The Semester That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen

This is the semester that wasn’t supposed to happen. It was my worst nightmare, a fate that loomed over me until the harsh December day when the doctor told me to pack up my things and head home. Then it became all too real. And let me tell ya: Humbling doesn’t begin to describe the what it’s like to take a medical leave of absence from college in order to get treatment for a mental illness. Humiliating is more like it.

But I put college on hold and began investing 30+ hours a week in intensive treatment. Rather, I was forced to put college on hold. I kinda blew through all my other options. Ah, the grace of God: more abundant than even the most monumental screw-ups.

I’ve shared my story before. That’s not what this post is about. This is about the aftermath. The fact is: I knew I’d made the right choice to take the semester off. But that didn’t erase the shame I had regarding that decision. Because of my medical leave, I’d no longer graduate with my peers in May of 2017. I’d be a December grad (cue the dreary music).

A winter graduation isn’t a big deal, but I quickly grew irritated with the dialogue surrounding it:


Person: Are you excited to graduate in May?!
Me: I’m actually graduating in December, so I still have a semester left.
Person: Oh! That’s totally fine, I remember ________ (fill in name) took longer than 4yrs to graduate…..
Me: Actually, I took a medical leave of absence my sophomore year. So, yeah….

Most people let the conversation awkwardly die there, but a few will ask why I took the semester off and that is hard for me to share- especially with strangers. I love to tell of what God has done in my life, yes. But… I’m also ashamed that I’ve taken a different path than I intended.

And that’s hard.

But it dawns on me that if I had somehow finished my sophomore year, everything would be different. I would have, for a while, avoided the fracture of my own facade. I would’ve kept clinging to my social and athletic status as the markers of my worth. Oh how sweet it is that I fell and began to see the grace of God. As the Psalmist David once sang to the Lord: “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10).”

I’d rather be in the presence and freedom of the Lord– no matter how embarrassing or difficult the route–  than cruising down the highway in my own broken direction. Where I wanted to keep suffering, God wanted to heal. That medical leave was the first step in my healing.

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So the moral of the story is this: God works amazing things when it seems like the world is falling apart. I am, right now, healthy and pursuing 100% freedom. I’ve never experienced life to the extent that I am right now, and I will never forget the grace God showed when He pulled me out of school and began my healing. That’s our God!

If you’re in a hard place right now: Cling to the promises of the Lord. He will never leave you and He is always working for your eternal good and His glory. And friends, never forget to recognize the Lord’s goodness when it smacks you in the face! It might be months or years down the road, but you will reach a place where your heart is overflowing with gratitude for the same trials that gutted all you were. In the meantime: Journal, write and pray. Keep record of it all, so you can reflect back and see God’s love for you through these stages in life.

I want to end with this:


January 17, 2015
I thought I’d be back at school by now, back at Butler and thriving at the start of my fourth semester in college.  But that’s not at all what has happened and I’ve made the difficult decision to take the semester off so I can focus on my recovery and truly get free from anorexia.  I never anticipated this becoming my journey.  Yet, I know that God can bring healing from all circumstances and to all people—even me. 
It’s tough because today is Stephanie’s birthday and I feel like I was the worst roommate ever….part of me wonders how (and why) she put up with me for as long as she did. 
That’s not why I’m writing tonight though.  Lord, I am really struggling this evening.  I am having such a hard time letting go… I want to obey you but I  am so torn by the lies and temptations of the devil… A part of me still desires the skin and bones that anorexia provided. The control. But I know that in order to be the confident and free Hannah, the one who can live life and run with Your joy, I have to let go of that control.  I am going to be hurt, taken advantage of and probably abandoned.  But You, Oh God, will never leave or forsake me… I need not be afraid of what others can do to me because You are my rock. Help me to see myself as beautiful, but even when I can’t yet see that: Let me fix my eyes on You and trust that You are in this and I will never regret choosing You.”

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God always redeems.

Love,

Hannah

 

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The Summer I Didn’t Run

It was May 3, and I pulled out my composition notebook, penned with a definitive “Summer Training 2016” on the front.  My goal was to document my training each day, complete with a goal for each run and a Bible verse to meditate on.  And so, embracing my small beginning (Zeph. 4:10), I laced my shoes and headed out the door.

