If I could have one wish, it would be to experience just one day when I don't have to fight what seems like a never-ending, uphill battle. I often wonder what it would feel like to just wake up and feel normal.
On that cold and gloomy Tuesday in February, my doctor told me I was a walking biological miracle. My heart rate was 40 beats per minute, and my blood pressure was 80/50. I was 55 pounds.
I'll never forget that doctor's visit. I remember feeling angry and enraged because I was being told I needed to gain weight. But I also felt terrified and heartbroken because I was afraid I was going to die.
Most importantly, I will always remember when he looked me straight in the eye and told me, “You're going to die. You need to get better. I will help you. I'm here for you.”
He said it with such genuine love, I suddenly melted. I finally felt safe. I finally felt like I could just let go.
I am 25 years old, and a current third-year PhD student in anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Louisville. I suffered from anorexia nervosa for 11 years: the better part of my whole life.
I shouldn't be alive today.
At my worst, I never ate more than 200 calories a day. I forced myself to run six miles every single night.
At night, I slept for maybe two hours because I had myself convinced I was undeserving of sleep unless I completed 1,000 sit-ups and 300 push-ups. Quite miraculously, I have never broken any bones, lost any teeth or suffered any sort of permanent damage. I visited six different doctors before I finally came clean and admitted I had a problem.
Mental illness is very, very real. Eating disorders are a serious problem. In fact, people are developing them earlier and earlier.
I wish I could sit here and write I'm completely OK. But to be honest, the struggle is a daily one.
While I'm a happy, healthy individual now – thanks to the help of that one doctor – I still have to fight this silent mental battle every single day. Every morning when I wake up, my first thought isn't “Ugh, Monday” or “I need coffee.”
My first thoughts are, “You're fat. You have to lose weight. You can only be pretty if you're skinnier.”
It bears repeating that mental illness is very, very real. Despite this, our society tends to slip it under the rug and ignore it. We may not be able to directly solve or cure mental illness anytime soon, but we can put an end to our culture's obsession with appearances.
Here are the various things I have a serious problem with when it comes to our generation's approach to appearances:
- I hate to break it to you, ladies, but you don't have to only wear Lululemon while you work out. No, it's not the most “comfortable.” Quite frankly, I'm not about to pay $80 for a skimpy tank top. That's just nuts. Sorry, Lulu.
- Why does our hair always have to be perfect? I mean, even “messy buns” look perfect. Why can't it be OK for us to just not care how our hair looks?
- Apparently, there has to be a thigh gap between your legs.
- What is up with the duck lips and hand-on-the-hip poses? You get more likes on Facebook when you specifically stick your arm out and pose like a sorority girl. I'm sorry, but I like just leaving my arms wherever I want. If that means they're idly hanging there by my side, then so be it.
- We all apparently need tiny waists, six-pack abs and DD-sized boobs because we're all living, breathing Barbie dolls. No, ladies, this is not a healthy or realistic image to pursue. We have to remember that health and individuality trump everything else: always.
Honestly, it's time for our culture to get real. If someone has an eating disorder, seeing these trends only perpetuates the problem. The sufferers feel trapped, scared and worthless. Look at me: I bought into it for over 10 years.
We have to remember life goes so much deeper than this. I shouldn't be alive today. Maybe I was kept here on Earth to remind people of this very thing.
No matter what your struggle is, and whether mental illness has wrecked havoc on your life or not, know that it doesn't have to control your life. Your struggles and demons don't define you.
It's time to be more mindful of the silent battles all of us fight against. It's time to show less judgment and more love.
I know I sound like a Pinterest pin, but the truth is the truth. When someone's life is at stake, the truth is quite literally a lifesaver.