About a week ago, I decided to take a walk in the woods.
I have no idea how many miles I covered, and it was freeing not to care. I strayed off the path once in a while where I found a lake I had no idea existed, where I found a drop-off I had never taken the chance to admire. I could spread my toes, roll and bend my feet to meet the ground, climb onto logs and explore odd angles and points of view of the forest with my camera phone. I listened to the creak of the trees, a tumble and crash of a branch falling, birds twittering in the distance, and frogs croaking in the swamp.
After years of running these paths–where I spent half of the time assessing my body for aches and pains–I was now walking calmly and assessing my mind.
This walk epitomized the strong relationship I have built with myself after five years of battling the eating disorder. Instead of running away from fear and anxiety, I slowed down to see more clearly what nature–life–had to offer. Life isn’t perfect at this point per say, but any tough situation I deal with now doesn’t compare to the way I felt inside before.
There is a happiness that comes from within; it wells up in my chest and explodes in random bursts of laughter. I like myself now. I enjoy the people I am surrounded with, and there is freedom when I wake up each day without guilt and fear. Sure, there are things I’m working on (who doesn’t have room to grow?), but I am enjoying the process and I am open to new perspectives and suggestions without breaking away from my core personality.
I no longer feel like “Rachael” just in running, but in all aspects of my life.
People can remind you of how good you have things, how blessed you are, and that so many others have it “worse,” but if you are simply not happy with the way you are living and cannot find peace within yourself, the sadness will not be fixed by a matter of comparing your grief to those “worse off.” Grief is real and painful to those who feel it, and we all owe it to ourselves to learn how to fix what feels broken and find what makes us happy.
The tough thing is that it takes time, hard work, and often painful self-discovery. I never thought I would reach a point where I could feel joy each day simply because of the people who are in my life and how I feel about myself. I always relied on happiness from outside circumstances like pleasing others, racing well, or getting good grades. I’m sure there are plenty of new lessons and trials to go through ahead of me, but making it out of the first round makes me feel confident that I can face what’s ahead without overwhelming fear.
With this happiness comes a greater desire to help others so that they can feel this joy as well. I remember all too well the grief, anger, and loss of hope I had felt for so long, and I never want anyone to hate being in their own mind and body. I never want anyone to feel that they are alone and out of control.
I want the next person–maybe it’s you–to take a spontaneous leap and go for a walk in the woods. I want you to laugh at yourself when you are caught taking a selfie on the bridge by another wanderer along the path (don’t judge me). I want you to slip into a muddy part of the path, to take off your shoes and wade in the chilly spring water, to peer over the edge of the ravine and marvel at the winding brook below.
I want you to find the time to take a walk, to converse with yourself, to save YOU–because by saving yourself, you possess the tools to help save others who want to find themselves again, too.