Killing My Inner Mean Girl
"Tell your inner mean girl to suck it." -- Jill Angie, Not Your Average Runner website and podcast
When I was a teenager, my inner mean girl was brutal. I used to run to lose weight and get thin. I think I started running when I was 16. I had a raging eating disorder, a distorted body image, and no self-esteem whatsoever. I went to my high school counselor and spilled my guts when my eating disorder had become a looming monster that I could no longer control. The 'tools' I had implemented to control my weight and my body had come to control me and I was terrified. The high school counselor let the vice-principal know about my problem. The vice-principal was a really nice nun. She was a no-nonsense woman with short hair and a kind face. She called me into her office and explained to me that my parents had to be informed of my problem and that I had to be the one to tell them. I told her I was afraid to tell them because they would get mad at me, tell me to stop doing it, and my mother would berate me for telling someone outside our home about my problems. Sister Imelda explained that I had to pick a day and time over the coming weekend to sit my parents down and tell them that I had been bingeing and purging, how long I'd been doing it, and that I needed help. She coordinated the time so that once I was done revealing my secret to my parents, she would then call my parents to explain what needed to happen next. She was true to her word.
I had picked Saturday night to tell my parents my secret. My high school had an excellent library and I had been well-educated on how to use the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. I found an article that explained my particular eating disorder, bulimia. I asked my parents to sit down in the den with me and I proceeded to tell them that I had bulimia. I handed them the article copy. They read it. They didn't have many questions. My father, in particular, seemed stunned. It was my mother who reacted first. Her face showed deepening concern. I told her that Sister Imelda would be calling them. Exactly on time, Sister called and my mom answered the phone. She explained to my mother all that we had talked about and more. When my mom got off the phone she came into the den and sat down. "Sister Imelda said that Rose Ann has no self-esteem." My father immediately turned to me with a look of surprised bewilderment and asked me sincerely "You mean you don't know how good you are?"
No, I really didn't know. I had never considered myself 'good.' I didn't even know that the word pertained to me. I honestly had no clue of my own value as a human being, as a daughter, a sister, a student, or a girl. All I knew was that my purpose in life was to strive to please my parents, to make them happy, to make them love me. My father especially was the person I wanted to please most. Every decision I made scholastically, which by the way, was really the only life I had, I made to please him. But dad had a theory that I had overheard him express to my mother. He believed that if they showered me with compliments then I would become a slacker. He believed that I would continue to work harder and harder if he kept me thinking that I was falling short of his expectations. And to me at that time, my father's approval was the prize I wanted to win. So it was painful when I'd show him my spelling test every Friday. He'd glance at the `98 or 100 written in red at the top of the page (those were the only grades I ever got in spelling) and he'd go back to watching television as he said "that's not good enough."
Not good enough. Too fat. Too lazy. Eats too much. Watches too much television. Must always be studying. This is what I knew to be true about myself. That was all I had heard. That's why I had no clue how 'good' I was. Sister Imelda told my mother that I had no self-esteem. That was a word never spoken in our house. No one ever talked about the value of each one of us as individuals. I realize now that my parents could not teach me about an attribute that they did not consider for themselves. They taught me what they knew in the best way they could, and self-esteem was not on their list of things that needed to be valued and learned.
So that's how I created my inner mean girl. I would run about 4 times a week, winter or summer. Running hurt, especially in the beginning. It was a painful process that didn't get easier. I wanted to quit and just walk home, but my inner mean girl kept me going. These are just a few of the things she said in my head.
You deserve the pain because you're so fat.
If you weren't so fat you wouldn't be hurting.
You're not just fat, you're ugly and lazy too.
Nobody will ever want you or love you.
You haven't earned the right to be thin and beautiful.
You deserve to suffer so stop complaining.
Jesus suffered carrying the cross, so stop complaining.
If you were thin running wouldn't hurt so much.
My parents sent me to a therapist. I stopped purging, but I never stopped bingeing. I did, however, stop running. It hurt too much and brought back very bad memories. It resurrected my inner mean girl, though I didn't know she existed back then.
