Author: Valery B.
On the day that I was hospitalized for anorexia and bulimia, I vowed to myself that I
would do everything in my power – once I got better – to help people in similar situations gain the courage, strength and bravery to speak out about their struggles and to seek help. I vividly remember my father driving me to the hospital on December 8, 2014, as I closed my eyes and imagined standing before a crowd of students, speaking to them about Eating Disorders and mental health, helping them understand that these illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of, that help and recovery are always options. I had Hercules’s “Zero to Hero” plugged in my ears, and I could almost taste the flavor of victory to my Eating Disorders, the victory that I knew I could achieve with the type of tenacity and diligence that were innate to me. The desire to recover in order to help others seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was perhaps my greatest motivator through my first year of treatment and recovery; however, in the long run, it destroyed me. It made me prioritize making a difference in my community rather than making a difference within myself, helping others rather than helping myself. I was trying to recover far too quickly because I wanted to show others that it was not only possible, but also – and more so – probable. In the process, however, I lost sight of myself and became more ill than I could ever imagine.
Upon returning to school from partial hospitalization during my sophomore year of high school, I almost immediately set out to planning how I would spread awareness of and educate about Eating Disorders. I knew that I wanted to talk with my peers, to tell them my story and help them understand these illnesses. I knew that I wanted to ensure that Eating Disorders were covered in all of the health classes at not only my high school, but also at my former middle school and at the high schools of neighboring towns. I had set my mind on making a difference in my school and community, and there was nothing that could stop me from doing just that.
In May of my sophomore year – just three months after I returned from the hospital –, I organized my first assembly at my high school to share information on Eating Disorders. With over 100 students crowded in the lecture hall, I disclosed some of the most personal and traumatic events of my illness, starting from the events that led to my disorders and ending with the vision I had for my future. I was mesmerized by the support I received from both people who attended and people who simply heard that I was organizing this event. I was left feeling proud, happy and accomplished, and I wanted to continue in a similar manner. Throughout the next year and a half, I became a voracious advocate for and public speaker on Eating Disorder awareness. I traveled to different schools to speak to students and staff. I organized walks, family awareness nights, and informational seminars. I taught an in-school class on Eating Disorders. I started a campaign to raise money for Eating Disorder research. I invested such a copious amount of time and effort into making society a more mental-health oriented place that everything else in my life, especially my own health, faded away.
The end of my sophomore year went by well, and the beginning of my junior year seemed to bring more successes than I could ever imagine; however, towards the end of the latter year, I began to relapse with anorexia and bulimia, additionally developing binge eating disorder. I did not want to acknowledge my struggles; my treatment case was closed, and I did not want to discuss or look back on my problems with a mental health specialist. I thought that by continuing to advocate, I would consequently eradicate the illnesses that were slowly crawling back; however, I was wrong. Relapses that started once a month became as frequent as multiple times a week. I felt my eating getting out of control, as I could no longer stop myself from restricting and then binging and, a year later, starting to purge again. Within these relapses, I began showing symptoms of severe depression and social anxiety. But, I turned a blind eye to my escalating mental illnesses, and in the middle of my senior year of high school, I became suicidal, having no hope in improvement, no hope in success, no hope in myself.
When I began having suicidal ideations, I stopped caring and investing my time in everything that once held great importance to me. I stopped advocating for mental health awareness. I stopped working hard in school. I cut the last strings of connections I had between myself and my family, myself and my friends. I became angry and sad and alone and heartbroken. Through the turmoil that ripped open my heart, I saw no way out of the darkness.
How did this happen to someone like me, who had been so influential within her school and community and amongst her peers? How did I go from successfully recovering to miserably failing in seemingly all aspects of life? I neither could answer these questions nor admit that there were possible answers. It was only when I started talking with people who I had never spoken or been closely acquainted with before that I realized how negative, how pessimistic, and how unselfish I had been through the past two years of my life. Yes, unselfish: putting other people before myself. I spent so much time focusing on how to better the lives of others and how to improve the world around me that I completely lost sight of my own recovery – a recovery that had become almost extinct by the time I took another medical leave in February of my senior year to address depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations.
Although it is great to want to help others, a person must remember that he or she must first help themselves. Recovery is not meant to be rushed. It is a very long and, often-times, slow process that requires a person to prioritize him or her self and his or her own health. This does not make a person selfish or irrational or ignorant of others. Rather, it makes him or her smart. Each person is given one mind, one body, and one life to make his or her own, so it is vital that he or she takes responsibility to care for him or her self above anything or anyone else. Of course, this is easier said than done. While I myself am still afflicted by mental illnesses, I am still struggling to reach out for help because I do not want to be seen as a failure in the eyes of everyone who looked up to me when I avidly advocated for Eating Disorder and general mental health awareness. But, despite this struggle, I have become aware of my negative outlook on myself and on my life, and while I can give up, I choose not to. I may not be able to reach out for help right now, but I am taking baby steps to scheduling that doctor or therapist appointment, to reaching out to supportive staff at school, to pushing myself out of my house – out of my comfort zone – and embracing the love and care that my friends and family have for me. I not only need to, but also have to want to prioritize myself, even if that means putting my advocacy work temporarily aside. In order for anyone to impact any faction of society or life, he or she must be of good health, of sound mind, of strength and resilience. It is only once these qualities are achieved that one can become the type of person, leader and hero that the world needs today.