Running on empty: eating disorders and women athletes

When I was in high school, I used to eat breakfast and then run up to the woods behind the Chan Centre at UBC. There, at the top of the stairs leading down to Tower Beach, I would force myself to throw up.

When I think back on these mornings, I can vividly remember the taste of half-digested Eggo waffles and the horrible sensation of my fingernails scratching the back of my throat.  I clearly see myself: knees bent, back hunched, my pony tail hanging over my face; I see how sometimes I would spit up into my hair.

I feel my heart racing, a mix of desperation and fear. How my chest would constrict and ache from the exertion of trying to purge what little food I had left in my stomach.

I remember how after I would run home.

In university, this routine changed. Instead of throwing up mid-run, I would binge and purge prior to leaving the house. In the quiet of an empty apartment, I would consume large quantities of ice cream, cereal, cake (if we had any), yogurt, and diet coke. Then, hunched over the toilet, I would puke. And cry.

Cry. And puke.

Then I would wash my face. Blow my nose, dry my tears, and check to see if any blood vessels had broken under my eyes and along the tops of my cheeks.

I would put on make-up before running. Smooth concealer over my skin and try to forget that the last thirty minutes had ever happened.

(Because every time was always The Last Time.)

Running after purging is scary.

Everything in my body would scream out that what I was doing was wrong. My legs were rubber, my head a haze; my digestive tract a battlefield.

The spastic lurch of my heart, as if it might actually punch its way out of my chest; as it might at any moment stop.

Break.

The long hours it would take for it to finally return to a normal, constant beat.

I am sharing all of this today because I am training for a marathon.

I am sharing all of this today because sometimes it is hard not to have an eating disorder.

(These two things are not mutually exclusive.)

Sometimes it is hard to be kind to myself.

Sometimes I run very long distances on little to no food, and then ignore recovery meals.

Sometimes it’s just really hard.

But sometimes it’s not.

And most of the time now when I run long distances, I am fueling my body correctly, and eating and drinking post-run, and also eating proper dinners, and breakfasts and all of these good things.

And while I want to love this, and jump up and down and proudly proclaim “I HAVE DONE IT!” – I can’t.

Because even though I am doing all of these good things, and so much of me is so happy to do all of these good things, there is still a small part of me that is telling me that they are bad, and therefore I am bad for doing them.

We don’t ever talk about athletes and eating disorders.

I think there are many reasons for this, and all of them come down to communication.

The first? We rarely ever talk about women athletes.

Sure, we’ll marvel at Serena’s domination, and yes, there’s always an Olympian du-jour when every two years or so our collective attention is briefly diverted to amateur athletics. But for the most part, our sports discourse is dominated by men. By the Lebrons and the Jeters and the Crosbys – by the men who are the untouchables of their leagues. And honestly, based on how progressive the conversations we have about these sports and their players are (hint: not progressive at all) and how slow their respective professional associations are in responding to the massive ills plaguing their leagues (molasses going uphill on a winter day), I am going to go ahead and assume it will be a cold day in hell when we broach the topic of eating disorders in the NFL.

Second, we rarely talk about eating disorders.

And I mean really talk.

Sure, we wax eloquent all of the time about how SO! MANY! women have problems with their bodies, and about how girls begin starving themselves as young as five. Every spring, a European fashion week will “pass legislation” (what does that even mean?) prohibiting models with BMIs under 18 from walking in their shows.

And of course THE MEDIA. The media, the media, the media.

We talk about the media all of the time: what an evil force it is in our daily lives. How it warps our social consciousness, perverts our expectations and demands the impossible of ourselves, our aesthetics and our desires.

And none of this is wrong.

But what really kills me is that none of these things actually says anything.

None of this really means anything.

It does not even begin to scratch the surface of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. It does not articulate how devastating it is to be anorexic or bulimic, and it certainly does nothing about finding ways to help.

It pays lip service to a problem, but then just stops.

So that people listening can think, “Oh. That’s so sad.” And then just go on, living their lives.

Every time I hear things like, “In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa,” or “4% of women will have bulimia in their lifetime,” I just hear facts, unchangeable and constant. It’s like I am almost expecting the reporter to finish off by saying, “and that’s all I have to say about that.”