But as the training log went on, the pattern became glaringly obvious; The Bible verses said one thing, but my words said another: I wasn’t trusting the Lord.  So I ran “easy” runs at a fast clip and I didn’t let my body rest.  To serve as example: On May 20, I woke up early and ran 7 miles- I was almost back to 100% mileage that week.  I got my wisdom teeth out a few hours later, took two days to rest and then started running again on May 23.  Because, Heaven forbid I miss any training. If only I knew then what I know now.  If only I’d seen how much my bullheaded-will was dictating what my body & my spirit should have.

Everything went downhill from there.  It started with extreme fatigue that lasted a week.  “Still feels awful, but I was able to push myself a little harder,” I wrote on May 26.

Wow.  Great idea Hannah- push your body harder when it’s seriously lacking in energy.

But this was nothing new for me.  In fact, ever since I began treatment for anorexia in January of 2015, excessive movement has been my deepest struggle.  How much I ate was always contingent on how move I exercised. So if I met my own requirements, I’d eat all I was supposed to.  As you can imagine, when I got a muscle strain after my all-too-hard runs the week after surgery, havoc ensued. Throw in a misdiagnosis and five weeks of no improvement, and I was screwed.

I looked up all the Youtube videos, saw three doctors, tried different remedies.  Nothing worked. All the while, my little training journal was gathering dust because I was too disheartened to write down bike rides and swimming as “training.” I was too absorbed in my own pain to write down a daily Bible verse to meditate on.  And it went on, as May turned to June and June to July.  Friends who had shown initial concern began to forget that I was still in trial- and I can hardly blame them. When others would ask how my training was going, I would mutter something about how I was cross training for “a little while,” or I’d evade the question completely.

At the root of it was this deep fear that God had somehow messed up, big time.  I figured that somewhere along the way, He’d forgotten that He called me to run at Butler. That, or maybe He just wanted me to show Christ to my teammates and never get to really compete as the healthy, fast athlete I once was.  If we’re being honest, I wasn’t interested in an inspirational story of the failed athlete who shared Jesus.  I was compelled by the comeback story, by the prospect of coming out of nowhere to be a champion runner.  So, as weeks turned to months, my heart hardened towards the Lord and towards the giddy runners who had no idea how much I had lost.

I thought I was entitled, thought I going to have a summer of epic training that would lead up to a killer cross country season. I mean, I was the undeveloped high school runner who’d overcome anorexia, praised God and returned to school as a healthy athlete.  Pardon me, but the plot-line had taken a stark turn from my desired direction.

We all wrestle with holding on to what “should” be.  I’ve written about it many times before, and I probably will until I’m a wrinkly & pensive old lady.  But once August hit, I had (finally) accepted my new reality: I hadn’t run for the majority of the summer.  Whether or not it was fair, that was the truth.  And once I accepted that fact, the tears began to flow anew, because I didn’t understand how this was God’s faithfulness in action. It took a while, but I finally received wisdom in the form of two questions:

“Did you really trust Him?” and “Was He faithful?”

I’d wrestled the whole way, but in my imperfection, I had trusted Him. I hadn’t let go and turned away. My heart would harden and soften on a daily basis, but I had pursued Him through it.  So, the vital question became: “Was He faithful.”  The answer is and was, a resounding YES.

I looked at how far I had come: The extent to which I laid down my alliance with movement and embraced my body for more than just a vessel for running.  I looked at the new job I had grown to love, and the coworkers who became friends and didn’t see me as the girl with an eating disorder.  Yes, running was temporarily out of the picture, but so was my identity as “the girl who’d had an eating disorder.” And while I long for people to understand the daily struggles I go through in recovery, I simultaneously long to not be viewed in that stigma, to be seen as Hannah.  Thanks to the Lord’s grace this summer, I am free of more chains than I’ve ever been.  IMG_5908.jpg

And when it comes to my running: I realize, with hesitation, that the pressure is off.  I’ve surrendered my dreams and goals as a runner and given them to the Lord.  The ball is in His court.  It’s funny the sense of excitement that comes with such a reality. I’m now the underdog, but I have the God of the universe on my side.  So I can’t predict what will happen next, nor can I fein pleasure in the fact that I’m still easing back into running. But what I can proclaim with boldness and assuredness is that the temporary pains will ease and the glory of the Lord will be revealed. It might be the way I want and it might not be.

