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I have had a long, tumultuous relationship with mental health issues. I come from a family that has, on more than one occasion, dealt with mental health issues, unexpected loss and subsequent post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and addictions. One of my two brothers died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of thirteen, many years ago. Our whole family naturally struggled with this loss.

It took years of battling the feelings of bitterness, anger and regret that came with losing a brother and son to start to feel okay again.  Just when things seemed to be looking up for my family, my second brother began to struggle tremendously.  He never properly dealt with his own mental health issues (Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, depression) and never fully faced the great loss within our family.  His life began to crumble privately and it became easier for him to silently escape the pain, medicated by whatever drugs he could get his hands on.  Not many of his closest friends even knew anything was wrong.

He confided in me and finally sought help after losing a life of normalcy, routine and happiness to his depression.  For several months he succeeded.  He worked tirelessly to maintain his sobriety and honesty.  It was beautiful to see somebody who had so long lived a lie shed his façade of happiness, and allow his raw self to be exposed.  It was hard on him, because his true self wasn't the beaming ray of sunshine most knew him to be.  Learning that he could face the rain, and that he didn’t have to walk through the storm alone, was everything.  It was a long, bumpy road to a recovery that he so desperately wanted.

Then, the worst thing that can happen to a family happened a second time: my brother relapsed and overdosed.  By 25, I has lost both of my siblings. My family devastated, forever changed, and completely broken. Watching my parents suffer with their terrible, unthinkable loss, and dealing with my own was too much. I didn't know how to handle my deep desire to go on living a "normal" life for them despite my deep sadness. 

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“Heal thyself doctor. Heal thyself doctor. Heal thyself doctor.”

As I sat in a packed room with 80 other newly-minted medical doctors, this was the phrase that kept playing over and over in my head. I’m sure many people have heard this quote before. What were the origins of the reference for me? A line from the much maligned sci-fi film “Supernova,” starring Angela Bassett and James Spader. The image of the two actors inexplicably reverberated in my mind as I sat in my hyper-vigilant state.

I should have left. I should have gone to the bathroom to regroup. But I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. In fact, the only coherent thought that I could muster was the decidedly accusatory and increasingly anxiety provoking mantra, “Heal thyself doctor.” It felt like a cruel joke my brain was playing, considering the circumstances.

I was a first-year psychiatry resident, feeling my resolve crumbling before I’d even gotten a chance to put a crease in my freshly starched white coat. I felt like a fraud. How could I help others when I couldn’t stop gripping the arms of my chair, trying to inconspicuously perform breathing exercises? Who was I kidding?

I remember being at work one day and my senior resident mentioning that two medical residents at a New York City training program had jumped to their deaths in the same number of weeks. I remember feeling scared. I wish I could say that these tragic incidents influenced me to seek help, but they didn’t. In fact, I recall justifying not seeking help by telling myself, “I wouldn’t do that. I’m not that bad. Besides, I just don’t have the time.”

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Alexis Kahn
My depression started when I was thirteen years old. That was the year my adoptive mom, who had raised me from the age of four, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

I remember the months that followed all too clearly. I would watch the video they played at her funeral over and over just to see her face. I started having trouble sleeping; sometimes I woke up with my face drenched in tears while I shook uncontrollably. I started to hate myself and wish that I had died in her place, because she was such a wonderful person and so many people loved her while I felt forgotten and unloved.

Not long afterward, my adoptive dad invited his girlfriend to move in, and she instantly hated my two younger siblings and I. Suddenly, my adoptive dad changed. Instead of being our loving best friend and protector who did everything with us, he joined her in verbally and emotionally abusing us daily. When I was fourteen, the physical abuse started. No one knew about the welts on our backs from horse whips or the black and blue marks across our butts, legs, and lower backs from the thick boards they made. We did a good job of hiding it.

Then, with all of that, he gradually started to get me alone. At first it was small things, like a comment here, or a brush against me there, but it soon escalated to climbing into bed with me and night and forcing himself on me while daring me to say a peep. That went on for over a year. I was too afraid to say anything because I knew that it would be a “he said, she said” ordeal; he was so careful that I would never have enough evidence to prove anything.

When my adoptive dad started molesting me I started cutting myself, purging, and thinking constantly about suicide. Sometimes I felt so empty and numb, but panic attacks would release all those bottled up emotions. I cut about three times a week, on my left wrist mainly from my inner wrist all the way to my elbow, but also my hips, my inner thighs, and even my chest, just to feel and feel like I was still in control of something. Whenever my cuts started to heal, I'd cut again. I couldn't stand it if they left me too, I needed them. I believed I deserved the treatment I was giving myself. I thought about suicide almost everyday. I hated myself and was so confused as to why I was handed such an awful life when I use to consider myself a good person.

