Somebody close to me questioned my choice to share some of my recent struggles here. This person couldn’t understand why I’d want to broadcast this publicly and detract from what could otherwise be a nice image of a successful life. I was also asked if I’d thought about the impact on others in my life, if I’d considered that it might be uncomfortable for them to field questions or comments from concerned family members and friends.
To be honest, I was terrified to open up about this to the world. What would it be like if everybody knew about this weakness? What would happen when I applied for a job or a spot on a team and the person evaluating me came across this part of my history? Would they think less of me? Would everybody think less of me?
It took a lot of consideration. I wrote the initial entry a week before posting it and decided against hitting “Publish” a few dozen times before getting the courage to move forward. And then I did, and the outpouring of support was more than I ever expected. People reached out with kind words, helpful advice, and stories about their own experiences and struggles. Several people even admitted that they were facing similar struggles but had not yet found a way to share with anybody in their life. By opening up about this, I found so much encouragement from the people in my life that I’ve actually made substantial progress in putting the behaviors behind me. When I stopped keeping this a secret, it became nearly impossible to keep doing secretive things like skipping food or throwing up. I felt accountable to the people supporting me, and in the end, that will be what helps me get past this.
I didn’t know how helpful sharing this would turn out to be, but when I made the decision to go public, I did have several goals. First, I wanted to be honest about my life, because I believe many people only present their best sides and it leads to an unnatural and unrealistic image of perfection. Yes, I have a great life – a cycling career and a good job, wonderful friends and exciting travel, a loving husband and family – but I also have issues. I am human and fall down and struggle to get back up sometimes. That’s okay and I believe it’s so important that we know this about each other and accept that occasionally we all need help. Regardless of who you are or how lucky or successful you’ve been, life is like the weather – some days are beautiful and some days are stormy. What is gained by pretending I live under a cloudless sky?
Second, I wanted to show that it is okay to talk about eating disorders. It is not something to be ashamed of or something that should be dealt with secretly. This is a thing that happens to normal, healthy, sane people, especially in the world of competitive athletics, and yet it so often goes undiscussed. Why did I feel like I couldn’t talk about this for the first few months? If I had the flu or chicken pox or cancer, it would be normal to talk about it. Why do mental struggles feel taboo and uncomfortable to bring up?
I want that to change. An eating disorder shouldn’t be the elephant in the room. It should be okay and normal for a person to say to the people around them, “Hey, my relationship with food is messed up and I’m having trouble accepting my body.” In my experience, this disease persists because the voice in my head goes unchallenged. When the voice tells me I would climb better if I was lighter, or that I won’t be okay if I don’t exercise every day, or that I am ‘bad’ because I ate a ‘bad’ food, there are times when I don’t have the mental strength to argue. But now, because I opened up to others about this problem, the people in my life argue for me. They use facts and logic and evidence to help me see the healthy way to live, and they can drown out the voice when I can’t.
I never meant to make anybody uncomfortable by talking about this here. My intent wasn’t to cause discomfort or create a ‘negative’ image of myself. I just wanted to be honest about my life, ask for help, and start an open dialogue about a difficult subject. Writing is much easier than talking for me when it comes to difficult subjects, so I chose to use my blog to start the conversation. If people think less of me or don’t want to hire me because I’ve admitted to having a problem, then I’m willing to let those people and opportunities go. We only get one chance to live our lives, and I don’t want to spend mine pretending to be perfect when I’m not. I would rather be known for successfully beating a problem than never having any at all.
When I was first confronted by this person, there was a moment where it felt like I should take these posts down and pretend none of this ever happened. It was like their shame and discomfort were contagious. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that this was the right decision in the first place. In speaking out about my eating disorder, I discovered that there are so many supportive and accepting friends, teammates, and family members in my life, people who are now helping me get well. There is nothing to regret about that.