I can now look at the future though, and say that I’m walking in more freedom than any point in my life. That is more important than summer training. It is more beneficial than 1,000 miles. I truly believe that. And now that I’m to the point I am, I don’t see why I can’t progress forward and have an amazing year of running. I lay the outcomes aside and run in the freedom of a woman who runs with joy and not fear.

 

 

Unforgettable Runs: Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, Hilton Head, South Carolina

*This post was originally published on my initial blog on August 2, 2013.  I am in the process of migrating my content from Blogger and appreciate your patience as I do so!


After a few days in Hilton Head for vacation, I realized that my options for running routes were limited to either the beach or the limitless bike paths around the island.  The bike paths were good for a few days, until I got bored.  I either ran left out of our neighborhood, or I ran right.  Pretty awful when I’m doing long runs and the paths are straight as an arrow after a couple of miles in either direction.  For my long run of the week, I was determined to scour the internet to find somewhere I could do the 12.5 miles I was hoping to get in during the 90 minutes (RELATED: Unforgettable Runs: Handies Peak, Colorado).

In a magical moment, I found it: Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge.  The website said that there was a long 7.5 mile loop, and plenty of off shoots that I could run for some more mileage.  Perfect!  My dad agreed to drive me there early Saturday morning, but I was nervous for the 90 minute run all by myself, when I usually run it with friends.  The week before, my long run had gone well, but with my mileage going up, my legs were beginning to feel the increase.  My dad and I prayed that the run would go well and I would see God through the nature and the ability he gives my body– because he cares about the big things and the little things!

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Photo by: http://www.panoramio.com

The beginning of the path was out in the sun and looked like a dirt road with beautiful marshland directly on either side.  I was caught up in the beauty, but relieved when I hit shade after about half a mile.  The rest of the run was 90% in the shade, which I was very grateful for!  I breathed in the sweet sea air as I passed the gorgeous Ibis Pond on my right side, which just so happened to be teeming with large white birds… like: they were everywhere!  I ran really fast to get away from the birds, and soon came to the point where the path bent as I’d seen in the map.  I needed to go left.  Well, I couldn’t go left.  Bummer: they’d closed the path.  It seemed I had to go straight, so I continued on for a good mile before the path ended at White Point.  The view was breathtaking, and there was no one but me and the water.  Running back, I realized I would just have to take lots of little paths and make my own route to get my distance in.  I was disappointed that the minimal visitor information– consisting of just a giant map in the parking lot– hadn’t informed me that the main path was closed.  In hindsight though, I really enjoyed running out to a lot of other points on the islands.

(READ ABOUT MY OTHER ADVENTURES! Like, Ziplining in the El Yunque National Rainforest)

 

It was so weird though because I kept thinking that there were birds rustling in the bushes.  After I’d settled into my run though, I realized that the noise I heard was a million tiny little crabs scrambling to escape my footsteps running through their little crab towns.  They were literally everywhere where sand was, but as long as I kept moving, I was good.  Even that was awesome though, because I don’t usually encounter crabs when running in Ohio.  I weaved in and out of the main trail, going on a lot of the routes out to points and separate islands.  Some were flooded with water, since I was so deep in the marshland, but most were passable with minimal mud.  I even passed a few cyclists who were out searching for birds (which is cool with me since they stood as markers for me on where the birds were).

I enjoyed how the run was on soft terrain.  Sometimes it was grass– with few ruts– and at other times, it was fresh forest floor, in the woods.  I run at a hilly, wooded park at home all the time.  The difference?  This one was impeccably serene, the paths were more interesting, it was FLAT, and it was right by the ocean, surrounding me with tall and wispy Palm Trees.  Most of the paths connected to each other, so instead of going out to many points and just turning around, I was able to explore and find my way around the refuge.  No problem: 12.5 miles leaves plenty of time to explore (and yes: I got my 12.5 miles in.  I would recommend bug spray though.  Every time I stopped to tie a shoe or “relieve myself,” I was swarmed with giant biting flies and mosquitos- even at 7 a.m. 

