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Hi! I'm Leah (she/her/hers). I grew up in Nashville, TN but am currently living in Boston, MA, where I work as an outpatient therapist. I love working out and recently earned my 1st Dan black belt in Taekwondo. My true passion is writing, and I would love to be able to do this for a living and get to share my creative works with others on a large scale and regular basis. I have written my first novel and am determined to beat the odds and somehow break into the publishing industry. I recently received my teaching abroad (TEFL) certificate and am hoping to use this as a way to travel the world and experience new cultures. Ultimately, I would like to know that I've made a positive impact in the lives of the people I care about, as well as in the world as a whole.
It was only when I became interested in writing that I developed a desire to change the way that people viewed me. In the YA sci-fi novel I wrote, which I am currently trying to get published, the two male protagonists are portrayed as strong and brave, risking their lives on a regular basis to try and protect others. These two characters, Cole and Alistair, started out as what I hoped to find in a significant other: someone who clearly cared for me and who I knew would protect me at all costs, both physically and emotionally. My novel, entitled Interdimensional, features a self-insert character named Stella, who is blonde-haired, blue-eyed and scrawny like me. By living vicariously through Stella, my writing, and my overactive imagination, I was able to create the exact social supports that I needed at the time but had been unable to find in real life. I took to “channeling” Cole and Alistair when times got tough, asking myself how they would likely handle the difficult situation I was currently facing. When channeling Cole and the unconditional love he felt for me, I would speak to myself in a manner much more kind and encouraging than I normally did. When channeling Alistair, which I tend to only do as a last resort, I feel empowered and confident, ready to do whatever it takes to get the job done. After realizing that I liked this version of myself much better than I did the “Stella” version of me, I set out to finally take control of my eating disorder and change the way that others viewed me. I no longer wanted to be seen as the one who needed to be protected. Instead, I was ready to leave that all behind and step into the role of protector. ***** Thump! Although I had tried to follow Master Hart's sage advice and extend my leg fully on the kick, my second attempt to break the board proved just as ineffective as the first. I let out a noise somewhere between a growl and a sigh, resisting the urge to swear under my breath. I try not to let my frustrations show, but I know that the judges at the head table and all the hundred or so students who were watching knew exactly what I was thinking. My confidence shaken, the intrusive thoughts begin to creep in again. Who are you kidding? You're never gonna get your black belt. Everyone here knows you're just a fake. You're the same scrawny girl who first stumbled into the dojang those five long years ago. What have you got to show for all your hard work? A couple belts that they gave you just because they felt sorry for you. That's it. Nothing more. You- “You've got this,” Master Hart whispers to me. I meet his piercing gaze and give a small nod, knowing that he truly believes what he is saying to me. In that moment, I'm able to push all doubts aside and convince myself of the verity of the statement. He's right. I've got this.
The Phoenix Thwack! I feel the heel of my foot make contact with the wood, but it doesn't go through. Urging myself not to get discouraged, I closed my eyes, blew out a sigh, and drew my foot back, preparing to strike again. ***** “How do I get the old me to die?” I hold my breath as I await his answer, worried that he might think me weird for asking. Thankfully, however, he only smiles and nods. “You test for your black belt,” Master Hart told me simply. “That's how you're gonna get the old you to die.” I don't immediately respond. Instead, I take a moment to reflect on our conversation and all the advice that he's just given me. Some of it has been practical, such as the key to more controlled kicks and how I have to retrain my instincts in sparring. The rest of it, though, pertained more to my growth as a person than my development as a martial artist. I'm sitting cross-legged on the sweaty mat, across from a 5th dan black belt in taekwondo who has decades more experience than me in both life and in the ring. We are so different in so many ways, and yet, after hearing his responses to my carefully thought-out interview questions, it is clear that we have faced similar struggles while progressing through the ranks. Mitchell Hart began taekwondo at the suggestion of his father, hoping to boost confidence and self-esteem after years of being bullied by his peers. He was unhappy with his body and hoped that the sport would help him improve his fitness, which it did. He was also much smaller and younger than the other students, which meant he was often underestimated. It wasn't until he received his 1st dan black belt that he was finally able to leave the old him behind. After competing at a national level and fighting off intrusive thoughts telling him he would never be good enough, he finally felt confident in saying that the young boy from his past was officially dead. Hearing his story brought me straight back to my high school days, though I had graduated over a decade ago. I had been underweight since middle school and had never managed to feel comfortable in my body, no matter how