Dear Girl Whose Illness Isn't Visible,
When friends tell you they love you, do you wonder about their alternate agenda? When they invite you somewhere, are you paranoid that they're just doing it out of guilt- that they really don't want you there at all? Do you over-analyze every single encounter you have with a person on a daily basis and criticize your every word and action, knowing that you probably ruined yet another relationship? As you read this, are you wondering if it's truly possible that someone out there could feel the way that you do?
I'm here to tell you that, no, you're not alone. As a matter of fact, you're never alone, because you live every day with the voice of anxiety echoing around in your head. Always telling you that you aren't wanted, or worthy, or loved. Forcing you to question your every thought and action. Sometimes it leaves you crippled by panic attacks.
Your friends and family tell you to "just calm down or relax," they say "it's not that big of a deal" or, my personal favorite, "it's all gonna be okay."
When you hear those words you want to scream. Scream at them for not understanding, scream at yourself for not being okay, and scream at God for making you "not okay."
Do you ache for sleep every second that you're awake, knowing that it's the only break you'll get from the darkness inside your head? Do you long for that moment when you wake up in the morning, before life hits you and you become overwhelmed with sadness? Is getting out of bed in the morning, or straightening up your room an insurmountable feat? Have you gotten so used to that pain in between your throat and your chest that you have just accepted it as normal? Do you spend your nights lying awake in bed sobbing, clutching your ribs and just crying out to God and anyone else who may be listening begging for it to end? Sometimes, you might even fantasize about death. A car crash, an accidental overdose, a rampant serial killer; you don't care, you just want it to end. Do you stay up late at night, writing the letters you're terrified to send, because you know they mean goodbye to everyone you've ever loved or cared about?
You're not alone. As a matter of fact, you're never alone, that shadow of darkness over your heart is my good friend depression. Those you love try to cheer you up, but quickly become frustrated. They start to think that you are just lazy, that getting out of bed and taking a shower can't possibly be that hard. That cleaning your room or folding your clothes can't be as impossible as you claim, and you're just making up excuses. Why can't you be more productive? What are you even sad about? Sometimes you know, sometimes you have no idea.
All you know is that you hurt so badly inside that you can't breath, and it doesn't matter how badly you want it to stop, it just won't.
Do you start your morning in the mirror, picking at every inch of "fat" that covers your body? Do you agonize over whether or not you need to grab a cheese stick or a greek yogurt on the way to class or the gym to keep from passing out? Do you lie awake at night telling yourself that you're not really hungry, and that the pain in your stomach is nothing but weakness? Do your friends and family worry that you're skin and bone, but all you see is fat? Does your scale hold you prisoner, the numbers beckoning you in which direction they decide your day will go, success or failure? Is nothing you do ever good enough?
You're not alone. You live with the nastiest illness I've ever come face to face with. Anorexia nearly destroyed my life. Your loved ones don't understand why you can't just eat, and honestly, at this point, you might not understand either. It seems like such a simple idea, but food is disgusting, and so is your body, and you just want it all to stop so you run till you see stars, trying to burn the 400 calories that you consumed.
At this point, you're probably wondering what the point is. Okay great, so anxiety, depression, and anorexia exist. So what?
Today is World Mental Health Day, and you can't have mental health without mental illness.
It used to be a dirty little secret, no one wanted to talk about it. I started therapy at the age of 12, and it was my worst fear for someone to find out. None of my friends had to see a counselor, and I didn't know why I felt the way I did, why my life was turned upside down by something as seemingly little as a divorce.
Fast forward to freshman year of college, I was suicidal, anorexic, depressed, and my anxiety and OCD were out of control. I kept so many secrets from those I loved, trying to maintain my "perfect" image. Trying to convince everyone, including myself that I was okay.
I was not okay.
I chose treatment September 2nd, 2014. It saved my life. Since then, I have tried all kinds of meds, seen all kinds of therapists, dietitians, psychiatrists, and behavioral specialists.
If you told me two years ago that I would make it out of the hell I was living in, I would have laughed at you. But now, here I am. It's been almost two years and forty pounds since anorexia and exercise ran my life, almost one full year since I've self harmed, and over a year since I last viewed suicide as an option.
Somewhere along my journey, I realized that it didn't have to be a secret. I didn't have to keep my suffering to myself. But more importantly, I didn't have to keep my progress to myself. I gained strength from coming clean, and the support I received was overwhelming.
Better still than the support, was the number of people that private messaged or texted me saying thank you. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not a freak. Thank you for offering some hope.
Your mental illness is not some dirty little secret. It's not a crime, it's a biological flaw. Everyone has them, whether it be the chemical balance of their brain or their height, everyone has an insecurity. Just because yours isn't visually apparent, doesn't mean it's socially unacceptable.
Your mental illness is not an excuse to act however you want, but it is a reason behind some of the struggles you've gone through.
Seek help, talk to your friends, family, and professionals. Better yourself today, tomorrow, and every day. Most importantly, understand that your mental illness is no handicap, in fact, it enables you to empathize on an even deeper level with those who are struggling.
So here's to the girls (and guys) that battle their mental illness every day, you guys are my heroes, and the world is a better place for having you in it.
Keep on going, you'll reach the other side.
The Girl In Recovery