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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

We Are Entitled to Love
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Lily Murphy ’23

Lily Murphy ’23 gave this chapel talk at the annual student vestry chapel on April 26.

I've had the rare privilege of presenting two chapel talks during my time as a student. During my sophomore year, I composed a speech so forgettable it required a detour through my Google Docs archives to resurface the probably empty wisdom my fifteen-year-old self endorsed. Upon re-reading my past insights, the extent of how much I've changed aggressively revealed itself. In that first chapel talk, I discussed the essential role of hobbies as devotional practices that infuse our lives with purpose, structure, and meaning. In a predictable fashion, I centered my experience around running. I emphasized how intensifying my discipline or building my tolerance for physical discomfort were necessary strategies to grasp a coveted feeling of "satisfaction" or "accomplishment." In essence, I stated that gratification and/or happiness must be earned through some strenuous process.
However, after two years of life experience and my newfound initiation into adulthood, I'm advising this community to reject every word I said. What I intentionally excluded from that first speech were my countless appointments with cardiologists, nutritionists, and pediatricians addressing health concerns fueled by my flawed mentality. I disregarded that a number on the scale determined my return to St. Andrew's that fall and failed to mention that my glorified discipline or drive had evolved into an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism.

Striving to enhance my athleticism, I developed rigid dietary habits, inflexible routines, and disordered behaviors. My distorted perception of productivity created a harmful triad of compulsive exercise, food anxiety, and a complex of shame, which lasted for roughly 18 months. In earlier stages, changes in my physical appearance and attitude were noticed by friends and family. I had multiple opportunities to confess my mental unrest and receive treatment for the physical damages my decisions had inflicted. However, whenever others confronted me about this subject, I immediately disputed their accusations in a defensive manner. I fabricated lies as a pretense for my visibly disordered habits, simply to preserve a false sense of control.

When I returned to St. Andrew's, my increased freedom allowed me to respond to these disordered thoughts without the supervision I had at home. In what seemed like a heartbeat, the health concerns that "I was told to be conscious of" had transformed into the symptoms my doctors had intimidated me into avoiding. My heartbeat reached dangerously low levels, my hair and nails fell off, my bones lost density, and I was constantly battling injuries because my body failed to function adequately. Apart from physical effects, my unsustainable lifestyle also strained my interpersonal relationships. My secrecy around exercise and eating distanced me from loved ones while encouraging me to resent those who intervened to try to stop my alarming regimens. Ultimately, the only method to alleviate my mental unrest was through engaging in compulsive habits. I understood relaxation and pleasure as entities earned by completely exhausting my body. However, as I continued to push my body's physical limits, the standard of an "adequate workout" grew to immoderate levels. At its most destructive stage, I ran over 100 miles a week, exercised 5-6 hours a day, and barely ate enough to sustain myself. Clearly, I was strong enough to push my depleted body through strenuous conditions, but I was too weak to ask for help.

One afternoon that spring, I was confronted by a faculty member whom I greatly respect. I anticipated a familiar exchange, in which someone attempted to level with me, explain the harmful consequences of my habits, and get me to grasp a sense of self-respect. Unfortunately, these endeavors never worked—because I stubbornly believed I was an exception to the biological law that all bodies are susceptible to burnout and overuse. 

To my surprise, this wasn't one of those conversations. Instead, I was warned that my involvement in the St. Andrew's athletics program and community was in jeopardy if I continued to engage in disordered behaviors. This decision was made with my personal well-being in mind, but also an awareness of the pernicious message my actions would project onto impressionable underclassmen. I was told my leadership would harm them by presenting an unrealistic definition of what it takes to be a successful athlete. And while my athletic contributions might be beneficial, it was not worth subjecting others to my dangerous mentality. 

Removing myself from a position of victimization and recognizing the harm I inadvertently caused put into perspective how much I had sacrificed to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle. Retrospectively, realizing how I was sanctioning behaviors of self-punishment and deprecation to younger people, is what propelled me to resolve my internal conflict. With the support of friendships founded upon loyalty, coaches who prioritized my health over my performance, and a brother who affectionately labeled my medical order to gain weight as a "bulking season", running transformed from a form of punishment into a source of empowerment. The relationships, opportunities, memories, and state championships I've accumulated after detaching from a problematic mindset all affirm that I made the right choice.

When Hutch asked me to give another chapel talk, I struggled to locate a topic invested with both personal significance and spirituality. To be completely transparent, I would not identify myself as the paradigm of a religious student at St. Andrew's. My affiliation with the student vestry stems from an appreciation for community outreach and a love for the people behind me. However, I am an example of someone who made a sequence of consequence-bearing mistakes and recovered herself from them. And from that experience, I developed a perspective I'd consider valuable for all stances on the religious or nonreligious spectrum.

I've learned we are entitled to rest, relaxation, and love, regardless of our productivity or accomplishments. Especially at St. Andrew's, it's easy to define our self-worth based on quantifiable factors, like numbers, grades, times, etc. However, building a relationship with God, oneself, or others based on a foundation of "works" holds dangerous implications. Because gratification, happiness, and love aren’t things to be earned, but things we are inherently empowered to experience.

After the events of this past year, I've received a lot of praise commending my dedication and effort. Yet, I can't avoid feeling a sense of guilt, knowing the destructive entity my discipline once manifested itself as. My old body is a testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit and how far we can exert ourselves. To this day, how I endured so much physical exertion on such little sustenance remains an enigma I've yet to understand. That being said, the most formative practice of my running career was not forcing my body through 100-mile training weeks, adhering to restrictive diets, or eliminating forms of daily pleasure. It was, instead, permitting myself to enjoy life's pleasures unconditionally. I run the risk of sounding egotistical, but I think my current body testifies to how we can still achieve personal improvement through methodologies of balance, flexibility, and failure. 

My senior spring has been incredibly conducive to self-reflection, especially surrounding my moments of fault and misdirection. When I reflect on the version of myself standing here two years ago, I envision a conflicted girl, who subjected herself to unattainable standards and rigorous treatment, to locate external love that she didn't realize she was already entitled to. So for my second shot at a chapel talk, I hope to cultivate a sentiment towards productivity that addresses the continuity of God's love and self-love, even when we fall short. 

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