I have debated hitting the publish button on this blog post for over a month now. The fear of what people would think about me held me back and I just couldn’t find the courage to share it until now. Being vulnerable is SCARY. I recently watched Brené Brown’s special on Netflix called “the Call to Courage” and it rocked my world. By watching this special, I was able to see my vulnerability as an advantage and not something to be ashamed of.
I have made the decision to own my messy, imperfect and beautiful mental health journey. I have recently stepped inside of the arena and I am fighting my demons one by one. Facing emotional pain that I haven’t touched in years means that my ass is most definitely getting kicked but I’m choosing courage over comfort. And here is my story:
The word mental illness can carry such a heavy daunting stigma in our society. It can leave people feeling like there is something wrong with them, which then leads to shame, guilt and loneliness. People would rather isolate themselves or suppress their feelings in order to avoid judgement.
But here is the truth: most of us have struggled with mental health at some point in our lives and we decided to stay quiet about it. We choose comfort over speaking our truth. We stay quiet because we feel “crazy” for what we may be thinking or feeling. REALITY CHECK: we are not crazy, broken or unworthy. We are HUMAN.
You might be thinking…“Emma, how do you know this?”
Well I know this because mental illness has been my reality for many years. Looking at me, you would think that I’m a healthy 26 year old woman. You can’t see my brain or hear my thoughts so you have no idea that I have been diagnosed with three mental illnesses over the course of my life. My health chart would say: Anxiety Disorder, Depression and an Eating Disorder.
I have decided to share my story in hopes to help others find their voice. To help others feel like they are NOT alone. I am sharing my story to help end the stigma that I have put upon myself over the past 20 years because ending the stigma starts with US. I also want others to know that recovery IS possible.
I first realized that I was different when I was in elementary school. I had irrational fears such as my parents dying or being kidnapped from my own home. My thoughts were obsessive, scary and uncontrollable. My mom had to sleep with me most nights in order for both of us to get a good nights rest. I would try and sleep over at friends’ house to only end up in tears by 10pm and begging to go home. The anxiety consumed my childhood leaving me to feel like I was broken.
At a young age, I figured out that food helped calm my anxiety. It made the “yucky” feelings go away but only for a short time. Food made me feel safe just like my mom did when I woke up screaming and crying from a nightmare. I ended up weighing 230 pounds by the time I was 15 years old. I was taller than most of my peers, boys didn’t like me “that way” and I was shopping in the women’s plus size section when all my friends were shopping at Abercrombie and Fitch.
I was bullied for the way I looked. I was called a pig, cow, fat, and “big girl”…just to name a few. One kid even put me in a choke hold because he knew that I wouldn’t stand up for myself. I can still feel his arm wrap around my neck as he laughed a laugh that I’ll never forget. I was prey to anyone that was hurting enough to hurt others.
I lost 80+ pounds in less than a year during my sophomore year of high school. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and how small I could get my body. People were calling me beautiful for the first time ever and boys actually liked me! As a 16 year old girl, you can imagine how confusing these messages were. I was willing to do just about anything to make sure that the attention continued.
I was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa and depression by the age of 16. I was sick both physically and mentally. I spent 4 weeks in an eating disorder clinic to only relapse the day after I was discharged. I was terrified of gaining weight and becoming the “big girl” again. I battled my eating disorder for 7 years before feeling like I finally had a strong grip on it.
I went to college feeling broken, lost and 100% unworthy. I discovered that alcohol could help me feel comfortable in my skin but that’s a story for another time. I began to question my own life and experienced passive suicidal ideation. It is an understatement to say that I was in a dark place for years and this might come as a surprise to some. I got extremely good at putting a smile on my face even when my heart was hurting.
As I got older my irrational fears shifted. I became obsessively worried with what people thought about me and I became a chronic people pleaser (I am still working on this). I gave ALL the love and kindness to everyone except myself. I figured that putting everyone before myself would solve the feeling of not being enough.
But boy was I wrong…very wrong. By the age of 25, my anxiety was at an all time high. People would tell me to think positive thoughts or that I just needed to stop worrying. YEAH OKAY, stop worrying? What they didn’t know was that it’s not that simple because anxiety is such a complex illness.
I was second guessing every conversation and obsessively thinking about things from the past. I would beat myself up for things that I did YEARS ago. I was giving up opportunities because I felt like I wasn’t worthy of them. I would have days where I felt a rush of happiness and others where I couldn’t get myself out of bed. I was confused, sad, happy, and anxious all at the same time.
I turn 27 next week and I can truthfully say that I am in a place of finally allowing myself to heal. I have been working with an incredible therapist twice a week and have opened up about painful feelings that are deeply rooted in me. It will take time to quiet the anxiety and to rewrite the untrue stories that I have been telling myself for years. The difference is that I am hopeful for once. I am hopeful that I will finally start living my life without feeling paralyzed by fear and anxiety.
Mental illness does not discriminate. I grew up in an amazing family with loving parents. We had a beautiful house with a barn, pond and endless amounts of land to explore. They gave me the world and yet I struggled through every stage of my life. Is it genetics? Life experiences? Brain chemistry? Whatever it may be, I know that mental illness will not win and that I will come out of this stronger than ever.
My goal is to share more about my mental health journey through writing. If you are struggling, please don’t ever feel like you are alone. I’m here if you ever need someone to talk too. There are 46.6 million people in the United States living with a mental illness (National of Institute Mental Health). Let that sink in. WE are not alone and together we can create change. Let’s be vulnerable, courageous and imperfect together.