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Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Just one more and back to the study room, I lie to myself, placing the Haagen-Dazs heavenly hash ice cream back in the freezer after each cold creamy spoonful. Bloat, guilt and shame obliterate the sweet delight of procrastination. Why can’t I stop eating? I scrape out the last spoonful and drop the empty half-gallon tub in the trash, next to the plastic wrapper from the tube of unfrozen chocolate chip cookie dough I am digesting. Tomorrow I won’t eat anything. I’ll run ten miles and take two dance aerobic classes. I went five days on Diet Coke and air-popped popcorn after another one of my 10,000 calorie binges. I was trapped in yo-yo cycles of bingeing, extreme dieting and over-exercising.

Who am I supposed to be? Who am I? How will I know I am who I am? Who decides?

Not me, for now. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the high grade-point average I needed to get into the physical therapy program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To cope with my stress, I self-medicated with sugary carbs and numbed my senses by pounding the pavement in long runs.

For my body, my eating disorder was a viscous cycle of starvation and hoarding.

My eating disorder was a symptom of my underlying problems, my body showing me how out of balance my life was.

During my early clinical training at UW-Hospital in the pediatric ward, I witnessed a baby boy hooked up to machines with lots of tubes. He did not respond to touch, the tactile cues for movement attempted by my clinical instructor. As a 22 year old student in a physical therapy program, it was more than I could handle to even begin to imagine what his parents were going through, worrying, not knowing if their child would live or die, what life would be like as he lives, the shattered dreams.

My story was unfolding.

A greater part of myself was waking and I began to write poems like I did in grade school.

I bought some cheap art supplies and created abstract paintings as if the colors danced my paint brush on the paper, connecting and listening to my heart.

During final exam week, I ran out of money for food but liked how thin I was getting.

I stayed up in the wee hours of the morning, trying to study without being able to focus and concentrate.

My boyfriend was graduating and was offered a job in California.

I had planned to follow him out to California to pursue my clinical internships out there near him but we decided to break up instead.

I flushed my birth control pills down the toilet.

The abrupt change in my body hormones was the last straw to trigger my health crisis.

I was hospitalized and I had to withdraw from school for a semester.

Over the next few years I began the slow healing process to discover myself as a whole human being.

I continued journaling and playing with the colors of my heart, finger painting, doodling my healing art.

I asked the question, What do we share?

I uncovered my voice as a writer, poet and artist.

I distilled 22 journals of poems and Julie-quotes from a three-foot-high stack of my ink-scrawled spiral notebooks.

The strength I live to realize is soft and gentle;

It is my relationship with God and my balance in life.

On my life journey, I learn my health is a delicate balance of systems—mind, body, spirit.

Health can crash with neglect and renew with self-care and love.

I think of my breakdown as a breakthrough, a gift to grow as a person, to connect more deeply with family, friends, patients and other human beings like me and not like me.

If you believe in love and accept support, no matter how dark life gets at times, the light of hope will always show the way through your life with purpose.

Whenever I got lost on my journey, I pulled out one of my 22 poetry journals and read the words on the page I opened to. I remembered where I was at that time, like tracing my footprints in the sand. From there, I could set my heart-compass to home and get back on my path.

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