, and in Charlotte, I did feel alone in my darkest moments. I wanted to let people in and share my pain with them, but I feared I’d be letting everyone down. After all, college was supposed to be the best four years of my life. Was I failing college, or was college failing me?

In the face of every obstacle, I fought with everything I had. Mental illness knows no boundaries– I found this out the hard way. However, my strength and resilience far outreach the bounds of anorexia, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Living with chronic mental illness in college was tough, but I am tougher.

So, maybe college wasn’t the happiest four years of my life. I still believe it was the best four years thus far. I’ve discovered superhuman strength deep within myself. I have learned more about my character and my fierce determination over these past four years than I ever thought possible.

I have found the most amazing friends, and I am so excited to enjoy a lifetime of friendship together. I wouldn’t be graduating (so soon!) if I didn’t have the incredible support system I have found during my time at Elon University. But even more so, I have found strength and love in my family even from afar. They have proven to me that no matter where I go, I always have a place to call home, and their love for me is infinite.

It is with this love from my family, support from my community at Elon, and my own relentless determination that I will grace the stage at graduation.

I will walk away from Elon as a confident, competent, fearless graduate, ready to tackle whatever challenge life throws at me. I will toss my cap up in the air, look up at it and smile, as I close the book on the “best four years of my life”–knowing that the best is truly yet to come.

Rocking Recovery!

I texted my mom after a killer workout. I was glowing– and not just from the sweat. I was so proud of myself for getting to a place of wholesome, authentic health: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and, yes, physically. My body was jumping for joy after this workout, even after pushing my strength to its limits. Why? I’ve spent the past month or so really focusing on fueling my body according to its needs and truly listening to what my body wants to do.

 

I’m training for a half marathon. In doing so, I have fallen in love with my body. This time, it’s different– I don’t pay virtually any attention to how my body looks, despite a significant change in body composition. Instead, I focus primarily on how my body feels! This is, for my personal journey, a defining moment in my recovery.

 

Some days, my body wants to curl up in a blanket and watch Netflix for hours. Other times, it begs me to run long distances. The key in my training for this half marathon is learning to listen to my body’s cues and acting accordingly. Due to my training, I feel strong, confident, and powerful. I feel like my physical strength is finally beginning to match my emotional strength, and it feels good.

 

For those of you who are skeptical of seeing a nutritionist or dietician, I can assure you that it has done wonders for me! I follow a general guideline now (designed by my dietician) specifically for training for a long race while in recovery. Without holding myself accountable to a professional who really understands my nutritional needs, I would be at risk of injuring myself due to inadequate nutrition and even potentially relapsing in my eating disorder. From someone who fought the idea of seeing a dietitian for a very long time, this realization and accountability says a lot!

 

I’m sharing all these things with you for two reasons: (1) I am so proud of my recovery and the blessings that have come with it, and (2) I hope to inspire you to learn to listen to your body! Trust me when I say life gets infinitely better when you listen to your internal cues and don’t push yourself to do things that aren’t healthy for where you are in this moment.

 

P.S. To be clear, I am not advocating for anyone to train for a half marathon. It took me almost three years into recovery to get to a healthy place to do this training, and even still, this activity level isn’t always healthy for other people in their recoveries. If you feel inspired to train for a big race or other event, please have honest conversations with your treatment team to determine whether this will help or harm your recovery!

Transforming pain into power

Dear friends,

 

I’m sure many of you understand all too well what it means to navigate through a life filled to the brim with obstacles. I, too, have been dealt a very tricky hand of cards. For much of my life, I played the victim role. You know, the “Why me?” mentality that led to depression and hopelessness. I’m writing now to tell you there is a better way!

 

You have every right to be mad. Some of you are trauma survivors, others have battled horrible physical and/or mental illnesses, and many of you have said goodbye far too soon to the person you loved more than anything. Don’t deny your pain. You are entitled to your feelings. Embrace the anger, the sadness, the feelings of betrayal, and channel these intense emotions into doing the next right thing. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to truly cope with your obstacles.

