For so many years of my life, my greatest wish was to not exist. I felt like all of the imperfections that I carry only burdened those around me, making their lives worse. I believed that my feelings of hopelessness, shame, and guilt were all of my own doing. It was all my fault.
Somewhere along the line, I decided to shrink. If I still had to exist, at least I could take up as little space as possible. So, I ate less, ran more, and held myself to impossibly high standards in every area of my life. I thought that maybe if I could figure out a way to take up as little physical room in this world, I wouldn’t be such a burden on the shoulders of those closest to me. If I could make myself perfect, I would never have to face anything difficult. Nothing awful happens to perfect people, right?
Now five months into my recovery journey, I see the glaring flaws in my logic. Even while I was actively restricting my caloric intake and constantly worrying about every single bite of food that I took, I knew that I could not realistically solve any problems by losing weight. But there was something so intoxicating about watching the number on the scale drop. During an incredibly turbulent time in my life, I needed to control something—my food. I felt an exciting rush when people commented about my weight loss, even when their comments weren’t complementary, but concerned. I lied straight to the faces of worried friends and family, because my thinness made me unique, special, and worthy.
The worst days of my life passed while I pursued this impossible perfection. I love to challenge myself, but I felt like a hamster stuck on a wheel that was speeding up, unable to handle the furious pace. Beyond the emptiness, exhaustion, and guilt, my most intense feeling was loneliness. I felt like the world’s structure was somehow contingent upon my guise of perfection, so I did everything in my power to maintain it. I wanted nothing more than to just crumble; I wanted the pressure to crush me into dust.
Eventually, I realized that I was a skeletal puppet of a human being, and I needed to change. Still in major denial, I leaned on my support systems, and reached out for help. After being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and generalized anxiety disorder, I took the first steps of the rest of my life. I know that I’ll always have thoughts that hurt me on a deep, personal level, but I’m learning how to challenge them.
I think it’s important to share the stories of the veterans, but also of the warriors who are still learning how to fight their own demons. Recovery will never be linear nor clear-cut, and to those at the very beginning it can be so daunting. If you are there now: I know you, I’ve been there, and I love you. I promise that it’s worth it to fight with your whole heart and soul. In terms of recovery, I’m still pretty new to the game. My five-month anniversary of entering a partial hospitalization program is just next week. In the grand scheme of it all, five months seems so minuscule, but consistently feeding myself and listening to my body for all 150 days or so is one of my greatest accomplishments.
My mental illnesses have taught me so much. They’ve taught me that there aren’t always reasons for everything—emotions, thoughts, moods, urges. Some things just are. I’ve learned to treat others with unconditional kindness, because at the end of the day, all we need is love. No matter how perfect someone seems from the outside, I can promise you that they are also struggling with their personal demons. For years, everyone around me idolized how “healthy” I was, when in reality I was starving my body and soul. The compassion and support from those closest to me saved my life, and I believe we can all save each other with our love.
I have found the strength in being weak, and the freedom in embracing my pain. Every single day, I wake up and choose recovery, even when it seems impossibly difficult. Embracing my struggle has helped cultivate bravery and a sense of grit that I never knew I had in my soul. You are not weak because you have a mental illness; you are a warrior, resilient in the face of havoc being wreaked on your life. I’m learning to enjoy taking up space, to embrace myself flaws and all. Most of all, I’ve learned that I am enough. Not only do I deserve to exist, but the world is that much better for it.