I entered college anticipating a chance to start over—a chance to bring out the person I had always felt had been trapped inside. I left high school as a depressed, eating-disordered, running-consumed, people-pleaser perfectionist who found out, upon entering college, that I still couldn’t let it all go.
I didn’t know how to let it all go.
I reached my dream in running with school records and All-American finishes as a college freshman, only to realize that this was not as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be; that as everyone praised me for my efforts, fear of the dissatisfaction I felt and a yearning to go to extremes haunted me in the loneliness of the disorder and perfectionist mindset.
I took a leap of faith when I started a raw food diet. While there was skepticism from my peers, raw food was the first major change, a switch where I realized I was in control of me life, that I could do daring things, too. While it did not end up as the healthiest means to an end, it was a path to the voice I had buried down for so long.
I faced reality after that dream-come-true year of running—I had turned from a judgmental, glory-driven athlete to a humbled, scared, bingeing girl stripped of her running “superpowers.” I faced my greatest fears in a life without my control of food or success in running: I realized I could be more than just running and food.
I had to be more than just running and food.
Writing gave me a voice at last despite anxiety and shame in sharing it. My eyes opened beyond my own fears to see how many others dealt with what I went through. I learned that it was never about discipline and desire, but about disorder and chaos and a confused identity.
I could be more than the food I ate, the amount I weighed on the scale, the schedule I dictated myself by, and the times I ran in races. I began to open my mouth not just to eat, but also to speak with confidence and enthusiasm because I realized how painful and frustrating it had felt to run in silence.
I am graduating college with a four-inch surgical scar tracing down my right knee that tells a story not of physical pain but emotional rebirth; that a comeback was never about racing after breaking my kneecap, losing weight again, or achieving All-American, but about learning to be the best Rachael I could be under the strain of every fear that became my reality. I graduate now with extra “meat on my bones,” a body that has carried me through it all, and a mind that never gave up.
I began to see the joy in life with great friends and family. I took the chance to break a few rules when I slept on the college soccer field for my twenty-first birthday, when I decided to not complete a school assignment for the first time in my life, when I got my first-ever C on an test, and when I decided that enough was enough with running to quit competing because the sport was taking away more than it was giving back.
That it was my turn to give back.
I graduate having enjoyed all-nighters, having broken away from rigid schedules, and feeling the serenity in sitting peacefully with myself without feeling guilt for “wasting” time. I graduate having met amazing new people with different ideas and views on life that allowed me to see beyond a world of running and food.
Today I graduate knowing that the desire to be the best runner was not what would make me feel better; that the “right” food would not bring out the real Rachael; and that self-discovery is painful but it forced me to face myself at last.
I graduate knowing I am privileged and blessed, and that a big part of my success is from the people I am surrounded with–a community of running and writing friends, fantastic professors and classmates who supported me through everything, coaches and parents who believed in my potential to be a great person and not just a great runner, and everything beyond perfection.
Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.