Sunday, May 23, 2010

Girls State

Last weekend, I went to an all day dog seminar. Since it fit in so nicely with what we are doing at the new facility which officially opens June 1st, it would have been a shame to have missed it. It was also not far from me, so it was a win-win situation. I talked my boss into going as well.

We both enjoyed it and got some good suggestions and ideas of how to run our facility. During one of the breaks after lunch (an unplanned pizza moment), a girl sitting in the front row (there were only about 20 people) turns to me and says my name. Then, she asked whether I went to Girls State. Immediately, when she said this, I placed her. I knew she had looked familiar but wasn't sure if I had randomly seen her at another dog conference or what. She told me her name, and then I completely remembered her.

It was one of those "what a small world" moments. We had both attended Girls State in Virginia nearly 14 years ago, now lived in nearby states, and worked with dogs. Well, her day job is working for NASA and dog training is her side job, but still it was very cool to say the least. If you're not familiar with Girls State, it's a week long program for girls who are rising seniors from all over the state. They are placed into different groups and form a mock government as a way to learn the responsibilities of being adult citizens. Each state but Hawaii has one. At my school, two girls (and boys too--there is a Boys State) were nominated to go. Now, I really had no desire about government, but I thought it was such a good honor to go and represent my school there.

Overall, I did have a good experience there, but at times, it was overshadowed by the ED (more on that below). I met some wonderful girls there who had many aspirations. One was determined to be the first woman Navy SEAL. I don't think that one happened due to the SEAL's stringent, traditional policy of remaining all male, however, I wouldn't doubt it if this particular girl wound up going into the Naval Academy. Others dreamed of medical school, law, engineering, and other esteemed professions.

For awhile, many of us kept in touch with senior photos of each other, snail mail and e-mail letters, etc., but like many people that age, we drifted off. There are some I remain wondering what became of their lives as these were all girls with so much potential.

Despite that this was such a great event for me, I think I missed out on a bit of it due to my mental functioning at the time. This event struck at one of the worst times in my life. Several weeks prior to that event, I had cut my wrist out of a fit of anger.. I was seeing a doctor at the time, was honest with him, and said that I didn't feel safe with myself. Little did I know that those words would put me in a locked up adolescent ward for almost a week. (I may have talked about this before in earlier posts but it has been awhile) I really hated that place. The ED was full force there, so all I ate was salad and cereal at night. I was horribly cold, constantly wore sweatshirts, was depressed, and could not stay awake for the life of me during actual therapy sessions. The other things I remember about that experience are an angry, young boy, the sobs of a girl who ran away to be with her boyfriend, a cutter, a boy there for substance abuse, the movie The Color Purple which was constantly played over and over, finding coloring therapeutic, night checks with a light flashed into the room, weighing myself on scales (they didn't know I had an ED until my therapist came to visit me one day and told them, then they kept doing blood pressure readings and threatened me with Ensure during the last few days of my stay), and deciding to run around the gym x number of times partly due to boredom and fear of gaining weight.

I also remember during one my visit with my parents, there was so much tension in the room, it could have easily been cut with a knife. The only thing that broke this tension was that my father brought one of my good friends in to see me. At first, I was horribly ashamed, but also felt really happy that she came to visit. She even brought a teddy bear with her.

So where does this go with Girls State? Basically, I almost didn't go, because I would have been stuck at that locked ward. When I found this out, I sort of whittled my way into getting to go, nodding my head that I had a plan of action if I felt overwhelmed, that I would take my medication, that I would talk to the nurse there if I felt worried, that I'd remain safe, etc. It wasn't pure lying per se, but I knew that place was of little help to me, and the best thing to do would be to get out.

Luckily, I was granted that wish. And as I said before, I did have a good time. But, there were those pesky ED issues. I feared food so much--either that I'd binge or eat nothing at all. I had thoughts of purging constantly but was so afraid of someone finding out (the bathrooms were a suite style). I had an Asian roommate was so incredibly smart, funny, could dance hip hop like you wouldn't believe, and was so tiny. I just felt a constant comparison which I'm sure was all in my head anyway. I worried about not getting any exercise and gaining weight. I realize this is stuff that plagues most ED people, and I'm no different. These issues were severely exacerbated a number of times during big events. I think this particular setting was the first time I was out of my environment and had to try to deal (or not deal) with the ED.

I guess my point here is that I probably could have had an even better experience had I not been so food/body obsessed. I think we can all understand this to a degree--how the ED robs us of a FULL experience of life. I really hadn't thought much about this event or prior to it until I saw this girl at the seminar. It's kind of sad too that that is what pops up into my mind rather than what Girls State was all about.

I doubt that the girl even knew I really had an issue, but I could be wrong. Often times, when we think we're being secretive and hiding things well, it's just the opposite. In any case, I'm going to try to keep in touch with this girl who lives a few hours away from me. It's hard to find people my age in the dog training industry as so many of them are older and have dog training as a side business or as a second career, so it's good to snag them while I can. ;-)

Did anyone else go to Girls State and what were your experiences there?


M said...

While it may be sort of a shame that your memories of Girls State are so tinged by mental health concerns, it's also a marker for how much you *have* grown and come into increased self-awareness and wellness.

I think those kinds of things are as much about developing young leadership and empowering girls and boys to pursue, advance, achieve ... as they are encouraging girls to recognize their gifts, find their balance, and go boldly into the world.

The lessons have remained with you ... and you are continuing to make good on your potential as you take risks with a move to a new place, a new job, and with personal goals. That honor of having been chosen for Girls State is paying long dividends.

So glad you ran into this old acquaintance and that it happened to cause pause for self-assessment. Especially now that you're finessing the recent transitions in your life, I think it's helpful to take stock of the experiences and lessons of the past, including living life to its fullest.


James Clayton said...

I agree: the regrets hurt but you've got a marker for how far you've progressed and a reminder to live life to its fullest in the future.

I feel the same way about University. I feel I didn't get the full experience because of the ED. Despite that I still made it through, got qualifications and learned a lot - it's always going to be there pointing out that as a mistake, showing me that life should be grabbed with enthusiasm and lived.

Interesting stuff, and it resonates with stuff running through my head right now. Take care :)

Tiptoe said...

M and James, thanks so much for the reminders of how far I have come. Sometimes, I forget this and get wrapped up in what I did feel then.

M, thanks for all your support as new chapter have opened in my life. It's a rocky ride at times, but coming along for the most part.

James, I had similar feelings with college too, another hard point in my life. I guess all we can do from there is to try to let go and move on.