Can you laugh about it now?

Then she pulled at my stitches one by one and looked at my insides clicking her tongue, and said ‘this will all have to come undone’  And doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that hit too close to home? Doesn’t that make you shiver: the way things could’ve gone?

And doesn’t it feel peculiar, when everyone wants a little more?  And so that I do remember, to never go that far, could you leave me with a scar”

– Missy Higgins, Scar

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So this last week I did something very mature, facing up to some things from my past and not burying my head in the sand about them. I was in an accident when I was at university, which basically involved me stepping out right in front of a bus in the middle of the Brisbane CBD…. I don’t actually remember from about 20mins before the accident to the whole two weeks I was in hospital. I had multiple fractures (skull, jaw, ribs, shoulderblade), torn hip labrum and some pretty gnarly road rash from hitting the bitumen. Everything healed, and life moved on….but now that I’m getting older I am finding that I’m having to face up to some of the consequences of that accident, likely confounded by my long-running relationship with Ana during that time which would have affected how well my bones and body healed.

My husband – who doubles as my physio (friends with benefits haha) – has been at me for some time now to get follow up scans done on my neck and left hip just to see how they are looking and whether we need to be concerned in the long run, since I am determined to be doing Ironmans or at least running until I skid full throttle into the grave at some point, hopefully a ripe old age. My neck still bothers me and the hip catches a lot, but neither of them stop me from doing anything right now.

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Cutest little bum you ever did see

So I went and visited the sports doctor who managed my foot injury a couple of years back, and he organised the scans; today I went back to discuss the results. We work with him a lot on a professional level as well – I consider him more of a friend than a doctor and I feel like I can talk openly to him about my past. My little mini (my 9 month old son) was with me, charming everyone left right and centre. We were making small talk about who he looks like and somehow got onto talking about genetic traits….and how one side of my family is full of eating disorders and mental health problems. Then we got on to talking about the actual accident, how it happened and the forces involved so that we could discuss the pathology together. I joked “so yeah, I stepped out in front of a bus. And no, before you ask, I wasn’t drunk or suicidal….but I probably hadn’t eaten for a week so I may as well have been!” then laughed it off, because that’s what I do.

And then he asked “can you joke about it now?”.

“What – the bus accident or the anorexia?!”.

“No, the eating disorder”.

I paused. “That’s a very serious question!”, I said again attempting to laugh it off.

He waited for a serious answer.

I thought about it.

“Well, I guess you have to laugh about it, right? Or else you cry about it. It’s one or the other. Why do you ask?”.

He replied that in his experience most people never get to a point where they feel ok talking about it. I still don’t feel comfortable with it, that’s for sure. But I do know that while that part of my life is now safely fairly hidden (since we moved from Brisbane 7 years ago I strategically don’t tell anyone…it’s nice that people here don’t know that part of my life and gives me a sense of freedom from their judgement about my body), it’s also important that there are a few people who I can turn to when I’m struggling. Dr C is one of those people. Two close girlfriends; my coach; and my husband are the others. And I guess when push comes to shove, I don’t really know that laughing about it is a healthy response.

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Preparing for my Ironman comeback one year post pregnancy, two years post foot surgery.

There’s nothing funny about anorexia.  It destroyed my mind, my body; took away my childhood and leaves me with a very deep pit of anger that bubbles only millimetres away from the surface (it does not take much scratching to delve there). And yet here I am, living an amazing life, at a “healthy” weight, and considered “recovered” (whatever that means).

But the scars remain and I can tell you that the voice of Ana never goes away…even after all this time I could flick a switch and go back there in a heartbeat. I don’t want to, because I have so much more to lose these days – my husband and son deserve so much more from me and I want to be fully present to experience all the happiness they give me on a daily basis. I don’t want to allow Ana to steal my ability to be present in those moments and replace that with anxiety about the next meal, the next opportunity to burn calories, or the number on the scale.

