Baby I’m Worth It
I think bravery has all sorts of different contexts. For some, being brave is getting up on a stage in front of hundreds of people and sharing their thoughts or talents. For another, being brave is raising your hand in class, even though it might not be the ‘cool’ thing to do, or what all of your ‘friends’ are doing. For other people, being brave is waking up in the morning; getting out of bed, getting dressed and starting a regular day. For one person, being brave is admitting that they’re wrong. For me, being brave has been all of those things and much more. Being brave is this; writing and sharing my story with anyone who is willing to read or listen.
There have been so many instances in my life where I have been faced with decisions, some small and some big. High school was filled with a lot of changes for me, and I didn’t necessarily know how to handle them. My freshman year was everything I dreamt high school to be. I had a big group of friends, was involved with the dance team, my family was great, and I couldn’t picture life differently. I was happy and healthy. However, as that chapter came to a close and my sophomore year approached, things began to change. My parents were fighting more, I found out my boyfriend of a year had cheated on me, and my friend group started to shut me out. I began receiving anonymous messages on social media, tearing me apart and criticizing my every move. My ‘friends’ began doing the same thing. As a 15 year old girl, I felt like my world was crashing down around me. I had finally built up this life that I had always imagined, and it was getting taken away from me. It was then that my attitude changed. I was no longer a freshman girl seeking the approval and friendship of everyone around me. Instead, the more people that I met, the less friends I really wanted to have.
As I started 10th grade, things continued to go downhill. I was betrayed countless times and bullied by the girls I had considered my best friends for the previous two years. Friday nights that were once occupied by football games and after parties were now nights spent in my room by myself. I remember blaming it all on myself; thinking ‘maybe if I would have done this’, or ‘if I would have said that’, then things would be different. I took responsibility for other people’s actions, and I began to hate myself for things I hadn’t even done. My happiness was stolen from me, and I watched as people walked out of my life with a piece of me that I wouldn’t get back. I felt lost. I didn’t know where to go with my sadness, anger and resentment, so I kept it all inside of me. I lost sight of who I was and who I wanted to be, and things began to spiral out of control. This was my first glimpse of a long battle with depression.
Days were impossibly long, but the sleepless nights felt even longer. High school became miserable. I walked from one class period to the next, surrounded by people who now felt like strangers. The once frequent hellos had been exchanged for a judgmental glance from time to time. Life felt like I was on a hamster wheel, just going through the motions with no thoughts or feelings. When I got home from school, I went straight down to my room. It was my hiding place, the single spot I could get away from anything and everything going on in the world around me. As time passed by, I felt as if the fear, anger, sadness, and hurt that had overcome me had now sunk so deep into my being that I could no longer feel it. My heartache subsided, and my hunger did as well. I was numb, and I became acquainted with that empty feeling.
As time went by, I began to sleep more and eat less. My once 4.0 GPA was dropping, as my attention span continued to diminish. I remember waking up in the morning and begging my mom not to make me go to school, finding any reason or excuse to stay in bed; eventually she stopped putting up a fight. My family grew concerned as my desire for things that I had once loved to do had disappeared. My one hundred and fifteen pound, muscular, dancer body was shrinking as each day passed. I would sit at family meals, pushing my food around my plate because I was simply ‘not hungry’; but I was never hungry anymore, not for food or for life.
Months passed by and things continued in a downward spiral. My depression and anxiety had formed an ulcer in my stomach, that then led to the development of a severe eating disorder. My mental illness began taking over my life. The more weight that I lost, the more I lost in other areas of my life. I was constantly tired and my memory was terrible. I no longer had a bubbly personality or a sparkle in my eye. My body was empty, both mentally and physically. People began approaching my sisters and my parents about my weight loss, claiming that I obviously had an issue and needed help. Deep down they all knew it was true, however my family was in denial right alongside me. As I heard the rumors going around town, I pondered on the thought myself. No, I didn’t have an eating disorder. I wasn’t anorexic. I didn’t think I was fat or that I needed to lose weight; I just wasn’t ever hungry.
