“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
To say I am a courageous person would be a lie. I’m terrified of snakes. Walking alone in the dark scares the shit out of me. I’m petrified of meeting new people. The list goes on and on…but that isn’t the point of this entry. The point is this, I have recently done two things that, mere months ago, I would have thought impossible for one reason or another. I would have talked myself out of them to cater towards the incorrect self-perception to which I so desperately cling. I would have stated that, for some reason, my body and mind were incapable of doing these things because of some erroneous conclusion I’ve come to about myself. Recently, however, I stared down the barrel of fear and came out the other side relatively unscathed.
On Saturday, a rare day off work that started by me teaching children at work, I went with a co-worker to John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I went to take photos of the changing leaves; he came because he wasn’t doing anything else. As we set out on our way down the South Gorge Trail, I knew I was in for an adventure. The trail itself snaked between the Little Miami River and the wall of a giant gorge. As I followed my friend over the rocky terrain and rickety looking bridges (that I was certain were going to crumble as I placed my foot upon them), I felt a weird sense of calm. The rhythmic pad of my feed on the mud and leaves, along with the thump-thump-thump of my camera hitting my hip with each step, reminded me that my body has a purpose. Without this body, I couldn’t enjoy this wonderful fall afternoon with my friend. No matter how much I hate this body at times, I was reminded that it does do good things for me.
When we got to a piece of the gorge that had broken off and skidded down the hill to the trail, my friend immediately asked if I would dare him to climb it. I knew he was going to do it no matter what I said, so I said yes and that I would take his picture when he got to the top. He disappeared behind the rock and all I could hear was his voice as he encouraged me to climb up after him. Now, being five foot two, I have pretty short legs and climbing is not my forte. As he stood on the top of the thirty or so foot high rock, he kept telling me I had to come up too. I stood, firmly planted at the bottom, giving reason after reason why I couldn’t possibly climb up after him. I finally gave up arguing and just yelled up “I can’t!” This, of course, was not a good enough answer for him and he yelled down “You never know until you try, and you’ve never tried”. He was right. So, I strapped my camera to my back, and slowly walked through the mud to the rock. I squeezed through the tiny gap at the bottom, ducked under a big rock which was balanced precariously between the gap, and shimmied up the flat side to get to the top. I made it. I actually made it to the top. My body was strong enough to get me to the top and my mind was strong enough to tell the negative part of my mind to get over my fears. I did what I thought to be impossible…and I enjoyed it. It felt good to see my fingers slide into the openings in the rock, my feet sliding into crevices to keep my footing, my breathing concentrated as I tried to calm myself down…I did it. I climbed back down too and hiked the rest of the 1.3 mile trail and the adjoining 1.2 mile trail.
The other “impossible” thing I did involved college students, college faculty, and my co-workers…and a banned book read-in in the campus library. My co-workers, who signed up to read for their allotted fifteen minutes from the banned book of their choice, and I went over to the library during our lunch break to both read and hear others read. I had emailed the professor who organized the event prior to the read-in, and asked her if she would be willing to read a passage from my book for me; as I hate reading to adults in public. She agreed, so I brought one of my favorite books over with me. I chose “Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia” by Marya Hornbacher (*note, this can be a very triggering book and I do not suggest it to everyone*). My co-workers read, a professor read, and then our lunch break was over. As my co-workers left the library, I decided I was strong enough to read my book after all. I talked to the organizing professor, and she agreed to find a spot for me to read. Two more professors read from their books as another professor walked in with her class of about 20-something freshmen…just in time to hear me read, great. As the professor before me was reading, the freshmen were shuffling papers, whispering to each other and squirming in their chairs. Then I was told it was my turn. I explained why the book is banned and gave a brief introduction to the book—then I began reading. My voice was shaky but loud. I could hear my heart beat. I started to sweat, and my hands started to shake. But I kept reading. My stomach was churning. My mind kept telling me to stop reading the book, that the students didn’t care and that I was stupid for choosing this book. But I kept reading. The students were silent; no one even breathed loudly. It was so quiet that I looked up from the book once or twice to make sure no one had left—they were all still there each time I looked. I got to the end of my passage and looked up at the professor who organized the event. She looked at me, told me how powerful the author’s words were, asked again for the title, and said that she understands why to book is banned but that eating disorders are a topic that needs to be discussed more in schools. I looked around at the freshmen who all seemed to have a bewildered expression on their faces, not quite knowing how to react to what they just heard. But, continuing on with the schedule, another professor began reading.
As he read, I kept thinking about how big of a mistake it was to read the book. How, by reading that book in particular, I had “outed” myself as a screw up with an eating disorder, and that I had pretty much just sewed a scarlet “ED” to my chest for everyone to see. That everyone was going to know I wasn’t this perfect person I pretend to be, that I make mistakes, that I have flaws, that I was inviting judgment into my life and that I have a mental illness. But, do you know what? I don’t care. I don’t honestly care one bit. I helped raise awareness on eating disorders. I may have read to someone who has an eating disorder that was scared to reach out to get help, or someone who has a friend that suffers, or whatever the situation…I may have been able to help at least one person. I may not be “fixed” myself, but I can use my imperfect/still recovering self to help someone else along their journey. The only way to help people get through eating disorders is to talk about them, acknowledge their existence in our lives, and thereby reduce the stigma attached to them as a way to get people started on getting the treatment they need. You, too, can do the impossible. To you it may not be climbing a rock with a friend or reading books to college students and professors. To you, the impossible may be eating breakfast, not purging, eating foods you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to eat, exercising a moderate amount, or whatever it may be. The only way to move forward in recovery is to do what you think to be impossible, for when you attempt the impossible you gain the strength, the courage and the confidence to succeed.