Personal

Dear Mental Illness…

We have been together for a long time now. You are probably my oldest friend, and my longest relationship. You are like the star-crossed lover that I just could not let go of, luring me in every time I would leave. You enticed me with your lies, and you made me feel safe and in control… But I was never in control.

I feel like I’ve written this letter before, telling you that I am better now and that I don’t need you. The truth is, I don’t know if that’s the truth. I have gone back and forth with medication and doctors and hospital visits. I have wanted you and I have hated you, and somehow I still can’t get rid of you.

You have been here for as long as I can remember. You have never abandoned me, which is ironic, considering that you’re the reason I’m terrified of abandonment in the first place. You have stealthily infiltrated all the areas of my life, and poisoned them from the inside out, and by the time I realized it, it was too late.

Wednesday, I went to therapy again, like I do every 30 days. This month, my appointment was a little different. It was paperwork day. When you enter treatment, you fill out a bunch of surveys and answer all these questions to help the counselors and doctors figure out the best way to help you, and what the most important goal is. You update this every so often, but for the most part, it stays the same until you hit a milestone. For me, that was the 3 year mark.

November 19, 2015 marked 3 years since I stepped foot in the Mental Health Center in Jacksonville and asked for help. For the first 6 months, I barely even talked to my counselor. I was terrified of recovery. I was terrified of change. I was terrified of everything.

Previously, I had gone to several different counselors in the area and I never felt right about it. Something felt off. I felt.. Judged. Condescended to. Pitied. No one needs that, no matter how bad their situation is. People need to be validated, to feel like they have some value, to know that others don’t see them as less than for something they can’t control. That’s what this therapist gave me.

So Wednesday, I came in, and we went through all the questions again, and most of the answers changed. I went from a terrified, underweight, practically mute, suicidal patient to a well-adjusted, happy, organized, healthy, loud individual. And I never really realized it.

I make comments to Drew all the time (especially when I have an episode) about how much better I am, and he will say the same to me. I had a panic attack yesterday before my class, and it took me less than 5 minutes to calm myself down. He didn’t even have to coach me in breathing or anything. 3 years ago, I probably would have hyperventilated so badly that I passed out right there in my car in the parking lot.

Progress is slow. We set a goal to lose weight this year, and I keep reminding myself that it’s going to take a while. We live in an instant-gratification world, and when things don’t happen right away, we get frustrated and we give up. It doesn’t work that way with health- any kind of health.

Learning a disordered pattern of behavior over the course of 10 years and then expecting to reverse it overnight is ridiculous and unrealistic. There were several times that I just wanted to give up and, honestly, lay in my bed until I withered away into nothing. But I got up and went anyway. There are conversations over the years between Drew and I that I have saved, and the most poignant one that always comes to mind is a day that we were going to church. I had skipped school and stayed in  bed because I was having a severe depression episode. Drew got off work and texted me, and I told him what was happening, and he said, “I’ll just tell the kids you’re not coming then.” And I sent back, “Why? Just because I can’t doesn’t mean I’m not going to.”

3 years ago, I would have just fallen into the pit and let it drown me.
Not anymore.

I am confident in myself now. I don’t always like every single thing about me, but there are days that I jump out of bed and I’m excited. I sing in the shower again. I talk to myself in the car, and occasionally I stop and look around and say to myself, “I am incredibly weird. And that’s okay.” Accepting myself was the hardest part of getting better, and I am sometimes still shocked that I have done it.

I’m not saying that I’m 100%, though. I may never be fully free from mental illness. I think I can get to the point where my BPD is much less severe, maybe even un-diagnosible. I have heard of people who, by their late 30s or early 40s, showed almost no symptoms anymore. I strive for that. For now, I am just going to take things one day at a time.

I said all of that to say this: Do not give up on yourself. No matter what your situation is, no matter how bleak it seems, it WILL get better. If you feel like you’ve hit bottom, look up and remember the stars. (Quote stolen from Renee Yohe.) Don’t forget that light can be found in the darkest places. You may not see yourself as worth much of anything (or anything at all), but I am here to tell you that that belief is a lie. You are important. You’re worth the world! No one else can take your place. Do not forget that you are irreplaceable.

3 years ago, if you would have asked me what I thought about myself, I probably would have just stared at my shoes and said, “I deserve to die.” I weighed 95 pounds when I started treatment for  Anorexia Nervosa, GAD, BPD, and MDD. I have scars that no one will ever see, and some that I cannot hide. If I could’ve done anything in the world, it would have been to stop existing.

Now? I am married to the love of my life. I am graduating college in 104 days. I have my dream job. I am learning how to take care of my body and mind, and when I have dissociative days or I feel like I’m splitting, I now have the tools to NOT feel like I’m losing my mind. It’s never that simple, but it is so much easier than it used to be. I am proud of myself, and what I have overcome. I am bright and vivacious and loving and silly and loud and I LOVE LIFE. I never, ever, ever in my 23 years thought I could make that statement truthfully.

Hold on. Do not give up. If you can’t do it alone, then don’t. You weren’t meant to. ♡

The picture on the left is me in December 2011, 1 year before I got treatment. I weighed 110 pounds here, and in the next 11 months or so, would lose at least 20 more before finally realizing I needed help. The picture on the right is me in May 2015 (on my WEDDING DAY! Who would’ve thought?!), 2 1/2 years into treatment. The difference is astonishing, and I am so glad I didn’t give up on myself every time I see these side by side. I am living my best life now, and if you aren’t, please believe that you can. Because YOU CAN.

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