In high school during the time that I did run, I mostly ran alone. My inner mean girl could only rear her ugly head when I was alone. I'd run in the evening after dinner, through the neighborhood. I progressed well in distance but not speed. I never thought much about the actual mechanics of running. Once in a blue moon, I ran during lunchtime at school with my friend Kathy. She was a good runner. She used to get me to run the stairs in the gym, the stairs that led to the stage. That was brutal. I never liked the challenge, but I meted out the punishment because, well, isn't that what running is for?
It never crossed my mind that people ran for fun, for enjoyment. That was not why I ran. I ran to punish myself. To beat fat girl me into submission, to beat myself thin. This is why I stopped running. My weight ballooned. Things happened. I got married in `1984. I was 19, Michael was 20. He was in the Navy, and we lived the first 3 years of our married life in Jacksonville, Florida. I had never stopped dieting or trying to lose weight, but it was always a losing battle. Michael was gone so much, gone to sea. When he was gone, I tried to diet, but my old bingeing habit continued. I did the Weight Watchers at Work program. I joined Spa Lady, the ladies-only gym that was all the rage among the Navy wives I knew. I did rather enjoy my workouts there. I used the treadmill. I took the exercise classes. Best of all, I SWAM. I love to swim. To me, swimming is an amazing gift. Eventually, like all my other weight loss endeavors, it would fall by the wayside.
I'll write about my daughter now because she brought the subject of running to me many times over the last 2 or 3 years. It's something she wants to excel at. She's shared with me about her running efforts, and I have listened and wished her well. She's a busy working mom and her time is at a premium, so fitting in running is a challenge to her. For all that she has shared with me about her desire to be a runner and what she does to work toward that goal, I never considered running myself. Never again, I have said to myself. I will never torture myself in that way again. I will never be that mean to myself again.
"Mom, I found this book called Jog On and you need to read it. I think you would really get a lot out of it. It's about a woman who started running to help with her mental health." My daughter is only too aware of my struggles with chronic anxiety and depression. "Running might help you mom." I have always appreciated her encouragement, but I had never told her that I considered running self-torture and why. We are very close, so she knows my eating disorder history and my lifelong battle with my weight.
She and I text each other a lot.
"Mom, have you read Jog On yet?"
"No sweetie, not yet."
"Oh mom, you need to read it."
"I will sweetie when I have time."
One day I had time, and I knew the book was important to her. "A change would do me good. I never read about this stuff." I opened the book and started reading. It was the first binge-read I'd done in a long time. Bella Mackie had me at the first page. I finished it in less than 2 days. I pored back over it and reread various parts again and again. A lightbulb went off in my head. Maybe running doesn't have to be self-torture. Maybe running will help me feel better. Maybe running will help me get off my lorazepam.
After I was done with Jog On, I searched for more books by women who discovered running. There are a lot of female runners who weren't born athletes, women who started out as the most unlikely of runners, who weren't slim and fast and beautiful right out of the birth canal. I started thinking about giving running another try. Maybe it could be fun. Maybe it could be good for me. Maybe I could learn to like it. My body is large and heavy. Lugging it around while trying to run is going to be painful and embarrassing. Maybe I can lose some weight first to make it a little easier and so that I'll feel less self-conscious.
My daughter told me to watch the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon. I did. Brittany was fat, but not as fat as I was. Brittany inspired me to search the web using the keywords 'fat runners,' 'fat women runners,' 'fat lady runners.' That's how I found Jill Angie's website Not Your Average Runner and her podcast. I signed up for Jill Angie's mailing list. I received her runner's manifesto. I listened to her podcast. She talked about her inner mean girl. It dawned on me that I have an inner mean girl too, and she is the reason I stopped running 36 years ago. Now that I know who she is, I don't have to listen to her anymore.
There are other ladies my size who have come to love running. I decided I want to be a runner. I want to love running. I want to power through the hurting part. I want to discover what a runner's high is. I realized that running can be one way to love myself to good health. It doesn't have to be torture. It will still hurt and be uncomfortable. I'll just power through it. Running can heal me. It can become my best medicine. I don't even care if I ever get skinny. I just want to love myself. I want to have healthy self-esteem. I'm working on it. It's been over 3 weeks and I'm feeling pretty good about it all, about myself. My daughter and I are encouraging and supporting each other. My husband has decided to take up running again. The three of us are going to run our first 5K in 2 weeks.
I hope Sister Imelda is smiling down on me right now. Don't worry Sister, I love myself now.