Author: Valery B.
People who do not understand mental illnesses always look at me with bug-eyed wonder when I tell them that I am still recovering from eating disorders – despite my treatment being terminated for two years now – and that I will continue to recover for a very long time. They are left shocked when I disclose my struggle with depression, especially as I tell them that I have not reached the point of being comfortable with helping myself eradicate the depression. Many of them – but certainly not all – believe that it is so simple to overcome a mental illness, that all it takes is slight awareness of your condition to be able to say, OK, I will now get help and feel better.
Unfortunately, it does not work this way, no matter what struggle one is dealing with. Let me give you a prime example from my life. I developed anorexia and bulimia three and a half years ago, before which I was a jovial, energetic and full-of-life adolescent. As I began treatment for the eating disorders, I started developing symptoms of depression. This is a bit of an anomaly to what typically happens during treatment. Patients usually come in with an eating disorder that is accompanied by underlying depression and/or anxiety. Doctors call this combination of illnesses co-occurrent mental illnesses. As persistent effort and dedication to treatment progress and one’s body and mind begin re-nourishment, the chemicals in one’s brain begin to rebalance themselves, thus diminishing the eating disorders, the depression, the anxiety and whatever other mental illness one is affected by.
This sequence of events, however, did not happen with me. Although my doctors postulated that I had co-occurrent depression and eating disorders, the verdict was never verified. My treatment team told me that once I was adequately re-nourished, the mental illnesses would be alleviated. So, I went through eating disorder treatment without giving a second thought to the depression. Treatment was very difficult for me – as it was for every patient in the program; however, when it terminated and my case closed, I had missed the telltale signs of a severe depression that had nestled in my subconscious, waiting for the right moment to protrude to the surface and poison my life.
And, poison my life it did.
A year after my eating disorder treatment terminated, the depression pigeonholed me back into disordered eating patterns. It led me to develop binge eating disorder, as at the time, I had vowed to myself I would no longer purge – I would no longer fall prey to bulimia’s hard and manipulative hand. I would gain weight and lose weight at tremendous rates, for sometimes I would uncontrollably binge and other times I would radically restrict. Eventually, I could no longer stand the physical discomfort and mental pain that binge eating would bring, so I resorted to purging, relapsing with bulimia. The following year, my senior year, I had such a difficult time with these illnesses that both the eating disorders and the depression led to me develop social anxiety and suicidal ideations.
I was so ill, and I was aware of it, but I could not reach out for help. I did not want to reach out for help. I wanted to handle everything on my own because that is the type of person I have always been. But, sometimes, handling things on your own terms is not enough. Sometimes – well, all the time, if I am to speak eruditely and honestly -, it is appropriate to reach out for help, no matter how ashamed you may feel about your condition(s). This is something I wholeheartedly know but that I am working to believe and accept.
I never completed a formal treatment for depression. My shame and discomfort and triggered state of mind towards the eating disorders prevented me from asking for help. This lack of reaching out, however, did not stop me from trying to get better on my own.
I went through periods of time when I would put myself – without any force from outside sources – on weight gain, knowing that the only way I would eradicate bulimia was through eating without any restrictions. I also knew, despite getting triggering comments about “how great I looked”, that I was not at my set-point weight, my healthy weight, where my body would be energetic and alive and happy.
I went through periods of time when I would meditate, try to keep myself busy, push myself to reach out to my peers in order to alleviate symptoms of depression and social anxiety. This is something I still do today, for I know that recovery is truly possible and worthwhile, no matter how long it takes.
Right now, I am nowhere near as ill as I was months ago. I am dedicated to getting better, to creating the best and most beautiful life for myself. I am teaching myself to do something every day that is going to make me say, Wow, this life is really frickin’ great, because the truth is that it really is.
People who suffer with mental illness often lose hope, not in recovery but in themselves. They begin trusting the devilish voices in their heads, the voices that are putting thoughts in their minds, words on their lips and actions on their body. They submit to the reigns of the illnesses, for they believe that this is just the way life is supposed to be.
But, no. This is not the way life is supposed to be.
Life is a beautiful gift that should be filled with happiness, laughter, joy and contentment. If this is not the way you are living today – whether it’s because life circumstances are stopping you or a mental illness is in your way -, you have to make positive strides to changing your life.
Recovery is going to take time. It is not going to happen overnight, in a week, a month or even a year. And, when you disclose this fact to someone who may be unaware and uneducated about mental health, let them stare at you in wonder, for this is when they will finally realize how serious mental illnesses are. The honest-to-God truth that I am going to share with anyone who has a mental illness is that if you are determined to improving your life, fearless to face change, willing to reach out for help, and confident that everything is going to work out beautifully, you will succeed in building the life you not only deserve, but also dream of having. Recovery is always a beautiful possibility.