How lunch with you became a turning point in my life

To: My high school track teammate

From: Ivy Watts (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To my high school track teammate,

Four years ago, you and I met up for lunch at Bistro 781 in Waltham, Mass, where we grew up. At the time, I was 23. Despite having a solid friendship for years, at that moment, there was so much you didn’t know about me. There was so much that no one knew about me.

Since I was a little girl, I was always going to doctors to figure out why I suffered from headaches, stomachaches, trembling hands and twitching muscles. I ran track my whole life. My entire identity was wrapped up in being a student-athlete, as I sought validation and praise from my parents, my coaches and my peers. No matter how many races I won or how well I performed in the classroom, I never felt good enough. Those feelings only intensified when I went to college, where I ran Division 2 track for the University of New Haven.

In college, after every lifting session, each member of our team stepped on a scale. Our coaches gave us a goal weight and I did everything possible to reach that weight. From severely restricting my food to refusing to eat outside a specific window of time to excessively working out, I became obsessed and lost a significant amount of weight.

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On the track, I won Woman of the Year in my conference. In my senior year, the NCAA honored me as a top 30 finalist for the overall NCAA Woman of the Year Award. When I went to the awards dinner in Indianapolis at the NCAA headquarters, I was among 29 other super-successful female athletes. Instead of soaking in the accomplishment, I kept thinking  I didn’t deserve to be there. I was upset that I did not hit the time I wanted in the 400m, which could have led to me winning the top award or at least being placed in the top ten.

No matter how many races I won or how well I performed in the classroom, I never felt good enough.

While others celebrated my perceived success, I suffered with anxiety and depression in silence. Eventually, I developed suicidal thoughts.

For years, I was afraid to share with anyone how I felt. I was afraid people would think I was weak or crazy. I was afraid of not getting that pat on the back – not having that validation from other people that I so desperately craved.

But you changed my entire life.

On the day that we met for lunch, you opened up to me about your struggles with your relationship and how it affected the way you felt about yourself. It was the first time I ever heard someone talk about mental health. You told me you were in therapy and that it helped you work on yourself and ultimately improve your relationship. While I related to much of what you felt,  my response to you that day wasn’t particularly profound or unique. But for once, I didn’t feel alone in my struggle.

In the days following, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. Like me, you were someone who appeared to have it all together. I realized the difference between you and me was that you were getting help.

Shortly after our lunch, I called my mom and told her I was considering going to therapy. Knowing only that I was often stressed out, she encouraged me to try it and so I did.

I walked into therapy thinking that it was going to be this fix. The therapist would have all the answers in that first session and I was going to walk out healed after day one. But that wasn’t the case. I needed to open up and put in the work, which was uncomfortable and strange.

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er time, I began to develop tools that encouraged me to love myself. I started to figure out who I was outside of sports. Also, I connected to my spiritual side and learned to use positive affirmations when talking to myself.

After about a year in therapy, I cut all ties from a previous unhealthy relationship. Also, I started writing a blog, Beautifully Simply You, and speaking at schools, where I share my story. The hope is that I can do for others what you did for me, which is to make people feel less alone and let them know they can get help.

In the last three years, I have spoken to more than 10,000 students and I know I am making a difference.  A girl in high school once said to me that I motivated her to take back control of her mind and her mental health after struggling for so long. And a collegiate male athlete once said to me that because of my story, he finally reached out to get help,

Ivy now speaks at schools, sharing her story with young athletes and students. Photo courtesy: Alex Syphers

I’m on a recovery journey, as I think I will always be managing my mental health. But that journey started at lunch with you. Four years later, I am equipped with tools to live a healthier lifestyle, both physically and emotionally.

Today, I no longer seek validation from anyone except myself. I am married and in a healthy relationship. And I feel strength in sharing my truth and inspiring others.

I’m not sure what catapulted you to open up to me that day at lunch, but I want to thank you so much for having the courage to do so. It became a turning point in my life. And while back then you may not have known my story, I am writing you this letter now to make sure you understand the impact that came from telling me yours.

I am looking forward to our next lunch date.

Thank you again.

Your friend,

Ivy Watts
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