I don’t really know how to write this. Mostly because I believe these words have been sitting on my tongue for so long that now when I want to speak, my mouth is numb. So where do I begin?
When I was little, I was always anxious. I don’t mean about whether or not my favourite shirt had been washed, but about the world ending and what would happen if my parents never came home and if the fact that I drank from a water fountain two months ago could kill me now. This escalated into panic attacks. I remember my first panic attack (as do the other people who were there) – I was in grade 5, at a school bingo night, and all of a sudden everything was too bright too loud too smelly too much and I couldn't breathe. Someone asked if they should call an ambulance. I couldn’t answer. I couldn't even walk. It passed though, it always does. Fast forward to tenth grade, and my panic attacks were relatively under control. However, at this point in my life, two new ‘enemies’ had arrived. One I won’t talk much about, only because it's confusing to write about. It's called depersonalization - a terrifying dissociative feeling associated with panic attacks. It can also be a disorder on its own, when it's constant. It’s really hard to explain, but it deserves a lot more attention. Look it up when you have the chance.
I’ve always had low self-esteem, thought negatively and anxiously. Around eighth grade, I guess my mind just kind of got tired of it all, and for some reason the solution to everything became losing weight. I believe it started as a choice – a few calories here, some exercise there. I’m not sure when I got carried away, when it stopped being a choice and started being an illness. Half a year and xx pounds later, I was referred to an eating disorder clinic for a diagnosis. I laughed… I didn't think I was sick. I thought I was fat. Long story short, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and this clinic became my home for the next five years. My hair fell out in clumps, my toes and fingers were blue, I was severely anemic and clinically malnourished, my brain lining had thinned, I slept in a winter jacket (and almost never left my bed) lost muscle tone, couldn’t focus and even developed gallstones from rapid weight loss (leading to surgery). I went through cycles of gaining weight and getting ‘better’ to losing it and relapsing all over again.
Things really hit a low when I was in eleventh grade, and I was placed into a day treatment program at the hospital. 8am to 6pm every day for four months. Vitals checked twice a week. Blood taken whenever vitals were off. School for 3 hours a day, since none of us could focus for longer than that. Group therapy, art therapy, yoga… We did it all. We weren’t even allowed to flush the toilet until someone had checked that we hadn't vomited into it. They listened to us pee. If anyone tells you hospital food is bad – tell them they don't know how bad it is until you've eaten it for 3 meals a day (and 2 snacks) everyday for four months. Yes, even on weekends. Thinking back, I realize just how much I've missed out on. At 16, my friends were getting excited about boys/girls and parties and school and summer, and I was getting excited about earning my ‘privileges,’ such as not having the toilet checked, or getting 15 minutes of free time (anywhere in the hospital!!!) I was eventually discharged and then continued outpatient care. Fast forward a little more, and I relapsed. Fast forward to now… And I’m okay. It's been six years, countless hospital visits and endless nights, but I’m okay.
I won’t say ‘things get better’ because it's an overused and underproven term that quite frankly, is frustrating to hear. But I will say this: Things change. It's how life works – everything is in constant motion. So if you’re reading this right now, looking for a light in the dark, know that all the light you could ever need is inside you. Find strength in that.