It’s hard to pinpoint when a mental illness starts exactly, but my earliest memory of self hatred dates back to when I was six. I was in my dance class, being measured for costumes, and hating on every inch of my body, staring at my reflection in the mirror, shame filling my interior. Nearly every day since then I’ve looked in the mirror disgusted with my body. And as I transitioned into my teenage years, that simple hatred grew and my only way to cope was to alter it. I thought if I decreased the calories I ate it would decrease my self hatred. If I ran one more mile it would rid me of the anxiety that kept me up late into the night and woke me up early the next morning. That if I took a knife one more time to my wrist, my depression would be gone. All of that, and it none of it worked.
I grew up in a very typical suburban family, and thus grew up believing that nothing horrible enough happened to me to justify being anxious and depressed. I wasn’t worthy of suffering from mental illness. Unfortunately, my depression only exaggerated that lack of worthiness, and I hid every negative thought that ran through my head from every single person I knew.
For 4 years through high school and college I mastered the art of people pleasing and stuffing down emotions. I wore a mask so well, that I even convinced myself I was okay. I sobbed while in the shower so no one would hear me. I self harmed late at night in my room so no one would see me sneak back into the kitchen with a knife. I snuck off to the gym and said I was at class, and I used the line “no thanks I already ate” too many times to count. I tried diet after diet, calorie counting app after app, I went vegetarian, then vegan, and decreased my caloric intake by the hundreds daily. Inside, I was dying. Literally and figuratively. But on the outside I was the straight A student living in the city with her friends.
Finally, in the spring of my sophomore year of college, I slowly began unraveling the torture I was feeling to my doctor and soon therapist. I went into treatment for my eating disorder for two years, and have finally come out of the other side a little bruised but one thousand times stronger. It was by no means easy, and some days I wanted nothing else but to give up. In fact, I spent the first year of treatment simply going through the motions. Show up. Eat the food. Get through the night without doing anything too self destructive. Show up the next time. For months this was my life, and although I was restoring weight and learning skills, I was so deeply depressed that I couldn’t look a day into the future. Nearly everyday the therapists and I would safety plan how to keep me alive until the next day of programming. At one point, I did give up. I saved all of my leftover medication for months, took them, and hoped I’d never wake up.
Thank goodness I did. And now I’m here, restored with hope. Some days I lose that hope, and I have to be reminded by my therapists and support team that they’re holding the hope for me, but that in itself is enough. “Because if you keep hope alive, it will keep you alive.” And that’s all that matters. That, and it’s okay not to always be okay.