Social media is a big fat lie in the way it presents our lives as perfectly happy most of the time. I got the courage to share my biggest secret that, for me, is far from happy. I think this post could have a therapeutic effect on me.
I kindly ask you: If you decide to read my story, read it with respect and no judgment.
This year I decided to stop practicing cheerleading and take time to heal my body after not getting my period for 7 years. Cheerleading has been a huge part of my life and that was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I love this sport so much that I pushed my body to an extreme. Cheer is a sport where, as a girl, it is great to be small and strong. For years I have been working out a lot, but not eating enough for the amount of practice I had. My body was under constant stress and exhausted all the time. But I was taught to never give up and push myself to achieve my goal, so I did.
I am so sad to say, I never knew how to love and forgive myself, how to let myself be wrong. All my fails in cheerleading, even just the small ones, hurt me so deep. For me it was a sign I haven’t worked hard enough and I became more and more unforgiving to myself at practice, including my workouts and eating habits. I thought I was doing everything I could and I had no idea what I was doing wrong, because I was never meeting my expectations. I expected to be perfect in every single thing. In my eyes I was never good enough. I was hiding these feelings for a long time, because I thought admitting would make me weak.
The last season, in 2019, was rough. I experienced more fails than ever before. I was physically and mentally hurt and it is going to take years to completely recover. Even during summer time last year, I still thought I had it all figured out. But later I became extremely worried about my future and I knew there is no way for me to keep living this way. I had to change my lifestyle to get my period back, because it was clearly not gonna happen without any change in the way I used to live.
One of the things I had to do was admit to myself and others, I have issues towards food. It was very shocking but brutally real. I am a vegetarian – I don’t eat meat and I don’t plan to change anything about that. The problem was that, for many years, I had been restricting foods like bread, dairy and from time to time I randomly stopped eating some other foods. The reason was, »It made me feel heavy or weird in my stomach.« I didn’t understand why I had so many problems when I had been eating so clean. Now I know it has all been very well played out in my brain, which led me into a physical stomach pain. In the past few years, my body was constantly tense and sometimes I couldn’t even breath normally while eating.
Now this is gone and I feel relieved. I made some big improvements through the past few months. I still eat healthy, because that is what I genuinely enjoy. But from now on I eat enough, diverse, nutritious meals that give my body the energy to live.
BODY IMAGE and SELF-ESTEEM
This one is hard. I never wanted to hate my body and I feel so sad and angry when I feel like I do. I have always admired girls with skinny legs and abs. As a cheerleader, I thought I need to look a certain way to be accepted and seen. But even before that, when I was very young, I compared myself to others non-stop. I was forcing my body to be what it is not and I never learned to accept and love it the way it is. I know, I am so much more than my body, but sometimes, for me, it is hard to think this way. Today I understand that questioning my appearance and abilities made me do much worse even in learning new skills in cheerleading. I was not able to be confident if I had low self-esteem. I was under stress because I was never good enough and afraid to make another mistake that is going to be a proof that I am not good. No matter how many times my friends would tell me I look great, I couldn’t believe them. I need to change my personal opinion about myself first. This is the most challenging change I need to make. I think I am slowly getting better at growing positive thoughts about me.
I love working out. I feel like I take care of my body when I move, and it makes me energized throughout the day. But it hasn’t always been like that. I used to workout so much I had no energy for anything else. My muscles were tired and sore all the time. Exhausting my body while not giving it enough food was preventing my hormones to work. I had to change that to get my period back. Being quarantined made it easier, because the gyms were closed. I also broke my hand in March, so I was pretty much forced to stop working out for a while. I was still trying though, but my home workouts were not so tough. Now I look at this from the positive side. It was very hard, because I started eating more and I felt like my stomach was full all the time. But I had to let myself eat enough even if I didn’t go to the gym. That part took so much courage… I can’t explain.
About two weeks ago I started going to the gym again. At the beginning I was afraid I will repeat the bad habits, but I made sure I felt like I can trust myself before I go back. Now I know how to be nice to myself when I workout. I stop when I am too tired to finish the session. Whenever I feel weak or I just don’t feel like going to the gym, I don’t go. I am not making myself workout no matter what anymore. I guess I consider what my body wants and I don’t fight against it. I let it be the way it wants.
