Here is the story of how I came to know the magic of scuba diving.
A year and a half ago, so August of 2014 I was just returning home from a summer in New York City. I had been interning for the past 11 weeks at Nanette Lepore’s design studio, playing Anne Hathaway’s part in Devil Wears Prada. When I say that, I am not exaggerating. I was running around the city, delivering sample garments, creating mood boards, grabbing coffees, dying fabric. It was a summer of insanity. 14 hour days. A plethora of demands and tasks that I was not, by any means, equipped to be taking care of. I had only completed my freshman year at art school, I hadn’t even entered the fashion department yet and somehow Nanette’s HR person decided by glancing at my portfolio that I was cut out for the job. When, to be honest, I knew nothing. I repeat, nothing. I was clueless about pattern making or fabric dying or the proper hand stitching techniques to fix garments. Everything I knew I learned from YouTube. The dresses and gowns in my portfolio were the results of hundreds of mistakes and redo’s. And yet, here I was in New York City being asked to dye fabric for a fashion week preview or hand sew a celebrity client’s zipper or draw up a mock pattern for the new knitwear collection. If I took away one thing from my 11 weeks there, it was how to bullshit on a professional level. I used tea bags to dye fabric, traced my own sweater on paper for the knitwear pattern, and YouTubed in the bathroom “how to” tutorials on hand sewing techniques. I was a mess and no one even noticed. Because, in New York no one has time to notice. Every man for themselves and that certainly served me in one way or another. Anyways, I returned home in early August, unable to complete the last two weeks or so of my internship because the mayhem and chaos was a breeding ground for my eating disorder. I didn’t have time to take care of myself/never made time/never thought to make time. So, naturally I crashed and burned and landed myself in the next couple of weeks behind the locked doors of a treatment facility.
I was in residential treatment, my world was forcibly paused. I was transported from a life of running around and go, go, go, and do, do, do, and the crazy competiveness of the fashion industry to a suspended space in time that ran on patient’s tears and traumatic pasts. It was a culture shock to say the least. My eating disorder has always been with me and yes it had taken relationships and taken my health and taken my grades and so on and so forth, but never had it interfered so strongly with my life that I had to put my schedule and care and health into the hands of professionals. We all have our bottoms in life and I say bottoms purposely because I am a firm believer that no one has just one. Life is a series of bottoms. And, one of my larger bottoms was the day I hugged my mom and brother goodbye and was escorted back into a cold nurse’s room to be stripped naked and examined and poked and prodded and, worst of all, weighed. I became the day I was checked into that treatment facility, a patient on a level I had never believed I would understand. I had always seen and heard about people having to enter inpatient centers and, admittedly, I would get kind of envious. Thinking that my IOP or PHP recommended level of care meant I didn’t have a true eating disorder, I wasn’t as sick as those girls/guys, I wasn’t sick enough, blah, blah, blah. It was on that day shivering and silently nodding in agreement to whatever that damn nurse asked of me that I realized the bullshit of those thoughts. I was never without this disease, but I had chosen to continually humor it despite previous help and treatment because I never owned it. I never could look myself in the face and say you have an eating disorder because I always thought I was too fat. As if that was the deciding factor and not my health or my relationships or my overall mindset. The nurse escorted me from the examine room to the lodge so that the counselors could assign me a bed. And as I walked, all I could think about was how fat I thought my thighs were and it was then that I knew this was not a game about weight. Because here I was in the very place I thought I had to get to in order to truly have an eating disorder and still my mind was racing about ways to get sicker, thinner, to become invisible. This was a battle against the mind.
Now like I said, during my time in residential treatment my life stopped while everyone else’s kept going. At the time, I thought this was the worst thing ever, that I was falling so far behind, that would never be successful ever ever again. But as the weeks passed, I slowly became aware of the power this little treatment bubble gave me. For the first time in my life, I was presented with the ability to untangle everything. All aspects of my life were paused, so I could walk around the mess of yarn my existence had become and one by one start pulling out the loose strings. During this process of untangling and reevaluating, I learned several things about myself.
- I hate fashion. I hate the industry. I hate the culture. I hate making patterns. I hate the idea of fashion week. I could go on and on.
- I hate makeup. My makeup was all taken away at the treatment center which at first I thought was torture, but then came to realize the blessing it offered. My skin started the air out and clear up. My time in the morning was so much more relaxed. And, most importantly, my freckles were finally visible for the world to appreciate and see. Marks that I previously had come to loathe.
- I hate nice clothes. I enjoy quirky harem pants and long flowing sweaters and wide headbands. I found myself to actually be kind of a hippie and guess what no one in treatment-where the majority of women are wearing bathrobes and sweatpants-cared if I wanted to weave a crown of flowers during dance movement therapy and wear it for three days. So my world of loose clothing and owning a hippy persona began.
But the next discovery I came upon makes the past three miniscule in comparison because the fourth thing I came to realize has flipped my world upside down. While in treatment, removed from the city and the noise and the suffocation of the dark and artificially conditioned rooms, I admitted to my love of the outdoors. Somewhere throughout my teenage years, I had convinced myself of my deep hatred for nature and dirt and mud and sand and heat and through this convincing came to believe I loved the city and fashion and makeup and looking pretty and going to fancy restaurants and being glamourous all the time with my red lipstick and fake blonde highlighted hair. It was all a lie, but one I had convinced myself so firmly of that it had become my truth. But it was here in the safety behind the locked doors and sea of therapists that I felt able to challenge those beliefs
Now comes the part about how my newly rooted obsession for diving came to fruition while the rest is merely the back story necessary to understand.
I left my internship early and found myself home for a week or two before being checked into treatment. I had nothing to do, but that week did happen to be Shark Week on the discovery channel. So what better way to spend my time than sitting on the couch watching hours and hours of testimonies of those who “survived the mouths of jaws”. I had always had a connection with the ocean. I was the child that when we went to the beach never came out of the water. But, somewhere in the past years of mental illness and disease I had lost touch with that childlike wonder that the water brought me. I am not sure what it says about my character that my reconnection with the water came through watching people nearly get eaten, but never the less, Shark Week 2014 was when I decided I wanted to get my diving certification. I wanted to experience the ocean as a submerged entity of the waters. I wanted to be outdoors where my mind previously had told me that space was hated.
While in treatment, it is hard to request access to a computer. It is hard to find time to yourself to study for an online dive course. It is hard to rebuke your treatment team’s recommendation that you don’t leave treatment early and go diving over Christmas. But I did. I did so, not because I wasn’t committed to my recovery. I did so because I was committed. Getting my dive certification, the minute I left treatment was my largest motivator to get healthy.
- I was in treatment until nearly Christmas.
- While in treatment I took an online diving course.
- The day I got home I headed to the pool for my first underwater dive.
- The day after Christmas I flew to the Bahamas to complete my open water certification.
- On New Year’s Eve I dove with 40+ black tip sharks without a cage.
- On January 2nd, I returned to Chicago and went back to complete my treatment I had left early for my trip and despite the therapists continual disapproval of my leaving, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Diving has become a huge part of my life and my recovery journey. It makes me feel capable, strong, and completely at ease with my body. Since then I have on dived wrecks, with sea turtles, with sting rays, in caves, in freezing water, in fresh and salt and each time I dive I become more obsessed with the ocean.
Her beauty and grace and overwhelming presence are the nourishment my body has been craving all along.
Scuba diving and I…the rest is history.