Meet Athena Barnes
MEET THE MUSE: Athena Barnes ~ daughter, student, friend, teen muse.
Tell us about yourself:
Encouraging and outgoing.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My idea of perfect happiness is not for everything in my life to be perfect, but to have a mindset that allows for the imperfections. In other words, I strive to see challenges not as a weight on my shoulders, but simply as a part of life that I will likely benefit from down the road. I believe this is the only way to truly achieve perfect happiness, for every journey will include more than a few bumps in the road, and how you choose to navigate those bumps plays a huge part in how one’s journey plays out.
What is the trait you are most grateful for in yourself?
The trait I am most grateful to possess has to be my ability to remain positive in the toughest of situations. No matter what myself or others may be facing, I always do my best to see the glass half full, and find a way to make the experience a positive one.\
What is the trait you most cherish in others?
There is no doubt that the trait I most appreciate in others is selflessness. Even if it is not for my benefit, nothing warms my heart more than witnessing someone going out of their way to better someone else’s day, even if only in a small way. Whether it’s just helping someone load their groceries into their car or shoveling the snow from a neighbor’s driveway, these small acts of kindness play a huge role in making the world a more peaceful place to live.
What is your most treasured possession?
My puppy. Hands down, I treasure my puppy more than anything else in my life. I bought her a couple months ago as a symbol of new life, and a new beginning. As I’ve returned to living a happy, healthy life, she too has grown from a tiny puppy, constantly in need of care, to a rambunctious young dog, getting into anything she can find. I had been searching for some time for something to mark my progress on this journey, and to remind me how far I’ve come, and her cute little face reminds me each and every day.
What talent would you most like to have?
Though it’s so stereotypical, ever since watching Hannah Montana when I was younger, I’ve dreamed of being a singer. However, my singing capabilities match that of a wild animal and are best kept within the limits of my room and the shower.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My most marked characteristic is easily having what most call a “Type A” personality. By this I mean, when I begin something, I’m driven to finish it. And not just to complete it, but to do so to the best of my ability. I do my best to go above and beyond what is required, in an effort to create something memorable and above the norm.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is, and likely forever will be, overcoming anorexia. This disease transformed me from a girl full of life, to little more than a shadow, just trying to survive from one day to the next. Even through much of recovery, I felt I would never be able to overcome this darkness that had come to be my life. However, taking the word of those around me that things would get better, I continued down the bumpy road of recovery, determined to find the light at the end of the tunnel. And alas, I have, and as people so often say after overcoming a huge obstacle, I am a better person because of my struggle.
What do you want to be remembered for?
My positivity. Nothing touches me more than someone commenting on how happy I look, or how upbeat I am; a quality I value just as deeply in others. I want to be the girl who can brighten someone’s day simply by being around to make them smile, no matter what they may be going through.
What is your motto?
Make every day a great one. Though it’s not some wise Gandhi quote or bible excerpt, I find myself referring to it daily. In my opinion, a day ruined by whatever negativity it may bring with it is the greatest loss, as you can never get it back. I make it my mission to end everyday content with what it has been, even if it means giving appreciation to the smallest of things, like getting an extra few dollars in tips, or hearing a good song on the radio. It’s these little appreciations that help bring light to the darkest of times.
Share your inspiration with us:
When and where are you most inspired?
The stories I hear about my dad’s upbringing never fail to inspire me. My dad grew up on a large ranch, and our mutual love for animals is something that has always connected us. Hearing his stories of the just how incredibly different and often trying things were for his family back then simply blows my mind. From riding his horse to school, to hearing of the long days he would spend doing chores on the ranch, just to make enough to get by, instill in me the belief that hard work does pay off. His stories inspire me to work for what I wish to achieve, and in the end it will lead to success, even when times seem impossibly tough.
If you could inspire one change in yourself, what would it be?
I’m constantly wishing I could worry less, and allow myself to live more in the moment. All too often, I find myself fretting over things non-relevant to what is happening at the time, which results in me benefiting less from the current experience. It’s something I’m always trying to improve on, as a life spent worrying is no life at all, and I’d hate to miss out on so many beautiful moments as a result of my concerns about what’s to come.
If you could inspire one change in the world, what would it be?
I would love to see people appreciate one another more. It seems that all too often, people go about their life never stopping to recognize those around them for the efforts they’re making. Whether it’s the cashier at the grocery store, or one’s morning barista, many people fail to give thanks to those performing tasks necessary to keep the world functioning. Though many of these people are paid for what they do, a few words of thanks, or even just a smile, are payment beyond any numerical value. Imagine the change that would come to the world if everyone contributed just a few extra acts of kindness throughout their day.
Where do you look for inspiration in your daily life?
The answer to this is easy; everywhere. From the barista making my coffee in the morning to a poster adorning a wall I happen to pass, inspiration is everywhere in this world. Though I went years without seeing it, I’m now pleasantly surprised by the simple little things that fill me with inspiration and drive me to open my mind to new possibilities.
Now, let’s dive deep:
What do you feel are the biggest challenges for teen girls today?
