I could tell by her expression that she was in a trance. Through her glossed eyes, I felt as if she was holding on to every word I was saying. We made eye contact, and just by her sad look, she communicated she was focused and fascinated by my story.
Speaking to young girls has given me quite a new perspective on this topic of eating disorders, body image, and exercise. It’s well beyond that. I have felt the connection to the innocent, yet inquisitive students when it has come to real life struggles that most do not discuss; or validate their adequate thoughts. This particular girl was the last to stand up when my presentation was over. She was a ninth grader at a private high school. As a bunch of energetic, inspired, and enthusiastic girls said their final thank you to me before leaving, she slowly made her way up to the podium.
I felt the tenseness, uneasiness, and overwhelmingness this girl was carrying with her. A large teardrop formed, and splashed down her cheek. Her lip quivered as she approached me, and I could tell I struck a lot of chords, but I hadn’t a clue which part she identified. Her shaky voice asked a question, first. “When you were homesick, and nobody else was, how did you deal with it?” I could feel what she was feeling at that moment. The lump in her throat, seconds from bursting in tears, and revisiting emotions she was struggling to resist.
I had just spent an entire hour in front of this group of girls discussing my eating disorder, battle, and recovery. As I touched on the causes of eating disorders, I explained that the anxiety I had from being away from my home and family was definitely a contributing factor to my eventual development of anorexia. But, clearly, as soon as I shared my experience of sadness, depressive thoughts, and stress, she related. She was a boarder at her school, as that was an option. However, the majority of her classmates were local girls who were day students.
She felt scared. “I miss my family and home so much,” she said with tears weeping down her face at that point. I’m scared something might happen to me, like it did to you, if this continues.” My heart sunk. I wanted to give her the biggest hug, and assure her everything would be fine. I encouraged her to have a more positive outlook on being a boarding student. I, obviously, wasn’t able to spin my perspective when I was homesick in college. But, I wish someone would have highlighted the positive aspects of moving away from home, being on my own, and establishing my independence.
My connection to this amazing girl was much beyond food, diet, and body. It amazes me how many students hear and connect to various aspects of my journey. Now, my prior experiences have given me the privilege to relate to so many different maturing young adults. I saw as each one was trying to grab onto all the information and advice being presented, especially that one girl. My heart goes out to her. I have all the confidence in the world that her strength, perseverance, and compassion will enable her to overcome her anxieties and fears. We all hit bumps and obstacles along the way. Thankfully, I happened to have hit some bigger and harder ones that I can now use in a way to inspire and motivate others. I am able to look into the innocent eyes of my audience, and assure them that everything will workout. And, be just fine.