I was so impressed with the wildlife refuge and envious of people that can run there more often.  I am a total beach girl, and having the beach right by my side as I passed from one tiny island to the next, was the coolest thing.  I will never forget the fresh ocean breeze that blew from behind while I softly crushed palm branches underfoot.  If your in the Hilton Head area: this run is a must!

10 Struggles of Collegiate Athletes

*This post was originally published on my initial blog on October 21, 2015.  I am in the process of migrating my content from Blogger and appreciate your patience as I do so!

1. Food takes priority over a shower

Because there are days when you have five minutes and Bath & Body Works Mango body spray is the closest you’ll get to “bathing.”

2. Spanish class doubles as snack time

Yeah, ok Profe. Did you really have to call on me when I just took a big bite out of my PB&J?

 

3. When you forget your apartment keys, but when you return from morning practice: Your roommates are all still asleep

 

4. When it’s rest day but you still wake up at 7:00 a.m.

Which means you’ll most likely fall asleep before it’s dark in the evening. Whatevs.

 

5. Or, when you have random drug testing at 6:00 a.m. on said rest day

 

6. Graston on your sore muscles

I want to know what genius is making a fortune off of a metal scraping tool that makes me tear up. Kudos to you, good sir.

 

7. Walking around with a giant ice-pack wrapped to your hip

It is what it is. The real struggle comes when it’s time to somehow cut it loose.

8. Leg drains for dayz

Complete with a running poster and mismatched socks (see #9)

 

9. Laundry

Because somehow, your hamper hasn’t been liberated from smelly clothes since you first got to campus in August. Surely there’s a bottom to that thing, right?

 

10. The ice tub

It’s the bane of collegiate athletes everywhere. With grit and resolve, we willingly thrust our bodies into its abyss, hoping to emerge with fresh muscles. It’s a love-hate relationship, but the ice tub make us feel hardcore and for that: We salute it!

Why Strong is NOT the New Skinny

This post was originally published on my initial blog on April 8, 2015.  I am in the process of migrating my content from Blogger and appreciate the patience as I do so!

As a female, it is impossible to escape the constant pressure to conform to societal standard.  I mean, unless I’m gonna hibernate under a rock Patrick Star style, I’m going to hear all about the clothes I “should” wear and the body I “should” have. Frankly, it’s exhausting!
It has been really neat though, to see the female spirit of determination come out of that.  Women are standing up for themselves and we are seeing female CEOs and movements on social media to reinforce healthy, real women.  I stumbled across an account last week on Instagram called @womenirl, meaning: Women in Real Life.  I love it.  I love the way it encourages us to be ourselves- messy hair, thick thighs and blemished faces included.  But I’ve also seen a movement go viral that I’m not so supportive of, one that I didn’t mind at first but has increasingly bothered me as I see it online day after day.
You may be familiar with it: “Strong is the new skinny.”  Uh huh… seems innocent enough, right?  But take a closer look at what this popular phrase- and hashtag- is really saying.  See, the word “skinny” has the connotation of an unattainable ideal, a lofty goal at the least.  It accompanies pictures of emaciated women or those who live life at the gym with their rigorous three hour workouts and hyper-specific calorie regimes. (RELATED:  Let’s Talk About Eating Disorders)
Now tell me: Why in the world do we want THAT associated with the word “strong?”  Strong is NOT the new skinny because “strong” is an inner quality.  It might be exemplified in muscular quads or strong arms sometimes, but it is also exemplified in perseverance through tough times and in work-filled days.  It stems from a heart attitude that says: “I will not give up and I will not give in.”
Determination.  That demeanor crosses over into all areas of a woman’s life.  Yet it’s common to see “strong is the new skinny” at the bottom of workout photos and healthy food.  Goodness knows we can do a little better than just slap up a photo of the ideal body and #strongisthenewskinny.  What about the strength of working a twelve hour work day or in choosing to nourish our bodies?  What about the strength of a mother or of a dedicated student?  Those have nothing to do with “skinny,” and we shouldn’t associate them with that frivolous ideal.  (RELATED: The Different Types of Eating Disorders)
 
Strong is NOT the new skinny.  Strong is the mom who keeps up with four kids and a part-time job.  Strong is the student who studies her butt off to excel in the classroom.  Strong recovering from an eating disorder, conquering a fear, falling in love.  It’s not having a six-pack and it’s not looking like a barbie doll.  (RELATED: Things That Have Shaped Me).
 