Oct E

BUT. And there has to be a But. I don’t know what other way to cope and to move forwards than to be able to face each day, give it my best, and be able to vent by joking about Ana to my “inner circle”; precious people who I know go way beyond judging me on my body weight or my scarred past. I still have to talk about the heavy shit (for one of a better description) with my psychologist on a fairly regular basis, which inevitably results in tears, slow progress and home truths…so I guess for me this is a way of processing all that went on and attempting to repackage it in a way that is more palatable. I have other friends from treatment who I’m still in touch with, and more still from around the world who I have connected with since recovering. Many of them never talk about their ED pasts except to fellow sufferers. Some go above and beyond to hide their history from everyone, denying anything. More still are what I would consider “partially recovered”, masquerading behind a healthier BMI but almost as neurotic as they ever were about their food and exercise consumption. A rare few are strong enough to cope with recovery by flipping it on its head and going fully public about it in the hope to help others who are struggling too. I don’t feel like I am bulletproof enough to do that; there still needs to be that barrier of anonymity there for me when going about my daily life not as a “Recovered Anorexic” but just as me, who used to have an ED but doesn’t any more. Especially with my job as a health professional. And still…when I see patient of mine, friends or even strangers walking down the street so obviously going through the hell of an ED, every cell of my body wants to run straight to them, hug them and take away all the pain. But I know I’m not the right person to do it, and I would not be strong enough to resist the pull myself.

 

So on goes life.

 

I’m not sure what the correct answer is but for now, “Yes, I Can Laugh About It”. I can also cry about it. Revert back to it for hours, days or weeks at a time. Flirt with the line in the sand between “recovered” and “disordered eating patterns”. And especially, I can be pissed off about it, mainly for the family issues that still exist and trigger me off so easily (case in point: during a 5 day stay with my parents recently I managed to lose an impressive 4kg…and I wasn’t even trying). I can be ashamed of it. I can be in denial about it. I can wish it never happened.

 

But above all, I have to be stronger than it, and to rise above it, and to ultimately think that it has made me who and what I am today. And for that, I have to be thankful and at peace.

 

Onwards and Upwards,

K xo

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Racing Weight

So yesterday I had a revelation. It’s only been, hhmmm, 18 years coming.

I was looking through some race results from a recent track meet and they had accompanying photos. One photo in particular really set me off – I felt a deep pang of ?yearning? to suddenly stop eating and to run a really long way. To look like that. ASAP.

I won't put the triggering photo up for obvious reasons.  Instead, here's a bunch of awesome, fit healthy chicks at the New Balance Games.

I won’t put the triggering photo up for obvious reasons. Instead, here’s a bunch of awesome, fit healthy chicks at the New Balance Games.

Ever since I started restricting calories at age 12, I have always been very easily triggered by certain people – for me, mainly athletes of the very lean, tanned, blonde and hot description. I most definitely have a “type”. For the longest time it was Anna Kournikova. I remember as a 12 year old looking up her height (same as mine – I was tall at 12. Incidentally, I never grew after that….amazing what starvation can do to the human skeleton) and weight. That was ground zero. Only, once I got to her weight, of course the ED/Ana was in full flight and I couldn’t stop there. I may have had the long blonde hair, the sports trophies, the tan….but I didn’t look like Anna Kournikova, because, well….she looks healthy. She glows. I had some grey death staring out my eyes to match the grey shades under them, and a bony back to boot.

Anna Kournikova in full flight.

Anna Kournikova in full flight.

Over the years the role models have evolved, and as I’ve talked about in previous posts, I now tend to look up to healthier athletes as a matter of requirement. I am simply too easily set off by the former. And of course a swap to a sport that suits my genetic make-up to a tee has helped as well: as a distance runner, being lean and super light was always an uphill battle, whereas I build the endurance and strength needed for long course triathlon almost by mistake, it happens so easily.

Anyway back to the point. To give you some context, my body at the moment is not at racing fitness and after being “Ironman fit” for the preceding 3 years straight, that’s a hard thing to get used to. I was as fit as I’ve ever been going into my foot surgery in July last year. But 3 months in a cast and non-weight bearing on crutches, when all I could do was core and upper body gym work and then after that, swimming….well for someone who builds muscle easily, I suddenly developed upper body muscles. Throw into the mix a couple of pregnancies then miscarriages in that period and well, needless to say, my body has changed. So I’m in the prime target zone of being affected by such triggers and constantly fighting the urge to overexercise and undereat, when in reality my body needs to be loved in every way in order to repair right now.

