I used to be an avid runner. I tackled all distances: 1600m, 5K, 10K and even a half marathon. A full marathon wasn’t quite in my wheelhouse back then, but I was enamored by every single aspect of the sport: the scenery, regardless of if my legs took me through a rural or an urban route, the euphoria afterwards and, most importantly, the drive to be better. The simple things captivated me, too: clicking “Save My Run” on my antique Garmin 405 and the gasps when I would say, “I went on an X mile run!” I loved everything. 

I started out as a sluggish, out-of-shape teen, but I slowly grew stronger as a runner. My runs became progressively longer and my pace followed suit—becoming quicker and quicker over time. I joined my school’s cross country team, and within one academic year I went from a junior varsity runner who took nearly 20 minutes to complete a three-mile course to a speedy varsity runner, finishing courses in as little as 16 minutes and 51 seconds. My love for competition grew with each run or race that I completed. With each finished course, however, I grew increasingly competitive with myself, taking my body and mind to their utmost extreme levels.

To put it simply, I stopped eating. I was cognizant of the harm it did to my body, yet I chose to ignore it. I tried to subdue the aches, pains, numbness and countless headaches because I valued becoming better. I valued my speed, but I sacrificed my sanity. A gallon-sized jug of water was fastened at my hip. Many thought it was only for my hydration, but I used it to mitigate my hunger. Everything in my body screamed at me, but I ignored that too. Instead, I chose to hone in on nutrition labels, calories and macronutrients. I thought I was helping myself; I truly did. My race times continued to drop, and so did my weight, even though I had nothing to lose.

My love for running faded fast, as did the color in my eyes and my smile, too. I withdrew from running and spiraled into a life of self-loathing. I hated myself. I hated the constant aches, pains and worries. I hated everything. Running provided balance, and without it I was a loose cannon. I spewed sadness, guilt and anxiety, and I continued to do so—on and off, left and right—for months.

Much of what plagued me back then—nearly two years ago—still lingers over my head. Though the pressure to become a better runner isn’t with me now, I’m still caught in a net of self-loathing. I can’t navigate my days comfortably; my arms, my legs, my shoulders and my chest are all littered with healed slashes that remind me of my weaknesses and pain. They represent the worst days.

Not all my days are bad, however. Some are remarkably good, and I find myself grateful for those days. I’m grateful to be here—to be surrounded by vibrant trees, falling acorns and the ocean. I’m grateful for the experiences so far, but I’m still struggling. I’m struggling to do the simplest, most basic things.

At Bowdoin, I can’t be “normal” without plunging into a full-fledged war with myself. I can’t make meal plans with someone without coming close to cancelling, nor can I enter Moulton or Thorne without anxiety looming over my shoulder. I can feel my throat tighten. I can’t go one meal, let alone one day, without being riddled with food insecurities and anxieties. 

Everything that is a part of me—my insecurities, my damaged self-perception, my struggles with running—has been so deeply ingrained that it feels normal. This all feels normal. My lack of happiness some days feels normal, as well as the pessimistic view I have of myself. I don’t want it to be normal for me, but it is.

I wish my relationship with running was better when I initially started. I wish I could go back and yell at myself. In fact, I’m desperate for that chance. I’d be able to circumvent so much unnecessary pain—both emotional and physical—and I’d be without permanent reminders on my body. I’d be free of constraints and I’d be free of myself. I’d be liberated. Sadly, I’m forced to trudge onwards—forced to face my consequences each time I look in a mirror or down at myself.

Jonathan Calentti is a member of the class of 2020.