WARNING: Content may be triggering for some.
I encourage you to open up completely with all of the strangers of this world, and to help end the stigma around mental illnesses. I am not ashamed or embarrassed of my story, it is nothing but the harsh reality of how I've lived with bulimia nervosa for so long.
My first exposure to mental illnesses was behind the two doors of my own home. Living with a family struggling with multiple mental illnesses unfortunately takes a toll on you. Though I know now that the fear, isolation, endless crying, and the verbal abuse is nowhere near healthy. I was not informed that these were such unhealthy actions when I was a little girl. Myself and the rest of my household did not face our traumas until too many damaging years later. I was ten the first time I spoke to a counsellor, and fuck, I hated her and it so much. It wasn't until this year that I discovered that one; counseling is not the right resource for recovery for everybody and two; it takes many different tries to find somebody that naturally makes you feel comfortable and safe talking about the things in your head. It's okay to fail with your recovery, it does not mean that success is not in your future. It takes experience to truly understand it, but trust me when I say that no matter what your journey of recovery is, it will not be linear. Mine has most definitely not been.
There are significantly unhealthy memories that are more vivid to me now than ever before, three particular memories. My experiences of fierce cravings for food were the first suggestive behaviours I had when I was a child. Today, I know that they were cravings, at the time I was told that I was being difficult and dramatic, I was told that I was unable to be pleased. Of course I was unable to be pleased, I didn't understand what I was feeling. I knew what I wanted (food) but I didn't know how or was too embarrassed to ask for it. As a result, I would cry, scream, and roll on the floor until my mother would finally calm me down, only for me to be that exhausted from having a breakdown that I would need to go to bed. Things very slowly but progressively got worse. Presently, I have been educated to the connection between the situations that I am in, my emotions, and the cravings. I can link my emotions to my cravings and I can map out why I am feeling the way that I am. This doesn't mean that I can always control it, but it gives me hope knowing that one day I will be able to manage it completely.
The second memory that lays distinctly in my mind these days, is from years and years later. Flushing the toilet after having had binged and purged, I thought to myself, "What if I had an eating disorder? How thin would I get? How easy would that be? It can't be that bad." I was wrong, really fucking wrong. Ignorantly, I did not know that what I was actually experiencing was an eating disorder. I remember beginning to cut out foods that were societally labelled unhealthy, becoming a vegetarian, going to the gym too many days and hours a week, isolating myself from my family and friends, and becoming overall a lot less satisfied and happy. Not long after that is when the calculator appeared in my head. I was limiting myself to less than 1,000 calories a day and with the help of apps on my phone, I was able to track the amount of calories I ate and the amount I burned, unpleased with myself if I hate exceeded my caloric limit or had not exercised enough that day. I would punish myself for the entire week. I was not able to pass a mirror or a window without looking at myself, not in pursuit of reassurance of my own beauty but in fear that I looked large or ugly without being conscious of it as I always was. My jealousy had skyrocketed. I wanted to be and look like everything that I was not. It negatively impacted my very first romantic relationship, being so unsure about yourself really does make you feel insecure of your partner and your relationship. Sadly, this led to the ending of that life-changing and important relationship. Just another example of an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness interfering and disrupting an otherwise healthy relationship. The grief and loneliness that I had experienced after the devastating ending of our relationship, on top of my constantly worsening eating disorder, resulted in an attempted suicide. Something that nobody has anticipated from me, but it was my lack of reaching out and talking about what I had going on that had been the reason to everybody's shock. After having gone through the worst heartbreak I have ever experienced, I was unable to give myself the credit for surviving it all on my own. I became a huge disrespect to myself, I didn't take care of myself, and I started dating complete assholes. Boys who didn't treat me right, boys who were aggressive and who made me feel like I was nothing more than somebody to take they're frustrations out on and to fuck. Mentally ill boys made me feel as though what was going on in my head wasn't really there. Being able to focus on how ill they were, made me feel like I had a purpose. I was unable to recognize the amount of damage that it had caused me in the end. I was at my worst peak and had no idea how to get myself out of the terrifying and dangerous spot of self-hatred. Nowadays, I know the love and respect that I deserve and I know to not dwell on my past. I am able to move forward and accept the proper affection that I know that I deserve. I can now recognize feels of despair and sadness, I know when I need to talk and I know when I can trust myself to be alone.
My third momentous memory took place only last Easter. I knew I was a danger to myself. I knew the demons that I was facing every day that I was able to get out of bed. Living under the same roof of two adults, I never once felt as though either of my parents recognized what I had going on in my head. It was a shock to me when my father finally exposed me in my most vulnerable state and had asked me "Are you trying to kill yourself?" It ripped me apart. It broke my heart, but it woke me up. I no longer blame him for his lack of understanding because how was I supposed to blame him for not understanding when I couldn't even understand it myself. Sometimes I even silently thank him for approaching me in the most wrong way possible. That was the day I truly realized how ill I was. Later that spring break, after I had left my home to avoid my parents, my mother approached me trying to get me to see a psychologist and a psychiatrist at the hospital about the problems I was facing. I will never be able to thank her enough for taking the action that I was too afraid and embarrassed to take by myself.
Sometimes you just don't realize how ill you are until it's gotten to a point so critical that your life is in danger. I wasn't aware that when Hannah from Pretty Little Liars was shoving a toothbrush down her throat in attempts to be thin, after having eaten an entire bag of chips and a few slices of pizza at a slumber party, was an unhealthy thing to mimic. I wasn't aware that wearing all five of my spandex tank tops to bed, only to have an itchy and sore torso in the morning, was diseased behaviour that would one day lead to spending way too much money in waist shapers and body conforming materials. I wasn't aware that having traditions like "FRY-days" and ice cream every evening after supper would lead to my fear of both of those things and much more. How was I supposed to know the difference between will power and restriction? Or an active lifestyle and over-exercising? I had not been taught anything. In my experience, that's the missing element. Awareness, consciousness, information. I imagine how different my life would have been if I had learned about mental illnesses—eating disorders in particular—when I was experiencing my first damaging thoughts. If maybe I wouldn't have ended up in such rough shape.
I am here now. I am healthy and I am growing. My story is not here to be mocked or mentioned, it is here to serve the purpose of ending a stigma so engraved in our minds that we are afraid to share the dirty truths behind our mental illnesses. Eating disorders are not beautiful, depression is not desirable, anxiety is not something to underestimate. Although I have been beaten down and hit rock bottom, and have been in a place where it was not possible to hate myself more, I am proud of how far I have come. I no longer count my calories or restrict my eating. I explore new foods and talk about my feelings. I am breaking these unbreakable eating disordered habits one at a time. I continue to struggle with a lot of these things, but I'm on my way up. I am not embarrassed of my mental illness, not even the depths of it. If you have read the entirety of what I have had to say, thank you for helping me do what I have been eager to do for years, share my story shamelessly. If you too are struggling with any kind of mental illness, I wish you better days in the future and I send you all of my strength to help you with your recovery whenever that journey may begin. Reach out, share your story, end the stigma.