Authors: Lucinda Ruh
Also, having been so sheltered my whole life, I had never been exposed to such behavior. I did not belong there. I did not fit in their world. I had expected that skaters like me, having worked so hard all our lives, would be so appreciative of the new life of being a star. Instead, their mentality was that they needed to take it all with them as long as it lasted and they would step over anyone if needed. Their greed mounted; they took advantage of the situation and of people and were rude and pushy. I did not feel it was my place to say anything so I just watched, observed, and stayed quiet. They might have thought I was the dumb and weak one but I'd rather they looked at me that way than enter their world. Maybe I was crazy and they were sane but I had always preferred being my crazy to their normal. It was such a pity I never could enjoy my own skating.
The German tour was next. I did not want to give up. Germany was another three weeks of shows. I seriously did not know if I would be able to pull through when I was so sick. It was the same tour that I had performed with right after the 1999 World Championships in Helsinki and where I had so much success. I loved the producers and tour manager of this tour and was excited to see them again. To my dismay the tour did not feel the same and it was not the producers but the skaters who had changed. It was not the same group and once again I was alone. I talked only to the producer and the tour manager and otherwise just stuck to myself. I was becoming even more unwell. I was nauseous every single day for twenty-four hours. I was very, very skinny, but I still thought I wasn't skinny enough, and I hardly ate anything.
The producer called my mother asking her if I was all right and if I had an eating disorder. I did not. There were some skaters on the tour who did, though, and my roommate for the tour was one of them. She had stacks of candy, chips, and chocolate hidden under the beds in each hotel room. She would not eat anything in front of other people, but then would binge on all the snacks she had hidden and then she would throw everything up. I was so sick I couldn't eat. That made me skinny enough. Maybe unconsciously it had become my psychological weapon as well.
On this tour I was more in hospitals and doctors' offices than on the ice. The tour manager was an incredibly wonderful man and he accompanied me to all the hospitals holding my hand. I was scared and he was my support. We were in the eastern part of Germany and my sickness was getting so awful that they arranged for me to get an upper endoscopy to see if I had an ulcer or something worse. I was hesitant to go to just any doctor but I trusted the producer. We entered the hospital. It looked like a building that had just barely survived the war. I am glad it was still standing when we exited. The inside was barren. Nobody and nothing was around. It was completely quiet and desolate. The atmosphere was as if a bomb siren had just gone off and everyone was hiding underground.
One nurse directed us to an empty room where I was instructed to lie down. I was shaking and fearful of what was to come as the manager held my hand. The doctor entered and without saying anything took this long, very thick black tube and was about to jab it down my throat. I yelped and
said I needed a minute to breathe first. The doctor waited a minute and the manager tried to calm me down. I wasn't given any sedative nor was my throat numbed. I realized he was going to put it all the way down my throat! I panicked but did not know any better and just thought I needed to be brave. I figured it was always done like this.
When the doctor slid the tube down my throat and all the way to my stomach it was so painful and I felt like I wasn't able to breathe. My manager could barely watch as he squeezed my hand. The doctor had been looking at the images the camera at the end of the tube was taking. He told us he did not see anything abnormal and walked out. That was it.
I have been often misdiagnosed by medical doctors. I don't know quite why, but I am sure it helped to make me a very strong person. I barely finished the tour. I had to save just enough energy all day to survive my solos and be able to pull through to endure it all. I just made it to the finish line. But not one other skater knew of my dilemma nor did the audience. I covered it all so well. When done I was so depleted I could barely utter a word. My body just collapsed. I decided I would go to my parents to be in Dubai until I became well. I could not wait to fall into the arms of my parents and keep my skates at bay.
My parents, understanding my pain and hearing how sick I was, had tried to persuade me to stop the tour and come back earlier. But I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I had given up, no matter the consequence. I would have rather died skating then stopping to heal myself. For me it would be more honorable to go that way than to have said I needed to rest to get well. I see now that my psychology then sounds so totally upside down, but at that time I did not know any better. Skating was my life and the actual skating I loved and even though I was too sick to skate I felt I would be even more sick without it. At least that is what I felt like, and so it could be classified as an addiction. Withdrawing from anything that is done repeatedly to make you feel good in a disillusioned way may be more painful at first, but will always be worth it in the long run by curing you from the inside out.