For me personally, and from what I’ve seen in young woman around me, it seems feeling accepted in today’s culture is a huge challenge for teen girls. Given the pop-culture, social media dominated world we live in, it can feel impossible for a woman to measure up to those they see online and in the media. This reality deeply saddens me, as so many young woman fail to recognize their self-worth as a result of the unreal standards set by Hollywood.
How can society support teen girls better?
In connection with my previous answer, I’d love to see young women in the media portrayed as they naturally are, whether it’s curvy, lengthy, short, tall, or anything else they may be. With curly hair and straight, long and short; women of all different ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles, confident in who they are. I wish it were woman like this on the cover of magazines, unphotoshopped, and doing more than just posing for the camera. I want young women to realize that having the newest designer bag, the best hair, or the skinniest legs does not constitute their self-worth.
What are you most passionate about?
This is ever-changing for me. I’m inspired by many things, leaving me with wild passions about all sorts of subjects. However, one thing I’ve always been passionate about is fashion and alternative design. This is something I’ve continuously used to express myself and my being, as some would through art or music. I’m infatuated by the ever-changing world of fashion, creating a wide array of options available to produce an outfit original and beautifully unique.
What has been your greatest life lesson?
This is easy; that the key to loving life is loving yourself. People always talk about the key to happiness (typically of the eternal variety), and I truly believe that for me anyway, this is it. Though it took a spell of hopelessly trying to escape myself as a result of my self-loathing, coming to this realization after my journey through recovery is something I will forever hold dear to me. In learning to love who I am, I have been able to put the time and energy previously spent fretting over one bodily flaw or another, toward doing things I truly enjoy and loving life. With that weight off my shoulders, I have realized just how much there is to cherish about the world around me, and that the little flaws are in fact what make it so beautiful.
What breaks your heart for others?
In my eyes, there is nothing more devastating than seeing someone truly hopeless. Whether it’s due to losing something they held dear or something else entirely, it kills me to see someone feel like there is nothing left. No matter how dire one’s situation may seem, it is my dream that no one ever feels like they have nowhere else to go, or no options left.
Despite the fact that it is now in my past (though I do still struggle at times), the damage I did to my body, both mentally and physically, as a result of having anorexia hurts me every time it comes to mind. Why one’s mind tells them that they are not good enough, leading to the horribly destructive behaviors that occur, is something I will never be able to wrap my mind around. Not even the worst of people deserve to feel that they are not good enough just the way they are, and it breaks my heart to see that in anyone.
What part of your story do you keep leaving out?
I did my best to include everything, both good and bad, but what I don’t often include is how afraid I am of this disease. Though I know I have the power to never again let it rule my life, the simple possibility of ever succumbing to anorexia again terrifies me. I attribute this fear simply to the damage it caused to myself and those around me, and the months I spent completely overtaken by it. I hope to never again have to feel so unlike myself, and controlled by something I don’t understand.
What has held you back from sharing it before?
Two things; Denial first, but mostly embarrassment. All the time people would ask if something was going on, saying they were worried about me and my health, and every time I would let it go with a laugh, saying I was just fine and not to worry. I wanted so badly to believe that what I was doing was healthy, despite feeling just the opposite. After admitting I had a problem however, there was no escaping the embarrassment. Simply going out in public became a terrifying undertaking, as I felt everyone could tell what I was going through, like I had it written across my forehead. This fear left me hidden away from my peers and the world for far too many months.-
How can this part of your story inspire you and/or others?
First and foremost, it is my sincere hope that the story of my battle with anorexia will inspire others that are struggling to seek help. Not only that, but I hope it can also prevent more vulnerable young teens like myself from going through the same, as no one deserves to go through life controlled by something as silly as the number on a scale or the size of their jeans. In addition, I hope that more people with anorexia will be inspired to share their story, and realize that they aren’t alone in what they are going or have gone through.
Would you like to share your full story with us?
Let me begin by saying, my experience is not one I wish to be pitied for. My battle with anorexia is something that has forever changed me, and it is my hope that I can use my experience to help those going through the same thing I did.
January 2014. Let’s begin there. While performing our usual lunch-time shenanigans and messing around one day, my friends and I decided to download a calorie tracking app. Personally, my intent behind this was solely to participate in a fun challenge with my friends, and maybe becoming just a bit more mindful about what I eat day to day while doing so. And, for a couple months anyway, it was just that. I vividly recall jokingly comparing notes with each other, making cracks like “that’s going to be a couple hundred!” after scarfing down a cupcake or something of the like. As time went on however, enthusiasm for this once-exciting fad faded, and it was forgotten.
By them, that is. I, on the other hand, began to find some sort of comfort in this app. Though all other factors in my life had always been positive (two incredibly supportive parents that loved each other, financial stability, always being in sports and activities, never being in need, etc.), one thing I could never come to terms with was my body image. Beginning in middle school, I can recall comparing myself to other girls, envying how skinny their legs were or how little their waist was. I blamed my body figure for many of the problems I faced growing up; maybe that boy would like me if my legs were a little smaller, maybe that girl would be nicer to me if my tummy was sucked in a little more, maybe my picture would’ve got more likes if my collar bone stuck out a little more. I thought everyone thought this way, which is true, to an extent. We all envy someone else, for something else. Its nearly inevitable in the social media, Hollywood dominated world we live in today. However looking back, I now see this as the root of my problems.
