It was two months ago, the first weekend in September, when I flipped over my handlebars at Winter Park. I rolled both ankles and hyperextended my elbow, at least this is the story I told people.

I was actually on crutches two times in the past two months. When I was asked about my injuries I kept it short and sweet, “I hurt myself in a mountain biking accident.”

In the past, I’ve carried massive shame

around rolling my ankles.

I’m learning to let that voice go.

It started in middle school basketball. I rolled each ankle three times in two years. It was always the same diagnosis: torn ligaments and stretched tendons. The doctors weren’t telling me I needed to lose weight but I had already decided in my teenage mind, that my size was the real reason I kept getting hurt. I knew the truth; my body was too big and too slow.

The loudest bully in my school flirted with me by trying to trip me in the hallway. He wore the same smelly Starter Jacket and Air Jordans every day of the year. He’d stick his foot in front of my crutches and watch me catch myself against the lockers. He’d tell everyone, “Look at this oaf!” I knew he liked me, but even the 2nd biggest girl in the school wouldn’t sink that low.

In high school, I became embarrassed to tell people that I played center on my basketball team. I wished so bad that I could say I played forward. I know what people really think about girls who play center. Those are the big girls. It makes me sad to write down my memories of what I used to tell myself, but the truth is that these thoughts still appear, they just no longer taunt me.

No matter what the sport, I was slower on my feet compared to any teammates. I came in dead last with each drill, no matter if I was running bases, volleying the ball, catching grounders, practicing lay-ups or sprinting around the track.

I hated conditioning days.

On these days, our basketball coaches mapped out conditioning practices with dozens of speed drills. I had plenty of endurance, I just didn’t have any speed. Conditioning meant we’d eventually have to finish the day by running ‘suicides’. This is when you run to and from different lines/markings on a basketball court until you finish with a full court sprint. Every teammate had to finish by the sound of the score clock.

I missed that buzzer each and every time.

I don’t know what made me feel worse, making my entire team run another suicide because I couldn’t cut the mustard, or all of them witnessing my punishment while I ran an extra suicide by myself. It was torture to have all eyes on me. It’s a sad sound to only hear one pair of shoes squeaking on the court. It made the corners of my eyes fill with tears.

I tried to tighten the jiggle of my thighs with spandex, underneath my mesh shorts, but I still worried. I was sure I looked like a blob running down the court.

The coaches never seemed to understand that I couldn’t run any faster because my body didn’t move faster. I acted confident around my friends but I felt shame on the inside for not keeping up.

I’ve wanted to be graceful my whole life. I’ve imagined what it would feel like to be the woman who glides into crowded rooms or the girl who slithers through narrow passages. I’ve wanted words like ‘elegance’ and ‘sophisticated’ associated with my name, not some ‘oaf’ who constantly trips over her two left feet. Sure, I had defining moments where I felt glamorous and stealth, but most of the time I lived a bull-in-a-china-shop reality.

Chairlift

The true story behind my recent crutch experience, is that I rolled my left ankle before we started the first bike ride down the mountain.

As soon as the chair lift approached the platform, I placed my feet on the ground and in the same instant, I felt the metal bar on the lower half of the seat start to crush my ankle. As usual, my feet were stuck in invisible quicksand.

Up ahead, I saw the expressionless faces on the too-cool-for-school lifties, typical for teenaged lift attendants. We made eye contact right before the rest of my body was sucked under the chair. I felt my backside being rammed into the ground by metal bars and I was forced into a tuck and roll. I landed next to a podium and reached up to grab something stable.

Thank God, I felt Mike’s hand.

The chair lift kept moving and the two lifties never batted an eyelash.  It took me a moment stand up, so plenty of strangers had time to rubberneck my direction. I limped towards our bikes and the moment became real. I just made such an ass out of myself. They must think I’m a total joke. Just look at me. What business does a girl like me, have being on a mountain like this? It was a bad sprain. I debated about skipping the trails and riding the lift back down but the prospect of making another chair lift scene was out of the question. I’d have to shake it off, suck it up and hop on my bike.

Half way down the mountain is when I flipped over my handle bars. This is when I sprained my other ankle and hurt my elbow. I was passing a large dip in the trail when I freaked out and slammed my brakes, too hard and for too long. My front tire a hit large tree root right before I crashed.  I landed on a boulder and a weathered log.