And if we’ve resigned ourselves to this reality, then what really is the point in talking about the specifics and particulars of the diseases? Why go through all of the trouble of making people uncomfortable?

Unfortunately, the immense shame and stigma shouldered by many individuals who have eating disorders only adds to the silence.

I am only now capable of talking freely about my struggles because I no longer have the energy to hide from them. I also hope that by being transparent about my experience, others too will feel comfortable doing the same. The more we speak honestly and openly, the less the stigma, and the deeper the understanding by the wider populace.

Unfortunately, getting to this place is very hard.

For years I did everything I could to keep my anorexia and bulimia a secret and hide it from friends and family. I know a lot of it had to do with my perfectionism and my anxiety, but my fear was also born out of the fact that I didn’t think anyone would be able to help.

I didn’t think anyone would be able to understand.

And this was not unfounded. Because eating disorders are so misunderstood and so little talked about, you get really enlightened people who immediately dismiss you and your attempts at articulating what it’s like to live with one, who say things like “just eat a sandwich!” or “but you’re skinny already” or “I don’t understand how you can live like that.”

Which, amazingly enough, doesn’t help.

It just makes the whole situation one huge negative feedback loop.

Finally, I think we have such a hard time talking about eating disorders and athletes is because of our weird inability to divorce the idea of exercise from weight loss.

Which really narrows our scope when it comes to how we look and talk about both exercise, and us the people who are doing the exercising.

Because if we’re not lifting weights to get strong, or running to train for a race, what are we doing?

Are we doing something bad?

Probably not.

Society tells us no. Society tells us that the more weight we are losing, the better.

But only if we are exercising? (And eating our Special K?)

For me, I find this way of looking at things to be really detrimental.

Because when we think like this, that exercise = weight loss, we are again dismissing two really important things: one that moving our bodies can be exactly just that. An activity – void of anything and everything else.

And if that is not the case, why are we celebrating, and how are we celebrating, and are we actually judging and why are we judging?

When and how do we decide that exercise for weight-loss is unhealthy vs. otherwise?

And are we so afraid of that otherwise, that we just bury our heads in the sand and find ourselves inadvertently cheering on eating disorders?

(Eating disorders disguised as exercise = weight loss.)

I don’t know.

All I know is that this is complicated stuff.

I that I truly believe that it just comes down to how badly we need better communication around this issue and how we need it fast.

We need real information, and we need real stories.

I would personally love to hear from women athletes, period. But I would also love to hear from ones who have had eating disorders, so that I can hear how they cope when they are training.

I want to know what they do when they find themselves needing to eat more because they are running more, and lifting more, and what they do to be okay with this. I am interested in knowing how they marry social expectations over what they should look like, or their own internal body image struggles, with their desire to dominate.

Their passion to win.

Because going through things alone is really hard.

No one ever talks about it.

So I’m here. Talking.

Because it’s so hard.

 

Water, water, everywhere

Folks.

Tonight I am concerned.

Mainly, my concern is such, that at the still relatively young age of thirty, I have become obsessed with how I spend my time in the shower.

And it’s not just that.

I’ve become obsessed with writing about it, and having other people read about these exploits.

This is strange.

I mean, it was only a few weeks ago that I was chronicling my new found love of baths, and now here I am, about to regale you with my new fangled method of showering.

Please bare with me.

(No pun intended.)

This past September I began going to the gym before work. I was having terrible problems with my Achilles and calf muscle in my left leg, and I was sure that running every morning was exacerbating the problem.

Turns out I was only partially right. The majority of my problems were coming from the fact that my anxiety issues were ramped up to eleven, and my body reacts terribly to stress. Anytime my life is shrouded by worry and unease, my system rebels and the first things to go are either my right knee or my left calf.

WHO KNEW?

Anyway, despite the fact that I had previously railed so valiantly against the gym, I gave in and bought a membership to the new Dynamic Fitness at the New Westminster Skytrain station.

I figured that I would go most mornings around 6:30am, work it like a madwoman for thirty minutes, and then shower and head to work.

And I was right! This plan has definitely worked a treat.

