Joey Julius’ Strength Means More Than He Could Imagine
Dear Joey Julius,
When I came across the Facebook post revealing your struggle with an eating disorder, I was equal parts horrified and relieved. I’ve struggled with demons similar to yours, and the thought of jokes surrounding my weight is still crushing. Those jokes on a national scale? Inconceivable.
I know most people from ESPN to random Twitter users had harmless intentions when commenting on the juxtaposition of your size and your position, but coming from someone who has lived through an eating disorder as well, it downright terrifies me to think of everything you saw on social media. I feel jealous of all the people who thought they were just playfully jabbing at your weight — they’ll never know what it’s like to feel like us.
They’ll (hopefully) never understand how ruthlessly we’ve looked in the mirror and ripped ourselves apart. They’ll never understand what it’s like to be your own worst enemy in a world that’s cruel enough already. They’ll never understand a misleading sense of strength and calm surrounding an empty stomach, or the contentment that comes from eating as little as possible — then the low that comes with eating “too much.” They just eat without thinking about it, a basic human process that became foreign to us.
They’ll never understand it because, unlike breaking a leg or tearing an ACL, an eating disorder is a source of shame. It’s the most deadly, misunderstood mental illness that no one wants to talk about. So usually, no one does — and that’s where the misconceptions and shame become a cycle. People who struggle with eating disorders feel weak for not being able to “just eat” or “just stop eating,” despite the fact that the real problem is hardly about food. But since the mental illness that an estimated 30 million Americans suffer from is often swept under the rug, ignorance perpetuates suffering.
My relief comes in the form of Joey Julius, the indestructible hard-hitter, who has struggled with the same thing as me. Knowing the same enigma of a kicker who suits up for the Nittany Lions every weekend went through this internal struggle too is unbelievably inspirational. Joey, you might not think a Facebook post at 2:44 a.m. on a Monday will have much impact, but you’re wrong. There’s no doubt in my mind you will help thousands of fans by starting a conversation no one wants to have.
Further, you’ll help men, the demographic that appears most burdened by the stigma against eating disorders. There are more men secretly plagued by this illness than you might think, and a lot of them witness your physical prowess every Saturday. Now they have a glimpse into your mental strength and might arrive at a realization: Living with an eating disorder is not an indication of fragility, rather it’s a testament to one’s courage.
Today, you stared a nationwide peanut gallery in the face and revealed a heavy secret so that it might help others. No physical act is more lionhearted than that.
When the people we look up to admit to struggles similar to ours, it makes us feel like maybe we’ll be okay. So thank you, Joey. You made me feel a little more normal today.