Today we have Meghan sharing her recovery story. Meghan is someone I met during my recovery journey and I’m so thankful to have reconnected with her. She has a beautiful story to share today on challenging the idea that you have to look a certain way to perform well in dance and in running.
I started Irish dancing at the age of five and fell in love with it! I went on to compete at the championship level. I loved being on stage and competing, it was my favorite part of dance. It took a lot of hard work to compete at this level and that has truly made me the determined person I am today. When I would get on stage I had a sense of belonging and was happy to be up there doing what I loved.
I experienced challenges while dancing. I was born without toes making my feet toddler size. A huge part of Irish dance is dancing on your toes and I didn’t have that ability. When I would compete very few of the judges knew this and I would lose points for not dancing on my toes. As I got older, I started to realize that not having toes was holding me back. I started putting more pressure on myself to be perfect in every other way to make up for that.
When I started dancing it was about friendships and having fun, not about changing my body. When I was eight I had a coach say to me, “you can start competing, but you will never win” and that was my biggest motivation to place at regionals in my last year of dance. I tripped on stage at regionals and that’s when everything changed. That was the moment that I started to believe I wasn’t good enough. In my head I didn’t look like the dancers that were winning and because of that I didn’t think I was good enough. Dance changed from something that I loved to something that I could use to change my body. I thought that in order to be the best I had to change my body and train harder than I already was, which is still a belief that I’m working on changing.
The transition to college was very difficult for me. I was on the bowling team and we traveled almost every weekend. I was miserable going to tournaments because I was more concerned about what options there would be to eat and if I could get a workout in. I missed being home even though home was only 15 minutes away. I was isolated and alone at school and I hated it. I used food and exercise to try and control those feelings, but all that did was hurt me. I started using running as a coping mechanism. I thought running was making me a better dancer, but it was making me worse. I would run in the mornings and then go to dance practice, exhausted. I knew I needed help, but I was too scared to ask for it.
At one of my last dance competitions, my coaches and a friend both told my mom that they were concerned about me. The next day, the parents said that they wanted to find help for me. I started going to therapy and dietitian appointments weekly. In May, I had decided to transfer to Marquette University. I wanted to be farther away from home and experience the college experience. I thought that everything would be back to normal, but that’s not what happened. I started working with a recovery team at Marquette and wasn’t making any progress. I was so closed off and isolated still. I was battling the same thing- I was restricting and more concerned about getting a workout in than I was about making friends. I wasn’t dancing anymore and I took on the new identity of being a runner.
I was not nourishing my body enough to become the runner that I wanted to be. I was becoming worse and I couldn’t see that. I was referred to an off campus clinic, where I then started IOP (intensive outpatient program) 2 months later. They wanted me to stop running and I just couldn’t. My mind was so caught up in having to look a certain way to be a good runner that I couldn’t see what I was really doing to myself.
To this day, I continue going to therapy and dietitian appointments. Recovery has been very tough and sometimes I wonder why I keep showing up. When I question everything that I am doing, I remind myself of all the good that has come through this recovery process. I have had the opportunity to travel and enjoy it, run two marathons and countless of half marathons, find my love for running/exercise again, make friends, be social, and become a teacher.
Running went from something that I did to harm myself to something that I have a love and passion for. Running is no longer something I do because I feel like I have to, it is something that I have the opportunity to do when I want to.
I continue to fight because I want to be able to do what I love for as long as I can, to be the best teacher to my students and give them what they need to succeed, to be free and live a happy life.