*Trigger Warning: depression, suicide and eating disorder*
I noticed at a young age that I felt things deeply.
Instead of being validated in my thoughts and feelings, I often felt that others did not understand the depth of emotions that I was feeling. Hell, even I did not fully understand what I was experiencing at the time. Arguments with family and friends often led to an internal meltdown that would haunt me for days, if not weeks. I struggled to speak my truth, and even sharing this story with you strums an anxious chord inside me, triggering thoughts that make me want to delete everything and hide away forever.
It was not until I grew a bit older that I started to recognize my thought patterns and record them. As a teenager, this was my only way of expressing myself. I turned to writing to materialize my pain onto paper, but before this could be beneficial to me things took a dark turn.
Depression creeped into my mind and dampened my perspective in all aspects of my life. I gradually let go of friends, and I suddenly abandoned all of my hobbies. Even my family started to see me less and less. I sought solace, locking myself in my bedroom—day and night—as I believed that hiding from the world was the safest option for my turbulent emotions.
I believed no one wanted to see what was really going on and I tightly held on to the fear of being invalidated in my emotions knowing that it would only make me feel worse.
The time spent in my room became a place to journal and find escape in whatever secret ways that I could, as asking for help was not an option to me. A growing loss of control spiraled into the depths of my struggle and I began to entertain thoughts about what might make me not feel so empty. This led to me filling the numbness with whatever feeling that I could—pain or pleasure. And since control is what I sought in myself, I found a way to manifest it: my body image.
A Search for Control
What began as a way to fill my day with purpose and productivity, turned into a disorder overnight. Exercise and strict diets were a way for me to feel some sort of control over my day and a distraction to the depression that had formed. I projected my internal beliefs about myself onto the external. I began to limit my caloric intake to a staggering low, in order to achieve an “ideal” body type. This often left me feeling exhausted and starved as I was not allowing myself to nourish my body with the nutrients it needed for a growing human. It drove me to the point of total starvation until one day I couldn’t take it and I binged.
After stuffing my face with all the things that I previously limited myself to, the guilt of the giving in settled. I felt horrible about myself and immediately wanted to undo everything I had just consumed. Suddenly, I remembered a technique that I had read about and seen on TV. I went to the bathroom and I stuck my fingers down my throat and ejected as much as I could out of my body. The first time gave me a rush that I began to crave because the depression made me feel empty and the eating disorder allowed me to focus all that pain into something that I could control and still keep a secret.
Within months this disorder took control of my life, as everyday became an endless cycle that I couldn’t free myself from.
The control I sought ended up controlling me. If I thought things couldn't get more out of hand, life came at me even harder. Within this year, my childhood dog passed away, and I moved away from my hometown of Las Vegas to Washington state. While the rainy grey days were a tempting getaway from the sunny, dry heat of Vegas, my young mind was not ready for such a transition in the middle of my high school career.
A multitude of changes and a growing mental health crisis was ahead for my broken spirit. Before I could even get to a point that allowed me to ask for help, my world was flipped upside down, and if I had once believed that I was alone, I was now truly alone.
A New Place to Drown
Immersed in a new society, I was challenged by my perceptions about life. If I had once thought that running away might solve the issues that I was struggling with, I soon learned that they followed me, and that I now had more alone time with them.
With no obvious resources, and no will to open my heart, the transition tainted my mind like the greyness of the sky above me.
I was dealing with change; terrified, I resisted the transition.
I became stuck in negative thought patterns and tried to hold on to what I could of my childhood. In the blink of an eye it seemed that it all vaporized like some cruel magic trick. If only I could figure out a way to reverse time.
Obviously, that is not possible, but little me refused to let go of that thought, making the transition harder. I continued to struggle with my eating disorder, and my depression. As the school year grew closer to the end, I was faced with the daunting decision of life after high school.
I wish that I could say that it worked out in Washington, as so many people expressed their wish to be in the shoes that I was in, but without the help I needed, I was not ready to go off to university there. I defaulted back to the comfort of my hometown after I graduated, and, for a long time, I regretted that decision.
Believing that returning would somehow dissipate the changes was very wishful of me. When I returned, I started my first relationship, with the foundation of my love resting on the hope that this person could save me. Finally there was someone who could hear me!
This inevitably caused a lot of issues in the relationship and with time, the challenge of my mental health and the inability to seek help, and factors of their own life caused us to continue to hurt each other emotionally.
