It all started back in 2004 when my brother passed away from epilepsy. I was the only person home at the time and was unsure of how to handle the situation. He had seizures all his life and usually came to within a reasonable amount of time. This was different though, and as an eight-year old, I didn’t know what to do besides run and get a neighbor. Unfortunately, by the time I had, it was too late. He died that evening from a grand mal seizure. I never knew how to cope after that. I was too young to understand grief, process what had happened, and comprehend why those around me were acting so strange. As the years went on, I began understanding. With that understanding, though, came guilt and shame. Eventually, I began blaming myself for what had happened. I started to worry constantly about everything. I became obsessive over the smallest details–especially those pertaining to myself. I wanted to be the perfect child thereafter, so I focused fully on my appearance and grades. Unfortunately, this led to a full-blown eating disorder along with anxiety and depression.
When I entered high school, things took a turn for the worst. I spent all of my time and energy on trying to be perfect. I had to obtain perfect grades, make all the sports teams at school, and lose weight in order to meet my definition of successful. At first, it worked. I had control over my life. I was in charge. By the time sophomore year came, people started to worry. My gig was up–my parents got me into Children’s Hospital where I started therapy for anorexia and anxiety. At first, I accepted the help and wanted to get better. But ultimately, I was not able to give up the control I had held onto for so long. I started eating again, but compromised by over-exercising. This led to an exercise addiction.
My junior year was the last straw. I was forced to quit my varsity volleyball team due to the seriousness of my eating disorder. A few weeks later, I was medically hospitalized for over three weeks. Later, I was sent off to Toledo for over two months of residential treatment. This was one of the hardest times of my life. Alone, fighting for my health and happiness. Due to the hospitalization and residential, I missed nearly my entire junior year. Thankfully after residential, I began to get better. Unfortunately, giving up my control over food was not easy. It was extremely difficult to accept my new body. My negative body image drug me deep into a hole of confusion and sadness. As sad as it is to admit, I didn’t know who I was without an eating disorder.
Senior year was full of ups and downs. I was constantly in therapy and in and out of the hospital due to suicidal urges. I missed out on important events such as senior night and prom. Many people weren’t even sure I was going to make it to graduation. Luckily, I did thanks to my wonderful high school and their supportive teachers, guidance counselors, and students. The following year I went on to college. I started thinking of my future and what I wanted to be when I got older. I came to the realization that only I could change my life and that I had to be committed to recovery. During college, I noticed that things were not getting any better despite my hardest efforts. No matter what I did (mindfulness, therapy, running) nothing in my brain seemed to click. I always felt this overwhelming sense of anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness.
Eventually, I decided enough was enough. I called my doctor and with all the courage I had left in my heart, asked for help. I told her I was willing to do anything to clear my head and move into a better mindset. Her response was simple, “Have you ever tried medicine?” I had once, but due to its side effect of suicidal ideation, my parents took me off it immediately. We talked a bit and decided to try another medicine to help with my anxiety and depression. This one, she claimed would not have near the effects or consequences as my previous one. I trusted her word and started the medication the next day.
It’s now been three years since I started taking medication for my anxiety and depression. Since that day, I’ve never looked back. Taking medication has been a tremendous help. I no longer have racing thoughts or depressive episodes. All of a sudden everything in my brain feels whole. Things even began to make much more sense–and I became much more rational. Thanks to this medication, I was able to student teach abroad in Ireland for five months, graduate with my degree in Middle School Education, get my first job, meet the love of my life, and start my Master’s program. Surely, all of my hard work and dedication to recover also played a big role in reaching these milestones–but adding medication to my life definitely eased the process.
Today, I am a full-time teacher at an urban inner-city school. I love my work and I enjoy getting to be a role model for my students. Every day we check in and openly discuss how we’re feeling and what we can do to make our lives better. Already, we are breaking down the stigma of mental health and starting the conversation. Hopefully soon, I will achieve my masters in counseling or social work and further my passion for helping others with mental illness.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where I’m faced with anxiety and depression. I know my eating disorder will always be there and it is something I will have to deal with the rest of my life. I still struggle and have even relapsed a few times. As the saying goes, “recovery is not linear.” It will not be perfect, but I know I can and will get through anything that comes my way.
If I had to offer up any tips, it would be the following:
- Ask for help. It is the bravest thing you can do.
- Surround yourself with people who care and want the best for you.
- Try medications (and stop worrying about the stigma attached to it!)
- Find a good therapist you like and connect with.
- Find coping skills that work for you!
You can recover. You will reach the end of the tunnel where the light is shining ever so brightly. You can do this. Take it one step at a time. One step, one day, one hour, one minute at a time. You deserve a healthy and happy life. Remember, you are not alone. You are loved. You are important. You matter. I believe in you.