By Kara Stroup as told to Amy Wimmer Schwarb
My eating disorder started in fifth grade. It’s crazy – I coach girls that age, and those girls seem so young. They’re just little girls. They’re innocent, and they have so much ahead of them. It’s alarming to think it started that young for me.
I have a really athletic family. My dad is a football coach, and my sister and I spent our childhood watching our older brothers play. Sports are something that have always been a constant in my life. Growing up, a group of my girls were three-sport athletes, and then we had club sports, too. That’s just what we always did.
Basketball was my sport. When I was little, I wanted to go to the WNBA, but I’m only 5-foot-3. Reality set in. I started playing lacrosse in sixth grade – I picked it up and just fell in love with it.
Girls start developing at that age, and it’s definitely an awkward time. If you’re not open about what you’re feeling and you start to pick up on bad habits for dealing with your emotions, it’s difficult.
I remember it was winter, sometime around the holidays, when I vomited the first time. I had eaten too much. We were running around, I guess, and I just thought to do it. I made myself vomit, and I felt better afterward.
I don’t know if there was anything specific that made me think to do it. I think I just used the eating disorder to stay steady and in control. Whenever I needed to, I would just do it. It was a skill that I developed to make myself feel better.
There were times when I would restrict, and there were times when I would overexercise, and then it was more often that I would vomit. I thought it was normal. Most of the time, it wasn’t with the intent to lose weight or because I wanted to be a lot thinner. It was a way to deal with different emotions or struggles.
Logically, I knew I liked the way I looked, and I knew I wasn’t obese or overweight. I’ve always had an athletic build and a layer of muscle. So if you were just looking at me, no one would really notice. But those emotions – they drive the thoughts that feed the eating disorder, telling you you’re not happy with the way you look, that you need to lose weight. Then, you start to want to control it. You can’t differentiate between those negative emotions that are coming into your thoughts and how you know that you don’t need to lose weight.
When I was going into my senior year of high school, I’d already verbally committed to Temple University. The future was ahead of me, and I was starting to realize that what I was doing to myself wasn’t healthy. Mental health doesn’t discriminate. I had everything in front of me, but it didn’t matter. I started to feel out of control and worried about what would happen if I didn’t stop. That fear of “I need to figure this out now” got me to finally speak up.
The day after my 18th birthday, I finally told my mom that I had been hiding an eating disorder for seven years. I hated that I was recognizing my own inability to take care of myself properly, which I perceived as weakness. Even though I felt this discomfort about being honest, the thing I hate most is how long it took me to say something because the moment I did was the moment that saved my life.
When you address the unhealthy coping skills that are not working for you anymore, you are put in a situation where you have to not only develop new ones, but use them instead of the unhealthy skills you have always relied on. It’s like having to learn to use your nondominant hand.
When I was a freshman in fall 2012, a family friend and former classmate commited suicide. After that, I decided I wanted to share my story with my team. I wanted to change the stigma about mental health. One day I called a team meeting and shared my story. I talked about how I wanted to raise awareness because I knew I wasn’t the only one, and I thought it was important to know that it was OK to talk about things, to have that conversation. Since then, my sophomore and junior years, I have that talk with incoming freshmen. Our team very openly discusses when people are struggling. Our coach is very supportive – she creates the time and an environment where it’s safe to have these conversations.
I still struggle. Just being in a role of leadership and being someone people are always looking to, it’s hard for me to understand that I can be both – I can be that person, and at the same time, I can be a person who still struggles. That doesn’t take away from who I am as a player or as a teammate.
Kara Stroup is a senior psychology major who plays lacrosse at Temple University.