It was April and the time finally arrived to go on our annual family vacation. This was the first time in months that I would be forced to spend every hour of every day with my family. At this point, I was so deep into my eating disorder that it had completely overtaken my brain. My eating habits were obsessive, only eating fruits and fat-free food items. My weight had dropped substantially, and my body was thin and frail. Rather than indulging in all of the sweet desserts and gourmet foods on the cruise ship, I stuck to fruits and vegetables. While most people gain weight on vacation, I was losing weight and my habits became more and more obvious to my parents and siblings. I remember the way my family looked at me the first time I put on a swimsuit; it was if all the denial was instantly gone, and they knew that I wasn’t okay.
When I got home from vacation, my mom had made a doctor’s appointment. She said she just wanted to make sure that my body was healthy and that everything was working okay. When I weighed in at the doctor, the number on the scale popped up in red; 89 pounds. I stepped off the scale and my thoughts began to race, but my eating disorder did a great job reassuring me that it was because I had lost muscle from not dancing, not because I had a problem. My family doctor referred me to a psychologist and dietician, both specializing in eating disorders. As both doctors assured me that my eating habits and personality change were textbook signs of an eating disorder, I refused to believe them or anything they were saying. After my mom bringing me to a mix of different psychologists, psychiatrists, dieticians and doctors, I began to resent her and shut her and the rest of my family out. I knew they wanted what was best for me, but at the time, I was too blinded by my mental illnesses to see that.
One morning at the beginning of May, my mom told me we were going to an appointment at a new doctor in the cities. Since I had not been cooperative for the first two treatment options, I didn’t feel this one would be any different. I was still in denial that I needed help, but I was doing what I could to make my mom happy. We traveled to Melrose Institute in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where I had blood work and a check up done. Tests showed my body temperature had dropped, my blood pressure and heart rate were extremely low. After listening to my heartbeat, the doctor ordered an EKG that showed I had developed a heart arrhythmia. They explained that my eating habits were taking a large toll on my body, and that with my current condition, my heart could stop in my sleep. The team of doctors said that I needed be treated in their intense inpatient program immediately. I promised my mom and the doctors that I would start to eat, but the look in my mom’s eyes showed that she couldn’t believe my empty promises anymore. After hysterically crying and fighting against the doctors and my mom, I was finally admitted to Melrose’s Intensive Residential Stabilization program, where I was monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I had a team of doctors that were in charge of my personal treatment, including meals, psychologist and psychiatrist appointments and group programs. From the second I walked through the doors of the intensive treatment level, I knew I had two choices; I could fight the doctors and make things more difficult, or I could accept my struggles and embrace the help I was being offered. The moment I chose to cooperate and make the most of my treatment was the most brave moment of my life. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but at that moment, I decided my life was worth it.
After 23 long days, I was finally discharged from the inpatient treatment program. I was then moved to outpatient treatment, 5 days per week for 8 hours a day, where I continued working towards recovery. From that very first day of treatment, I had to choose to be brave. I needed to be brave to admit that I had a problem. I needed to be brave to wake up in the morning and choose recovery. To me, eating each meal took bravery. Every appointment that I shared my thoughts and my fears with complete strangers, took bravery. Choosing to throw away the mental disorder that had controlled my life for the past 9 months was brave, and continuing to persevere through each day after was brave too. As I have continued through life and I look back on this difficult time, I know now that I wouldn’t change my experience with mental illness. I found myself through my struggles, and I found my brave through my recovery and the Lord. There are still times today that I struggle with feeling inadequate and searching for happiness, but now I know my purpose and I have the bravery to push through those tough times. Taylor Ziebol, one of my best friends that I met through my treatment at Melrose, reminded me everyday, “You are beautiful, you are loved and you are worth it,” and I couldn’t think of anything closer to the truth. Whether it’s the big or the small things, admitting you have a problem or asking for help, remember that you are always worth it.