But I did not know any of this then. The way I was continuing to live my life, by just digging my own hole of illness deeper and deeper, I ended up denying myself my own happiness. For any wound to be cured you must admit to having it first. I was nowhere near realizing my dangerous fascination with spinning to escape my pain from life. That realization would be a long time coming. What would it take to wake me up? I am lucky I did not die in the process.
(DUBAI, TOKYO, HACKENSACK)
To be or not to be. Dying is simple compared to creating and being something that will live forever.
never wore watches. As a young child, curiously enough, I had never wanted to. I never wanted to know what time it was. Maybe it was because my whole life was running and rushing by and against it, never with or within it. Everything was calculated by what time it was and what time I needed to be where, as if time made me suddenly visible. I could never be too early or too late. I had to always be on time. Everything was measured by that round object with little hands moving in a clockwise direction going around and around. I saw it to be pointless, but much more importantly I did not want to imprint the time in my body. I did not want the time to rule me and therefore become a slave to it. Why should I be a slave to something that was only relevant to the little place where you lived? You moved a little east, west, north or south and it would be a different time. To me it is irrelevant and petty in the whole world scheme of things.
To me time is insignificant. It does not exist. No one can tell you what time it really is at the moment because the minute they say it, it is already in the past and there is a new time. It is like never living in the now. I don't want something in my life that is not real to be my dictator. I have given up time.
When I used to spin, time stopped. It had no significance. It did not matter what time it was. Time stood still. That is how I want to live my life. Don't you realize when you are having the time of your life you do not care what time it is? You only look at your watch when you feel it's time to stop whatever you were doing to do something else.
Feeling unwell, I arrived in Dubai. It would be my first time there. It was the early summer of 2001. My parents had lived there for about one year. The airport was inviting and there was a sense of newness, excitement in the air, and it flooded people's veins. Upon arrival everyone seemed to have the urgency to explore the land beyond the airport as quickly as they could. They all seemed in the biggest rush to get out of there. I did not rush. I explored the airport first. Airports to me, having travelled so much, have always given me the first glimpse and first insight into the land beyond the building walls. It mirrors the whole culture of the people in this one space, in the food, in the mannerisms of the people, in the smells, in the attitudes of security check point personnel, and in what you observe in the luggage claim area. You can size up a whole country just by their airports. They are fascinating to me and I love them. I took my time and visited the restroom. I was so elated to see they had one stall like there was in Japan with the hole in the ground. I excitedly chose that one. I felt a slice of Japan in the most intimate settings. I smiled.
To my surprise the place where my parents lived and still live to this day, has a rooftop pool on the thirty-first floor and an ice rink on the first floor. The same molecules in liquid and in frozen form are each on different spectrums of the earth. How ironic. The liquid to the heavens and the frozen deeply rooted in the earth. The pool was to my delight, but the ice rink was to my dismay. Every time I passed it I would feel guilty not to be on it practicing. I had to force myself to not go on the ice and really let my body heal and relax.
I did, however, succumb to my spinning addiction. Once again it truly felt like I was a show for people to watch. Since I felt uncomfortable skating and spinning in all my positions in public in such tight unitards that denied people any illusions about body movement, I covered myself up and spun in sweatshirts and baggy pants. I was incredibly skinny and pale and ghostly compared to all the beautifully tanned foreigners who had been basking in the sun's rays. I truly looked like I had been in a refrigerator for a while, and I had. A frozen container with all the delights, good and evil, at people's fingertips to become addicted to, was truly a depiction of an ice rink!