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Margaret Jacobsen

At 28 years old, I’ve learned a lot about myself with depression. I have existed with it every day for the last 14 years. Some days are easy—I’m able to jump out of bed without any fighting with myself—while others are battles. They are uphill battles, battles that I know I’ll lose, but I fight nonetheless. Some days feel like I’m in a pit that’s inescapably dark, but still I try without avail to find a way out. I try so hard, shouting, knowing I won’t be heard. It’s a tiring existence, and a frustrating one. I am not depression and depression is not me, yet it is a big part of who I am. Without it, who would I be? I don’t really dwell on that thought too often, because I’m afraid that I wouldn’t like the “other me” very much. In a way, that sounds crazy, because I used to beg my mind to calm down and be normal. Now, though, I allow it space, and I don’t beat myself up. I’m kind to myself, and understand that mental illness takes time. Like any illness, it takes care.

There was a time when I wouldn’t accept my depression, let alone be kind to myself about it. I wouldn’t talk about it. I cringed constantly when people asked if I was sad, denying it—because I wasn’t actually sad. That’s not what depression is. It was more than simply a feeling, it was a state of being. My brain felt stuck on autopilot. No matter how much I willed myself to be better, to be happier, my brain insisted “Nope, this is your new default. Apathetic”. Realizing this, I was afraid of what it meant about me as a person. It was becoming too much; I was getting tired of pretending that I was “okay” when I wasn’t. Constantly planning out your own death is exhausting. Eventually I admitted to myself that I needed help, but had no idea where to start. When everything I had seen in regards to mental illness, especially depression, was a narrative of sadness and brokenness, I didn’t know what to do. It seemed as if there could be no thriving within it, but that couldn’t be the case…right? I couldn’t be doomed to a lifetime of living in a fog, only half living... Read more

Dana Sharkey

Frankly, I don’t feel like talking about my story or the darkness that consumed my life for 6 years; I’d rather share about life and lessons from the other side, giving hope to people reading this. I’ll include one excerpt from my journal in 2003, during the beginning of my illness: “It may take years more, but I do believe one day it won’t be like this…I will be free.”

Three lessons that recovery taught me…

1. That complete recovery is possible.

I never really believed that my eating disorder would be my death sentence. What I didn’t realize was that it didn’t have to be a life sentence either. Throughout my treatment and recovery, it was often stated or implied that I would struggle, to some degree, with my eating disorder for the rest of my life (i.e., how alcoholism is often described – you’re always an alcoholic, even when you’re not drinking; you’re always an anorexic, even when you’re not restricting).

One night, after 6 years of physical, emotional, and psychological torment and self-abuse, I simply got tired of it. I finally became more afraid of missing out on life than I was of living without my eating disorder as a crutch. At that moment, I fully grasped that it wasn’t about the food—no amount of restriction or weight loss was ever going to make me happy or solve my problems. The real problem was that I didn’t love myself, and I was ready to change that. The eating disorder was simply not serving me anymore. So I let it go. I cried, and I prayed, and I took a deep breath; I knew I was done.

The next week, I flew to France for four months. I explored and got lost every day; I treated myself to whatever I wanted in the patisseries; I spontaneously traveled to other parts of Europe. I felt alive and at peace for the first time in my life, and I have spent every day of the past eight years looking forward instead of backward. Since letting go, I have not engaged any disordered thoughts or behaviors, and I don’t struggle with it at all.

Today, I am not anorexic. I am not in recovery – I am recovered. It’s over. Most days, I don’t even consciously remember that I was ever anorexic, much less consumed with disordered thoughts for every second of every day for six years. I didn’t think it was possible to take all of the hateful thoughts and nutrition labels out of my head, but the trick is making the conscious decision to instead fill your mind with love, gratitude, and living in the present. Our minds and willpower are incredibly strong and resilient when we believe in real change.

No two stories are the same, and I’m sure many people don’t fully recover in one specific moment that they can pinpoint – but I want people to know that it is possible. You don’t need to settle for believing that you will be stuck in the grip of an eating disorder for the rest of your life. Read more

Sara Romeo-White
I’ve written a lot about my story. There was even a period of time really recently where I made the conscious decision to stop. I couldn’t bare it anymore. I have done so much work on separating who I am and what my story is and constantly writing about it was making that difficult. I no longer wanted to define myself or be defined by the things I have been through or my illnesses. I wanted to find the real me under the layer of story and events.

