A little over one year ago, I woke up at 2:00 a.m. with a ravenous hunger, as though I hadn’t eaten in a thousand lifetimes. I thought this was a result of not eating enough the day before, but these unusual stirrings continued for weeks on end. In fact, it became so bad, that four hours of sleep felt like a blessing. Soon, my hair started falling out by the handful, my mind became ensnared in an impenetrable fog, and my energy levels were blinking red, begging to be recharged. A walk from my bed to the kitchen was as draining as a two hour workout and my resting heart rate was a dangerously low 39 bpm, which seems ideal for an athlete, but in this situation, my body was trying to exert as little energy as possible. In other words, I was in starvation mode.
This was the beginning of stage three overtraining syndrome. Otherwise known as extreme burnout. A state of physical and mental exhaustion achieved with disproportionate rest and recovery, and in my case, exercise addiction combined with an eating disorder, anorexia and orthorexia.
Addictions are cunning diseases, not only do they utilize our insecurities as fuel to propel our worst behaviors forward, they disguise themselves as elegantly dressed solutions to achieve even our greatest ambitions. Mine hypnotized me into believing that restrictive eating and excessive exercise would allow me to be a top level athlete: strong, fit, and committed; but also, beautiful, worthy, and desired.
I think I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, it’s interesting to reflect on my travels. At the time, my addictive behaviors disguised themselves as a thirst for adventure. They carried me over mountains, under waterfalls, and had me camping under the stars with nothing more than a mosquito net and a journal; I sprinted through jungles, dashed from one village to the next, and hurried to fulfill my quest for freedom, because a life unchained was a life well spent.
In the end, I was doing a lot of running and not a lot of eating. The adrenaline sustained me for a long time, but only long enough until I crashed. There’s a lot of embarrassment buried within these words; sadness, remorse, and shame. But in the same breath, I feel more myself than I ever have before: happy, peaceful, and free.
Oh, how lucky we are to fall so hard that we shatter, and only then, with those broken pieces, are we forced to reassemble ourselves in any way of our choosing. The darkest pieces now rest on the souls of our feet and the brightest dance in our eyes. Perhaps, to suffer is a blessing tangled in thorny wrapping paper, and an invisible freedom, waiting just on the other side.