It is hard to describe what cheerleading means to me. I fell for it the second I saw my friends stunt and I decided I want to be great at it. I started practicing cheer when I was 13 and I think that was quite late for me. Each of us has a different way of learning and sometimes I needed more time to get a certain skill than some of my teammates. But I am a hard worker and I really never gave up when it came to cheer. If my coach needed me to do something, I pushed myself a lot, many times too much. I wanted to achieve the skills to prove myself I can. I never let myself be wrong or worse than the best. I felt embarrassed when I couldn’t learn something. I could control my weight by restricting foods and working out, so I was easy to lift. But whenever I had to do a skill that was too hard for me, I felt like I let myself down. It hurt me so deep, because cheerleading meant the World to me. Don’t take me wrong – I am very aware and extremely proud of my achievements. I won Europeans many times, I have two medals from Worlds and I am the first UCA instructor from Europe that worked UCA College Camps in the States. But thinking I was not good enough at something I loved so much has always been a pain, most of the time bigger than winning.
All four of the above are so closely connected:
When I felt good about the way I look, I loved working out and I always over-practiced myself. I felt strong and light at the same time which was perfect for cheer. I had no sense for self compassion and I was exhausting my body. Only then I thought I did enough. I was physically ready to practice. Whenever I had it all the way I thought it should be and I felt good about my cheer skills, it was also very easy to eat »healthy« and not too much, because I was meeting my standards.
But whenever I failed at cheer, I was hard on myself again. Angry, disappointed and sad. So even if I had insane workouts that made my body ready, it was not enough, because the skills were not showing how hard I worked. I felt shame and I hated everything about me. I failed in loving myself, accepting it is OK to make a mistake and taking care of my wellbeing, even and especially when it was not one of my best days.
Who helps me?
My boyfriend. He loves me unconditionally, no matter how many mood swings I have throughout the day, no matter how my body changes. He shows me how to relax, let myself rest and do nothing without feeling guilty. He makes me laugh when I’m sad, he hugs me when I cry, he always stays with me and feels my pain. He is the most selfless and caring person I know and knows exactly what I need.
My sister. Both of us have been going through a hard time in the past few months. We help each other to deal with all the bad emotions and we always try to find out where they might come from. It makes overcoming our destructive habits so much easier because we do it together. We listen, support and teach each other how to enjoy life and stay free of judging ourselves.
I can honestly say that coronavirus came right on time. Because of quarantine I got a lot of time to think about myself, I couldn’t workout the way I was used to and I moved away from cheer for a while.
What I am going through takes a lot of energy, patience and trust. I still struggle to prevent myself from falling back to repeating the old patterns of behavior that caused me so much pain. I am scared and not always sure if I am doing everything right.
I am so happy to say I got my period back in January. I am not hard on myself when I workout. I don’t restrict foods and I am nice to myself even though I still see things I would want to change. But I think realizing that I no longer see the point in this behavior is the sign I am moving on.
Every body is different and my lifestyle was not good for mine to function properly. It is scary to confront my fears and find different, new ways to handle my feelings. I want to feel better and I am the only one who can truly help me. I believe all of the ups and downs, wins and disappointments I had to deal with through my cheer career were there for me to learn how to love myself for who I am.
Sometimes I wonder if I could achieve all of the things I did, without this painful experience. I came to a conclusion that this has always been meant for me to go through. I know exactly how I used to think and even if someone would figure out what is going on in my head and try to help me, I know I would be pushing them away. I wasn’t ready to face all of this until now.
This topic is very important to me. It wasn’t easy to be honest with myself, but it feels so relieving now. I found happiness and grace. During the past few months I read some posts on Instagram (social media is not always that bad after all) that encouraged me to do the right thing. I truly think an open conversation about our experiences, like the problem of losing a period, should be more common. I have my own reasons that led me this far and I had to find my ways to get it back. I believe that with sharing my story, I can help someone else to find their way out of the dark.
As I said, every body is different and every person has their own, personal challenges. Thinking about that we need to consider the uniqueness of the life of each individual. The last thing I want to say today is – Be careful about how you speak to yourself. Your internal dialogue has a big impact on your health.
Thank you for reading.