Today is July 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you do choose life and make caring for yourself a priority?” This Navigate the Chaos series stems from my own reflections over the course of many years. As the 365 daily posts unfold, evolve, and develop over time certain themes start to emerge. One such theme is the necessity of self-care. If you wish to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, you need to have a strong sense of self-care.
As Parker Palmer wrote in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, “Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.” If you believe self-care is selfish, perhaps today’s reflection can help you evolve your thinking into a more compassionate approach as you look to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. Olympic race walker Robyn Stevens learned the hard way how important how thoughts, words, and actions are toward her self-care.
At 38 years of age, Stevens qualified for the Tokyo Games on June 26, 2021, by winning the 20-kilometer race walk in the U.S. Olympic trials in Springfield, Oregon. Stevens traveled an improbable road to the 2021 Summer Olympics in the arcane sport of race walking; especially since it came 17 years after she quit competing at San Jose State because of an eating disorder. Stevens started to recognize signs of an eating disorder senior year in high school. During her freshmen year running track in college her early warning signs had progressed into an obsession. She started starving herself, and when she did eat, would vomit to the point of exhaustion, and then go workout. She was on the verge of losing her life. Stevens said she had no one to talk to about her condition while at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, so she transferred to San Jose State. She told her youth coach “If I don’t leave, I think I might die. I’m on an unhealthy path right now.” At this point in her life Stevens realized she “needed to choose life” and wanted to stay alive.
Stevens had the self-awareness to realize that she needed support if she was going to figure out how to navigate the chaos of her situation. But then tragedy struck. In February 2004 fellow race walker and friend Al Heppner killed himself by jumping off a bridge in San Diego County after failing to make the 50K Olympic team. Stevens noted that Heppner “just gave up on himself,” and realized her mental state at the time resembled Heppner’s since she was “no longer focused on winning and solely focused on getting skinny.”
Stevens called her mom to say she was done with competitive sport because it had become a toxic environment. She’d finish out the season with SJSU and then quit. “I hate myself and I hate food,” she told her mother. “How do I live?” It would take several years of continued struggle to learn how to manage her relationship with food and feel good about herself. As Stevens recalled “I pretty much reached full recovery in 2009. Around that time, I took a group therapy class and learned I had general anxiety disorder. I started understanding nutrition better. I pay attention to what makes my body feel energized and good, and what makes it feels draggy and tired.”
Stevens had no intention to returning to elite level competition when she stepped away in 2004. Her return to race walking was the result of therapy prescribed by her doctor when she hit her head and suffered a concussion. Her doctor recommended walking since running, swimming, and biking would be too strenuous for her brain. So, Stevens started walking, entered one competition after another, and 17 years after leaving the sport, qualified for the 2021 Summer Olympics. In her own words Stevens details how she navigated the chaos:
“Be your own best friend. Whenever anyone begins to overly obsess about something, that's an indicator something is out of balance and there's a need to do a mind-body wellness check. Trust yourself and don’t give up. If you get off track, do what you need to do to get back on, but realize everybody has their own course. What do you need to do that’s the healthiest for you? Don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you and take care of yourself.” Stevens learned the hard way how to navigate the chaos of a severe eating disorder.
How often do you engage in self-care?
Do you believe self-care is a selfish act? If so, why?
How often do you realize self-care is the only gift you can offer others?
Are you your own best friend?
Have you noticed yourself obsessing over something? If so, what did you do about it?
What do you need to do that is healthiest for you?