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
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
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
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
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.Read more