Most mornings I arrive between 6:30-6:45am, sprint on the treadmill for ten to fifteen minutes, move through a resistance circuit (mostly push-ups, squats, lunges, ab work, and pull-ups) and then bike as hard as I can for ten minutes to finish-up.

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Gym bagging it on my way to work.

On the weekends I do my long distance runs around the Lower Mainland, and once the afternoons begin to stay lighter for longer, I plan on again running after work.

(My dream is to start a regimen of two-a-days, where I work out in the morning and then run after work. I going to have to really channel my inner Sarah Connor to ever make that a reality.)

Anyways, back to mornings at the gym.

The thing that people fail to tell you about showering and changing at these spaces, is, when you’re operating on a similar schedule to mine, and giving yourself zero time to cool down post-bike, the very last thing you’ll ever want to do is step into a hot shower.

Because it will at best be uncomfortable, and at worst, leave you feeling as though you’re going to die in the excruciating depths of a fiery inferno.

And that really sucks.

So, what is an enterprising girl left to do?

The answer is, as I’ve now discovered, to take blindingly cold showers.

And this is awesome.

So much so that I have pretty much become addicted to them, and cannot even imagine taking a hot shower ever again (workout or no.)

There is something equal parts magical and terror-inducing stepping into the stall, anticipating that first hit of water, just knowing what is coming the second you place your head under the stream.

It’s like all of the air is simultaneously driven from your body and you’re left a sputtering and gasping mess, just trying to force breath in and out of your lungs.

For a person who spent a lot of time growing up imagining whether or not she would have survived the Russian Gulag, these showers give me some kind of weird assurance that maybe, just maybe, I could have hacked it in the Taiga. (Seriously though, this was a huge source of worry to me as both an adolescent and early adult. I mean, for one, I wear glasses. That surely would have signed my death warrant, would it have not? Second, I have never taken the time to properly memorize long poems penned by Pushkin and Gogel and every political prisoner memoire I ever read always detailed at length how important these works were to prisoner survival. How could I ever have made it through long periods of isolation? Obviously I would be hooped.)

Erm.

What was I talking about?

Oh yes.

Beginning my day with both a high-intensity workout and then a blisteringly cold shower has completely changed my outlook on mornings.

For the most part I have more energy, I eat better breakfasts, and I am more alert (especially when it comes to first-thing meetings.)

And I’m not just making this stuff up!

Cold showers are great for circulation, muscle and injury recovery, they (supposedly) aid in weight loss, and they definitely ease stress.

Plus, they make you feel like an epic badass!

This past Saturday I ran 30 kilometers, and despite this insane feat that did a crazy number on my body, I felt great enough to run both yesterday and today.

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Post 30km. FEELING IT.

And while I’m sure that my cold showers aren’t the sole reason behind my quick heal, I do have to give them some credit.

Because if I don’t, I know I’ll just keep writing about them.

And I don’t want this to be the material that you are forced to fall back on when you are shipped off to Baffin Island for forty years of hard labour.

You deserve a Pushkin poem for that.

And one that isn’t about baths.

Mine or otherwise.

How can you walk in those things?

Here’s a crazy thing.

I think high heels might be killing me.

Let me explain.

For the past month or so, I’ve been having some problems when running – stiff hips, niggling knee problems, and tight calves.

I couldn’t understand what the heck was going on with me, as I have never, ever had any issues with my body – no matter how hard I’ve been training.

You name it – I can withstand it. I have been competing at a high performance level (whether it be dance, track, badminton, or volleyball) since I was seven years old and I have never once suffered a major injury.

Tough Mudder may have cut and bruised the ever-loving crap out of my arms and legs, but other than a day or two of (very natural) muscle stiffness and soreness, I emerged both times completely unscathed.

So when these aches and pains began to creep up on me, it really gave me pause.

At first I just chalked it up to an over-zealous pre-race weekend (40+ kilometers over three days) coupled by an ill-advised high-heel dance party at the Jungle concert the next day.

But even after my win at Boundary Bay, these zings and pings have not given way.

So I spent some time today thinking about what, if anything, has changed in my life over the past month or two to cause such a substantial shift in the way my body reacts to something that I have been doing for years and years.

And that’s when it hit me: for the first time in my entire life, I have been wearing high heels almost every day.

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To work and for play.

And this gave me pause.