At the risk of coming across angry, I want to stress that it is sadness, and not judgmental anger, that has motivated this post.  See, I look around at so many beautiful women and see such a threat from the enemy in their lives, a threat that says we, as women, must conform to a specific appearance and standard.  Being skinny is one of the chief demands, and an extremely unhealthy and stupid one, at that.  But replacing it with the physical goal of strength is ignoring the root of the problem.
Your value does not lie in your appearance.  Your appearance is only a dim reflection of the true “you.” Your strength comes from your heart, your core and it goes far deeper than what a mirror can show.  It reaches beyond what any picture can portray or dress size can depict.  It extends past stereotypes and hashtags and pounds and muscle mass.  So, don’t forget this, my beautiful friends:
 Strong is NOT the new skinny.  Oh yes, you are strong, but your body strength only scratches the surface of the inner strength that burns within you.
 
 
Love, 
Hannah

Am I Beautiful?

This post was originally published on my initial blog on February 9, 2015.  I am in the process of migrating my content from Blogger and appreciate the patience as I do so!

 

 

Yikes. I just took an emotional trip down memory lane. Like a “pack your bags and bring your camera” kind of vacay.  Just 30 minutes ago, I was nominated for the #20beautifulwomen challenge on Instagram. Now, I’d been wondering if this might happen, but like many social media trends, I figured it might not come my way before fizzling out. This time, I was wrong and I got a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.

A photo where I felt the most beautiful. Umm…how about never.
While that is a slight exaggeration, it’s no lie to say that I’ve never felt beyond average. And while I didn’t have particular disdain for my body before my battle with anorexia, I didn’t love it then and I don’t love it now. So what’s a girl to do when faced with such a question: What’s a picture that makes you feel beautiful? (RELATED: Beauty is Distinct)
My body-image is akin to a game of Chutes and Ladders: It can go from good to hopelessly-awful in a roll of the dice or a matter of seconds. Sure, I avoid mirrors but it’s impossible to avoid the thoughts swirling around in my head and the images and people that my eyes take in daily. It’s a constant battle to not give up right now and retreat back to the hellish habits of the past four years.  (RELATED: Small Tweaks for a Big Slap to E.D)
So I started looking through old photos of myself in Facebook. I cringed through the recent ones, ones I’ve cried over and wanted to erase from existence. Then, I braced myself for the ones that came before those, the pictures taken in the brief period where I was at a healthy weight. Those are the ones that have haunted me as of late. That’s the body I’m moving towards and to be frank: I’ve though it is absolutely ugly. It’s the end result that I’ve been working toward but trying to ignore at the same time. This time: it was a little different.
I scrolled through the pictures of my trip to Colorado, graduation, prom. I remember the feelings associated with most of them: “chubby,” “fat,” “ugly” and “average” – at best. I don’t know if the memories behind those photos will ever be erased but I do know that there is less  self-hatred than there was a few months ago. As I looked at the pictures, there were a select few that I could deal with and, maybe, like.  And I saw the pictures of cross country and track and a smile that also took up my whole face.  I saw a joyful exuberance that I want back.  I saw a girl who didn’t give a crap about how her stomach looked or how her appearance compared to the world around her.  I saw a runner who was more concerned with her times than her competitors’ body size.

And I cried.

I cried for all the memories that have been tainted with anorexia, all the moments I’ve hated myself and given up on my future, all the dreams that I’ve put on hold to get my life back.  It’s no easy journey and sometimes I sink into the pit of despair, wondering if I’ll ever really feel free again.  Yet, I’m knocking down my walls brick by brick and tonight is no exception.  (RELATED: Let’s Talk About Eating Disorders)

I’ve shed tears over all that anorexia has taken from me but I also shed tears of joy, tonight, as I saw a short period in my past that I can magnify into my future.  There is a Hannah who is strong and capable.  She is fast and determined.  She is compassionate and joyful and creative.  Seeing beauty on the outside is going to take a long time, and while scientists estimate that time to be about two years, I’m holding out for breakthroughs like this that make the journey bearable.  They remind me that there is a girl inside of me who is boundlessly hopeful and radiant with joy. (RELATED: It is Well With My Soul)

This post goes out to that girl.  By God’s grace alone: She’s coming back.