On long car rides I play a game where I try to see how many different license plates I can find. After many years, I’ve memorized what each state license plate says. New Hampshire is my favorite: "Live Free or Die," it says. This refers to people’s revolutionary desire for freedom from abusive outside forces. However, an interpretation of this expression’s meaning that is more fitting for me and my personal journey along the winding roads of life is one that means freedom from my own repressively restrictive, abusive, and internal nature.
My eating disorder began around age 12. It started with constant feelings of shame, worthlessness, anxiety, and perfectionism. These thoughts and emotions soon personified themselves into a being that gave me the illusion of guiding me down a beautiful path. It promised me that it would take my problems away, that after it was done with me, I’d love myself for who I am. That’s exactly what I wanted. What I didn’t notice were the thorns lining the path or the somber clouds littering the sky, foreshadowing the painful years ahead. All I saw were the flowers offering up the promise of a perfect self. My downward spiral that followed happened fast and sudden, so fast I didn’t even realize what was happening. One minute I was restricting one simple food, then the next I was skipping meals and exercising until I passed out. Restricting became my way of undoing every mistake I made in class, at soccer, or in everyday life; it was something I knew I could always use as an outlet for all of the underlying negativity. I felt more in control with each meal I missed or mistake I tried to erase. I internalized the idea that something about me wasn’t good enough and soon that became way I viewed myself; I wasn’t good enough.
I was 14 and a freshman in high school when I entered the hospital, the hospital I'd be in for two months. My body was weak and dying. My organs were beginning to shut down and my body was no longer boring calories or fat, but was instead eating itself. I was told by doctors that my heart could give out any day now. They shoved an NG tube into me in order to feed me the calories I was denying myself. I was told that in three days I had lost 10 pounds and was now at 95 pounds, and if I lost anymore, I'd be put in the ICU and put on a 24 hour feeding tube. But you know what the sad thing was, I didn't care, because my desire to love myself and my body ran so deep that I didn't have any intentions of stopping my unhealthy behaviors. In my mind, the mind that was shrouded by my eating disorder, thought that continuing to starve myself was worth the risk of organ failure, hyperglycemic shock, hair loss, and at the end of the day death. I was so sick, but my eating disorder prevented me from letting myself receive the help I desperately needed.
When you’re sick, people expect you to get better. However, what many people don't realize is when it comes to mental illness, recovery is a roller coaster ride. We all have our highs and then really bad lows. In my case, I spent two months in a hospital and then seven months in various day and night programs freshman years. After I officially left treatment freshman year, I was in a good place. I got through sophomore year without many problems. However, when junior year came around I suffered a major low that landed me back in the hospital getting treatment yet again for my eating disorder, and the same thing happened my senior year. This is why compassion and support from those around you is essential. Healing takes nonstop effort and requires so much support, but recovery IS possible. No one should feel ashamed of talking about the process, or receiving help along the way. The chemical deficiency that led to this devastating, psychological disease that was absolutely out of my control, has helped me realize my purpose in life; I want to be that help, that compassion. I want to be a nurse in a pediatric mental health setting so I can help kids who struggle just like I did. My eating disorder has given me firsthand experience of what a patient wants in their nurse, and I want to be that nurse, the nurse who positively impacts patients’ recovery, just like the nurses who never gave up on me; the nurses whom helped pull me out of the depths of my eating disorder and whom I will forever be grateful for.
Mental illness is a struggle that no one on the outside can see. It’s like you are in the midst of a black hole that keeps pulling you further and further away from reality. You want to scream for help, but you can’t, so you just plaster a fake smile on your face. I’ve lived in this black hole for far to long. I’ve seen Death smile at me as I spent both my freshman and junior year in and out of various treatment facilities. I’ve felt the internal pain of knowing that I was killing myself, but still could not eat because of the vicious thoughts that would fill my head following each and every bite. I’ve had enough and finally know it’s time to set myself free. I may never be able to fully love myself, which is OK. I will settle for just accepting myself, because I've realized that that's good enough for me. Having an eating disorder is never a choice, but having one gave me a voice and more importantly, gave me a passion for helping people. When I reflect upon this part of my journey, one can say that the expression "Live Free or Die" fits. However, a more personal interpretation for me is this: "If I Live Free, I’ll Fly." It's MY time to fly.