Is it really possible that changing my footwear for such a short period of time could be wrecking so much havoc with my hips and legs?

And the answer, I am truly apt to believe, is a resounding YES.

Which is actually crazy!

But listen to this:

On Friday I wore flats to work because I knew that I would be heading over to Marc’s high school to lead the improv club, and I tell you, spending just twenty-four hours with my feet firmly planted on the ground made a substantial difference in my run this morning.

My had absolutely no problems with my knees and only my right hip felt a little tight (and again, only at the tail end of a very fast eight kilometer run.)

I am curious to see what tomorrow will bring, as today I again shunned my heels, and opted instead to don a pair of flat boots instead.

Stay tuned!

But in the interim, I have to wax further on just how upset I am by this revelation.

Because I LOVE my heels!

I am enamoured by how pretty they all are, and how unbelievably tall I am in each pair, and how unstoppable and badass each pair makes me feel – like I could literally step over every obstacle that might have the audacity to get in my way.

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I like how they make my legs look (about fifty miles long), and how weirdly proud I am of how well I can walk in each pair, no matter how high, or how skinny a heel.

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I love my chunky black boots that I bought for forty dollars at Target, and wore so often the first week post-purchase that I had to re-glue the soles after only seven days.

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I love my five dollar wedges, and my beautiful burgundy suede stilettos, and my cute plaid kitten heels.

I like how my husband doesn’t care that I am taller than him when I wear heels.

Dock

(I like how the only thing that concerns him about these shoes is how they may be impacting my health.)

I really do like (nay love!) everything about them.

But I am also so very wary about what exactly they may be doing long-term to my body, and when it comes down to it, I cherish my ability to run like the wind much, MUCH more than I do a sweet pair of shoes.

No matter how good my legs might look.

Because if I can’t run, they’re not going to look that good anyway.

Roll the clip

Alright folks, let’s get a few things straight.

Today is September 20, 2014.

We are approximately three days away from the beginning of the Autumnal season.

I am twenty-nine years of age.

You are whatever age you currently are.

This is where I am sitting:

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Everything is both beautiful and terrible. Everything is both unadulterated brilliance and unmitigated bonkerness.

Everything just is.

Sometimes, whenever I start to get really down by all of the fuckery that seems to dominate our world’s discourse (not to mention actions!), I just really try and focus on all the amazing, beautiful, and breathtaking things and events of which I am privileged enough to both behold and partake.

And sometimes, I just think about the quiet world of my early morning, pre-work runs.

When the sky is a mottled blend of purples, pinks, greens, and blues.

When the sky is the most beautiful bruise.

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I run down along the boardwalk with my heart in my throat, and my tears in my eyes. My legs feel as though they are six miles long, and my arms pump, just like my blood pumps, and everything feels right and strong.

And I know that I am flying.

Sometimes I feel silly and trite writing again and again what it feels like to run. How propelling myself forward as hard and as fast as I possibly can brings on such infinite joy.

But I can’t.

Just like running itself, I cannot stop.

I cannot swallow these words.

They are a compulsion.

They are a joy

Work has been a little batty of late (50+ hour weeks), spent zipping about like zipping things (zippers!!).

However, seeing as though my fellow colleagues are gentlewomen and squires of the highest order, I cannot bring myself to complain.

The fact that I am passionate beyond a thought about my job and the work that I do is, of course, another boon.

However, this is not to say that we can’t have a great laugh at our own expense, especially in the lead-up to a very large event, of which we have been working on since March.

March!

Case in point:

grumpy

I, like we all, have the capacity to be a grumpy cat.

Hence, I am actually grumpy cat.

Remember movies?

I do, but barely.

And this leaves me feeling a little melancholy.

Because movies used to mean so much. They used to mean so much to me.

I recall the first movie that I ever saw in a theatre.

Beauty and the Beast was everything a movie should be (in my very discerning six year old mind). It was funny and scary. There was a beautiful, brilliant, strong female lead who loved to read and who wouldn’t take crap from all the ridiculous idiots who populated her “provincial town.” She, rightly, loathed Gaston, and held her own when it came to The Beast’s infantile temper tantrums.

In truth, it’s probably the only Disney princess flick I’ll ever be okay showing my future kidlets (but that’s another post for another time.)