Needless to say, I was not well. I could not eat much and I was weak. I was continually having flu-like symptoms that were getting worse. I feel ridiculous about listing all my ailments, but let me put it this way. It would be much easier to say what part of my body was well. Maybe my little toe. Actually no,since I had broken one as well, and it was actually still swollen. I was contemplating stopping skating once more. I did not enjoy, to say it nicely, the tours. I did not enjoy the traveling and living out of suitcases. I knew so many people and so many people knew of me, yet I did not have even one friend I could turn to. My mother and father were all I had. Please understand that I am not complaining, but it caused a lot of my problems that there was no one outside my circle who could clearly judge my situation. I had totally lost my joy for skating. Skating had become torture for me when I was so sick. I could not enjoy the moments on the ice. It was survival and not skating. Something needed to be done.
My parents suspected that a lot of my illness was again mind over matter and were confident that if I were happy my illness and all my physical torment would go away. But how would they be able to make me happy if I could not do that for myself, and the one thing that was making me unhappy I would not let go of? It is clear now but then, oh boy, was it confusing.
After a month or so I mentioned how I really wanted to go to Japan to see my Chinese teacher. I thought that maybe he would be able to rekindle the fire within me to skate again and as always I thought skating would cure me. I realize now I should have stayed in one spot longer to get myself grounded but my family and I were so used to packing up and leaving and trying to fix things by “doing” instead of “letting go” that I was off to Japan not long after I arrived in Dubai. We were always up and running, feeling guilty and lazy the minute we sat down. Our minds would always be running hundreds of miles an hour. Sitting down rarely done in our family and if we were to sit I would have to exercise my brain. Not one minute was to be wasted.
But if time did not exist how were we wasting it? Being in Dubai for a little holiday I felt very lazy and felt unproductive. Producing is the key word here as producing was always what I measured myself by. Little did I know that by not doing anything, I could have given my body the chance to do something. I was twenty-two and had still not gone through puberty and I was still growing. If I had let my body rest and rejuvenate what was to come would never have happened. But then I refused to see this and I carried on like a Good Samaritan.
I missed Japan a lot and we felt to leave for Tokyo on my own for a little more than a month to enjoy being “home” would do me good. I would stay at my coach's home where he lived with his wife and son and I could train with him until I felt confident again and well. I was excited but very tired and over-exerted. It felt like I had been running for twenty years nonstop. I had been feeling like my body could no longer move. This was not in my imagination either. It was real. My body felt extraordinarily heavy and it seemed nearly paralyzed. I would have to lie down and just rest. But again we all refused to see what was happening and went to the outside world to help me feel better. My mother always told me to just put a smile on my face and be happy. That made everyone else think I was happy, but it would not heal anything I was going through since the happiness did not stem from within me. I had to change and I did not know how.
At the last minute I started to panic about leaving again. I did not want to go anywhere but I felt it was my duty to heal myself and do everything possible to skate again. The one thing I was striving for was the one thing that was killing me. When the flight was boarding I made a last call to my mother and father to say good-bye from the pay phone. Situations felt like they were on automatic mode and were being played over and over again for me. I felt like the days at skating camp and like the days in Sun Valley where I would cry on the phone to my mother and father not wanting to ever hang up. I was calling once again in desperation for them to stop me and pull me back. I was alone and frightened. When you don't feel well and don't know why, it is the scariest thing in the world. I feel it is scarier then when you know why you are in pain or sick because then you can actually do something about it. With no doctor's diagnosis, there is no solution. When there is no possible solution it feels like you could die in any minute.
Everyone had boarded except me. They were motioning me to hurry up. I had to hang up. I forced myself to go on the trail leading to the plane. I was crying hysterically. I did not want to go but felt I had to go. I did not have the courage to turn back now. I would be a failure to myself and to my family. If I were to turn back I would just be in Dubai feeling guilty about resting so it was a catch twenty-two.
The feeling was terrible. I could hardly walk. My body froze and I had to hold my legs and pull them one in front of the other to make myself move. I felt frozen in time as if a huge concrete wall was in front of me that I could not pass through and I could not see the other side. I do not know how I got on that plane. Even now, re-writing this time brings me to tears. I was in such denial of the whole situation. I was trying to please my parents so much and they were trying to please me so much that in the end nobody was pleasing anybody. I plopped in my seat and sobbed. I looked out of the window as tears rolled down my cheeks. I must have cried the whole first three hours of the trip before I fell asleep. I did not know if I was to survive. I was so terrified and lonely. I had never felt like this.