The truth that I’ve come to realize, is that while yes those things don’t define me, they are and will always be part of me. I process through writing and always have. I journaled obsessively for most of my life. It was and is how I cope. I also know how important the value of helping people through shared experience is. So yeah, I still am getting to know who I am under those layers. And yes, I still am shedding my story to make room for new stories. But I doubt I will ever stop writing about those times and those experiences because while they are not who I am they have a large part to do with who I have become. And for that I am grateful.

By the time I was nineteen I weighed over 300 lbs., had been in and out of hospitals, diagnosed as everything from bipolar to ADD, and had dropped out of college in pursuit of health. A pursuit that was held up for two years and caused my second and most severe suicide attempt due to my insurance company claiming I wasn’t sick enough or big enough to warrant the treatment I desperately needed. I was begging for help and the stigma of mental health and the type of eating disorder I suffered from was overpowering that need.

I have a binge eating disorder. For years people didn’t look at this as a serious issue. They called it “emotional eating” and chalked it up to lack of self control. Because I didn’t purge I wasn’t considered a person who had a real problem. Yet I was pre­diabetic and had the beginnings of sleep apnea and barely left my bed or showered for days and very seriously wanted to die. Only recently within the last few years was B.E.D. (binge eating disorder) put in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a classified illness­­ yet it is the most widely spread eating disorder in the United States to date.  Read more
Brittany Vadalabene
November 11, 2005 was the day that my life had changed forever. I was getting ready to leave for school and something just felt different. I was getting ready to head out the door and I said goodbye to my mom. Little did I know, that was the last time I would speak to her. I headed to school and my day went on as it normally did. It was lunch time when I heard my name called over the PA speaker. I walked into the office and I saw my aunt standing there, holding back tears. I knew something was wrong. We got out to the car and she told me that my mom had a massive heart attack, a complication from Lupus, amongst the other diseases that she lived with. We rushed to the hospital only to find that we were too late. She was gone. 

She was only 40. I was extremely close to my mom so the pain I was feeling was unbearable. I spiraled into a feeling that I had known before but it was different–it was escalated. Everyone was worried about me and my dad took me to the doctor where I was diagnosed with depression.

I always thought depression was just a feeling, but I found out that isn't the case; I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. It turns out that the feelings I was feeling even before my mom passed away were a result of that. They put me on antidepressants, but antidepressants only made things worse. I was thinking of suicide, and how life would be so much better without me. However suicide wasn't an option, I was raised Catholic and suicide was a one way ticket to hell. So I just decided to cut myself. I cut my arms and my legs, and wore long sleeves to hide the wounds. But one day my baby sister walked in—I knew I couldn't do it anymore. I decided on my own to stop taking the antidepressants. Read more
I distinctly remember the first day I decided to throw up my lunch. I was fifteen years old, and I desperately wanted to be perceived as beautiful. Looking back, I recognize now why I felt so out of control. I was a new girl in a very small school and I was severely bullied. My father and I stopped talking—he had started a new family with my stepmother, and my mom was suing him for child support. He asked me to choose a side, and when I chose my mother's, he stopped speaking to me. I was dating a boy I was hysterically in love with, and would continue to be in love with for the next eight years even though he was adamant about cheating on me. I had my first panic attack, and I was sick of not having any control over my environment and my body.

I somehow came to the conclusion that a thigh gap and a sharp collarbone would solve all of my problems. The first meal I ever threw up was penne a la vodka. I lost 25 pounds within the next few months. You could see my ribs, pick out every bone in my knees, and count my vertebrae. I loved it. I loved the attention and feeling like I was cheating the "eating game." I was not only bulimic, but also obsessively exercising (sometimes three times a day) and taking laxatives regularly.

I did self "checks" frequently: pinching my stomach and analyzing the fat, double-triple-quadruple checking my thigh size. I drank 2-3 gallons of water a day. This is where my obsession with perfectionism really began. I had to be the funniest, thinnest, smartest, most accomplished, and most disciplined out of all of my friends. I was bulimic for the next eight years. I never spoke to my father again, but I forgave and befriended some of my bullies in college. I continued to see the boy until I was 23 years old. It was extremely toxic, but I needed to feel loved. I needed a man to tell me he loved me and that I was worthy of love. Read more
Debbie Millman
I was wearing my yellow coat, back when I wore yellow. I brought B with me—B, the bodybuilder and the boy from high school whom I loved—to protect me. How ironic, given that I would have to get a restraining order to protect me from him just a few years later.


