Skeletons in the closet
This is hard, and after thinking a lot, it's probably not the right title.
You see, "skeletons in the closet" is a phrase used to describe an undisclosed fact about someone which, if revealed, would damage perceptions of the person. It shouldn't be this way. It's not.
This problem of mine will explain a lot about me, my actions, reactions and above everything why I'm so determined to race again.
Even though it still comes with a lot of shame, I believe, it outweighs the downsides. I wish I was alone, an outlier, but I'm not.
It's about what I've been dealing with throughout my career, on and off, but never gone completely.
It's about poor relationship with food, disordered eating which became an eating disorder, bulimia.
It happened quick and before I knew it, I realised I was not in control anymore. It had me under control, no matter what.
Ironically it was not about the weight, I was always lean and if needed I could lose an extra kilo or two without a problem. I didn't know what was it about at the time, if not the weight. And I didn't know how to fix it.
Being such a taboo topic, I couldn't just tell someone and ask for help. I learned to live with it, hoping I was gonna be OK. And I was, for some time. But every time I hit a hurdle, poor performance, being in an argument with team management, being judged by others, IT reminded me it was my fault, it was still here, to stay, I was being a hypocrite, liar and not enough.
This doesn't make sense to many, but for those who were, or still are in a battle with it, it makes helluva sense.
And there are many, many in cycling. It's not a minor problem like some would led us to believe. And certainly it's not just women's problem.
Every team I've been on, from Continental to Pro Continental to World Tour, I've had team mates struggling. There were at least 5,6, with an eating disorder, many more with disordered eating behaviours. They were team captains, GT podium finishers, some were just awesome riders, team mates , happy boys if looked from 3rd person perspective.
Doctors would normally not notice it, because you become really efficient in hiding it. Only the ones who are in the same place will figure it out.
And even if management notices it, usually, they'll ignore it. It's much easier to kick the non performer out at the end of the season. But if he's riding well, that's fine too.
Although all these people dealing with it, are screaming for help, they, myself included just don't know how to start. The immense feel of shame, unworthiness, loneliness....
What's worse, others who know, or suspect (staff, management...), will go on and spread the news to other staff, GMs, DSs, Docs, other teams...
The shame, embarrassment and the feeling of being a failure is indescribable.
In my case, this was reason I never did anything for myself, my benefit, I always fought for my team mates, always defended them, at the cost of myself facing the consequences. Because I didn't deserve it...
Then it came the positive test.
I had to tell them, I told the UCI, I told them everything.
The whole reason I took that meal replacement was, because it was the only thing I could keep in. In that period there wasn't a day I wouldn't cry before going out for a ride. I was desperate, and everything was dark to me. The thing I loved, I dedicated whole life to, was being taken away from me.
I knew I had to give my body at least something, to function.
And that was that meal replacement, oats, animal protein, natural flavours....and undisclosed methylhexaneamine unfortunately.
The UCI promised their medical department would contact me. IT NEVER HAPPENED.
They knew we have a problem, the problem that is ruining people's lives, careers, but they don't want to do anything about it...nada, zero
Well, the sock height seems to be more important, right?
I also had to tell my team at the time. Only one person though. I told him what was happening.
After some time, I had a meeting with another person, the team president.
She was pissed but at the same time, she opened my eyes. She knew how to deal with problems, being a high achiever herself.
Suddenly there was a bright light.
We decided I was gonna do everything possible to get as minimal suspension as possible, then I would return and they'd give me another chance.
Throughout next 6 months I asked again and again if this still holds true, because, honestly, I would totally understand if they said no. After all, there's a positive test.
All was good, they said...
Until it wasn't
After I agreed to 10months, I met with "the" guy again.
And the reason given was the worst I could've imagined. All my darkest confessions, everything I told him, was spun in a way it fit his reasons to drop me. That hurt, it hurt way more than anything else so far.
The first couple of people I told my secret, they ignored it, or even worse, used it against me. :(
LOOK FOR POSITIVES IN NEGATIVES
Man that is so true.
In a way this was a blessing, I found help, I'm doing well, and I'm not offended by negative comments if I know they're wrong. I don't care what other say or think what I should do and how I should live.
I have self confidence back, I love myself. And in order to love others, you need to love yourself first.
I can take a critic if it's justified, nobody's perfect. And as long as you get up after falling down, you're not a failure.
This is why I want to race, cycling is me, we're inseparable. I'm aware there will be time to stop, and I have a future plan, but this is not the time yet.
I've been riding better than anytime in the past 7 years, I rode for 26.000km since January. Riding gives me freedom, best solutions come while out riding. Problems get solved, and even the toughest ones are rationalised and don't seem to be that tough anymore.
I'll be honest, I've tried to race Tour of Slovenia for national team, got no answer from them.
I also emailed every team to get into Tour of Utah, willing to cover all expenses myself, everything.
It's not easy, and I don't know if there's a chance, but I'll persist until the end.
It might not the Utah, but eventually somebody will say YES.
NOT JUST ABOUT ME
Right, this shouldn't be just about me, It should be about others as well. I didn't write this piece to get attention, or others feeling sorry for me. I'm doing ok, most of the time, not great, but still, good enough.
I wrote this to let everybody know, from hypocrites to people working in cycling, we have a problem. Whether you like it or not, it shouldn't be such a taboo topic.
Someone who fractures a bone and carries on, is seen as a hero, but somebody struggling for months, years, with mental issues, eating disorders, addiction, is WEAK?
Here, I exposed myself, and even now, writing this, it bring tears on my eyes. It shouldn't be like this. This is fixable. I'm not the right person for help, but just a talk with someone who's been through it will help immensely. The load that comes off your chest is indescribable.
It gives hope.
Everyone, anyone you're free to give me a call, anytime. I get you. I'll listen.