Out of Touch with Teammates
"Instead of going to your parents after the race, I would have liked to see you excited for Emily, to congratulate her. She had a fantastic race, and she looks up to you."
I cringed, feeling the weight of guilt from my coach's words. Not only was I carrying the physical weight I had gained in the past two years, but the weight of disconnection from my teammates. I wasn't there for them; I couldn't even be there for myself.
I know I should have stayed longer with my teammates after the race before going to my parents. Sure, I congratulated and hugged my friends, but it was short-lived as the tears welled up, and I felt the weight of the eating disorder land heavily on my shoulders. How was I going to race the rest of the track season feeling this way? I felt slow and heavy, scared to eat too much, only to binge later. I found myself strapped into this up-and-down rollercoaster, constantly falling back into old patterns that end up hurting not only me, but those around me. Who was I to explain this to? It was embarrassing enough talking to my parents about it, let alone my team. Would they understand?
No one was upset about my performance but me. My coach thought I raced well, but my mind was raging: You have to do something about this weight.
Why was it always about weight? Why couldn't my mind relax, why couldn't I enjoy the atmosphere of the support, celebrate in my teammates' victory? I felt selfish, but how could I lift myself from this depressive state if racing made me feel so poorly?
But was it about something more? Eating disorders are usually a "side effect" of the real problem at hand. What was the root cause?
I knew that, as a leader, I had to step up. But I didn't know if I could even do that if I couldn't take care of myself. I felt like I put on the mask of happiness just to make others think I was okay so that I could help them. Is that being a true leader, a real person? After all, I am human, and the best leaders are often those who can connect with others, who can show their imperfections. In other words, those who can be "real."
I realized that I didn't have to pretend to be that perfect, put-together person for my teammates. Leaders don't require that; they require humanity.
The Big Decision
It was time to fix me so that I could be there for them--and that might mean removing myself from the very activity I loved.
I feel that it's difficult, in our society, to admit that we need to work on ourselves. We are encouraged to always be there to help others, but can we really support our loved ones if we are not helping ourselves as well? We are encouraged to bottle up our insecurities, to suppress anger, to pretend everything is okay. This mindset is present in our everyday "hellos" and "how are you doing?" without really wanting to know if they person is going through a difficult time. We expect that answer of "oh, just fine" because it makes us feel safe, because we are more comfortable not acknowledging the difficulties in life. Maybe we just don't feel like anyone would care about our problems.
Okay, you may not be dealing with an eating disorder. And there's a chance you are not a part of a sports team. But you have feelings, right? Obsessions, destructive desires, a handicap of some sort in your emotional life, perhaps. Is it taking away from your relationships with others, is it holding you back? What if you took the time to work on yourself, to be "selfish" for once in your life? In doing so you could become a happier person around the ones you love.
Without removing myself from the team for a while to work on my emotional struggles, I could not perform my best for my teammates. I could pretend and say I raced hard, pretend to say that everything was okay in my life, but it would not help the team move forward.
What would it take for you to remove yourself from your own "triggers," the parts of your life that cause internal harm? It could mean taking a few days off from a stressful job that has led you to sleep deprivation and anger towards your family. It could mean getting help for emotional or physical abuse you dealt with long ago. But don't dismiss an internal problem as being "too small" or "insignificant." There is no use comparing when, big or small, our problems are destructive to ourselves and eventually to those around us.
Maybe if we connect to each other on a deeper level we could see that, even if our problems are different, we share the same pain, confusion, and fear. I talked with one of my teammates about my struggles, and I couldn't help seeing that her recent breakup with a boyfriend had similarities to my "breakup" with the eating disorder. Now I had to "breakup" with track for a while in order to heal.
When we do take time to focus on ourselves, it is not a selfish act. Through introspection, we can learn that we can relate to others' pain, that we must heal ourselves in order to move forward in life to be there for others.
Taking time away from life, and, in this case, for me, from track, would help me rediscover who I was and build myself back up. But what is that dark side of you that may keep you out of touch with your life's "teammates"?