 

I have learned to accept my past. I use my anger about my battle with an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders to educate people of all ages, all over the world, about mental illness. I am currently in the healthiest place– mentally, physically, and spiritually– that I have ever experienced, and I believe this newfound health and joy is due largely to my commitment to changing my mentality. Yes, I have faced plenty of truly awful obstacles in my young life, but I refuse to let that define my current happiness and my success.

 

So, if you are tired of being the victim, embrace your pain! Do something about it. Spread the word about mental illness, grief, trauma– whatever the problem is, you have control over your actions surrounding it. You are a warrior, a hero, even when you don’t feel that way. Life is so much more than the difficulties we face, even when those obstacles feel like they will shatter us. I am proof that even the darkest nights can turn into the sunniest days.

 

I am sorry you have experienced such intense pain. My heart goes out to those of you who are facing tremendous battles. When you are ready, join me in turning pain into power. I believe in each and every one of you!

 

Love always,

Tara

Self Care is Important!

I sprung out of bed, as if it were Christmas morning. Bursting with excitement, I hastily shut off my alarm before it woke my roommate. I looked at the clock: 4:45 AM. Perfect.

 

Joyfully, I brushed my teeth and threw on my leggings and sports bra. I hopped in the car and drove to my very first early morning hot yoga class at the studio I’ve been going to for the last couple of months. This marked the day of officially becoming a morning person.

 

Some people think I’m crazy for voluntarily going to before-sunrise hot yoga classes. What college student goes to bed at 10 just to participate in yoga before 5 AM– awaking while her friends are still coming home from frat parties? This chick. Let me tell you about the method behind my madness.

 

I recently read a book that encouraged me to try something new– to wake up earlier and set an intention for my day. It took some time, but I was committed to becoming a morning person because it was a form of self-care for me. I was so tired of hitting snooze twenty times before dragging myself out of bed, and I hated the excuses I would make daily to stay in bed longer rather than embrace my day. I decided to make a change.

 

Now, I wake up and don’t hit snooze. I am excited to see what my day will bring! I make time for a solid breakfast and don’t feel rushed to get to my classes. Sometimes, I go to yoga, or go for a run. After a few weeks of this new routine, I have more energy, more joy, and more peace. Self care is oh, so important!

Body Image Blues

I looked into my bedroom mirror, eyes locked in on my belly. “Maybe once I get boobs my tummy will look smaller,” I thought to myself. I was 10 years old. My eating disorder had just started earlier that year and body image was already horrible.

Just a couple of years later, I was in Abercrombie and Fitch shopping for jeans with my mom. I had my first panic attack because I fit into a bigger size than I previously wore. I had to buy the children’s size 16 slims because I was in the top 90th percentile for height and the bottom range for BMI– all my shorter friends were wearing children’s size 12, and I decided I was fat.

Fast forward to now, years into recovery. I still have fat days. I still compare myself to thinner people and sometimes I wish I could change my body. This doesn’t mean I have thrown away my recovery. In fact, it shows exactly the opposite: despite the negative body image I encounter most of the time, I choose to take care of my body anyway. I eat intuitively, exercise when I feel like it, and get enough sleep to fuel my days. Ed tells me I’m fat, and I tell him to shut up.

Sometimes, it’s hard to look past the reflection we see in the mirror and love ourselves regardless of how “fat” we are. I’ll admit, I struggle with body image most days and have found myself engaging in negative self-talk because of my reflection. However, I have learned to appreciate my body for all the amazing things it does for me each and every day– none of which has any relation to my size or shape.

If you have grown up with a negative body image like me, there is hope. No, I don’t always love my reflection, but I do love my body! When you move past the ideal of loving the body you see in the mirror and focus on loving the person instead, you will find peace. And once you have made peace with yourself, the power you bestowed on body image will begin to trickle away.

You are more than “fat” or “thin”, your body is completely worthy of love and respect regardless of your opinion about it, and you deserve a life far more meaningful than anything the mirror can provide. Step away from the mirror and into the bliss of genuine self-love.

#BoycottTheBefore

This week, I have had the pleasure of working alongside some of recovery’s brightest stars: @lexiemanion, @declaring.dani, and @leenahlovesherself. We have been hosting an Instagram campaign called “Boycott the Before”, a week dedicated to the focus on recovery and on our current selves rather than who we were when we were sick.

