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Authentic Eagles: Mary Yuengert On Self-Compassion

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Mary Yuengert, MCAS '16

You are a miserable person.

You won’t ever get better.

Nobody loves you. Why would they?

These are examples of what I’ve come to call “the bad thoughts.” I met the bad thoughts during my freshman year at Boston College, and we’ve been roommates ever since. Through parties, work, classes, boys, summers at home, a semester abroad, sunny days and rainy ones, we’ve been inseparable, despite how hard I’ve tried to distance myself from them. We don’t have a good relationship—yet, they are a part of me.

From an outsider’s standpoint, I had a wonderful upbringing—two parents, two older siblings, family dinners, good grades, lots of friends, varsity letters, and the works. In the traditional sense, I was tenderly taken care of. Everything was provided. Life was comfortable. No deaths, divorces, or devastation.

Being the youngest of three children, however, I grew up as the third wheel. My siblings were a good bit older than I was—with more maturity, more privileges, more experience—and I spent the majority of my time growing up alone. I was never old enough, tall enough, smart enough to be part of their exclusive group of two, and as is often the case with groups of three, I was always left out. My family recognized this—the plight of the little sister who throws a fit at amusement parks because no one wants to ride with her on the roller coaster—and the reaction was often pity. My parents felt bad for me, my siblings felt bad, but pity didn’t change anything. I was still the family member on the outside, certainly not from a lack of love, but rather an unfortunate societal dislike for odd-numbered groups.

Although my reaction to my youngest-sibling status fulfilled the stereotype of the bratty, temper tantrum-prone little sister when I was younger, I came to embrace it as I grew up. Being a third wheel meant that I could do my own thing. It meant I could come and go as I pleased, and no one would make a problem of it. It made me the chronic observer, the advice-giver, the independent recluse who everyone loved and yet never really knew. I was a drifter. I began gravitating to groups of three—someone had to be the third wheel, and I always found myself volunteering.

Coming to BC, I continued this charade. I took to floating on the outside of a couple of groups, but something was different this time. In high school, I never got too close to anyone, but it was okay, because neither did anyone else. College was different. I saw the people around me forming intimate relationships—with roommates, with significant others, with friends—and for the first time, I realized how alone I was and how lonely it made me feel. All of a sudden, everyone had a “someone,” while I had no one, and it bothered me.

They don’t want you here.

You’re unlovable.

You’re making it awkward by sticking around.

Can’t you see they’re leaving you out?

The bad thoughts came flooding in, pinballing off of the walls of my brain and multiplying. The position I had intentionally taken for so long became flipped. I was on the outside, but it didn’t feel like my choice anymore, and I felt it more acutely than ever. My brain spoke to the little girl who always felt left out as a child, manipulating her. You’re annoying, unwanted, whiny, bratty—not a person anyone wants to be around. In reality, I knew the thoughts weren’t true. I had plenty of friends, ones who voluntarily spent time with me. But most days, I didn’t have the strength to fight the thoughts and convince myself that I was wanted. I gave in.

During times when the thoughts were loud and chaotic, I turned to food for calm and comfort. If I ate enough, I became so numb that the thoughts went away altogether. Eating—to the point of overeating—quieted my head, and I craved a quiet mind more than anything else on most days. Eventually, my terrible eating habit became a full-time job. I began making trips to the grocery store just to buy food for my “episodes,” foods that could be eaten in large quantities and fulfilled my every craving. I skipped classes when I knew my roommates wouldn’t be home so that I wouldn’t be caught in the middle of a binge. If the thoughts came unexpectedly and I wasn’t prepared with food to calm me, I would take my roommates’ and replace it without them noticing.

It was worst at night, when I found myself home on a Friday with everyone else out; when my friends had someone else in their bed and I had no one; when the silence became deafening. I knew I had a problem and that my habit wasn’t normal, but the bad thoughts weren’t disappearing. I felt myself desperately clinging to overeating for comfort. And inevitably, perhaps, things took a turn.

The first time I intentionally threw up my food, I was at home alone this past summer. My parents had been gone for two weeks on vacation, and I was preparing to leave for a big conference for my internship early the next morning. Consumed by the loneliness of a house all to myself, I had spent the previous two weeks gorging myself with food. But the night before the conference, it hit me that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself anymore. Pragmatically, I couldn’t afford to have all of this food sit in my stomach undigested at the conference the next day, and the only solution was to get rid of it.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

Why are you such a miserable person?

How could you let it get this bad?

After it happened, I hated myself for it, for crossing over that previously unforeseeable line from the safety of my emotional eating problem into the world of bulimia. The thoughts ran like a reel through my head every day as I continued to binge and purge for the next several months. I was stuck in the limbo of feeling sorry for myself—the binge—and retroactively insisting that I was worthy of love—the purge. I knew that I needed professional help.

The day I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I cried more than I had in years. I was no longer numb, but fully alive. I cried for myself, for the body that suffered so much for my self-hatred, and for the little girl deep inside me who still felt like an outsider, unworthy of love.

As an Arrupe Student Leader, I preach the value of compassion on a daily basis—the importance of listening to those who suffer, showing them tenderness and understanding, and taking on the chaos of their lives as our own. But more so than showing compassion to others, I have found it extremely difficult to be compassionate to myself: to listen to the voice of that little girl who feels left out, to cradle her and understand her, and to love her in her insecurities and loneliness. My eating disorder largely resulted from an attempt to stifle and quiet the bad thoughts rather than acknowledge their loudness and work to recognize where they come from—in other words, to show them compassion.

I’ve been told that oftentimes our deepest insecurities crave attention and love, and once we show them tenderness, they cease to exist. But the bad thoughts still live inside my head and speak up on a daily basis. I still question every relationship I have, whether it’s real, whether it’s genuine, often mistaking love for pity and convincing myself that people only spend time with me in an effort to make me feel included.

Today, though, instead of punishing myself for the bad thoughts, instead of trying to quiet the youngest of three, that little girl who feels excluded, unloved, and alone, I’m beginning to hear her. I hear her sadness and recognize her suffering; when she’s talking, I put my hand on the middle of my chest, and I comfort her. I tuck a piece of hair behind her ear and catch the tears as they fall. 

I hear you sweetheart.

You’re going to be okay.

I love you.

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