Only yesterday, for the first time ever, a shocking thing happened. I’m not even sure it was my brain producing the thought process, so foreign was that thought process. I suspect perhaps my psychologist or dietician found a way of tapping into my brain waves and altering them. For when I saw the picture, I yearned to starve and go run 35km. But then the next thought that followed was astounding: “yeah, if you want to be skinny-fat and unhealthy. If you want to get back to that level of fitness, you know what you need to do. You need to commit to training hard, and eating. A lot. Of really high quality food.” Sigh. Wait – whoah!! What just happened?!!!! Was that my head talking?

New, healthier role models: Caroline Steffen aka "Xena", 2nd fastest female Ironman athlete in the world.  Machine.

New, healthier role models: Caroline Steffen aka “Xena”, 2nd fastest female Ironman athlete in the world. Machine.

After deep consideration, I’m fairly certain it was me. I’m impressed. And when I analyse it, it’s true – the only times in my life I have been super race-fit, lean, healthy and glowing (and incidentally injury-free) have been when I’ve been able to train well and at a high intensity, and when I’ve been able to eat a lot of food to support that. For many of the other times, I may have been clocking in at my desired “racing weight” – for distance running, not triathlon – but I was far from glowing, and the fake tan and smiles were barely hiding a very frail skeleton with 10+ stress fractures in their short history.

As we all know a little too well, it’s far easier for us to undereat and overexercise. It’s comfy, predictable, safe, not scary. Eating like an athlete is frightening, uncomfortable, requires planning, and a lot of mental strength – and not just for a day, but for months. But when all is said and done, it’s always more rewarding doing something challenging than sticking to the same well-worn path. I don’t want to be a skinny-fat distance runner anymore; I will stand proud as an athlete. Glowing, too.

Bring it.

xoxo

My hand-made Easter chocolates for the family.  Happy Easter everyone! xoxo

My hand-made Easter chocolates for the family. Happy Easter everyone! xoxo

Show me how Big your Brave is

Reporters love asking celebrities what they would go back and tell their younger self. They reply with some warm fuzzy blurb along the lines of “things get better” or “be more confident”. If I could go back to my younger self – probably around age 15 – I would say: grow some balls and scream for help, scream so loud that no-one can ignore you, to hell with the fear….it may just save your life”.

Finally - the media doing something proactive towards body confidence

Finally – the media doing something proactive towards body confidence

There is inevitably those fleeting moments in the eating disorder journey where the inner You is strong enough that you could probably ask for help. But these moments are so few and so far between, that the fear quickly envelops the soul and again sets you back down the path to Ana. I can still think of the few times during my decade with Ana – count them on one hand, actually – that I would have accepted help without too much of a fight. Those moments you remember, with clarity when it was just too hard to fight any more. Broken, at last. When I do think back on those few times, it still makes me feel physically violently ill to my stomach and sets my heart pounding, even all these years later. The extent of the fear of ratting Ana out is unlike anything else. To simply say the words “I need help”, comes with a plethora of assumed baggage weighing enough to drown anyone.

While eating disorders are rarely “silent” – those around you know there is something wrong – I would bet money on the fact that no one on this planet knows everything I did to myself during those years; the extent of the body abuse and the tricks that Ana played out. So while Ana may fool you into thinking “if it was that bad, someone would have intervened by now”; in reality, you and I both know that they have no idea what you are truly doing and what goes on in your mind. Looks can be incredibly deceiving.

My birthday cake.  Made by me, and yes, also eaten by me (well, one piece!  Baby steps)

My birthday cake. Made by me, and yes, also eaten by me (well, one piece! Baby steps)

But then the benefit of hindsight is that in all my wisdom, I can now look back with heartbreak, thinking “if only”. If only I had said to someone that I was unwell, and that I couldn’t stop myself. That I was so scared I wanted to vomit. That I thought I had control of this thing but that turns out to be the ultimate trickery. That I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to “act” like Me anymore; I want to find Me. If only….

