Content Warning: anxiety, anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self harm, depression
I hope that this letter finds you in a happy place, but if it does not, I want you to know that if you are feeling upset, discouraged, alone, or helpless. You are not alone and there are people out there who want to help you in any way that they can.
I know this first-hand because I was once in a similar place. I had struggled with anxiety all of my life, but I always thought it was just normal to feel that way and that I was just shy like everyone told me. But as I got older, my anxiety grew and morphed into numerous other mental health concerns. It began during the pandemic. When confined to my house, I became overly obsessed with my health and fitness, which led to me slowly losing weight until my body could no longer function. At this point, I was admitted to the hospital where, to my surprise, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. Looking back at that time, I still cannot comprehend how I could have been so brainwashed by my eating disorder that I could not believe that I suffered from anorexia or that I was underweight. This was the point that my life changed, for better and worse.
A few days into my hospital stay, I suffered my first major panic attack. It began with me waking up in the middle of the night feeling like I was going to forget to breathe and that if I did not focus on the act of breathing in and out, I would stop. It was probably one of the scariest things I went through in my life because I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me. Even though there was someone required to watch me at all times in my hospital room, I lay in my hospital bed crying and nearly hyperventilating thinking that I was going to die in a hospital of all places. After what felt like hours of lying not knowing what was happening to me, I finally fell asleep again and no one knew anything that had happened that night, which is exactly what I wanted and was used to happening in my life.
After I was stable enough to not be at risk for my heart giving out, I was transferred to a mental health hospital unit specifically for adolescents with eating disorders. In total, I spent around six months in some sort of treatment program, nearly all of which was in-patient or residential, where I was not allowed to go home unless I was cleared for a few hours. It was here that I developed depression involving self-harm due to the anxiety I had about my self-worth, more extreme OCD rituals, and many other disordered eating habits that I still am working today to fight against.
Unlike many people with mental health conditions, I had no choice of whether I received help. With this in mind, I doubt that without the doctors who sent me to the hospital due to the life-threatening nature of my anorexia, I would have never received any sort of treatment for my mental health. However, though I may have not made the initial choice for myself to get help, I can confidently say that it changed my life. I would never be where I am today, a happy college student living on my own, where I am confident that I can take care of myself and not relapse into self-harm or disordered eating behaviors.
Beyond this, I want you to know that people are out there. After I got out of treatment after missing nearly all of my junior year of high school, I felt like an outsider because no one knew where I was, and no one besides my closest friends seemed to notice that I was gone at all. Even with these close friends that I had, I never told them what I went through and my story, but in college that has all changed. I have told people my story and we are there to support each other in whatever way the other needs. I honestly cannot put into words how amazing it feels to be completely accepted by others and not only this but understood. I would never wish what I have gone through on anyone else, so I am thankful that I can at least support my friends and hopefully you in whatever you are experiencing right now. I know it might seem like a future cannot be possible with the emotions you are feeling, but if you get anything out of this, I hope you know that there are people in this world who love you and need you in it, so please reach out to someone you know or don’t know if you are feeling unsafe or unworthy of help because you are.
All the best.