Mental health + rowing

This week, Feb. 22nd – 28th, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’ve talked about eating disorders on here before and wanted to link those posts here for those of you who haven’t seen them before or for those who might want to revisit them again.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Intro

Eating disorders defined + explained

Warning signs + symptoms

Coxswains

Lightweight Rowing

Your experiences

More so than probably any other set of posts on the blog, I think I’m most proud of these ones because of the discussion/realizations that they sparked. It was scary when I got so many emails initially saying “I have an eating disorder, I’ve been dealing with it for awhile” or “That describes me, I know I have bad habits when it comes to food, I think this might be me, what do I do?” because eating disorders aren’t something you mess around with. There’s obviously a huge mental component to it and with the stigma around mental health issues in the US it’s no wonder why so many people don’t know where to turn or what to do.

I remember spending a good deal of time thinking “Oh shit, what did I get myself into” when I first wrote those posts because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing or give the wrong advice but I learned really quickly that what a lot of the people needed was someone to talk to and just some genuine encouragement to seek help. It’s been so exciting to hear back from a lot of those people and hear them say that they did talk to their coaches, parents, doctors, teammates, etc. and are working on normalizing their relationship with food and their bodies. That alone takes more willpower and strength than any 2k you’ll ever pull.

Below I’m posting an excerpt from an email I got at the beginning of the year from a rower-turned-coxswain who has really motivated me to make sure that I’m doing my part to keep this discussion alive.

“You were the first one that I confessed to after my coaches. Things have gotten worse (broken foot, plus being put in the B boat and freaking out forever until we won the second novice race) and better (not being able to work out sucks and I already eat healthy – sometimes borderline orthorexia), my weight is nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing still, and everything still feels “off” (energy levels, thyroid, mood, ability to lose weight is nonexistent I swear it drives me crazy) – but that’s definitely a byproduct of almost seven years of disordered eating. And after talking to you and feeling your understanding and support, I was brave enough to open up to so many other people in my life who have been incredibly supportive.

Thank you for always reminding us to take care of ourselves. Whenever I start to slip up and make bad decisions the NEDA week posts are my go-to reading. Your frank, honest attitude and advice about telling people who make those insensitive comments to your readers are so refreshing and they always remind me to take care of myself. When I freak out about weighing more than the four (for two boats!) other, shorter coxswains on my team and losing my spot, you always remind me that I cannot steer and motivate a boat if I do not take care of myself. Thank you for always, always, stressing your advice with weight with “healthy” and “sensible” and “obligatory reading.” Because sometimes you don’t want to admit your darkest parts to yourself until someone else makes you face them.”

Coaches, I really encourage you to talk about these issues with your teams (regardless of whether you coach men or women) because this stuff is real. There are probably rowers and coxswains on your team right now who are dealing with an eating disorder or walking that fine line between trying to be healthy and experiencing disordered eating. If you’re not comfortable doing it, reach out to a nutritionist at a local hospital or within the athletic department and have them come talk to the team. Trust me, it’s worth losing 45 minutes of practice time for.  I’ve said this a thousand times but part of being a good teammate is looking out for each other. If you think that one of your teammates might be dealing with something like this, don’t jump the gun and accuse them because when has that ever been a logical and successful approach? Instead, just let them know that if they need someone to talk to you’re there if they need anything. More often than not that’s all it takes, just knowing that someone is willing to listen without being judgmental.

And on that note I also wanted to link back to this post on suicide awareness. Last week the rowing community lost a high school rower named Draven Rodriguez. Some of you might know him as “laser cat meme guy“, others of you might know him as a teammate and member of Shenendehowa Crew. I remembered reading the story about the yearbook and his cat (seriously though, how great is that picture…) last year but I didn’t know he was a rower until this weekend when someone messaged me on Tumblr about it. They said they didn’t know him personally but as a fellow 17 year old rower they were upset and shocked and didn’t know how to react.

Related: Suicide awareness + prevention

I’ve never known anyone who’s died (at least not that I’ve been close enough to that would evoke some kind of response) so I don’t really know how to react in situations like this either. I think the only thing you can really do is use this to reinforce to yourself that everybody’s got their own shit that they’re dealing with and you never truly know how someone is feeling at any given moment. Be supportive of your teammates, even the ones you might not be friends with, and if you’re going through something find someone you trust to talk to about it. You can always email me of course (sometimes it’s a lot easier to talk to someone who doesn’t know you personally … I totally get that) but I would encourage you to reach out to someone at home too, whether it’s a sibling, parent, coach, friend, teammate, teacher, etc. just so that you have a support system nearby if/when you need it.

I know that this is a pretty random post and not at all about rowing or coxing but like I said earlier, I think we all have a responsibility to do our part in eliminating the stigma that surrounds these issues by talking about it with our teams and teammates. I encourage all of you to read the posts I’ve linked to in here and find some small way to do your part, either by making the decision to seek help if you need it or by reaching out to a teammate who might be having a hard time. At the end of the day, all of this is a lot bigger than crew and I hope reading through all of this helps to hammer that point home.

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5 thoughts on “Mental health + rowing

  1. amch0174@colorado.edu says:

    Dear Coach Kayleigh,

    I’ve kept this in my “to-read” email pile since you sent it because life has been so busy and finally took the time to read it just now – thank you. I pretty much started crying when I saw it; it’s been an exhausting time and my eating disorder’s been bad but reading this and recognizing that yes – those words in there are mine and this is still my battle to fight. And NEDA Week shouldn’t end today, but keep going until we overcome this.

    So thank you for all that you do. Thank you for all that you are, and thank you for running this resource. Thank you for remembering me, thank you for the advice, and thank you for motivating me to get better and reminding me to breathe and read those posts again and put myself together again. You didn’t have to, nobody asked you to, and you’re not getting paid by any program to, so thank you to the moon and back for taking the time to be here and be knowledgeable and share your love and your heart.

    I cannot thank you enough. So much love,

    xxAmy

  2. Anna E. Jordan says:

    Not random at all. True, this is bigger than rowing but rowing is filled with people who push themselves really hard and have very high expectations about what life “should” be. It’s taken me a long time to realize a) I can’t control everything–in fact hardly anything and b) there is no “should.”

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