School has started.
Back to school meant back to the mat, pushing me to brave rush-hour traffic, squeeze into parking Tetris behind Just Be, and squeeze my way into overstuffed classes just for 75 minutes of nothing but breath and sweat. I needed it, a chance to hit the pause button and regroup, like calling together the troops in my head for a come-to-Jesus meeting that says, “Get ready to go back to real life.”
Because instead of starting my day with a yoga class at eight AM, I’m starting my day in a room with a clock that doesn’t seem to move and a classroom of students who don’t want to be there. It’s the final year, and motivation is either skyrocketing as kids aspire toward college, or already taking a dangerous plunge toward a terminal diagnosis of Senioritis. My life feels like it’s taken a complete 180 from the summer- moving from a blissful blur of teaching and taking, my biggest stress being getting towels folded on time and ensuring that the studio doesn’t catch on fire, to a land of college apps and AP Calculus.
Thursday night I rushed into one of the busiest classes at Just Be, threw down my mat, and desperately threw myself into my practice. When it was over, I lay in savasana, the warm breeze filling the room through the open windows and carrying with it the smell of sweat and hand sanitizer. It was glorious. It was that moment of peace that yogis chase after every time they come to class- that promise that every chair pose, every chaturanga, is worth it in the end.
I went to thank my teacher on the way out, and she asked how I was doing. We spoke for a bit about school and college and where I might want to go. As usual, I didn’t have an answer. It’s so close, and yet so intangible that I can’t quite picture it in my head enough to even brush against a decision.
“College was the best time of my life.” she told me. “My mother got sick, I had an eating disorder, but it was still the best time of my life. Can you believe that?”
I couldn’t. Not initially. I can’t imagine myself having the best time of my life in college even if everything goes right- I only imagine four years of settling in, only to move on to somewhere else where I’ll have to start the process all over again. But I believed her. The words I couldn’t connect with on the surface, but deep down I felt a familiar connection. She probably saw from the look on my face that I didn’t know what to say, and continued.
“I love what you’re writing. But I want to read more. I want you to talk about the shit you don’t want to talk about. I want you to become someone people can really connect with.”
I knew what she meant- it’s something I’ve felt from the time I started writing publicly. While I try to be raw and talk about what’s on my mind, there’s that inherent human desire to share the pretty things- the things with clear lessons and nice wrap ups and heroes. The things where I come out on top, a better person from my mistakes and all metaphors and catching sayings. But there’s always those drafts that get deleted, those days where I’m not a better person quite yet.
“I’m so proud of you. I know you have the ability to heal people. But you’ve got to write about the shit you don’t want to talk about. You’ve been through a ton of shit, people can connect with it.”
And I felt flooded with all these emotions and thoughts that I still don’t quite know how to articulate, even now, hours later, as I sit at the desk of Just Be listening to another class breathe through their Sun As and noticing that the sweat from the previous class’s exit has condensed on the windows. Because when things are all going in the right direction for awhile, you forget the things that have gone wrong. You forget that wounds can heal, but scars will stay. You forget that you’re only the person you are at this very moment because of all the things that have tested you. You forget that you’re only making things happen because of things that have happened to you.
I was 13. I was a freshman. I was very sick.
People still remember the time I was missing, sometimes they mention it. One day I was there, the next I was gone. And then I came back a little while later, a little more alive but artificially so. When people ask, sometimes I lie. I tell them I had a “heart thing”, or I was dehydrated. But that’s not the truth.
I was 13. I was a freshman. I was anorexic.
That’s still not something I believe when I write it down. When I think about anorexia, I think about paper-light ballerinas on their toes, I think about tiny, frail things that scare kids on PBS documentaries. I think about, as ugly as it is to admit, vanity and selfishness. I think about girls on scales and girls in mirrors and girls with measuring tape, like seamstresses of their own bodies.
I don’t think of me.
But it was.