I am fairly certain it was my nanny Suzanne who took me to the movie, and it was her gift to me on my sixth birthday. We went to the old (and now sadly demolished) Capital Six, back when Granville Street was in its full grunge-tastic glory.

Memories!

The first “grown-up” movie I ever watched in theatres was when Shona Langmuir, Patricia Beckerman (aka “The Girls”), and I went and saw The First Wives Club when we were in grade five.

Note: please let me emphasize the term “theatres” in the above sentence. My family were rather lax when it came to flicks seen by us kids, and we were viewing adult movies at a very, very early age. I remember watching the Fugitive on Easter Monday in grade two.

Nothing like collecting a bunch of chocolate eggs and then sitting down as a family to watch Harrison Ford clear his name!

Good grief.

But I digress. Holy damn did I ever dig The First Wives Club. Sure I didn’t get a lot of the jokes, and the scene where Brenda eats dinner by herself absolutely destroyed me. But it didn’t matter. It was three women who loved each other, out in the world, kicking ass and taking names.

Too this day I re-watch it at least once a year.

You don’t own me!

Looking at both this film and Beauty and the Beast would you say that there seems to be a pattern emerging as to the type of movie that really resonated with my younger self?

Oh to be that wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, newly emerging feminist!

There are so many more movies that, collectively, with the thousands of books, songs, and other miscellaneous artistic detritus that I’ve encountered and loved along the way, have helped inform who I am as a young woman today.

For instance: I LOVE Forrest Gump.

Next time you see me, ask me to quote the entire movie. I will do this for you.

I also love Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and A Fish Called Wanda, and I will always adore Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

I saw Amelie in grade eleven with my first boyfriend and spent the entire summer pretending to be her.

I adore Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy. My favourite of the three films being the darkest and most brilliant black comedy of all time, “Blanc.”

I will go to my death extolling the cinematic virtues of The Big Lebowski. For me, nothing will ever be funnier than this brilliant pieces of the Coen Brothers subconscious. I quote it all of the time and there are total parts of my and Marc’s vernacular made up solely by movie lines. I can also never look at a bowling alley the same way again.

It’s weird.

I love dramatic films as much as I do comedy, however I just am never one to really revisit these masterpieces, and as such they don’t influence my life to the degree as my favourite comedies.

And it’s not as though these two genres cannot exist simultaneously. In no uncertain terms are they are not mutually exclusive concepts.

It just takes one hell of a filmmaker to pull this off.

(Like the Coen Brothers.)

But isn’t movie watching also so much about the experience? The memory of that time spent in the theater? Where you were? Who you were with? Where you were in your life?

Probably one of my most cherished movie related memories is from the first few months of Marc’s and my courtship. Only four months into what is now an eleven year love affair, the two of us went to see Love Actually on a dark, went and very cold Vancouver November afternoon.

I had spent the night at his place and, because I was in my weird “only skirts, no pants” phase, I was wearing a pair of his cords because I didn’t have a clean pair of tights. They were absolutely huge, and I looked a bit of a sight. We had spent the morning at a community theatre on the Westside where I auditioned for a part in an upcoming play (spoiler: I didn’t get the part!), and then had bussed downtown. Arriving at the theatre (also the Capital Six!), we ran up the escalator so we wouldn’t be late for the previews.

I so wish I could properly communicate how much I felt watching that movie, sitting next to the man (the boy!) for whom I felt so, so, so strongly.

My body completely electric as I held his hand, I laughed at Bill Nighy’s amazing portrayal of Billy Mac and felt my heart break and break and break for Emma Thompson.

I just loved it.

I hate that I am even typing this, but for me, at that moment in my life, love truly was all around.

(I’m sorry!)

But it’s true.

And that’s why movies matter.

And why, despite the fact that I never go to the theatre anymore, and I only use my Netflix to watch old episodes of QI and MI5, I’ll never let them go.

I couldn’t even if I tried.

Sometimes fabricated, always real

For almost two straight years I wrote faithfully here at Rant and Roll.

Without exception, I published posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (and often Tuesdays and Saturdays, depending on when extra inspiration would strike.)