The whole journey was a blur. God must have been holding me in his hands. I took a taxi to my coach's home. It was small and in Japanese style, not like the massive homes we had as expats, but I liked it since it was authentically Japanese and I felt at home. His home was near an ice rink, one that I had skated on many times for competitions and tests while I lived in Tokyo. It held many memories. There was a bridge over a highway connecting where he lived to where the ice rink was. It was all within walking distance.
I put the experience of the plane trip in the back of my mind. I tucked it away safely with all my other experiences where light was not to be shed upon. I settled in and decided to get on the ice with my coach to see if my moods would get better. I really did not want to skate anymore when the pain overrode the joy but I was willing to try. After all that is why I had come all the way back to Tokyo. I managed to get on the ice every day for the first week and seeing familiar faces brought back the old times. I explored Tokyo on my own, visiting my old school and my teachers. I spent a lot of time with my old math teacher and his wife whom I had loved so much. It always felt wonderful to be around him since he was like my uncle.
After the first week of skating I started to despise it even more. He wanted to train me for the Olympics and I tried to explain to him that the Olympic dream was now dead. It was all too painful and I saw absolutely no reason to skate anymore. To top it off, since I was not feeling well I felt too weak to train.
One night I awoke around 11:00 p.m. not feeling well. My body felt very heavy and I felt dizzy and faint. As I went to get out of the bed to go to the restroom my legs gave way and I fell to the floor. When I got up to open my door, my coach and his son who were talking in the living room asked me if I was all right, saying they had heard a big thud. I said I had fallen, they laughed, and I went into the bathroom. I came out feeling worse and collapsed in the arms of my coach. The next thing I knew I was back in my bed and they had called the ambulance. The paramedics couldn't find my blood pressure, the same as the time I fainted in California and my body was shaking. I was freezing. They rushed me to the hospital where once again I was treated for exhaustion and malnutrition. My coach and I left the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. The fainting for the second time had me really scared. I was scared to fall asleep or to wander too far from his home in case it happened again. I was frightened of my own body. It was thought that I was fainting due to exhaustion and although that was a huge factor there were many more serious factors to be unveiled in the next few years.
This trip's purpose had been to cure all my ailments, but it ended up exacerbating them. After my first week in Tokyo, gradually my emotions took an even deeper downward spiral. The first week I had gotten myself to the rink and had been able to skate a bit at a time. The second week I got myself to the rink but I was not able to lace my skates and get on the ice. After a few days of not skating I found myself unable to even get my body to the ice rink. I just could not walk over the bridge. The feeling that I had boarding the plane in Dubai was with me again. Oddly enough I could walk everywhere else, to town, to go shopping, or wherever else I wanted to go. But to go to the ice rink or do anything having to do with ice skating, I could not do.
Even when trying with all my physical and mental strength to get myself over the bridge to that big white building that enclosed the frozen water like a prison, I could not move. I would look at the building, collapse to the ground, and sob for hours. Looking back I can't believe how every single day I did this. Sometimes twice a day! I would try and try again to get to the rink with my skates in my hands. Again I would not reach the building. I know now that even just the simple feeling of actually wanting to go somewhere has a lot to do with your actually physically getting there.
One day as I was trying to get myself to the ice rink, I hit an ultimate low. I paused at the bridge to look below at the cars whizzing by. I felt so sad and was in so much pain that I felt like jumping off into the freeway below. I wanted my suffering to end so badly as I looked down intently with fear. As I stood looking at the cars below, I suddenly felt a strong hand pull me back and a loud voice telling me, “NO, you cannot do this. There is a bigger reason and purpose for your existence on this earth than skating and you must live to tell it. I promise you this.” Whether it was my own inner voice, the voice of God or a higher power, or my parents' voices, I will never know.