Years would go by, and within those years I would take college courses—gradually—not entirely sure on what I wanted to do. I still didn’t know who I was. Writing was the only passion of mine, but I became so hung up on the promise of a fulfilling future with my partner that I put most of my energy into us and into forcing things to work. Eventually, the foundation cracked and long story short, I was betrayed.
This shattered my heart into a million pieces. It felt that all the years that I had focused on this person were for nothing. I felt that I poured my heart into every crevice of their life only to be pushed aside and tied by their hand. I finally cut the rope and felt alone again in the world.
Depression never went away; it was only numbed by their presence.
Since I had no confidence in asking for help, I remained silent in my pain. Once again, I locked myself up, unable to reach out, and hurting badly. I was ashamed of the choices I had made in my life and I didn’t want to exist anymore.
My appetite plummeted into pain. My sleep consisted of laying in bed for hours with anxious thoughts, only to wake up from horrible dreams. This lasted for a week until I reached the point of needing to seek help or else I might do something that I could never take back. I called a hotline.
Awakening: Getting Help
This was the first time I reached out for help and it was because I was ready to let others into my heart. The woman on the other end stayed with me for an hour and listened to me pour my soul out to her. She soothed me with advice on how to handle the changes and transitions in my life, something that I always struggled with.
That call was my awakening into taking care of myself. Instead of believing that I was a failure, I started to shift my perspective towards loving myself and knowing that I’m worthy of love, respect, and education—all the things that I thought I didn’t deserve. This led me to eventually follow through with the decision to start therapy, something I was terrified to ever initiate.
Through therapy, I have gained tools and resources that have helped redirect the thoughts that I struggle with. With time, I have learned to focus on what my body and mind need and focus on providing myself with that self-love.
Loving ourselves is also looking at the painful parts and accepting them. Without this important process we cannot move on.
It can be so easy to focus on the negative, when the feelings are so deep, but therapy helped me to realize that there were also moments that I cherished. Through this process, I have been able to reflect back on my experiences through a new lens. I once believed that I could never achieve any of my dreams and for many years I suffered in silence. Though I sometimes wish I reached out sooner, I’ve since accepted that the struggle wasn’t all for nothing.
The pain was there to push me to grow. Without the experiences, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
It’s not easy at first, but with time the progress becomes more apparent. Growth is tricky because you never realize that you are growing until you have grown. However, there are many ways that can help make this process easier and more noticeable to you.
Here are some tips that help me:
1. Journaling. The act of getting your thoughts out literally helps to get them out of your head. Once I can physically see them I am able to understand them better and, with time, have a record of where I used to be and where I am now.
If you feel stuck on how to go about this process, I recommend reading Mei-Mei’s piece about journaling. She goes into depth about the process and shows the many ways that you can use journals, and even gives journal recommendations. It is a wonderfully inspiring piece.
2. Walking away. If I ever start to feel stuck or anxious, I notice that it helps when I change my environment. This can be something as small as taking a bath, going for a walk, or going for a short drive.
Redirecting your mind and not letting it get into, what I like to call, a thought spiral is a very powerful action that trains your mind to easily let go of those negative thoughts.
Supporting yourself in these difficult moments reinforces the healing that you are working towards. This isn’t the same as ignoring your feelings, but rather, not letting them get the best of you and giving yourself a safe space to process them.
3. Talking to someone. This one can be hard but I think it is the most important. Asking for help was my hardest challenge but it was also what led me to finally have the courage to make changes in my life.
It may not always seem like it, but there are people out there who want to help. Talking to a friend can help get some pressure off your chest and allow them to offer you support.
If you’re ready, I recommend reaching out to a counselor or therapist, as they are trained professionals that can provide more insight into identifying the underlying issues and provide techniques and practices that you can implement into your life.
I want to add that not everyday is suddenly perfect now. Like I said, it’s a process, and I’ve learned that I can only ever do my best.
Don’t beat yourself up if you find that you sometimes revert to old ways of thinking. In fact, it's normal. A full change doesn’t happen immediately. Here I thought I messed up my life when in reality, I was still able to get a college education and follow my dream of being a writer.
I just needed to ask for help.
If you need help or someone to talk to please reach out:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
About the Author:
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Alex is currently studying English at UNLV with a concentration in creative writing. Her plan is to keep on writing and see where it takes her in the future. When she isn’t studying, she enjoys music, traveling, vegan/vegetarian food, and spending time with her rottweiler. She is passionate about mental health and hopes to spread awareness through her writing.