B knew where the man’s house was, and after we rehearsed what I was going to say, B looked at me and declared, “I’m proud of you.” When you don’t feel proud of yourself, it’s hard to respond to a statement like that. I was sheepish and scared; I was about to face the man I hadn’t seen in thirty years.

It was a white-gray autumn afternoon and I was almost 40. What happened had been over 30 years before, and I was determined to finally find closure. B was going to escort me to the house and I was going to do what I’d been planning for decades. I would be vehement. I would be fierce.

We drove the few blocks from B’s house in silence. He reached over once or twice in an effort to hold my hand, but I was stone. I was being vehement and fierce and was shaking somewhere so deep inside that I couldn’t feel his touch. I could barely see.

B and I had agreed that when we got to the man’s house, I would go up to the door alone, and he would wait on the sidewalk near the stoop. He’d be close enough to hear and see everything but far enough away to give me the privacy to say what I needed to say.

We got out of the car and I suddenly realized that the man might not be home. Why hadn’t I considered that? I’d come this far, and now I might not get any further. My heart beat faster, and for a moment I considered turning around. B placed his hand on my back and urged me forward. I grabbed the wrought-iron banister and made my way up the steps. I rang the bell.

A woman in her 60s opened the door and peered at me. “Yes?” she inquired. “Can I help you?” Read more

Leah Goren

This is my biggest secret. I don’t try to hide it as much as I used to, but I’m certainly not going to bring it up. I’m afraid that everyone will think they understand it, but I know that they have no idea. I’m even more afraid that I don’t understand it—as hard as I’ve worked, as much as I’ve tried to figure it out, I am trapped inside of it forever.

I’m 27 years old. At the end of this year, I will be ten years into recovery from anorexia.

My disease could have been the outcome of an infinite number of factors. I understand it best as a painful, beautiful distraction from traumas I was unequipped to confront in any other way. I constructed an alternate reality, and I lived in it. I felt entirely alone, but at the center of everything—the star of my own dreamy, sun-bleached movie about what it was like to be alive in high school in Southern California in 2005. I cast myself as the tortured heroine: unbearably sad, full of deep secrets and complexities, walking around with the sun in my eyes, stacks of bangles clanking on my wrists. I pretended like everyone was watching. Everything around me buzzed with meaning. I was 16, and I wanted to be very, very skinny.

In 2006 I became a patient at a residential treatment program. I was taught that anorexia existed on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, though this belief isn’t held among all mental health professionals. The thoughts—about food, calories, my body, control—were the obsession, and the rituals—my endless lists and schedules, the ways I prepared meals—were the compulsions.

In group therapy, we talked about our traumas over and over and over, with the hope of working through the emotions and allowing them to become stories that would no longer plague our lives in such a visceral way. I have a whole story to tell you—about how my dad wasn’t very nice, about huddling in the closet with my sister on bad days, about the muscle relaxants and how they lead him to drive off a cliff in Palm Springs when I was 14, about the subsequent coma that lasted 19 days—but I’m going to tell you about it later. I’m going to skip to the ending now. Read more

Jamie Franco

September 25, 2002 8:24 PM Bad Day. Very bad day. I feel more depressed than ever. It’s like every step I take and everything I do is just a struggle to not break down & cry. That’s the only thing I feel like doing anymore. It’s really scary because I’ve gotten to the point where I just hate life and every day is a struggle to get through. I’ll always just be the ugly girl with no friends. I’m being forced to gain weight and I don’t want to anymore. What’s the use? My weight is fine where it is now. I feel fine physically. Mentally? I’m deteriorating. I just want to have friends. I want to be pretty. I want to be happy. I want to be how I used to be.

November 28, 2002, Thanksgiving 12:51 PM Oh my god. I just passed out two times. When I was getting out of the shower, I just passed out on the bathroom floor. My head kills. Then I managed to get up, walk to my room, close the door, and collapse and pass out on my bed again.

December 3, 2002 9:07 PM Yesterday was so horrible. After my Mom weighed me on Sunday, my extreme depression from my gross weight gain carried over to yesterday and today. I cried all day yesterday, and at one point I was really going to hurt myself. I still am. I don't understand why I’m alive if I’m going through so much pain. December 23, 2002 9:47 PM So tomorrow is Christmas eve. Did very good with keeping my weight down the past week, so hopefully the rest of the holiday vacation won’t be too bad. I’m at my all time low weight- 73! I’m actually sort of aching and having trouble breathing, my chest hurts. The past couple of nights I’ve been scared, so here this is just in case: I love you all so much. Mom, Dad, Brit, and Sasha. You’ve done nothing but make me happy. I love you.

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