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Letter from Hannah (2011)

August 31, 2011

My name is Hannah (pseudonym). I am currently a second semester sophomore at $&@ university. Having taken some time off from school, a lot has changed for me in the past year and a half. I am proud of who I have become through my struggles and am eager to share my story after quite a stressful day. Here seems a perfect place to do so.

I grew up in Queens, New York City and have lived there all my life. I am the youngest of three. My brother is 29 years old and in a band, while my sister is 36 (yes 16 years older!) has her own business and is happily married with three children. T. just turned 13, B. will be 10 in December and S. is 7. We all live about 5 minutes away from each other and I can’t imagine life any other way. We are a close crazy family with our share of differences but I wouldn’t trade them for any other family in the world. My mom’s a nurse and also my best friend. My dad is a retired court clerk and probably one of the most sensitive men I have ever met. I’ve been an athlete all my life, and actually received a soccer scholarship to come to $&@ university to play soccer. I worked extremely hard in high school, the typical perfectionist, but have always doubted my intellect and “blamed” my good grades on my work ethic. Believing in myself and having confidence is definitely something I’m still working on. If I wrote this essay two years ago soccer would have come up a lot. Fortunately over the past two years I have come to define myself as someone much more than a soccer player. So much so that I have decided to take this semester off from soccer to focus on re-defining myself. At times I feel lost without soccer, without a definite goal in mind, but other times I feel liberated. It has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for me as everyday brings new challenges but I am no longer that scared girl I once knew. At times I may feel scared but I have learned that emotions do pass and they do not define me. So let me tell you why so much has changed for me in the past two years.

My freshman year at $&@ university seemed to go well. I was a starter on the $&@ Women’s Soccer team and had received all acc-academic team honors. I had friends and teammates who cared for me and I felt comfortable here at $&@. I had always been a dedicated student-athlete, stuck with that oh so wonderful genetic trait of high anxiety, Thanks dad! This trait worked to my advantage for while. I’d study hard because I was so nervous that it was never enough. I’d run more than everyone else, sometimes before or after practice to ensure that I was being the best player and teammate I could be. I ate “healthy”, at first an innocent attempt to excel on the field and in the classroom. Unfortunately, with my genetic predisposition to an eating disorder, trait of high anxiety, and history of depression running in my family, this turned out to be a deadly combination.

Beginning my sophomore year at $&@,I had run myself into the ground. I had over trained, wasn’t eating enough and struggled with overuse injuries. I however continued to play and my depression worsened as people began to notice a difference in my performance on the field. I can remember the day that my coach told me I wasn’t the same player I was a year ago. It was like I was different person. His attempt to motivate me only brought me to tears. I was in such an unhealthy mental state that I could remember crying for hours on end. Something wasn’t right and I needed help. As stress levels began to rise with finals approaching, and soccer season coming to end, my disordered eating only got worse and my weight began to plummet. In November I sought help, but was already too sick to take in what the professionals were telling me. I went home in December for Christmas break and my family was in shock my gaunt appearance and lack of being. I begged my parents to let me go back to School promised that things would get better and I’d get help. I agreed to do the $&@ Eating Disorders program beginning the second semester of my sophomore year. With my weight at a dangerous low my doctors informed my coach that I would be unable to play soccer. My coaches remained supportive and promised that my health was most important. They said that even if I could never play soccer again, that my scholarship would be there and $&@ would always be an option for me. As I reflect I must make a note that I am truly blessed to have ended up at such an amazing university filled with even more amazing people. This was the point in time where I actually met you. I was in your human development class and wavering on the edge of being sent to hospital for my low weight and dangers that went along with that. It’s interesting because then you had asked the class to write a “Who am I” and I sat there for hours not knowing what to write. I was completely lost at the time, I didn’t know who I was and I asked for an extension and told you about my situation. About a week later I was sent home on a medical leave of absence and began my journey towards recovery.

It has certainly been a long journey but I am no longer that same girl who doesn’t know who she is. I spent some time in a partial hospital program, which didn’t prove to have enough support. The next 6 months were certainly the hardest months of my life. I went to an inpatient facility. I had to leave my family, my friends, leave behind the only people I was living for at the time. Fortunately, I forced to do what scared me. I had to eat and I was terrified. I worked so hard in treatment, cried more than I’ve ever cried in my whole life. I stayed from June-November and went home just in time for thanksgiving. Things were far from perfect but I had physically gained the weight back and was no longer at risk of losing my life. Mentally however, this illness took its toll. I still struggled with distorted body image and eating on my own. Without the 24 hour support it was extremely difficult.

The next few months I dug deep. I wanted this awful feeling, this terrible controlled world I was living in, to go away. With all the strength that had left I decided that I was going to let my family support me, as they had wanted to do from the beginning. I finally accepted that in this situation, letting go made me stronger than holding on. My mom had learned a lot while was away on how to care for a child with an eating disorder. She learned about family based treatment and it’s high success rates for recovery. I fought her on this for so long. Eventually I surrendered. Allowing my family to help me to maintain this healthy body until I was healthy enough in my mind to do it for myself. With the help of my family, therapists, doctors, nutritionists, teammates and friends I can proudly say that I have won the fight against anorexia. I have been 9 months symptom free.

I am Hannah. I am a sensitive, loving, emotional person, who enjoys being silly, spending time with friends and family, and going for relaxing runs on the university trail. So many other things define me. I love to dance and sing, I love music, children make me happy and I have this newfound passion for psychology and helping others overcome difficult life situations. In the future I plan on telling my story and going further into the field of psychology. As for now I’m working on my general anxiety as that still exists and at times feels even stronger than it was before. I now have new healthy coping mechanisms that I haven’t quite mastered yet but I am certainly working on them. I still see my doctors, therapist and nutritionist on a weekly basis as I begin this difficult transition back to school. I’m scared but I am also so much more. I have my fears, but I have so many more moments of joy. I’m still working on striking a balance and getting back into the swing of schoolwork, but I am truly happy with my life.


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