There were many people in my life that I could have asked for help. My immediate family were a huge part of my problem and chose to be incredibly ignorant about my condition, so even as a 12 year old, I knew that was not an option. But my Aunty, my best friends, my boyfriend, my coach, and later my resident mentor at college, or my doctor…..any of these people would have given heart and soul to help me – and God knows how much they all tried at various times – if only I’d let them in. It would have taken a huge amount of guts and four words to change my life: “help me, I’m ready”.

Instead, I let Ana rule the world for a decade, pretending I was in control, but knowing full well for the latter years of my illness that I was not. In a final bid for freedom – of myself, not Ana – I jumped on a plane to Canada and set myself free in the world. I was going to get better. Only just 2 weeks in, failing miserably, alone in a backpackers in Vancouver, I collapse on the stairs from a near-lethal combination of starvation and a vomiting bug. For the record, I don’t count medical help that was not given by choice but rather by dire circumstance as “asking” for help. Clearly, this was not going to be a one-woman effort. By that stage, Ana was so strong that it was going to take a lot more than that to break her down.

On returning to Australia, this time as an adult, I checked myself into help for the first time ever. It was my choice. I was scared shitless and felt so out of control of my life, but it was what it came to. It took years of mess and emotional rollercoasters and a lot of help from my friends following that to find health and most importantly, Me. But I got there.

And yet the mind wanders at times…..How would things be different, if I’d gotten help so much sooner?

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”

Help is scary, I know. But living alone with Ana is scarier. Just because it’s familiar, doesn’t mean it’s ok. Deep within every perfect little Anorexic is a voice that wants so desperately to stand up for You, for everything that should be yours and that you deserve just as much as everyone else in the world. Don’t let Ana fool you into thinking you don’t deserve it. Finding that inner voice and learning to use it is often the keystone to the mountain that is Recovery. It certainly was for me.

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Be brave. Kick and Scream. Beg for help. I know You can do it.

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave….

Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is…

Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
– Sara Bareilles

K xoxo

Insecurities

“Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog
Where no one notices the contrast of white on white

And in between the moon and you, angels get a better view
Of the crumbling difference between wrong and right

Well, I walk in the air between the rain
Through myself and back again
Where? I don’t know”

– Round Here, Counting Crows

Please read the following scenarios and choose the most correct answer:

1) You are an elite female triathlete with the following stats to your name: two sub-9hour Ironman finishes, <12% body fat and arguably one of the fittest bodies on the planet. When asked your weight in an interview, would you:

a. Tell the truth – your body is a weapon, your job, and a beautiful machine and you are proud of it!
b. Take off 5kgs from the true amount; you think you are ‘heavy’ with the muscle on your frame and your height.
c. Refuse to answer.

2) You are an athlete who has had an eating disorder in the past, you are now recovered but do not know your weight. You haven’t been able to run for 6 months due to injury, but have the chance to run on an Alter G treadmill that your sports doctor has arranged. In order to use it, you and your doctor will find out your weight. Do you:

a. Get on it – to hell with my weight I am desperate to run!
b. Agree to use it as long as you don’t need to find out the weight, then proceed to have a meltdown about it anyway, fearing that your doctor will think you’re the most obese athlete on the planet;
c. Gracefully decline. You are desperate to run, but the trauma of going through being weighed is just too much.

What would you do?

WA Ironman 2009

WA Ironman 2009

Impossible scenarios like this face us day in, day out, when we have the tracks of a previous ED in our scar tissue. We may be doing well for the majority of life’s intricacies, but there will always be situations like the above that will either get our blood boiling, or mentally challenge us more than is desirable (I don’t think it’s considered “normal” to have a panic attack at the thought of someone else knowing your weight….).
The first scenario makes me so furious that it sends me searching for my soapbox – in fact, I did send a huge ranting email to my good friend and doctor about the exact situation. I have been in the fortunate scenario to be on a squad alongside professional Ironman athletes for the last few years, and some of the best female triathletes on the planet to that end. Our head coach boasted more sub-9hour females on his squad than any other coach worldwide. It has been incredibly insightful and for the most part beneficial for me to be able to access their wealth of experience and knowledge and to apply that to my own racing and training.

