“Describe a moment when you failed, how did you pick yourself back up?”
Failure is hard.
Openly talking about failure is even harder.
It’s a constant part of life, yet we have such a difficult time accepting that failure is normal.
It’s okay to fail.
And a few years ago, I experienced a personal failure.
Setting myself the lofty goal of running my first half marathon, I was determined to set this positive goal for myself. After transitioning from my “all-or-nothing” professional ballerina career, long distance running became my new identity. I loved it - the way it made me feel. The way I could leave all my emotions right at the door.
It started as a positive, healthy coping mechanism; a way for me to deal with both my anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, although I was seeking the necessary resources, I was far from stable when it came to my mental health. I was still experimenting with antidepressants and testing out different therapists, all while trying to complete my university degree.
Safe to say, I would start and end my day bombarded with stress and anxiety.
Running was the only way I could handle my day-to-day life. So, I began my training program. Little did I realize that I was using this program as an excuse to over-exercise and overtrain.
“I need to run.”
“I have to go for a run, it’s part of my training program.”
“I can’t come, I have to run 15km today.”
My daily exercise routine focused solely on cardiovascular training.
I would constantly tell myself:
“Running is everything. You don’t need anything else.”
Strength and conditioning training seemed like a waste of time, it wouldn’t help me cross the 21km mark. Rest days were trivial; there was no time for that.
On average, I was running anywhere from 10-20 km per day.
I needed it.
I couldn’t go without it.
I was completely obsessed. But, it was all healthy right?
“Don’t worry, it’s all for a good cause” my mind would tell me.
The date of my race was rapidly approaching.
My body wasn’t keeping up with my mind. I could feel it failing me. My joints couldn’t keep up with the combination of my excessive exercise regimen and self-inflicted lack of nutrition.
Yet, I kept pushing even when I could feel my body screaming back at me in pain.
Suddenly, I found myself in a physiotherapy waiting room after being carried there by a friend.
I couldn’t stand.
I couldn’t bare any weight on one of my legs.
I couldn’t even walk without a crutch.
My physiotherapist told me I’d developed a chronic injury because I lacked the muscle definition to support the distances I was running. She handed me a recovery program.
“You won’t be running the half marathon” she said.
And, I broke.
I had failed.
I was ashamed and disgusted with myself.
Weak, pathetic even.
In that moment, it felt as though my world was ending. I wasn’t able to see any kind of light at the end of the tunnel. All I could think was “I’m a failure.”
The next six months focused on recovery, rebuilding, and strengthening the muscles I had lost. I cried a lot. Some days I just said “fuck it” and ran out the door, knowing I would suffer the consequences later, further setting back my progress. Slowly, I started to learn how to develop healthy coping mechanisms and recognize my own limits.
To me, my body had failed me.
It wasn’t until this year that I was able to address how my mind actually failed my body.
I never appreciated it.
My body always loves me, regardless of the pain I subject it to.
It always fixes my wounds and fights off illnesses.
Even when I punished it, my body continued to keep me alive and breathing.
So, recently in an interview, when asked to describe a moment when I had experienced failure, I sat in front of 12 strangers and told the story of my evil little friend.
My eating disorder.
I didn’t realize the rawness and vulnerability of my answer until I acknowledged the reactions of those around me.
I think I shocked myself.
While writing has always been my creative outlet, verbally speaking about my journey is very unknown territory.
Yet, it’s important to accept that we will all experience failures in our life.
Our true strength lies in how we overcome those hardships.
It’s never an easy path or quick solution.
It takes time.
That time allows us to come to terms with a part of us we never would have accepted had we not experienced that initial failure.
I am recovering from an eating disorder.
I am not a failure.