How a Ted Talk Saved My Life

Throughout college, if I ever found myself bored with work (read: always), I would tell myself that it was time for some 20 minute enlightenment and turn on a TED Talk. If you’ve never seen a TED Talk, they’re short (typically 5 to 25 minutes) lectures where a speaker gets on stage and presents about their area of expertise or passion. I’ve wasted utilized a lot of my time watching Talks about the U.S. education system, the qualities of a strong leader, how to pickle almost anything, and how one woman was self-employed as a street statue known as the “Eight-Foot Bride” (I promise it’s real).

I know that everyone has their own opinions on the validity and effectiveness of TED Talks. And while there’s a whole range of videos available and each has been subjected to its own praise and critique…I’m here to talk about just one.

Before you read on, take some time and watch this TED Talk by Laura Hill if you haven’t seen it yet. As you probably have already guessed, it’s about eating disorders.

I had actually watched this Talk many times throughout undergrad out of pure interest in all things psychology. It was a good thing I had, because out of all of the ones I had seen, for some reason, this one stuck.

Fast forward 4 years from the first time I watched that video- it was my 21st birthday. I remember each moment of that night as if it happened just yesterday. My friends took me out for a birthday dinner at a festive Mexican restaurant we hadn’t yet checked out. Where we were going was a secret and I was feeling some anxiety about what would be on the menu, so I begged a friend to tell me the name of the restaurant. Even so, I didn’t think much of this anxiety. I would be with a group of people I had grown to know and love throughout college (from convocation to commencement, we had gone through numerous dinners, basketball games, late night study parties, and even a wedding together). I never anticipated that the night would turn out the way it did.

A few of my guy friends threw around the usual jokes and jabs, but this time, it was about my food. I wasn’t horribly thrown off at first- I was comfortable with these guys and had been eating around them for years. Unfortunately, by just the second or third joke, my head started to hurt and I experienced tunnel vision for the first time. Eventually, I felt my eyes get hot with tears and I made my way to the bathroom. I got lucky with the timing- I had just gotten whipped cream stuffed in my face, per usual birthday tradition, and I was able to excuse myself to go clean it off.

We left the restaurant and took some pictures outside, me donning a new statement handbag, and then made our way to a friend’s apartment. While we hung out and talked, I felt myself become uncharacteristically exhausted. I texted a close friend who was also in the room, and asked for a ride home.

The minute I got back to my bedroom, I looked up the Laura Hill TED Talk that I had seen so many times before. And yet, on this night it felt like I was watching it for the first time. I remember my jaw dropping when Dr. Hill explained the concept of “noise” (she had given the monster a name!) and my hand accidentally yanking out a small clump of hair when she went into detail about the ways in which the different parts of the brain- the same ones I had just spent 4 years trying to learn everything about- interact to go crazy when I even see or think about food. I realized then that I had actually been experiencing these things for quite some time now.

Over the next few days, as I was still in the early stages of trying to figure out what was going on, I used this TED Talk- either by showing or describing it- to explain my situation to a couple of friends. Some believed me, some did not. Some told me that they’d had suspicions for a long time, but hadn’t known what to say.

The next week, I made my way down the street to the University Counseling Center. With every step, I felt like I was pushing myself a million miles out of my comfort zone. I remember the effort with which I had to control my breathing, trying not to let my preconceived notions about therapy cloud my mind as I walked towards what would turn into a very, very long road to recovery.

I’m still on that road and while it sometimes feels like someone keeps adding asphalt to lengthen my journey, I can look back and understand how far I’ve come since my 21st birthday. I have changed in so many ways; some changes I haven’t yet accepted, let alone come to love. But, I am grateful to have come across the eloquence of Dr. Laura Hill as she explained the experience of an eating disorder in such a clear, tangible, manner. Who knows how much longer it would have taken for me to understand that there was something wrong, and then to seek help? Through the time since my birthday, I have come to know that in every hardship there is ease, and I am grateful for that promise of relief.

Anyways, I have to go find a turkey. Friendsgiving is this weekend and if when I make it through work this week, I will spend Saturday enjoying the company- and the food- with which I have been truly blessed.

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For more insight, here are some of my favorite Ted Talks about eating disorders and body image:

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