Often times, before and after photos send the wrong message about eating disorder recovery, as only 1/3 of people with eating disorders are underweight. Before and after pictures promote the idea that you must prove how sick you were in order to gain validation for your recovery. This week is about celebrating your recovery and validating your progress without a focus on physical transformations or needing to prove the severity of your illness.

This week, we have had over 100 participants– and the week is only halfway through! Our participants come from all backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities, and faiths, and I find such beauty in the unity that has come from our campaign. We, the organizers, are humbled and energized by the impact this movement is having on the recovery world.

I personally love this campaign because it does not encourage black and white thinking. We are not against before and after photos any other week of the year, as many do find them helpful for their own recoveries. I myself have posted a couple before and after photos with the intention of spreading awareness and hope that life is better without Ed. Our campaign is by no means a rule that must be followed, nor is it an all or nothing mentality.

However, we felt it was important to have one week where Instagram could collectively move away from comparisons and just focus on the awesome freedom that comes with recovery and letting go of the need to compete and prove your sickness. Fact is, if you’ve ever struggled with food or body image, your thoughts and feelings are valid and you deserve help regardless of your BMI or type of disordered eating. This week, we celebrate YOU and encourage you to join is in validating your RECOVERY.

If you want to get involved, check out our Instagram page @boycottthebefore and take a look at our website https://boycottthebefore.com . You can also purchase merchandise with our positive message on various products, including shirts, sweatshirts, water bottles, notebooks, and blankets here https://lexiemanion.threadless.com . Plus, 25% of the proceeds from purchases of our products go to Project Heal to help eating disorder warriors go to treatment to get the help they need. Of course, feel free to reach out with questions!

Why do you #BoycottTheBefore ? I’d love to see you join us!

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NEDA Week– smiling through the pain

Dear friends,

 

I have been in recovery for quite some time. Though the urges to restrict have decreased significantly, I still remember the pain of my eating disorder all too well. Most days, I don’t think about it. I consume my time with more meaningful activities than dwelling on my previous illness. However, this week, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, hits right where it hurts the most. I know I’m not alone in feeling bittersweet about this week. I’m writing to share my thoughts with you, so that you may relate and find strength in unity.

 

For me, it always starts the same way. Each year, I feel empowered on Monday, as if I can take over the world. I think, “Wow, I am invincible! I beat the very thing that tried to kill me for a decade of my short life. I am amazing”. Then, Tuesday comes around, and I start to feel conflicted. I know I have a lot to be proud of, but the pain of my past tugs on my heartstrings, playing them like a sad, lonely violin. I want to feel empowered like Monday, but Tuesday finds me smiling through the pain.

 

On Wednesday, I hit a low. The pain of my years of battling anorexia feels too heavy and threatens to crush me. I go through the motions of class, only to collapse into my bed at the end of the day with tears streaming down my face. I hug my teddy bears and cry, allowing myself to grieve all that my disorder stole from me as a child and teenager. Then, I pick myself up and glue the pieces of my broken heart back together. I am okay with the pain because I have risen above it. Tomorrow will be a better day.

 

And it is. Thursday brings a new determination to re-commit to recovery. I refrain from looking in the mirror when I can help it because I know I am more than the lies Ed still tries to feed me. I listen to my body more sensitively than ever before, nourishing it through intuitive eating and cozying up in blankets to give it some rest after yesterday’s intensity. I am so excited to see what the next year of recovery will bring!

 

By Friday, I feel peaceful and content. Despite the painful memories that come with this week, I feel grateful for the awareness it brings to the disorder that kills so many. I feel strong and capable because I am one of the lucky ones– I am in recovery. My past does not define me, but because of my intense personal growth, I am better able to understand myself and others. There is always a sunrise, even after the darkest night.

 

If you also find NEDA Week to be bittersweet, please know you are not alone. It’s okay to have feelings, even intense feelings– just allow yourself time to process them and practice self-care. You are braver, stronger, smarter, and more persistent than you know. You are my inspiration.

