The night is darkest just before the dawn.
Sometimes, though, it feels like the dawn will never come. As if you’re stuck in some perpetual state of misery… with no end in sight.
For APEMAN Erin Doherty, the light eventually came… just when she thought it never would.
Growing up, I was always known as a ‘brute’ and ‘the bigger one,’” she said. “These became things I would end up getting bullied for. Eventually, I got tired of hearing these comments as anyone would. I began to become more aware of food, exercise and my body. What started as joining Track & Field and counting calories very, very quickly turned into something much more than I intended.”
The summer before her sophomore year of high school, she lost about 30 pounds in one month and got extremely obsessive with exercise and what she ate. After a routine physical, she was immediately admitted to the hospital for a low heart rate.
Little did she know that trip to the hospital would open Pandora’s Box.
“For the rest of my high school education, I was in and out of treatment facilities for Anorexia Nervosa and Exercise Bulimia,” she said. “I became addicted to feeling empty, fragile and weak. I severely restricted my intake and would run until I burnt off double whatever minuscule amount I consumed. Although I was tired, I was constantly chasing the high that my eating disorder gave me. I was no longer living for myself; I was either eating to please other people or succumbing to the voice in my head. I was completely disconnected from my body and in denial that what I was doing could have serious repercussions.”
For a while, she thought she was alright. But she was still deeply unhappy and insecure about her health. Things would eventually get worse during her senior year and teachers contacted her family with concerns as she continued turning to anorexia. After a weigh-in, she was sent to the hospital again but with much greater urgency; she was down nearly 70 pounds and her body began to fail her.
“My heart rate was in the high 20s, my liver was under extreme stress, and I experienced bleeding from my intestines,” Erin recalled. “Doctors were scared and warned about heart attacks, yet all I could even think about was, ‘I am going to get so huge sitting in this hospital bed. I don’t even need to be here.’”
Despite her pleas, she was admitted into treatment again and lived away from her family which left her with plenty of time to think. She remembers feeling deep guilt, shame. Anorexia had robbed her of her independence, friends and trust of herself and others.
“I went through the motions, cried more than I ever had before, and was forced to face deeply rooted issues,” Erin said. “With hard work and dedication, I was discharged from residential treatment in time for Thanksgiving and was exempt from my finals with As.”
Ultimately, her journey was just beginning.
Months after her releases, she had been stable for a long period of time and made progress mentally and physically. She approached her family with the aspiration she had been juggling with; she wanted to hire a personal trainer.
“My parents, through tears, granted me permission to do so which included getting another gym membership,” Erin said. “When contacting my personal trainer, I was blunt about my illness for the first time. I said, ‘I have suffered from anorexia and have almost no muscle. I want to be strong. How can you help me?’ She gladly took me under her wing and, to my relief, when I entered the gym for the first time, there were no ‘cardio bunnies’ or armies of treadmills. Instead, I saw strong men and women lifting very heavy weights, several squat racks, deadlift platforms and atlas stones.”
As she began training, she knew she would face hunger and fatigue. Erin knew she’d have to eat in order to even have the energy to continue going.
“Any time I would go to the gym, I had essentially repeated a prayer that still motivates me to this day,” Erin said. “It was, ‘There is nowhere to go but up. I have hit rock bottom and can only get stronger from here.’ I knew the reactants needed for muscle gain: rest, food and consistency. It turns out, this holds true no matter what stage of lifting you are at and applies to one’s mentality, as well.”
For nearly two years now, she has used these principles to achieve mental and physical goals. It is said the humans make 35,000 decisions a day and every single day Erin makes choices that she knows are what she needs to do in order to move forward in some way.
“Progress is not linear,” she said. “There will be peaks, falls, plateaus and just downright painful experiences along the way. While that is true, there is always something one can do to add resistance. In the gym, one can play with weights, reps or time under tension depending on what their body can take. In life, one can play with choosing the harder job, the option that provokes the most anxiety, or taking a risk towards some ambition. If a choice makes you uncomfortable or in mild discomfort and pain – good. That’s the goal.”
Erin has based her recovery and lifting journey on the foundation of consistency. To appreciate her suffering, she was determined to view it in a new light.
“I had to be thankful for developing anorexia or else I would hold anger and resentment,” she eloquently said. “If there was anything that my struggle has taught me, it would be to seek intuition, knowledge and moderation. I have learned so much about mental health, compassion, nutrition, and exercise since my disorder. I now can trust my intuition when it comes to foods that make me feel good mentally or physically, weights that are too much, and when I have been mentally maxed out. I came from a hospital bed to competing in my first powerlifting meet two years later and I never would have guessed that was in the cards for me. Pushing yourself mentally is simply training your mind for life’s next obstacle. Pushing yourself physically allows you to just shove the damn boulder out of the way.”