My mental health is a part of me, but it does not define me.
I have been so hesitant to share my story. I’ve spent a lot of my life being silenced by stigma and shame but it’s time for that to end. My story goes beyond what I can put into words and articulating my deepest darkest moments is not my goal anyways. Stories of mental illnesses are too often compared and the last thing I want to do is make someone feel as though their struggle isn’t ‘bad enough’ to be deserving of help; I know that feeling all too well. That being said, I am choosing to share my story in order to overcome the stigma and, hopefully, illustrate to others that we are not alone in our struggle to be more than a label.
This is my story: The first time I hurt myself, I was 15 years old. I barely understood what I was doing and although I still felt like I was in control I soon realized it had become something that I didn’t know how to stop. I spoke up when I was 16. I was scared because even though it still felt like I was in control, I couldn’t stop. I quickly regretted that decision when it felt like I was having my only coping strategy ripped away from me. I continued to struggle, but again in silence.
Like too many people, I’ve struggled with my body image since I was a child. I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 18. I knew something was wrong, but was in complete denial, unwilling to accept that it merited such a label. Instead I told myself I wasn’t thin enough over and over. Moreover, doctors helped reinforce my denial by telling me, “You look fine”, “If you aren’t committed to treatment, you’ll just be wasting a spot”, “You’re too young, and pretty to hurt yourself”. Despite the all too common idea that eating disorders are about vanity, my eating disorder is not an attempt to emulate Barbie, or any supermodel. My eating disorder symptoms helped me cope with emotions that seem too difficult to deal with. The anxiety can be overwhelming, and the depression crippling. There are certainly days when getting out of bed is a challenge, and leaving the house seems too daunting to even consider.
I’ve had to learn the hard way that recovery is far from straightforward. I’ve been prescribed more medications than I can count, attended groups, treatment programs, counselling, etc. and I still struggle. Honestly, I struggle quite a bit sometimes, but despite that, I’ve come a long way from where I was.
I’ve spent so much time suffering and struggling while telling myself that my experiences were not valid because someone, somewhere, had it worse. That thought kept me quiet for far too long. If you’re struggling, no matter how much, you deserve to get help and feel better. Period. I think that I will always carry a little part of my mental illness with me, and there are scars that I will have forever, but I’m learning that struggling doesn’t make me a bad person. My mental illnesses do not define me. I am, and always will be, so much more than them.