What a Year

What a Year

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

What a Year

Applaud us when we run,
Console us when we fall,
Cheer us when we recover. . . .

Edmund Burke

“Why do you wear such big pants?” kids on the bus would tease. At the after-school YMCA program, kids were equally cruel. I was so hurt by their comments, I didn’t know how to answer back. At the age of nine, I weighed 115 pounds, more than most other kids at school!

I thought of myself as a regular kid. But according to many of the children in my school, I was a nobody. I had friends here and there, but that year, friends began to fade away. My interests were in reading a good book, writing and schoolwork in general. I pulled some of the highest grades in my fourth-grade class. But I didn’t fit in and wasn’t socially accepted because I wasn’t interested in athletics like most of the other boys, and I was overweight.

My one friend, Conner, would stand up for me sometimes with things like, “How can you judge someone you don’t even know?” Conner had a lot of challenges when it came to the other kids making fun of him, too. He had a stuttering problem that became the target of the same kinds of put-downs.

The teasing got so bad that every day after school, I came home either crying or totally destroyed mentally. I was very much a perfectionist in my schoolwork and other interests, achieving goals that I set for myself. I couldn’t stand that I was losing friends and just couldn’t take the joking any longer.

I decided to starve myself. I figured that if I could control my eating habits, I could change my physical appearance and end the teasing. I started checking the calories on the labels of everything I ate. If I could get away with it, I skipped meals altogether. A salad was usually the most I ate in a day. My mom and dad were totally unaware of my plan as long as my lunch box was empty and my cereal was partially eaten.

At dinner, I made excuses about having had a big lunch so I’d only have to eat a few bites, or nothing at all. Whenever possible, I came up with ways to get rid of my food. I’d wipe most of the food into the trash or hide it in extra paper towels. Often, I tried to get my parents to allow me to do my homework while eating so that I could ditch the food without their knowing about it. I was caught up in a contest with myself, and I was determined to win.

Then the sickness and headaches began. I suffered week after week of horrible headaches and endless colds. My clothes no longer fit, and it wasn’t long before I was too thin to wear the new clothes Mom replaced them with.

At that point, my parents realized that I had an eating disorder and rushed me to the doctor. I weighed in at only eighty-three and a half pounds. The doctor told me how dangerous this disorder is to a person’s health. I realized that I was slowly starving my body of the nutrients that it needs in order to function normally. If I kept up this behavior, I could become seriously sick and maybe even die.

The doctor and my parents helped me to set up new, healthy goals for myself. I went to see a counselor, started a weight-lifting program and decided to try playing sports.

My mom heard about a winter-session lacrosse clinic that would help me learn about the sport before I would be expected to compete in it. Lacrosse is big in our area, but I had never given it a try. After the first few clinics, I didn’t want to go back. I hadn’t mastered the game in the first few tries, so the perfectionist in me couldn’t stand not being able to be in control. But I kept going, and finally, I started feeling better and better after each time out on the field. I was getting the hang of the game, and I liked it. Lacrosse gave me then, and still gives me now, confidence in myself. It’s also great exercise, so it helps me stay healthy.

The year after the clinic, I was playing so well that I was chosen to be on a travel team of kids more experienced than I. I began to make new friends with kids on my team, and they don’t tease me. They respect me for working so hard at the game that I can play at their level.

It’s been three years since the beginning of fourth grade, when my life had started to fall apart. What a year! I have learned to find self-esteem in the things that make me special and not in what others say or don’t say about me. I am still the same perfectionist that I was born to be, but I know when I need to stop pushing myself so hard. I concentrate on perfection where it really matters. I still get high grades and love to read and write, and I have also discovered interests like playing the drums, football and tennis. I plan to play basketball during the next season.

Trying to totally change my physical appearance didn’t lead to happiness. I learned that “beauty is only skin deep,” and it’s what’s inside that counts. Getting involved with things that I enjoy has helped my self-confidence, and I have made the kind of friends who like me for who I am—not for what I look like.

Robert Diehl, age 12

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners