When the Walls Come Tumbling Down


Twenty-two years ago, my world was spinning. I was a senior in High School, captain of my volleyball team, straight A student working toward a college scholarship and my world was collapsing.

I found myself in the office of a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Hospital in Boston and he was reviewing the results of my liver ultrasound. It was not looking good.

I had been having dizzy spells for as long as I could remember but I would always fight through them. Actually, after the first few, I got used to them and would just wait for them to pass. I worked out twice a day - once during practice and then again at home after dinner I would ride our stationary bike while reading the book assigned for my AP English class. And then sit-ups. I did a lot of those, usually about 500 per night and then my 200 calf raises. Oh and did I mention the calories per day? I would eat a relatively healthy breakfast but then limit my caloric intake to about 900 calories for the rest of the day.

But before I go any further, let me take you back to middle school. It was fifth grade and that is when the teasing began. That's when I started to gain some weight. By 6th grade it was official - I was the fat, ugly kid who was the center of ridicule. And to make it worse, I got good grades so now I was the fat, ugly, brown-nose kid. I heard these words (and worse) every day. And perhaps like many of you, after you hear something for a while, you start to believe it...It sinks in and becomes part of you even if that is something you don't want...If so many other people say it, well then, it must be true...right?

That was my life...until high school. I went to a new school, the public school and no longer the private school to which I had a scholarship. I was 5'4" and 180 lbs so maybe the fat part was right after all. But something inside of me knew I wasn't ugly...I made some new friends, slowly and at the same time started to grow - literally. By the time I was a junior I was almost 5'8" and 130 lbs. I had grown about 4" and lost 50 lbs so needless to say, my body shape was much more attractive to others. And I knew this because I got a lot of compliments:

  • Wow, Amy! You look great!
  • You are so fit!
  • I wish I looked like that in those pants.

And boys started to notice me more. I was told boys "liked" me and I was asked on dates.

But through all of this, there was a voice inside that wanted to scream - but I was always here! It has always been me inside of this body!

Of course, I never said those words. I continued to externalize my acceptance and as long as people said I looked good, I was skinny, etc. I knew I was on the "right" track. And even when some people started to say:

  • Wow, Amy - you look really thin!
  • Aren't you hungry? You should eat more.
  • Those pants look loose on you.

I thought they were jealous...I was told I was fat before and now I'm too thin?! Is that even possible? There is no "too thin." And so I kept going....

Until I had my yearly physical for my senior year. My pediatrician, Dr. Brown didn't want to approve me for playing sports and I couldn't understand why.

I was 5'8" and 108 lbs. And my blood work came back with a lot of abnormalities.

So I made him a deal - he would let me play volleyball if I promised to go to Boston.

And that is how I landed in Dr. Harland Winter's office that Fall afternoon. He gave it to me straight:

"Amy, here's the deal. I can put you in the hospital right now into an anorexic treatment program. But I don't think that's what you want."

I stopped and looked at him: anorexic. No I'm not...I'm just fit. I'm just disciplined. But the look in his eyes told me otherwise.

He continued:

"You told me earlier that you want to be a pediatric surgeon. If you do want to help kids, if you want to go to medical school - you have to start taking care of yourself. Because if you continue on this path then you will probably be dead in 5 years."

What?! Die in 5 years - that's not in my plan! No, not in my plan at all.

So he said:

" I can put you in the hospital or I can introduce you to a great nutritionist and you get better and heal with her. You choose."

My response?

"Well, since I have a volleyball game in 2 days, I can't stay in the hospital. What's her name?"

And that was the first step on my road to recovery from anorexia and toward learning about and becoming more of me, Amy.

That was the first day of when my walls came tumbling down.

I'd like to say that since then I have build a huge, strong structure. Maybe to some it looks really big and really strong but like any structure, there are cracks...and even some holes. Sure I patch them up and even sometimes just rebuild but it is in no means bullet proof.

Every day is a new day with different challenges. Some days are easier than others. After you have something so ingrained in you, it becomes part of you. Your molecules. Your existence. And while over the years the voices have quieted down and the frequency of them has greatly decreased, they still try to surface. They still try to penetrate this structure I am building.

What keeps me going? What helps me? I ask these questions because I recognize that questions are different for everyone. We all have different drivers and influences so I can only speak for mine.

  • Self love. This can be, by far, the hardest. But I am learning to love myself - Amy. Not the person I think others want me to be. Not who I think others need me to be. But who I AM.
  • Contribution. Life is more than me - beyond just me. Yes, I take care of myself but I don't live by myself. I have a family. I have a community. I am a part of both and I want to be positive influences in both.
  • Service. I love teaching and I am good at it. That's why I provide Workshops to companies, to teams to organizations. I help them to get back to the basics of why they are in business, who they are as individuals, as a team and what they want to share with their customers. What is their value message? Their value story? That's why I teach at Colleges and Universities - to share my knowledge with the students and to learn from them as well.

Each of you has your own story. Your own journey. And what I have found, especially over the past few years and even more deeply in a recent interview for Mark Goblowsky's Podcast Strength Through The Struggle [Listen HERE] is that while my past does not necessarily define me, it shapes who I am today. My survival. My trials. My triumphs. My tribulations - all of it.

And since that early evening in the Fall of 1993, my walls have crumbled down for other reasons. I have had miscarriages; I have had to make unexpected career decisions; I was almost sued; I have lost job contracts that I had planned on to not only contribute but to support my family.

But I have also rebuilt my walls. I met my soul mate and now husband; I have been blessed with two beautiful, strong and active boys; I recently published a book; I conduct workshops and get to speak to some really great groups.

I have come to realize that no structure is permanent but it is what I make of it. So, here's to making the most of all of my opportunities...even those that knock me down because as the expression goes:

"It's not how hard you fall, but how fast you get up."

~ Kristine Lilly