This quote is more than just a line from a book, but a phrase I read to myself often going through difficult times.
Depression, anxiety, stress, OCD, the list can go on when it comes to mental illness. It’s always hush hush. No one wants to speak about it for fear of coming off crazy, judged, or worse – abandoned.
For those of you who don’t know me, I haven’t always been the happy, bubbly, endurance junkie that I am today. No, I didn’t have a hard life – great parents, great home life, blessed with parents who sent me to college debt free, and a family (and friends!) who loved and supported me no matter what. How did I still end up depressed with an eating disorder? The answer is, I have no idea. I always thought to myself, “I have nothing to be depressed about, what is wrong with me?” And honestly, that happens more than people think. Chemical imbalances happen to the happiest of people. It can be hereditary or just something that happens. Mine was hereditary. My mother has suffered most of her adult life with OCD and depression and unfortunately passed this onto her kids. Absolutely not her fault, there are things in life we cannot control and we must carry on with the cards that we are dealt.
For most of my life, I have been happy. As mentioned before, I have nothing to complain about. I was blessed with wonderful parents, family, great home life, a roof over my head, clothes on my body and food in my belly. I never thought about weight, or what healthy food was, or any of that “adult” stuff until I hit high school. I was about 14 years old in my 9th grade health class (the irony, right?). We were learning about body fat percentage and how much a person should have (given factors such as age, height, gender, etc). When it was my turn to go up to my teacher’s desk for him to do my measurements, he did them and then looked at me and told me “you’re actually considered above average, you should really look into doing something about that”. I honestly didn’t really understand what he meant, I mean what 14 year old does? “Am I fat?” I asked my mom when I got home, to which she assured me I was “nowhere near fat” and you know, whatever mom says is the truth. I left it at that and moved on. It wasn’t until my sophomore year (about 15 years old) that my best friend said we both needed to lose weight and introduced me to the first diet I would ever be on – the Atkins Diet. And so began my obsession with my weight. I went the rest of high school trying to not eat, and if I did, go straight to the treadmill to run it off. I did the yo-yo thing for a number of years, and when that stopped working I went to diet pills, and then finally purging myself. It still scares me to this day about what the effects of those pills I took will do to me long term, but that’s another post. I began purging in college, about 19 years old when I moved out of my parents’ house. As anything, it started out once a week, then once a day, and then it grew to whatever I put in my mouth I would immediately go to the bathroom. That would sometimes be 9-10 times a day. It was like this was my release for myself every day. When my roommate was home, I would act like I needed to shower and bring a bowl of some sort into the shower with me and thought the sound of the shower would drown out any evidence of what I was doing. I would learn later that all these attempts of sneaking my illness were not as ninja like as I had given myself credit for. This went on until I was 21 years old and my cousin caught me in the act. At that point when she threatened for me to tell my parents or she would, I knew I needed help. How could I have let it get this far? How did I think this was healthy for me? I was killing myself slowly every single day and in my mind I thought it was exactly what I needed to do to fit the mold of the “perfect body” image of what I had in my head.
Once the hard part of telling my parents was over, I went to seek help and after digging deep, I realized that it was a lot more than just body image I was suffering with. It actually turned out that I was using my body as an excuse for a lot of the other things going on in my life that I won’t go into, but were tough for a young teenager / adult to go through. It made me anxious. It made me depressed. And it made me focus on my body until I became completely and utterly obsessed. I hadn’t put together that if I had a particularly stressful day or situation, it made me binge and purge more. Like it was a natural response my brain ordered me to do. Your brain is such a powerful muscle in the body, and when it is sick, it can be quite the little liar. Your brain can tell you anything about yourself in such a way that it has you eating from a spoon…every word seems like the absolute truth, even when it is far from. When you suffer from mental illness, it almost seems like your brain becomes the enemy to your body. Your thoughts are so poisoning and you are left feeling so defeated. (Side note, isn’t it funny too how AMAZING your brain can be when you are going through something completely different, like an endurance race or studying for a really hard exam or any other life event. Your brain, when healthy, can keep you going. Convince you that you are ok and that you will get through this. Our bodies are pretty freakin awesome.)
After two years in therapy and medication, I finally was able to take control back of my life. I found the gym, I found a spin bike and I found running. Along with incredible support from my family, I found some peace with myself. Happily ever after right? Unfortunately no. A lot of people aren’t aware that with mental illness, it’s a lifetime partner. You find ways to control it, but whispers of it are always there in the back of your mind, waiting for the perfect opportunity to return. Whenever a weak spot in your life happens, it finds its way back to the front lines ready to take over.
Fast forward to today, and I have found myself falling backwards back into the hole of OCD, anxiety and depression. I am happy to say that I am still 7 years strong of no purging relapse, but the beast takes on many forms. About 6 months ago, I noticed a change in myself – subtle, nothing major, but a change. I started getting really irritated at people closest to me, self-criticized myself more and more, wanting to spend more time at home sleeping and not wanting to do anything, stopped training for the marathon I was so hopeful for a PR at, and pushing people away from me. I would pick fights then immediately apologize and cry. I was scared to lose everyone around me, especially him, and at the same time I thought they were all better off without me. I began thinking I was burden, not worth anyone’s time anymore. I was inconvenience. I was unworthy of anyone’s love. All this was happening and I still hadn’t said a word to anyone about it. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t want to feel judge. I was scared to admit that my demons had returned, scared to admit how crazy I felt, and wanted to protect everyone from having to deal with my problems. So I kept them all to myself. I would have break downs and just freak out, cry, make up things in my head that were so far from true, but my brain convinced me they were reality. Again, I thought I was being sneaky by keeping them to myself or doing everyone a favor, but honestly I was hurting them and especially him. I hurt him so bad that I almost lost him, all because I wouldn’t tell him. I wouldn’t open up. When I finally did, it was because I had backed myself into a corner and if I didn’t tell him, he would have been gone. Shaking and crying, I came clean. I poured my broken heart out. I felt naked, exposed and scared that he would just leave. I gave him an out, because in my mind “who would want to deal with me?” I am so thankful that I was wrong. As much as I didn’t want him to take on my problems, he took them from me and he did it with so much grace, kindness and most importantly, with love. I have been able to tell my family again and sought out help. It has given me new hope and my fighting spirit has returned. I am so grateful for this life and though it can seem difficult at times, it is so very much worth it.
I wrote this for anyone that is suffering with mental illness, in hopes that I gave you some courage to fight your own demons. You CAN find happiness again, if you only turn on the light. I apologize for the novel here, but I felt like I needed to open up about myself to continue to help me heal. To show myself that I’m not afraid of this and it does not own me. It is NOT who I am, just a small part – a very small part. I hope this helps anyone else that suffers with mental illness and for you to know that you are not alone and it is NOTHING to be embarrassed about. Everyone has their own demons, you are not a burden, and you are SO worth this beautiful life we have. If you need a listening ear, I am here for you or I can even point you in the right direction to help. You do not have to suffer alone.
When thinking what I am thankful for this holiday season, it is this life. It is not perfect, but it is mine. Thank you for listening and thank you to those closest to me for all of your help and support through this. I say thanks for each of you every single morning. You are all my light in my darkest of times. ❤