My world ended at 22. I lost everything I had worked so hard since the age of 9 to become. A simple "and what do you do?" would send me for a toss deep in to the confines of my room, my closet, the balcony, my roof pondering life deciding whether to jump or get back inside and get over myself. Like a soldier wounded from battle who only knew to be a soldier was suddenly stripped of her duty, given a new identity and asked to be happy. Expected to figure it all out and to blend in.
Sprinting towards this goal of becoming a tennis champion, I numbed myself from who I really am (and who I was becoming). Training 7 hours a day, 6 days a week from the age of 9, tennis consumed every part of my identity. Eventually, my body and mind revolted against itself in violent bulimic episodes for years until I collapsed. It was in those moments of fatigue where I felt peace, after vomiting and crying myself to sleep my mind would finally surrender. There was no way yoga or meditation could have saved me back then. My environment was drenched in oppressive pressure and depressive behaviors; cutthroat competition, a volatile and controlling coach, family pressure and self-inflicted obligation to succeed combined with resentment towards the game. After the biggest win of my career, I went locked myself in the hotel and cried all night. I needed an outlet and did not know I had been doing this to myself as a way to beg my mind to listen to my heart.
I went through the long and painful process of letting go of something I had thought I was expected to do and be. Tennis. I was trapped in a dichotomy of two worlds. I could continue that path and become someone I had convinced myself from the age of 9 I was expected to be or I could stop, reassess and move forward in a healthier and richer life. A very difficult choice to make as a young adult.
What followed were five years of depression, anger, intense anxiety and crippling confusion. I was jaded and my thoughts were always in the past. If I had just lost those 10 pounds. If I had just hit that one forehand in instead of out, if I had just listened better, if I had just tried a little harder life would somehow become happy or the way it was supposed to be. If I had just been good enough life would become how I was promised it would be, full of celebrity and autographs, magazine covers and winning tournaments and fancy dinners and fulfillment and happiness and expectations and at last peace of mind.
I had so much resentment. How was I back at school now at 23? It was supposed to be at 33 at the end of my long illustrious tennis career when I would prance around a place like Princeton University with millions in the bank thinking "well this is fun." Instead of feeling the mounting pressure that I had to make something of myself all over again. At Princeton, I felt like I was always behind. My peers were way smarter than me; every single one of them had achieved academic superstardom. It became a habit, thriving on feeling behind, last, worst and anticipating loss. I was desperate for a new superior identity. I needed to recreate my own Wimbledon.
Through an intense desire to escape from my personal purgatory, I worked on hard on myself until I realized that the insecurities deep within me to be the best, to feel good enough for... myself would never allow me to fully "succeed." An emotionally exhausting experience with my most recent Wimbledon project ended with an intense acne breakout. It wasn't until I could see the physical manifestations of self-dissatisfaction erupting all over my face that I committed to tackling my issues. Vanity pleaded for an urgent and curative mental change.
Now I'm thinking, what have I pushed myself to do out of a place of self-satisfaction versus self-dissatisfaction? Very tricky words for ex-athletes: satisfaction, achievement, good enough. Better, best, more, harder is what I respond to. Self-satisfaction? That word makes me cringe. If I accept it, would I become complacent? If I took action out of a place of self-satisfaction what would that action be and how would my perspective or self-talk change? Suddenly the world looks so different. I'm dizzy.
I'm allowing myself this so called "easy pace" this "enjoyment" instead of accepting I want to be happy and am finding happiness in allowing myself to just exist. I hate the idea of giving myself a break as if I'm supposed to always be doing something arduous, complex, extreme, only meant for the select elite.
In Yoga they say "root to rise," that helps me think that there is something better for me in the future. What if there isn't? And while I try to worry and put ammunition behind that train of thought, the joy and peacefulness of being me is slowly creeping in. From this is coming stable moods, a smile for no reason, more love for my loved ones, more patience, more creativity. The last one I am most fond of.
Chains from my mind are slowly being unlocked and I'm starting to think in new ways. My brain and heart are no longer overwhelmed. I'm no longer pestering myself to move on to the next thing, do more, be better, and get out. I'm feeling happy in stability, in being present and fully experiencing each day. Sometimes I think this evolution is just helping me survive this normal mundane mediocre existence of life. My imbalances and impulses made life wilder, they made me feel like I was racing towards some impossible dream like Don Quixote.
For the first time, I'm not scared to listen to what I really want deep down in my heart. That voice is indeed getting louder. And I'm challenging all my old ways: the way I walk, the way I talk, where I'm going, why I'm working out at 6 a.m. and all that. It just makes my brain hurt because it makes me think a lot. I don't ever want to go back to feeling like I did before but I'm not quite sure where I'm headed.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.