But it doesn’t come without some serious eye-opening of the bad kind. Over the years, as you get more “well”, your triggers become so much more obvious. Racing has always been one of my biggest triggers – lining up on the start line in little more than some loud flimsy lycra is one thing; having that then photographed and marketed back to you in the eschewing weeks is truly disconcerting. No-one looks good in lycra, just putting it out there. The males who don’t have eating disorders love the race photos because they look so buff and muscly; the females – ED or otherwise – hate the photos for the same reason. I continue to race because for the most part it heals my soul. I’m good at it, and so it builds my self-esteem and creates an identity other than “anorexic”; in short, the risk-reward ratio is in the right place for me.

What I have learnt, however, is that disordered eating is rife among these professional women. They are not immune to the pressures; in fact, they feel it more than most.

Which disgusts me. Here you have 5 of the fastest, fittest, most incredible female athletes on the planet, all with bodies which would make any human proud. Their bodies are their livelihood, and to that end are serving them very well. Their self-confidence should be oozing; success is practically their middle name. And yet, they feel the need to lie about their weights, ashamed by the number on the scale.

What does that mean for the rest of us?

What message does that send?

Fast forward to scenario II, where I get this amazing opportunity to start my return to run training 3 months ahead of schedule following my foot surgery, thanks to the Alter G treadmill purchased my sports doc…..and yet I baulk. Frozen. Panic sets in. I know it means being weighed, and for someone who has just had 6 months off normal training, that is paralyzing.

But why should it be? I weigh 5kg more than the average of those 5 elite females put together – their real weight, not the one they put down on our team bio page. I am healthy, lean, fit and carry as much muscle as a good Ironman athlete should. Yes, I’m a few kgs up from my race weight, but that is OK too – because I am not race-fit right now. My body is as it should be right now, and I would like to be able to “own” that.

In the end, I guess you could call me a hypocrite. It upsets me that those women feel the need to lie about their weights, and it saddens me that that will send a very wrong message to young impressionable athletes coming through. It’s as if we are expected to achieve the impossible: to have muscle and minimal fat, and good bone density, and yet to weigh in at featherweight. Consider who is setting these expectations, and whether it is a sad modern extension of the female bullying epidemic, insisting we be perfect and able to do-it-all and yet so ruthlessly judging one another for how we all look/dress/work/live/parent…..the list goes on. I can tell you that my doctor, who is a male, didn’t give two hoots about my weight. And you rarely hear males bitching about their fellow mates, judging how they live their lives. Food for thought.

My plea is for female athletes to start “owning” their beautiful bodies. Be proud that you weigh a little more than your unfit skinny counterparts because you actually have muscle tone. Be proud of what your body can do, and how far it has come. For those of us who have climbed from the dark depths of an eating disorder, also be kind and forgiving – for your body has been through so much more than you will ever know, and every day it wakes ready to heal a little more and to help you to keep fighting the good fight.

Never forget that. Own what you are, and be proud. Starting a revolution starts with one tiny step, and you just never know who you’re inspiring by how you live your life.

insecurity blog

K xoxo

Multiple Choice Questionnaire

Multiple Choice:

Please read the scenario and choose the most correct answer from the list below.

You randomly wake with your head in a fog, suddenly your work pants feel two sizes too small and you feel approximately 6 months pregnant with a food baby. You:

a) Acknowledge that yesterday your clothes fitted fine, and that it is likely just fluid retention or a case of flash insecurity and you refuse to panic;
b) Decide to take the “logical” objective approach, taking your measures to compare to yesterday and determine that it is, in fact, a large exaggeration from your mind’s eye;
c) Throw your entire wardrobe on the floor and begin to throw a tantrum, hating the world;
d) Think “fuck this, I’m not eating (indefinitely)” and feel the calmness warmly ooze over you knowing that you are going to be just fine…..
e) All of the above, in any given order.

