When I was a child I loved to run. I have memories of bare feet touching smooth grass as I raced around the barn, across the field and along the driveway; my father chasing me with energy that to my young self, felt boundless. Feeling the warm breeze of summer against my skin fueled my imagination and I’d envision that I was in a race in some far-off land, and I was winning. Then my father would catch me and wrap me in his arms and I’d erupt in a fit of giggles, abruptly ending my daydream.
Later, in high school, I have memories of running around an asphalt track. This was before the all-weather polyurethane became the norm. I wasn’t athletic by any means, but I felt as if I could be. As I jogged, I picked up speed until I was passing classmates. It was in that moment that I passed a threshold and the tiredness I had begun to feel, disappeared. Thinking back, I wish I had continued down that path. Instead, I chalked it up to beginner’s luck at being able to run continuously for almost an hour.
Running for any length of time is progress in the right direction for health and well-being. At seventeen however, I wasn’t naturally athletic and believed I possessed no natural ability, so I stopped. Instead, I chose the path of eating and sitting.
I loved to read and could often be found at the library perusing the shelves for something new to get lost in. Nothing was off limits. All stories that involved travel and adventure would find their way into my hands. Getting lost in the world of the main characters only fueled my imagination and my writing. At the time I was a closet writer. Only my family and closest friends knew that I wrote as I didn’t have the courage to share my stories with others.
One day I came across Princess Sultana by Jean Sasson, which has since been renamed Princess and is part of a trilogy, all of which I own and have read multiple times. It is a true story of a Saudi princess who befriends the author. Together, they write the princess’ story. From that moment on I became enthralled with the friendship between the two women and with Saudi Arabia. Two decades later I would find myself in The Kingdom, but it was not the fairy tale I had envisioned.
Continuous reading turned into a major in English Literature in college. I had hopes of becoming a high school English teacher and transforming young minds with Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare. As I studied, I found less time to exercise. Reading and writing required sitting and focus. With this came meals eaten while pouring over books and essays.
As I read, I gained. As I gained, I bought larger clothes. When I graduated from college in 2001, I held a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and my graduation gown was a 2X. Unable to pass the licensure exam for my subject area, I found myself in a paraprofessional position for special needs. It was far from the job I had hoped for. I spent the next few years hopping between jobs in special education and fighting increasing feelings of unfulfillment and growing depression.
Occasionally, I’d join a gym, drop sixty pounds, and later gain it back, plus some. In 2005 I hit an all time low. I was not in the career I had dreamed of nor was I traveling the world writing other people’s stories. I was stuck. I was in a loving, committed relationship however, and that counted for something, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted more but I did not know how to move forward.
One day while driving home, I pulled to the side of the road, turned off the engine and screamed myself hoarse. I screamed out the anger, frustration, and sadness until all that was left was a gaping hole. With this nothingness I considered ending it all. In that car I brainstormed ways to end the pain. When I turned the car back on, I drove home. That night I took an entire bottle of aspirin. In the morning I woke up. I didn’t experience any side effects and took it as a sign that I was meant to be here. I also put myself into counseling as I knew I needed to pull out of this if I was going to move forward.
Two years later, my relationship ended, and I bought a plane ticket to South Korea. Some may argue that I was running away from my life in America. I however, was hoping for a new beginning and for the first time had hope that this would launch me into a new life of opportunity and self-fulfillment.
It was in this country that I stopped running and dealt with my weight issues and self-esteem head on. It was the best experience of my life and I continually look back on it with fondness and appreciation.
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