by the beautiful Jessica Jackson
“What if you’ve been trying to run when you’ve really been made to fly? You are you and you are enough.” Usually I find a sense of humor from the inspirational quotes shared at the end of a yoga practice (I have a difficult time being serious, but most people live for these thought provoking quotes) . I let the message of being enough sink in as I was laying on the ground in savasana; sometimes my favorite pose after an hour in 101 degree room. What if I’ve been trying to fit a mold of something I’m not?
This question has haunted me for years. Let me explain: I was a sophomore in college, a dance education major, had just skimmed through my freshman year by the skin of my teeth, and let’s just say my social scene had plummeted. I was failing at life all because I had put on that most feared freshman 15, and did not fit the ideal student mold of perfect, young, and hot ( and because I was wearing a leotard 24/7 dancing in front of a mirror all day, so it was easy to find myself comparing my body to others).
At the university I was attending, everyone was literally perfect. What girls can sing and travel and run a blog and get perfect grades and have the perfect body and have the perfect relationships and be involved in extracurricular activities without missing a beat? The answer is no one, but I was comparing myself to those that were making it look so easy. Comparison is the ultimate thief of happiness, and I felt it being robbed from me! I was stressed trying to keep up on schoolwork alone and there was no way I could find the time to maintain a blog, or even think about joining the Barden Bellas (partly because I can’t sing but mostly because who has the time?). I didn’t feel like I was good enough.
In search for perfection to this perfect mold, I started to run my stress away, and made up that I couldn’t eat treats or gluten. My running increased and eating decreased. I had become addicted. I lost 30 pounds in 28 days. I didn’t see the physical changes of my body deteriorating but everyone else did. I felt in control because people told me I looked so thin, which made me feel like I was fitting the mold of success. I was soaring.
My grades skyrocketed because of my desire for perfection. However, I would wake up each morning wanting to break my legs in hopes of being hospitalized, so I did not have to do anything. I was trying to fit a mold that wasn’t me and now was farther from perfect than I could imagine. Due to my sudden loss of weight and protruding bone structure and complete lack of muscle, I had dance professors tell me I was making stupid decisions and interrogate my choice of wasting the chance to have children. I had several experiences where individuals would look at me while I ran my 8 miles on the treadmill and laugh at how disgustingly thin I appeared, and people who would bring me heaps of food because I looked sickly. There was judgement, but little did those people know I no longer had the choice to choose my mold, I was trapped. I didn’t realize that another mentality was developing that would control my life and all of my decisions.
Months later, now weighing in at 98 pounds, I was having heart attack symptoms. I drove myself 45 minutes to a hospital in the middle of the night. I was diagnosed with female athlete triad. Female athlete triad is the combination of physical expenditure succeeding caloric intake, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss). For so long I had pictured my mold as being perfect, I felt like I was in control and was flying to new heights of success, but I was very much in the opposite situation-sitting in a hospital bed with doctors now in control forcing me to surrender all. I was destroying my body; was this the mold I wanted to fit?
Eating disorders are addictions. Once immersed, you can’t make decisions for yourself because your mentality changes and you believe you are never enough. There is a book titled Life Without ED, which had a large impact on my recovery, that explains how the brain develops another thought process which takes over and makes food, exercise, body image, and perfectionism seem like the perfect and only mold to fit. I didn’t choose to be lying in a hospital bed with my heart rate monitor continually beeping from a low resting heart rate, but I did. I tried to be something different than what I was, in order to try to prove that I was better than the rest.
The most difficult part of my experience was battling the aftermath of the disorder. Through months of battling the acceptance of the disorder and wanting to get help, countless hours of meeting with psychologists and nutritionists, years of teaching my brain to regain control of loving myself, hundreds of articles and books, I learned I was enough being me; I finally felt free. It is through the recovery phase where you really learn about yourself and who you’re meant to be; to love yourself and your body. It is not easy to watch the scale rise, to go to dessert parties, to eat at all, not not over exercise, to compare your body to someone else’s, or to tell your brain that you are enough, but that is part of the process of recovery-you can’t judge your life based on something you’re not and something that robs you of happiness. Your mold is made up of many experiences and how you react to them. Just like with any experience, figuring out who you are and what you are capable of takes time, love, and patience but is a journey that is worth the struggle. Now, I have been able to establish a healthy lifestyle that keeps me happy and energized, where progress to love myself is still a constant progression.
We are exactly who we are meant to be. So although it may sound cheesy, we were made to do and become whatever we want. The choice is ours on who we want to become and how we want to arrive there. Another question we might ask is “Is there even a mold? and why do we set limits? The opportunities of life and our worth is incredible so, whether it’s flying, walking, running or soaring- we make our lives and set our path, boundaries and goals. We are individually amazing, and we are enough.