much weight I lost. It began in roughly the 3rd grade, when one of my “friends” told me, semi-jokingly, that I was easily the heaviest girl in the grade. It continued when I saw that starving myself was the only way to get attention from my parents, who were often too concerned with their careers to pay much attention to their offspring. It eventually got to the point where every meal was a competition with my older sister; if she wasn't eating, then I wasn't either. Our body weights had dropped so low that our parents started pulling us out of school to go to monthly weigh-ins at the doctor, which of course caused the other students to start asking a bunch of unwanted questions. Before every appointment, I would eat a heaping bowl of pasta and chug an entire bottle of water, leaving me desperate to use the restroom and my weight artificially high. I even tried wearing all the jewelry that I owned once, but they had unfortunately realized what I was trying to do and made me take it off, effectively foiling my plan. In addition to the weigh-ins, we would also be forced to speak to therapists who claimed to specialize in eating disorders, which were thankfully easier to navigate than the doctor's appointments. All I had to do was tell them what they wanted to hear, such as that I had never before realized how much they photoshopped magazines or portrayed unrealistic standards of beauty in the media, and they would seem to be satisfied. By my freshman year of high school, I'd begun using my eating disorder as a way to garner attention not only from my parents, but also from my peers. I grew accustomed to people viewing me as cute and little, hoping to subconsciously evoke in them an antiquated desire to protect me. I would secretly love it when my fitness teachers told me to grab three pound weights, despite the fact that they had told everyone else to grab eights. I even passed out in class once after not eating lunch and, when a student who had witnessed it asked in another course we shared how I was doing, I pretended not to remember the event, hoping that he would recount it for the rest of the students and cause them to grow concerned for me, too.
“We've been over this, Leah," Cole told me for probably the hundredth time. "I'm not about to do that to you.” “But you wouldn't be doing it to me," I argued, determined to convince him of the merits of a long-distance relationship. "You'd be doing it for me." “Go ahead and rationalize, but I can tell you now it's not going to change my mind.” Cole sighed and kissed me on the forehead when he saw I was pouting. “Come on, Lee. We've talked about this. You're gonna go off to college soon, where I'm sure you'll meet a lot of great guys. I don't want you to miss out on anything just because you feel obligated to stay with me.” “It's not like that, though. I want to stay with you. I love you, Cole.” “I love you too, Lee. But trying to maintain a relationship when we're thousands of miles apart… it just isn't feasible.” “Are you afraid I'm going to cheat on you or something? Because I swear I would never-” “Who said anything about cheating,” he asked, confused. “No one, I just… I know that's a common fear people have when it comes to long-distance relationships.” “Not me,” he asserted. “That's the least of my worries.” “You mean you trust me that much,” I asked, touched. “Well, yeah. Of course. But I also just know you don't….” Cole stopped talking suddenly as something occurred to him. “You know I don't what,” I pressed, feeling my heart start to race. “I just… I meant that you… that I know you don't….” Cole looked like he was trying hard to come up with something to say. Though Cole hadn't answered me, the flush in his cheeks and his refusal to meet my gaze told me all I needed to know. “How long have you known,” I asked him quietly. He took a second before responding. “I… have had my suspicions for a while now, but I didn't feel comfortable making that kind of assumption,” he admitted, somewhat sheepishly. I fell silent as I considered how this new information might affect our relationship. It was a long moment before I mustered up the courage to finally ask him my next question. “So… knowing what you do now… that doesn't… change the way you feel about me?” I resisted the urge to cover my ears, afraid of what his answer might be. “I mean, I know there are certain… expectations that come with being in a relationship, and there are, you know… needs that have to be met, and I'm just not sure that I can-” “Don't be ridiculous, Leah.” To my utter confusion, Cole laughed. “This isn't funny,” I told him, irritated. “I'm being serious.” “I know you are. I am too.” “Then why-” “I don't know what it's going to take to get you to believe me, so I guess I'll just keep saying it until you do. I love you, Leah Rose. I love everything about you, and I do mean everything. And I would never, ever pressure you into doing something that you didn't want to do.” The expression on his face was so intense it was almost a little scary. “I need to know you understand that, Leah. Please tell me you do.” “I… I don't….” Much to my dismay, I burst into tears and started sobbing into my hands. “Sweetheart, what's wrong,” Cole demanded, clearly concerned. He wrapped his arms around me in a tight embrace. “Nothing,” I wailed, sobbing into his chest. “So then why are you crying?” It took me a second to compose myself enough to answer him. “Because I'm just so happy right now,” I sniffled, swiping at my eyes. Cole released me then, and I looked up to see that he was smiling and shaking his head at me. “Come here, you.” Before I could react, he pulled me closer, holding me tight against his chest. Cole gently tilted my chin up to kiss me lightly on the forehead.