 

Much love,

Tara

Who’s your Jenni Schaefer?

I sat at the round table in the guidance counselor’s office–a table meant for a group to sit around and chat. But instead of a friendly group chat, there was a war. My perfect posture added to the intensity of the situation– and by situation, I mean the complex act of me trying to eat a sandwich through a fiery death glare aimed directly at the food in front of me. I was in the pit of my eating disorder, and I had convinced myself there was no way out. That’s when I was given a book to read: Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer.

I’m not kidding when I say my life changed in that moment. No, I did not eat the sandwich, nor did I reach full recovery for a few more years. However, I realized for the first time in that moment that I had a say in my recovery. My parents could keep driving me to therapy, but it was up to me to make the decision to recover. It took years of debating with my treatment team and my loved ones, but sure enough, I ultimately chose recovery. I have Jenni to thank for a large part of my life-changing decision.

Around 1 year ago, I wrote Jenni a letter by hand and mailed it to her (I know, crazy concept!). I told her how much I admired her, thanked her for inspiring me, and asked if she was taking any interns for the summer. Shortly after, I received an email from none other than Jenni herself. I freaked out. I would be interning with my recovery role model the summer before my senior year of college!

Now, I am a second semester senior, and I had the absolute honor of presenting with the incredibly talented and amazing human being, Jenni Schaefer, for my university’s Love Your Body Week. Talk about full circle!

I’m sharing my story about my special relationship with Jenni because everybody needs a Jenni in their recovery. We all need that one person or thing that gives us the hope and empowerment to reclaim our health and fight for the life we deserve. I have Jenni to thank for the hugely positive impact recovery has had on my life, and for the many blessings that will continue to come from a friendship and mentorship with Jenni Schaefer.

Who’s your Jenni? How can you find your voice and make the choice to recover? I’m living proof that even the “impossible” is possible if you make the decision to fight for your life.

For more about Jenni’s incredible mission (and to see a blog I wrote for her) check out her website!

Call me a yogi

“Feel your feet planted firmly into your mat. As you sink lower in Warrior Two, feel the earth supporting you, gently pressing against your foot. Now, let your body fall forward–I know, it’s scary, but learning to trust your body will allow you to trust others more fully. Your body knows what to do. You know what to do. Feel your body weight shift forward and know that it’s okay to fall. Just stand right back up and try again.”

 

As you can probably guess, the person speaking the words above was my yoga instructor. I recently joined a hot yoga studio near my university, and it has quite literally changed my life. In the one week that I have been regularly participating in hot yoga, my entire mindset and feelings toward myself and others has changed. These are 3 reasons why hot yoga is essential in my recovery, and why you might like to find something similar for your own wellbeing…

 

  1. I am learning to trust– to trust my body, my mind, and the world around me. The dark doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Strangers aren’t automatically suspicious. My friends have my best interests at heart. I have all the tools inside that I need to succeed. When I fall, I can get up again and try a little harder. Failure has no meaning in my life because I trust that I can– and will– fly.
  2. I have a fresh take on recovery. I had become lax in taking care of my physical and emotional needs until yoga refreshed my outlook on recovery. Now, I cook yummy meals for myself every day. I try new foods in the grocery store and at restaurants. I challenge myself to do something a little scary (but not dangerous) so I can push the limits of my comfort zone. I seek support when I need it and offer my own support to others when they need me. Recovery is about balance, and I have found my footing.
  3. My body is respected. I listen to my body now more than I ever have before. I take breaks in yoga class and go back to child’s pose when my body has had enough. I fuel my body with food that makes it feel nourished and strong. I make sure to get enough sleep each night and schedule time to curl up in blankets and watch my favorite shows. My body has become my friend. Thank you, yoga, for teaching me the importance of truly loving my body.

 

Hot yoga is intense and is not safe for everyone. I encourage you to talk to your doctor to find out what your body is capable of doing and to find an outlet that allows your body to feel complete. Whether you are in recovery or if you have never had an eating disorder, self-care is something we all need to get better at. I promise you that taking the time to get connected with your soul and treating your body with love will lead you to a new place– one where you will find peace and true joy.