The acrobatic part was my landing. After the flip, I tucked into a perfect crisscross-applesauce pose. I cradled an elbow into one of my palms. It felt broken. Oh God! I just broke my arm! I sobbed while sharp blades of grass poked through my capris. I cried until my teeth chattered. My mind didn’t know how to shut off. You’re such a baby! Of course this would happen to you. You know better. Why do you try anything at all?

I used to think these dark parts of my psyche, the parts where I beat myself up didn’t make me ‘spiritual enough’. Here you go again! You’re a living, breathing self-fulfilling prophecy. You knew you were going to get hurt and you got hurt. Your thoughts create your reality. Just look at the mess you made. Again. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to admit my thoughts aren’t always nice about myself.

I’m human.

Mike led me through some breathing techniques until I was calm enough to mount my bike. The rest of our ride down was miserable with sudden stops on steep hills and plenty of tears. I had to walk my bike down the very last part of the trail that opened into the village. I felt like everyone knew I was the big girl who had been chewed up and spit out by Winter Park. I came, I saw, I didn’t conquer!

For three days I couldn’t zip my pants, put my hair in a ponytail or move from the couch. I used crutches for a week and told everyone all my injuries occurred during my mountain biking accident. I wasn’t about to share the real reason for my injuries; the part about being too big and too slow. I spent the next couple of weeks ashamed about my wounds.

The second part of the real story, was that two weeks later, while racing outside to my car and running late for class, I reinjured my right ankle. This time I felt the crunch. I had stepped halfway on the driveway and halfway on a bed of rocks. My ankle snapped, my weight gave way and I nose-dived into a bed of mulch. The pain was excruciating. Ito took my breath away. The palms of my hands stung with dirty torn skin.

Bike fall

I was stuck on all fours, helplessly weeping in my front yard. My purse was still strapped around my shoulder so I rummaged for my cell phone and called Mike for help. He was kneeling beside me in a matter of seconds. I was going to need those armpit grinders all over again.

When I realize a rolled-ankle injury is bad enough to need crutches, I wince with knowing people will take one look at me and think, “It figures a big girl like her would take a bad tumble like that.”

I know it’s hard to hear someone be so mean to themselves. It’s hard for me to write about it, but it’s the truth. My gut reaction to anything embarrassing is to beat myself up, call myself names and worry about what other people think.

These familiar thought patterns happened with each ankle roll, so by the time I plunged into my mulch garden I was devastated. The tears I cried in that moment were the painful tears. I was mourning the fact that I had to start all over again. It was like taking one step forward and two steps back.

This time around, I knew I had to stop beating myself up.

Eating disorder (ED) recovery means making amends with the ways I used to talk to myself. Not only do I have to let go of my former, ‘big girl’ stories, I’ve also had to stop judging myself for having them in the first place. So what if the thoughts in my mind aren’t perfect? This doesn’t mean I’m not “the right kind” of spiritual. It just means I’m imperfect and that’s okay.

The next day I knew it was time to shift my perspective. My old way of thinking wasn’t serving me anymore. I was going to be all right. Accidents happen to the best of us. Perhaps the universe was simply telling me to slow down. I reminded myself that a doctor recently told me some people just have loose ankles after years of injuries. I stopped making up stories about my size and my speed.

Now when I hear voices of self-hatred, they serve as my reminder to be grateful. This doesn’t always come right away. In the case of my ankles, it took a re-injury to remember the stories I’ve been telling myself for years don’t have to be the same stories I tell myself now.

I’ve also had to stop beating myself up because my mind might go to ‘The Bad Place’ first. So what if I get caught up in those old stories of self-criticism? They’ve been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Those stories are part of who I am. The point isn’t to berate myself for having mean feelings, it’s to learn how to acknowledge them so I can shower those ugly words with love.

I pause when I hear them.

I celebrate that I heard them.

I let them go.

When I pay attention, I hear what my shame sounds like. I’m learning to catch my thoughts before they spiral down the rabbit hole. I call these moments my mini-victories. They happen all the time now.  I talk about my little wins with Mike. Each time I share my progress with him, my mom, a sister or a dear friend, I find that life keeps getting better and my experiences stay rich.

 Each day I wake up and strap on my ankle brace with love. I give my ankle a little blessing of thanks. My old stories are fading and being replaced with self-love. I’m finally free enough to keep healing.

Whitney Gale Signature