“I’m sorry, but you know what this means.” She was right; I was aware of what was happening but the shame I felt left me completely numb and reactionless. I don’t even remember phoning my parents to tell them that I had to leave university; that I’d lost more weight. Just months after coming to terms with having an eating disorder I was out of excuses and making a silent disappearance from my life at school.
Back at home I was put on bed-rest and told that I was ‘too sick to qualify for treatment’. Separated from the support I’d been receiving it seemed as though everyone but my family was convinced of exactly what the eating disorder had me believing; that I was worthless, a lost cause, and a nuisance. Hospital treatment in the Maritimes would require me to increase my BMI while waiting for a bed in the psych ward to open up. Unable to do this on my own, and uncertain as to whether I would last until a spot became available, my family began to search for other options.
I was both emaciated and emotionless. I had no hope for a future and went to bed each night not afraid, yet aware that I might not wake up. Looking back, I am able to recognize that a large part of my decision to go for treatment in Alabama was to avoid dying on my parents couch. It was not because I believed I was capable of recovering. The guilt over how much it would cost them to see me die trying was less upsetting than the thought of leaving them wishing they’d been able to get me help.
Following a quick but complicated admission and long journey, I woke up from my first night in residential treatment with new hope for the future and assurance that I was on the right path. During a ‘dream’ I’d had, I undoubtedly experienced the sensation of dying. After collapsing, I could sense the life draining from me but wasn’t fighting it because I’d already given up. Then I heard “I’m not letting go, you’re worth holding onto”. When I finally regained the strength to open my eyes and see who was holding me, I was looking at myself as a healthy, confident woman.
I can’t explain the absolute certainty this put in my heart that I would get better and that God had a purpose for my life. It caused me to believe in a living God and begin developing my Christian faith. I realized that I was being given not only a second chance to live, but the chance to start living in a whole new way and vowed to never give up.
For months the eating disorder had been my way of dealing with emotional burdens I didn’t know how to handle on my own. Restricting and depriving myself of what I really needed was a way of proving my strength and worthiness, and it gave me a false sense of control. Even though I was finally able to recognize these lies and temptations for what they were, treatment was long and seemed unbearably difficult at times. I started looking towards God and trusting the people He put in my life to help get me through the physical, mental, and emotional challenges.
Today I am still struggling to be free from the habits and thought patterns that I became so accustomed to. I’m back at university, finishing up my undergrad and excited about the future but constantly battling to remain healthy. I rely on my support network of family, friends, doctors, therapists, dietician, and, of course, God’s promises. Dealing with challenging situations in the past, future, and present may always require a lot of my effort because mental illness is a real and undeniable part of my story. What’s changed is that now I have a reason and desire to fight for a better life and use my experiences to help others as a result of believing that I am capable, and worthy, of recovery.
I believe the same truth applies to everyone facing a mental illness. That’s why I chose to be involved in this campaign; because talking about mental health should not define us or cause shame, it should be a source of hope!