EMPATHY OUT OF NUMBNESS

By Kaleigh Somers: It’s probably safe to say I’d been waiting for my life to culminate into something meaningful even before I broke myself in half at nineteen.

Maybe that’s a little dramatic.

I wasn’t stuffing my fingers down my throat or fasting for twenty-four hours. I took the accidental approach to dieting and then, after I was hooked on the adrenaline of feeling smaller and smaller, I let that fill me up.

I was a gymnast for ten years, locked in by the numbers flashed on plastic tubing and laminated paper. Even in my smallness, I knew I’d never be perfect. I was 19, and there was something wrong with me. I was unlovable. After breaking up with a boyfriend 500 miles away, I fell into depression, convinced I would never be skinny enough to attract another guy.

When I did pick myself up off my bedroom floor, it took months before I started to find something to care about. Numbness will do that to you. It’ll disengage all your senses and emotions and leave you unsure you ever really cared, or that there was ever a time before this one.

My numbness broke at twenty-one. I started a website for college students who were beaten up by depression and eating disorders and anxiety and bullying and anything they could conceivably be dealing with that was being swept under the rug. And I reached out to universities and colleges about it. When emails poured in from young people who had known heartache deeper than the hole in my own stomach, I learned somethingi else: they felt like they needed reassurance or validation in their pain.

They needed to be told it was OK to admit something when everyone else would rather pretend college was all frat parties and slutty Halloween costumes. They needed an open dialogue where honesty wasn’t only encouraged, but required.

Why would anyone need that?

Because, as I’m learning, the first step to altering the status quo is admitting and challenging it out loud. It’s telling the hundreds of starving and binging girls and boys that they don’t have to claw for the toilet every night. It’s telling the panicked and anxious and depressed that the bedroom floor doesn’t deserve their tears, and that somewhere between today and the future there is a different path.

Altering the status quo is also owning stories of redemption. Lifting up those moments of doubt in order to pummel them to the ground.

I have wished that I didn’t have to carry my sunken body around like an everlasting reminder of my supposed failure, my supposed worthlessness. But that's how I learned the lesson, and there is a beauty in the struggle and the discovery -- an empathy that I feel now that I would have never known.

That empathy stirs in me with every email outpouring, every blog post, every person—young and old — with whom I feel a connection. And I never want to lose that.  My second chance is in that empathy, and so is yours.

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