Over the course of summer 2014, many things changed. My once attached-at-the-hip group of friends parted ways. I encountered my first serious injury, a staff infection in my foot, requiring multiple ER visits and resulting in a month of crutches. I decided for the first time in 4 years not to try out for my school’s volleyball team. Lo and behold, I dedicated myself to health like never before; taking up running and circuit training, spending hours researching the latest health fads, and of course entering every crumb that entered my body into my calorie tracking app. People began commenting on how fit I looked, how great of shape I was in. Of course, this only encouraged me to continue down this path of obsession. Not even when one of my closest lifelong friends made a comment that it may be going too far did I stop to think about what I was doing. This had become my life.
And then Fall came. Looking back now, I showed many symptoms of anorexia far before this story began, but there was no more denying my problem after one specific incident one October Friday night. My friends and I were gearing up to head to the usual Friday night football game, and I lost it. I could hide it no longer. I knew what this game meant….another night of freezing to the bone, light headedness, and hunger, all while trying to pretend I was having the time of my life. It was my best friend’s mom who finally snapped me into reality that night, after finding me crying in her room while the others got ready. She told me how terrible I looked (she’s a pretty direct gal) and had looked for the past months, and forced me to admit it. I was anorexic.
The next few weeks consisted of the assembly of an out-patient treatment team, consisting of a counselor and a doctor specializing in eating disorders, as well as a nutritionist. I chose this approach as apposed to an in-patient program, as the closest one was three hours away, and I refused to lose more than I already had (i.e. relationships with friends, seeing my family, school, etc.), though many of those close to me urged me for months to go in-patient. I learned from my doctor that my heart rate was dangerously low, to the point where any physical exertion could cause cardiac arrest, and hospitalization was a looming possibility for months following. I learned from my nutritionist that my idea of “healthy,” alone with my daily food routine, had become wildly the opposite. And I learned from my counselor that I was not alone. This disease that I now felt made me the black sheep of society, was something many girls encounter. But the important thing I learned from all of them, was that in regaining the weight I had lost, I could regain my happiness, and that was incentive enough for me.
This however, was no easy feet. I thought losing weight was hard? I had no idea. I was tasked with raising my calorie intake and was put on strict exercise restriction (something I really struggled with). The fall and winter months consisted mainly of nights at home, hiding from the cold and struggling to will myself to meet my caloric goal. Though I was gaining weight, I wasn’t recovering. I was still restricting what I ate to only those of the lowest caloric value, obsessing over my body, and sneaking in workouts whenever I could.
With Spring however, came a new mindset. I realized that I no longer had to be prisoner to this disease, and that my happiness and destiny truly were in my hands; I committed myself to full recovery. I refused to spend another year watching my peers making lifetime memories, while I was forced to sit on the sidelines due to this damning disease. At the beginning of my journey to recovery, when asked by my doctor what my goal was time-wise to be fully recovered, I thoughtlessly threw out the first thing that came to my mind: September 2015, the start of my junior year. While at the time it seemed impossible that recovery could take that long, as that date drew nearer it seemed I may not make it in time after all. However, with my renewed outlook on life, I knew I could do it.
And, I have done it. The first day of junior year began last month, and I am beyond ecstatic to be able to say that I am the healthiest and happiest, both mentally and physically, that I have ever been. Though I personally would still like to gain a bit more weight in order to reach the peak of my physical health, I am no longer that sickly, insecure girl I was a year ago. Up until the last few months, I never believed I would be able to reach this place; this mindset. Anorexia had become a seemingly inescapable reality; a black hole that I had no choice but to live in. But with dedication, I reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
This journey taught me a lifetime’s worth of lessons about health, about self love, and about being comfortable with the body you are given. But to my surprise, it’s taught me even more about the world around me. It has opened my eyes to the reality that every person you encounter has their own story, their own battles they must fight. I attribute this realization largely to the many misguided comments and jokes people made to me about being anorexic, never eating, etc., without knowing the truth and impact of their words. I’m most thankful for this lesson, as I’ve now dedicated myself to bettering the world around me, even if just by giving someone a smile on the street, tipping an extra few dollars, or giving to the less fortunate, I strive to improve the quality of life for each and every person I encounter. More than anything though, I want to use my experience to help other girls struggling. While a few girls have reached out for me for help already, it is my hope that sharing my experience with more young woman will show them that this disease is not worth losing your life to.
In the future, I hope to start a foundation for young adults, both male and female, struggling with eating disorders, to get them the help that is so vital to recovering and to educate the public as a whole about the presence and danger of eating disorders. Before facing anorexia head-on, I had no idea of the reality of eating disorders. Though I had heard about them vaguely on TV and through social media, I never realized the possibility them becoming a reality for me or anyone around me. It is this mindset that I hope to change, in an effort to prevent these disorders from happening at all.
Thank you for the inspiration. Xo,muse.
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