Editor’s Note: Paige Kuczek is a senior at Independence High School in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee (Williamson County, TN Schools) and plans to study psychology in college and become a counselor to young woman with eating disorders.
My Friend Ana
by Paige Kuczek
I sat in a chair looking at my mom and just repeating the words “I hate you” over and over in my head. My body was so emaciated from starvation I had inflicted upon myself for months. It was supposed to be the beginning of summer when I would be going to the beach but instead I was being checked in to my first of three residential treatment centers for anorexia nervosa. My battle had just begun.
Once I was all checked in to the center, (where I would be for the next three and a half months of my life) I was walked down by one of the staff to the kitchen where a group of other girls with problems would be. I was handed an apple, and told to sit down at the table. I looked around the table to see 11 other faces staring at the plates of food. Some of the girls just sat there leaned back in their wooden chairs and some cried while they shoveled food into their mouths. The apple in front of me was expected to be eaten but I did not touch it because it had exactly 130 calories and that was too many calories for my diet. The consequence for not eating was a chunky thick liquid that I would be forced to drink if I chose that route.
On the outside I appeared as a normal girl to most people, a lot of people would describe me as being witty, funny, and sophisticated. I did my best to fit in with the crowd throughout my middle school and high school career and went to my young life meets and participated in clubs throughout school but I always felt lonely. I had a hunger for reading new books and following politics and learning anything that pertained to human anatomy or psychology. These were not the typical things that people my age were interested in whatsoever so I often found myself lonely which is an unbearable feeling. As a side effect of my loneliness and the hardships HE faced with trying to fit in, I met a new best friend who was quite toxic and her name was Ana.
Ana creeped into my life when I was just twelve years old and she was my eating disorder. She gave me something to do to help me feel adequate. At first she would tell me things like “if you lose five pounds then you will look good in that dress for homecoming,” or “if you don’t eat that cookie then you won’t look fat.” Very quickly it became a toxic relationship with her though because she would come around and tell me things like “you are disgusting for eating sugar, sugar makes you fat” or “look in the mirror, you are repulsive, I want to see your ribs not fat.” She drove me to the point where I needed a rubber tube shoved up my nose twice and two summers spent in residential treatment centers where I can never get that time back.
Now, all this talk about Ana may seem like being in a residential treatment center is entirely terrible but in the long run it is truly rewarding. While I was in these centers the girls I was with were some of the most inspiring, intelligent, and tremendous people I know today. There is a stereotype surrounding anorexia and bulimia: that the people with these deadly diseases are just depressed goth kids who are trying to get attention. I even believed the stereotype! The girls at these centers that I lived with came from different walks in life. They became my big sisters and helped me realize who I was and accept myself. They taught me some of the most valuable lessons in life like not judging a person by how they look and always fight the good fight. My “sisters” became my support in this battle and helped me to overcome my eating disorder.
Today many of these girls who are much older than I am are doing big things in this world like making foundations for mental health disorders and helping other people get treatment for a disease they may have. Some of them are now your most well known college athletes. One of these girls is now a famous ballerina and another is a model who has made the cover of Vogue. All of this goes to say that these people are brilliant and strong and they gave me something to strive for.
Today, the battle against my eating disorder has been won and me and Ana don’t talk that much anymore. Throughout my struggles I have found that my greatest passion is helping people who are walking a similar path and need help. I am blessed to be alive and well and tell my story to others and that is the greatest accomplishment I have so far achieved in my life.
Click here to view an article and video on Fox News 17 – “TN high school student pushes for education on consent, sexual assault awareness”.
“Be Nice” just might be the best bit of college planning advice teachers, administrators and school board members could ever give teens. Over the last six years of working with Williamson County students and their quest to get accepted into competitive colleges, I’ve come to the conclusion that “Be Nice” is more than just a catchy slogan that fits neatly on a t-shirt or license plate. At a deeper level, “Be Nice” is an acquired skillset crucial for students to understand themselves, navigate relationships, improve community relations, and, yes, gain acceptance to competitive colleges.
Williamson County is full of brilliant kids with weighted GPAs north of 4.0 and stellar ACT scores. The only thing missing, for many of them, is the skillset required to “be nice” to others. And, as evidenced by a recent Harvard study, this is a sought-after attribute among the nation’s top colleges and universities.
I see teens’ lists of activities every day. Most students have only a thinly-curated list of extracurriculars or community involvement with nothing that indicates a deeper ability to work with others, to contribute to their community, or to “be nice.”
So the question remains: How can we help teens choose to “be nice” in an environment where they see cliques, division, and discord every day?
This is where we think Diversity Leadership Project can make a difference in students’ lives. We firmly believe the only answer to discord is community building, and see practicing conflict resolution skills as the best medicine for a world that does not know how to “be nice.”
Diversity Leadership Project desires to create an environment of acceptance and understanding, where peace can become every student’s instinctual reaction to adversity. In addition to monthly meetings at participating high schools, DLP also offers Non-Violent Communication for teachers, administrators and parents. We understand how learning to “be nice” can help anyone, no matter their current role in life.
Diversity Leadership Project training and practice in school communities helps students communicate with one another and work through conflict in a calm and effective way. The need for disciplinary actions decrease, and school becomes a place where administrators can focus on academic success and individual student achievement. The school becomes a place where students love to learn, teachers love to teach, and parents feel confident their children’s needs—for safety, respect, and learning—can be met.
At the heart of DLP is the practice of Non-violent Communication, and the promotion of diversity and awareness, and being an active part of a welcoming and compassionate community. Participating in this club helps students form a hopeful and peaceful perspective on the world and their role within it. These students become more compassionate and peaceful individuals, with a strong desire to make a positive change in the community around them. They learn what it truly means to “be nice,” and they take that skillset on to college with them and it becomes second nature throughout their adult life.