The Eating Disorder and My Disappearing Social Life

I felt happy for most of my high school years. I can’t say it was a joy ride, but it certainly wasn’t bad. I mainly focused on running and schoolwork, but I also built relationships with my friends and made a few new ones—until the connection between weight and running became the sole focus in my life.
During my final semester of high school I counted calories as teachers taught lessons in class. I ate lunch alone. I wore baggy pants and sweatshirts because I couldn’t muster the energy to wear something nice, and because those were the warmest clothes I had for a body that constantly felt chilled. I dragged myself through the hallways in silence and fatigue. I ran my track races with the main goal to please my coach and to try to feel a greater sense of worth.
In college, things would change, I thought. With each run leading up to that first college semester, I assessed my body and yearned for energy again. I hoped I would find happiness. College was supposed to be the period where I could start over and show the real Rachael I had always wanted to let out.
College was a great transition for me. I wrote to my parents and family friends about how happy I was, how much I enjoyed the freedom, how great it was to run the fastest I had ever run in my life. But as I got further and further into the college scene, I began to realize how tough it really was to be who I knew I was deep down—the person I had hoped, by then, would come out. I searched for opportunities to bring the real Rachael out at last, but even though I attended events on campus, shared my knowledge of nutrition, and won races, I still could not seem to connect with my own teammates on a deeper level than just running. I made friends with my classmates, but in reality, they were probably more just like acquaintances for those first few years.

Reaching Out

During my sophomore year of college I emailed my friend Sharon about my food difficulties. And now, four years later, I recently told her how sorry I was that our conversation back then was probably the extent of my connection with her; that I hadn’t talked with my childhood friend Jackie in months; that even with the other few friends I made in college, I had good times with them but my mind was so occupied with the eating obsession, that I never had time to be there for them when they had taken so much time and energy to be there for me.
Working to recover from the eating disorder was the path to bring out Rachael. The Rachael deep within screamed to be heard, demanded to be exactly who she was. But it was a mess–it was like a rebirth, and not without the complications and “yuck.” It meant ups and downs with the emotions, dealing with the torrent of bingeing to periods of restriction, letting my fear drive me to bulimia, and losing everything I ever thought I had wanted in life—the thinnest body I could achieve, success in running I had only ever dreamed of, and pleasing everyone around me with my performances.

Coming Into My Own

College ended up as a five-year period of forging a new relationship with myself. While I had sunken into the eating disorder for my last semester of high school, now in my last semester of college I rose with a stable energy and a newfound joy in simply being. And suddenly, I discovered it was easy to be open with others; that I was no longer just talking about running and nutrition; that it was effortless to share my opinions and practice confidence; that it was okay (and even kind of funny) to make mistakes—and that my body was not a mistake.
And with all of that, stronger friendships developed.
I could say that I found myself too late; that now that I have graduated college and I am happier than ever, I had lost many opportunities to be all of myself during those college years and develop great relationships. But it took the eating disorder to force self introspection, development, and to be the wakeup call I had needed for so long.
Thank you to the friends who stuck with me through the worst of it–when I wasn’t the happiest, most exciting friend–and stayed with me through the end.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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One Response to The Eating Disorder and My Disappearing Social Life

  1. Nika says:

    I love you so much, sweet cheetah. It’s amazing the journey you have had, and though I know only snippets of it, I have no doubt that each leg was brimming with the unadulterated enthusiasm, compassion, and insight that makes you one of the dearest people I have known.

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