Nowadays, it’s less that I am uninspired to write (in fact I find myself reaching for my laptop more often than not – what with the unending stream of ideas percolating away inside of my brain. Sometimes I actually imagine these conceptions as small nuggets of gold, and my mind as one giant, ever swirl-swirl-swirling miner’s pan.)

It’s just that, I just can’t seem to keep track of days, hours, space, and time – let alone said nuggets.

Flip open my computer on any given day and you will find three or four half-finished posts (as well as three or four half-read Grantland, Jezebel, and Deadspin articles.)

There may even be a Youtube video or two for your viewing pleasure.

So where does that leave me? Where does that leave us?

Pretty much at the same place where I have been treading water for the last six or so odd months.

You see, I just don’t ever remember life being quite this bonkers – always barmy yes, but never to the extent where I feel as though days are simply slipping between the crooks of my fingers and the dips of my toes.

But the crazy thing is (and the big difference from six months ago), is that I don’t feel scared or upset by this.

(At least not anymore.)

Because these days, the warm weather, and fantastic runs, and fabulous friends, and fantastical reads – and all the other magical magic that make up this incandescent, resplendent, and transcendent life of mine – make me want to cut each day up into one million of the finest fragments and carefully sew each one into a soft and sinuous blanket that I may wrap myself in for all of the ages.

And they make me want to share it all with you.

Whenever,wherever the time may be.

Some things.

Sugar (da da da da da daaaaa)

I haven’t eaten junk food in six days.

That is six more days than my previous longest record.

Prior to this almost-week, I am fairly confident that had I ever been the subject of a medical autopsy (as opposed to all of those recreational autopsies), the corner performing the operation (always Dana Scully in my imaginaiton) would have found my corpse to be comprised of 1/3 Rogers product.

However, in a bid to curb my anxiety, up my health-quotient, improve my running (just in case I ever decided to full-on try that competitive racing thing), decrease my chance of familial-susceptible diseases, and just in general TRY SOMETHING NEW – here I am.

The ex-chocolate bar queen.

And you know what?

It’s been the absolute best six days of life.

(It would seem as though in a bid to replace my discarded crown, I am now the queen of excessive use of hyperbole.)

Marc and I have been cooking amazing dinners, eating the delicious produce grown from our very own backyard, and taking the time to sit outside and enjoy our meals.

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I cannot quite explain to you how nice it is to bide my time and prepare a delicious and nutritious dish, instead of eating seven oreos and then complaining about how much my stomach hurts, and then dreading the task of forcing a few bites of a meal down my throat (only to be starving three hours later and repeat the first step which would then ensure a redux of the hurt tummy blahs.)

I think this renaissance (can it be a renaissance if you never remember living the process a first time around?) will be one I stick with.

She was looking pretty beat.

A post-Tough Mudder snap:

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On the plus side, I carried my 180 lbs partner 100 meters and was the fifth woman to finish the course.

On the downside:

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and

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Old friends.

Revisiting this genius:

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So if Bradbury is my all-time favourite author of life, Heinlein is definitely in my top-20. The dude can not only write, but sweet mother of pearl does he ever make you think.

He may not make me quake, and cry, and shake, an die like ol’ Ray, but Bobby A too has a few tricks and treats up his sleeve.

Dance break.

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About a boy.

Look at this dude.

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HE IS SO CUTE I CANNOT EVEN.

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This August will mark eleven years that I have had this brilliant, bonkers man in my life.

That is like – more than one third of my life.

(That is like, MORE THAN A LONG TIME OF MY LIFE.)

How do you even spend that much time with someone and now bludgeon them to death with a pineapple one morning over brunch?

I have no idea.

Good thing we never eat brunch.

Anywho, he’s just such a marvellous person who makes my silly little heart smile all the time, and sometimes I feel like a broken record just waxing eloquent all the live-long day about all of the full-stop brilliant things he is doing with his life, but I don’t care because he is a difference maker and world builder and all of his energy and brilliance shines light into the lives of his many students, and his words, and deeds, and thoughts and passions impact so, so many who come up to him and say “thank you thank you” and those who may not even know it, but who will wake up one morning, on a sun-drenched Thursday morn, and just think to themselves, “wow.”

Because that is what I do.

Everyday.