I’m going to propose another option, option (f): The Two Day Rule. Given that the majority of us out there will indeed pick option (e), probably several times over, and put oneself at the risk of the relapse-merry-go-round, we need a set strategy for days like this (good tune, Van Morrison).

Give yourself two more days. 48 more precious hours. You’re not having to be so strong that you’re defiantly pushing Ana to the curb, you’re just gently turning your back on her for a couple of days. You only need to be strong for two days. All you have to do, is just keep on keeping on…..give the body nourishment, just like you did yesterday. Baby steps (meal-snack-meal-snack-meal-sleep repeat x 2). One foot in front of the other. Don’t go and punish yourself with a 3 hour training session. Head up, face the world. As a random side note, I find it helpful on days like this where your self-confidence is about the size of an ant, to utilise the self-affirmation “fuck you, world!”…..for no reason in particular except that it gives me the strength to leave the house, face other humans and pretend to be normal….and sometimes provides for some humorous self-talk while walking down the street. Fake it till you make it, or something like that.

Then on day 2, you can reassess. Chances are, your soul has gathered that ounce more strength to fight; your body gained that much needed fuel to cradle to mind through the dark room and out into the glorious sunlight. You’ve probably managed a few moments of clarity, sane thought, objective reasoning, realistic assessment…..hopefully all of the above.

And it becomes much easier to flick Ana back to the dark room where she belongs. Don’t let the Wrecking Ball win; fight the good fight.

Two days. You can do it.

K xo

....note to self: when faced with a bar full of Moet, do not drink yourself into oblivion, tempting as it may be.....

….note to self: when faced with a bar full of Moet, do not drink yourself into oblivious, tempting as it may be…..

The Importance of Nothingness

“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”

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The Importance of Nothingness:

The ability to sit still with oneself in a non-anxious state
And truly be present in the Immediate Moment.

A heartbreakingly very difficult ability to learn, for us…

And yet perhaps the ultimate Yardstick to one’s true sense of Mental Health.

Can You be content in the company of You?

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K xo

Here comes The Fighter

Only a man who knows what it’s like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even”. – Muhammad Ali

Today, I commiserate celebrate the half-way point of my foot rehab journey. 4.5 months since the surgery, 4.5 months until I can run again.

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Never before have I yearned for running, the first and longest love of my life, so fiercely. When I was running competitively at university, I had a beautiful old man of a coach who was in his 70’s (and still running…) and had been coaching distance runners for most of his life. After thrashing ourselves and giving 100% of what our hearts had to give at any given session, we would warm down and joke and laugh amongst the group. When all was said and done, he would look at me with those wise wrinkled eyes and say “I have never met someone who loves running like you do”. In my youthful naivety, I used to laugh at him. But right now, if you asked me to choose between running and my husband – my two grand loves – well I’d have to think about it! I’m joking sort of.

Early days....

Early days….

And yet, never in my life have I found it so hard to keep the “athlete mindset”. Not as in, screw training why bother. As in, screw rehab I want to go run, PRONTO. I want to get back to racing weight fitness, PRONTO. Hell, I want to race, and feel the best pain in the world. Not rehab pain. Not idle resting pain. Or surgery pain. Just the deep, all-encompassing fantastic pain of racing. I want that. And my heart yearns so extremely deeply for it, I feel a black hole that can’t be patched back up.

And God knows all too well that I am not patient. Ironic given all those years of being a patient. I suspect this may be God’s way of testing me….so that I learn patience. And so that I learn the most valuable lesson of my life to date: I am an Athlete. I am no longer Anorexic. Or an Athlete with an Eating Disorder. Facing the surgery, all those months ago, I remember with clarity driving home from the surgeon’s office crying, desperately hoping, but desperately fearful that I could not do this. I could not do this, without Ana. This was going to be the hardest test of my “recovered” life.

And in these last weeks that have passed, I cry again – because I know I am there. Throw vulnerability to the wind, I’m fighting the good fight.

There you are. I finally found you.

K xo

2013-09-05 med ball 1