Stories of Hope: An Interview with Rachael Steil
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate and author Rachael Steil about her history of mental health challenges and her self-help memoir. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
RS: I first started to sense something was wrong when I was writing in my journal about how I felt like I was constantly thinking about food and that I wanted—and didn’t know how—to stop. The thoughts about food and weight dominated every part of my life, to the point that I worried about how things like not drinking enough water or not getting enough sleep would drastically affect my weight.
My thoughts surrounding the control of food didn’t faze my parents too much because they thought I was trying to be healthier as a collegiate cross country and track runner. They did see that I had become quiet, depressed, and isolated myself, but they didn’t think that this was related to an eating disorder.
When I began to fall into the cycle of restricting and bingeing on food, my emotions were just as chaotic as my eating habits. When I was restricting, I would be on some sort of “high” or euphoria. When I was bingeing, I fell into a depression. My friends were drained by my constant ups and downs and didn’t understand what the eating disorder was doing to my body and my emotions—I mean, neither did I!
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
RS: My turning point was when I realized no diet was going to “fix” me. After trying so many ways of eating and still seeing my body react the same way over and over with the way I was handling food, I realized my body wasn’t broken—my mind was. This was tough for me to grasp because the eating disorder had convinced me all along that it was my body that was out of control, not my mind.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
RS: My treatment consisted of a combination of things: a support group to meet with biweekly, which helped me to connect with others who were suffering; my parents, who allowed me to vent my frustrations and explain how I was feeling; my therapist to brainstorm tools for me to use to fight the eating disorder; and my dietitian, who provided a meal plan and helped me to understand my body better. This combination was very helpful and I always stress that it’s never ONE thing that heals you—it’s many things coming together.
I went to get treatment thinking I would just meet with a therapist a few times for one to two months, but it lasted much longer than that—I was getting help for nearly two years. For a long time I thought my eating disorder wasn’t “bad enough” because I was at a “normal” weight, and looking back now I easily see how life-consuming the eating disorder was, and how sick my mind had become. I think writing about what I was dealing with—including those doubts, fears, and confusion—also helped me to sort through everything and come to some important conclusions.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
RS: Things are so much better now. I have learned how to balance my life—I don’t rely on one thing to make me happy, and I no longer identify myself as simply a runner, or even just an author. I focus and base my happiness on WHO I am, not on WHAT I do. Also, all the tools I gathered from my therapist, and everything I learned about food with my dietitian (essentially, how to eat “normally” again), has helped me to gain confidence in my mind and my body. I continually challenge myself against eating disorder thoughts, but for the most part, I’m living a normal life and love it!
DS: Tell about your involvement in mental health advocacy activities and your recent book.
RS: I started my Running in Silence website back in December 2012 during my eating disorder recovery. It was that website that fired me up to be a mental health advocate—because it was only by writing and speaking about my own struggles as a runner with an eating disorder that I began to see how common it really was. My own struggles—denial of having an eating disorder, thinking I didn’t “look” sick enough, confusion about what an eating disorder entails—all prompted me to continue to speak up about it when I realized so many others were battling these eating disorder misconceptions.
And as an aspiring writer, I wrote about my experience in my self-help memoir “Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It,” released November, 2016. Since then I’ve been speaking to schools, teams, and to dietitians, therapists, counselors, and coaches about my story and recovery process.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
RS: I would tell anyone who is struggling to NEVER trivialize your feelings or struggles. They are very real to you, and everyone’s struggles are valid and deserve the time and attention for healing and recovery.
A huge part of my recovery process was realizing when I was stuck and not getting anywhere—and that if I wanted to keep growing and recover, I had to face some uncomfortable and painful situations. Recovery requires struggle and discomfort, but I learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This has eventually brought me my greatest happiness and freedom.
Rachael Steil, the author of Running in Silence, writes articles about running and eating disorders for RunnerClick.com, and is a speaker and advocate. She is a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received sixth place All-American accolades in cross country as well as seventh place in the NAIA track nationals. Rachael spends her free time writing, dancing, playing tag with her boyfriend on the lawn, and reading memoirs on her comfy couch. Her greatest achievement was not breaking a physical barrier, but a mental one. You can find Rachael on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and on her website.
Thanks so much to Rachael for her wonderful story of hope!
Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!