I never put much thought into the measure of my self-worth until the moment I found myself without any. I recently realized that my entire life I’ve placed my worth on how much I could accomplish. I felt worthy of love, praise, and admiration when I accomplished something I deemed worthy. Mixed with a good batch of perfectionistic expectations, self- worthiness was not an easy combatant to contend with. However, I was able to distract myself the majority of my life with school, dance, and social activities. I felt worth something only when I was maintaining a high GPA, taking hard classes, making prestigious dance teams, getting asked out, so on and so forth. These things gave me the illusion that I was confident in myself.
However, once I graduated and stepped away from the life of school, dance, and social activities that were intertwined around my collegiate life, my world was rocked pretty dramatically. I found myself stripped of all distractions, staring at myself without any excess, all the layers of myself pulled back and I was forced to look at myself for who I really was. I wasn’t looking at the student or dancer version of myself. The more I was forced to reflect on who i was without all of the distractions, the more I realized I didn’t know who I really was, or if I valued who I really was. I went through a time where I belittled and criticized myself constantly for everything I seemed to lack.
This experience made me feel very alone, and very isolated. Partly because of social media, I felt extremely different from the people around me. Everyone else seemed to have it together, seemed to be happy, accomplished, and confident in the direction they were heading. Why couldn’t I? I felt unacceptable to show how I really felt. I felt no one wanted to be around someone who isn’t fun, and I felt like I was expected to be the social media version of myself instead of admitting that I was going through something difficult. I was falling further and further down a hole of confusion without any clear direction of how to get out.
The anxiety this experience brought on still lingers from time to time, however, through this overwhelming and somewhat intense experience I have come to be certain of a few things:
1.No one has it together
Once I mustered up enough courage to stumble out a few words to some close friends about how I was feeling I found it easier to talk about. As I did, I realized that every person goes through some form of what I was going through. I was not alone in my experience. Everyone has their own fears, insecurities, and personal battles. Daily. No matter their age or level of success. No one knows exactly how their future is going to play out or if things will work out at all. The key is to keep going. Have faith and hope that everything will work out, even if you don’t know it will. Give everyone a break, understand that we are all struggling, and take things a day at a time. You never know what someone is going through, so take the time to be kind to others.
2. Be gentle with yourself
Along with being kind to others, it is so crucial to be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself, understand that you’re not perfect, and that’s OKAY. Imperfection is what gives us the ability to grow, how beautiful that we have the chance to become better. Time is the key ingredient in much of our improvement, and that is often forgotten. Learn to be gentle and patient with yourself and love and compassion for others will follow.
3.Things always work out
I usually shrink at the first sight of uneasiness about the future. I often go into a full blown panic attack about any unplanned part of the upcoming week. However, I have found that the more I believe in my own ability to secure a successful future, the easier it is for me to find it. The less I panic the more I can focus on getting where I want to be. With faith and hope in myself, as small as it is, I can usually gather that one ounce of courage to keep inching my way forward, even if I’m not sure the direction I’m headed.
4. You are LOVED
Nothing has proven more powerful to me in finding my self-worth than the knowledge that I am loved. I have been blessed by the most incredible people in my life, and it astounds me that I am worthy to receive their love. Love is more powerful than anything else in life. It has brought me out of my deepest holes, and most of the time people have no idea how much they have impacted my life. Love can remind you who you are, the worth that you possess, and the possibilities of your future. The love I have been shown has done this for me in more beautiful and miraculous ways than I can count. How grateful I am to be alive and to get to experience the light and the lift that love has afforded me through the different angels in my life. So LOVE other people, and let other people love you. Open your heart to love and see what can happen.
Self-worth isn’t a possession you lose or find, it is constantly evolving in each of us. I can’t say that I have found a perfect understanding of my own self-worth, but I am figuring out how to find it, a day at a time. So have compassion, and love more fully (including yourself). Understand that everyone is discovering their own self-worth. Commit to being the kind of person who helps someone else along, we are all fighting hard battles, most are unseen. What a beautiful world we live in, full of its hardships and miracles, let us be grateful and love each other a little better. If we can do that, we can come to find our own worth a little more fully.
The point of life, I think, is to find and pursue what creates happiness and inspiration in your life. For me, there are two main things that help me find happiness. 1. Service 2. Health.
Service: All service is great, but over the past year or so I have discovered the beauty in serving others through talents and passions I have found within myself. Dance is a passion of mine, so I try to find ways to impact or shift someone’s day through dance. One particular experience has opened my eyes completely. I was able to teach a group of women and children, who have never danced before, different ways to express themselves through movement. I witnessed this group of women and children be vulnerable and find something great inside of them through expression of movement. These kind of experiences help me remember why I have been given this talent. It’s all about helping each other out, and it feels great!
Health: Without trying to sound cheesy, health has helped me feel more connected with my environment. Whatever you believe in, there is a spirituality within every human being. I have felt this sense of spirit when I fuel my body with real nourishment and release endorphins through exercise. We are physical and spiritual beings, so it only makes sense that we feel more connected with our spirit when are physical bodies are healthy.
Life is too short to be unhappy. Finding what inspires you and makes you happy will create fulfillment. It will also help you remember that life can be beautiful when life seems anything but.