Content Warning: Eating disorder, self-harm, depression, self-esteem, anxiety, parental trauma.
Dear someone who might understand,
I have been lost for a long time. Sometimes I feel like I have spent most of my life lost versus found, but I now know that all my feelings are valid, and it is okay to sometimes feel lost. Throughout my journey with my mental illness, I have utilized various behaviors that I thought were solid coping strategies; news flash, they were not.
In trying to pinpoint exactly where my mental health journey began, I come up somewhat short. I remember early on being nervous with new situations and hating when things didn’t go as planned. However, my family did not discuss my choices. I grew up in the Midwest with my mom, dad, and younger brother. My dad traveled for work, and my mom worked long hours, so we had a variety of live-in Russian babysitters who would end up taking care of us. Each babysitter stayed no more than a year and left me without a supportive and caring adult at home. With that being said, I learned early on that if I said I didn’t want to do something, the babysitter would never make me do it. That was the start of when I began to realize that I can lie about anything I wanted and, in turn, would never be forced to do something that I did not want to do.
As a little kid, the only thing I craved more than attention was my parents’ approval in everything that I did. I came from a family that played and participated in several after school activities, as sports were extremely important. I was thrown into a multitude of sports growing up without much say. Thankfully, I was able to realize that sports was my connection with my dad, who I was always the closest with. I grew up playing as many sports as I could to build a connection with my family. However, I still felt disconnected at the same time. A family tradition of displaying all of our sports photos on the mantle made me realize early on that my appearance would change based on the season and how many sports I was playing. That’s when I began to realize that exercise was a necessity for me in order to please my family, and myself.
By the time I reached 7th grade, the concept of sports and pleasing my family ran my life. I was extremely disconnected from my dysfunctional home life and began to get involved with anything and everything I could in order to escape my house. Around the same time, I realized that my best friend was struggling with her appearance and began to develop her eating disorder. I was competitive in nature and made it my mission to do any behavior better than her. A few months into the school year, her family got concerned about her behaviors and her appearance. After they consulted a doctor, she was sent off to residential treatment, and I would not see her for a few months. I was lost and confused. I lost the one person who I thought could understand me. My behaviors began to spiral, and I soon discovered self-harm and the release I thought it could bring me.
I continued on through middle school, trying different behaviors and clinging to whatever sanity I thought I still had. I began to isolate myself from my friends and family and started to act out behaviorally towards the people who I felt were trying to control me. I started going to therapy for the third time in my life towards the end of 8th grade but was pulled out when my parents found out I was talking about my home life. So I went into my freshman year of high school confused, angry, and just miserable. The only things I still had left were my summer job, my love of sports, and the love of crimson blood.
By my junior year in high school, I was starting to really question why I tried to please others at the expense of myself. I didn’t know what to do, but I realized that no matter how many trophies I won, how many A’s I got, or how many awards I earned, it would never be enough for my parents or to quiet the shame that I felt towards myself. I was tired of having to earn love from the people who did not show it. I also began to realize that I was a people-pleaser and would change myself over and over in order to make others like me. However, no matter how much I would change myself, I was never going to please my parents.
By the time it was spring, I was getting extremely sick and dizzy during practices. No one really noticed how sick I was getting until I began to pass out on the softball field. The first one occurred, and people just thought I was dehydrated; but by the second and third time, my coaches began to be concerned. When they came closer to help me, they noticed a few of my self-harm marks and quickly told my parents. Due to my coaches discovering my self-harm marks, I was sent back to therapy to discuss what was going on, but I was unfortunately dishonest and tried to shake everything off. In my family, I was shown that if we talk about our feelings, then we are weak. Little white lies are preferred, so off I went with a few more lies, a few more secrets, and many more problems.
I went to college, excited to embark on my journey toward becoming a teacher. I was still engaging in my behaviors while being a part of multiple clubs, working for my university and department, and trying to maintain a normal college life. I joined a sorority and thought it would bring me happiness. The sorority focused on performing community service to seven different branches. I thought giving back to others would somehow bring a sense of relief to myself. It brought me something for a period of time, but eventually all good things would have to come to an end and my behaviors would pick up again.
By my junior year in college, things began to change for me. They created a new support system at my college, and I was asked to join as a student representative. I began teaching a college course to freshmen and worked closely with my mentor. What I didn’t realize was that my mentor had a background in trauma therapy and could see right through my BS. At this point, I really thought that there had to be something wrong with me because these things just kept happening, no matter what I was doing. I began to meticulously calculate and control every aspect of my life in hopes of trying to regain any piece of myself that was left. One day, my mentor pulled me into her room and stated exactly what I wanted to hear: she told me she knew I commit self-harm, that I had an eating disorder, and she asked if I needed help. I politely declined, but agreed we could talk about things as they happened. That began my first honest and true connection with someone who seemed like they cared and wanted to help me. Honestly, it was the first time in my life that I felt like I was truly me. My mentor helped me through several bumps and hard situations throughout the next year, but eventually would lead to several moments of dishonesty and reluctance in speaking with her. That is also when I realized that I was never okay with who I was or what I was doing. I was not able to control my past or specific situations that occurred in it, so now I was trying to control everything that came my way. This is why I think I never reached out for help previously. When I realized that help did not resemble a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, I began to ask for help.
I finally began to create a support system around me that I could rely on when I needed them. I began working towards recovery while still trying to control many aspects of my life until I found myself not wanting to live that way anymore. I began to realize that I was never willing to give up my control, and that is what was always blocking me from wanting to seek out help. Eventually, at the end of college, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and began taking medication and actively speaking about my life, my emotions, and my thoughts.
Not all days are good days, but now I have more hope that the next good day is around the corner. What recovery brought me was hope that I can live a life that I truly want to live. Today, I am in a much better place than when I first began my journey. Things that used to bother me and affect my recovery no longer play as large a role in my life. I am by no means recovered and still have days that are not as great as others, but I now have the tools to get me through these difficult situations. I am finally realizing that my detrimental behaviors no longer serve a purpose in my life, and the past does not need to determine my daily moves. I’m now able to enjoy teaching my students, spending time with my family, going to school to get my master’s, and going on lovely dates with whomever I want, regardless of what my family thinks. I no longer strive to be a perfect 10, and I am happy to be a solid 6.
Thanks for reading!