Beneath the Surface: the Things You Won’t See

Author: Val Berenshtein

As I walk down the streets…

stroll around campus, attend classes and interact with peers, what you will see is an outer representation of happiness, contentment, inner peace and wholeness. I do my best to hold my head up high, to participate in my classes, to get involved in conversations around me, to start up my own conversations as well. A smile paints my face with a shimmer of blush and a voice, both calm and declarative, unveils a heart of compassion and love.

Who could possibly guess that inside my soul reside the most horrendous daemons of mental illness that impede me from doing all of the things my heart desires to do? Things such as being kind to everyone, participating in a sport, giving my full attention to those around me, feeling safe and whole inside of my own skin all come unnaturally to me – all take a bit more energy to exert than I would like.

If you could guess that I am currently recovering from a five-year struggle with anorexia nervosa and restrictive eating, supplemented by clinical depression, anxiety, disassociations and suicidal ideations, I would be very impressed.

But, chances are that you may not guess this, and that is OK.

The person I present to the world – the person you meet at a brief interaction – is not the most honest representation of who I am. Rather, right now, it is a forced representation of who I want to become as I continue on my recovery and my search for happiness and wholeness and self-worth.

I envision…

a lot for myself and my future.

Amongst the many things I want to have and be able to do includes having children and being a strong and loving role model to them. I want to be a girlfriend and, eventually, a wife who will be a tremendous amount of fun, who will be outgoing, compassionate, supportive, a bit sassy, adventurous and, most importantly, loving.

I want to travel to different places: revel in the historical sites of New England, collect stones at the Glass Beach in California, make it out to Disney World, swim in the waters of Santorini, Greece, revisit my great-grandmother in Grodno, Belarus, trace my roots in Russia.

I want to try new activities: rock climbing, camping outdoors overnight, boldly participating in open mic nights, writing my own music, perhaps even starting a band.

I want to meet new people – at least, talk with as many people as possible. I want to learn their stories, their experiences, their greatest accomplishments and most pressing struggles. I want to know people beyond their surface-level selves because having meaningful and deep connections is of invaluable nature to me.

You may think…

 what exactly is stopping her from doing these things? She seems happy. Her life seems put-together. She is involved in this and does that. What can be missing from that?

These thoughts are valid. Yes. But, they are not my reality.

My reality today is one of pain and struggle, infused with self-discovery and challenge. It is doing the things I am uncomfortable with doing, sitting through conversations that feel triggering, accepting my physical pain and emotional turmoil resulting from a 10,000+ daily caloric aim – because, yes, my recovery requires that –, and learning to trust the journey I am on, knowing that it will bring me exactly to where I need to be and to the people – both friends and relationships – that are meant to enrich my life and supplement my happiness and love.

I am proud to say…

that I am doing much better – better than I could have ever imagined being in the past five years.

I am recovering from anorexia and restrictive eating by myself, as opposed to in a treatment facility, with a treatment team, and the strength and perseverance I am discovering in myself is remarkable to me.

Indeed, it is not easy for me to admit these seeming-victories because I experience more struggle than I do success; however, I am one step further than I was at my lowest point just two months ago, and for that, I am grateful every day.

As a parting message…

I wanted to emphasize how obscure people’s realities are and that what you may see on the outside is seldom the case of what is going on on the inside.

Looking around at the smiles, laughs and self-assurances of those around you does not indicate that those things are truthful representations of those souls. You never know what is going on in another person’s life – what kind of suffering he or she may be undergoing, what kind of pain may fill his or her heart, what kind of tears are shed and when those tears are shed and why those tears are shed.

These are the things you will seldom see on the outside, but they are also things that give each of us a story, an experience and a deeper insight into ourselves, into the world around us, and into our place in it.

We all struggle with something, and the degree of that struggle does not matter at all. All struggles are valid and deserve care, support and love. Just look into your own soul, ask yourself what your true personal state is, and perhaps then you will realize that, just like you, the people around you may be more multifaceted than initially perceived.

-Val Berenshtein


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