It didn’t feel real even when the doctor said she’d be calling the hospital to let them know I was on my way. It didn’t feel real when I screamed and cried the whole way there. It didn’t feel real when they hooked me up with a million wires to a machine I didn’t understand and it didn’t feel real when I was in a wheelchair. It didn’t feel real when I saw the other girls- the ones who seemed so much smaller than I felt in my head, and it didn’t feel real because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there.
I wasn’t “sick enough”. I wasn’t “small enough”. I wasn’t dumb enough, vain enough, shortsighted enough. I was Maris. I was the girl who didn’t care about things like makeup or clothing sizes or who wore it better. I was better than an eating disorder.
But the thing about mental illnesses is that they don’t discriminate. They don’t care about who you present to the world, they care about who you are inside, what environment you’ve created in your skull, what voice you’ve learned to speak with when no one’s around to hear. They find your cracks and they fill them in with cement, slowly hardening you until you can’t recognize your own foundation. They make you cold and solid and simultaneously unbreakable and terrifyingly fragile.
The hospital kept me alive, I won’t deny that. But only in my body.
I didn’t do a lot of healing there. I was stuffed with food until I could feel my skin stretch tight and then some more. I slept and sat more than I ever have in all my years sleeping. I spoke to therapists and told them what they wanted to hear, because I’m not clueless, and I just wanted to get out of that place.
But the one thing that place did was keep me from ever wanting to go back, because it feels just like a particularly sterile segment of hell.
And for awhile that was my only motivation to get better. My mind was sick, but I knew that the only thing that would keep me out of a wheelchair was getting my body stable and bringing it back from the brink. Every bite of food felt like torture, but to a lesser degree than readmission. I couldn’t care less if my heart decided to try and stop again, I just cared about sleeping in my own bed.
Slowly, oh so slowly, I started to change. But it took so much time. People think that therapy and a hospital stay and a referring process will send you sprinting into recovery, but for so many it’s just not true. That’s just buying time in hopes that some day, you’ll see that you’re so much more than you think you deserve. That you’re worth more than feeling hollow. That you have so much more to offer when you’re nourished enough to think and function and hell, thrive.
Freshman through most of sophomore year feels like life-support. A coma that ensured my physical body stuck around long enough for my mind to be ready to heal again.
And then I found Just Be. And I slowly fell in love with my cells again. I fell in love with the way movement felt in my body, the the contraction of musculature, the breath circulating through my veins. I felt like a foot that’d been asleep too long slowly regaining feeling, slipping into a world that was almost overwhelming with sensation and experience. I suddenly wanted nothing more than to feel what feeling alive felt like- to see if I could find that person I thought had died inside of me long before I got to know her.
I was 15. I was almost a Junior. And I was born.
And things get easier. They do. But it’s like a cancer- it can hide, it can seem to disappear, but it’s never really gone. It’s a lifelong remission that leaves you and everyone around second-guessing all the time. It changes your perception of the world and makes you wary of your own thought processes. But you fall in love with life so much in a second chance that you can slip away, forget about the aches left inside your heart, and pretend, if only for a moment, that you’re okay again.
I know I’m not alone. 1 in 200 American women suffers from anorexia at this very moment.
But here’s the shit you don’t want to talk about:
You won’t want to get better, not for a long time.
You’ll think you’ll want to get better, and then get scared and won’t.
You’ll try again, and again, and again.
You’ll slip up, you’ll relapse, you’ll feel like a failure.
But somewhere along the line, you find something, just one little thing, that makes getting back up again feel worth it.
For me, it’s that little flutter my heart makes when I look around a room, either as a student or a teacher, and just feel like I could float on air from the energy in the room. That moment when you feel like you’re dancing on your mat. That moment where everything seems to fall into place.
That’s why I’m here. That’s why I was jolted back into reality. Because I found who I am and who I want to be. I found the thing I want to stick around and be strong for. I found why everyone was so desperate to keep me alive.
Because I’m meant to teach. And take. And balance. And fall down. And breathe. And sweat. And rest. And stretch. And melt.
Because I’m meant to live– and I finally know what that means.