Warning: naughty language ahead!
If many of us didn’t know the various shades of life-induced depression or anxiety, we do now.
This year has made us all extremely aware of our mental state of health, whether waxing or waning, depending on the day, or even the hour.
I remember the first time I wanted to end my life. I was 12 years old. I had just switched from a safe, but stifling private Christian school to the overwhelming and daunting foreign world I never belonged to either: public school, in the thick of middle school. I’ve told this story a lot. It’s one I know well.
But, the more I have grown and learned, the more I know stories, and telling our stories about the hard shit matters. Not the pretty, Instagram-filtered version. We all already get enough of that fluff on the daily. I like to keep it real. And sometimes real means messy. And scary. And dark.
I was barely on the precipice of adolescence and puberty when I made the unconscious decision to stop eating. I didn’t even know what eating disorders were. I thought I had found the one silent thing to slowly fade away without anyone noticing, into the invisibility cloak I wore around my shoulders, with an ever-tightening noose around my throat.
It’s all very dramatic, yes? At such a young age, wanting to die felt dramatic. And, it felt so real.
Suicide and suicidal ideation coupled with severe anxiety and depression were my first taste of mental illness and dis-ease. I say “dis-ease” because it really was a lack of ease in my entire being, body, mind, and spirit. When we are talking about mental health, I have learned we need to include all three, no matter what universal language we speak.
To address just one without the other does a disservice to the self and the individual. Mental health encompasses the mind, yes, but also the body, the nervous system, and the spirit.
Think about trauma. Trauma affects us all in one way, shape, or form—big trauma and smaller, but equally impactful trauma. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how it affects the person, and what resources and faculties they do or do not have at that moment to effectively cope with and process the trauma.
Most of us didn’t. Most of us were ill-equipped to effectively, holistically, and wholly process the traumas that happened to us. This is the culture and society most of us were raised in: be quiet, shut the fuck up, don’t cause a ruckus, and basically, handle your shit.
But, we don’t handle our shit because we simply can’t. We weren’t taught how to have emotions, how to process our emotions, how to feel safe enough to process our emotions, and often times weren’t maybe even in a safe environment to do so. This is the basic storyline.
My manifestation of this story may vary from your own, but might be similar in origin and source. I went through my dubbed trauma, developed severe anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder.
On the outside, I always looked and appeared to be the image of perfection: straight-A student, varsity athlete, on homecoming court all four years, white-skinned and privileged, part of a loving family (with cracks, leaks, and fissures, of course), and a lot of friends. You would have looked at me and maybe never thought in a million years I was so mentally unwell.
Well, I was. And, it still is a battle, though not an all-out war like it used to be. Nearly three years recovered from a decade-long eating disorder of many shades, I stand here today more whole than I have ever felt.
And, still, I deal with anxiety every day. I am a “counter.” I count time, minutes, money in my bank account. Over and over again. Desperately trying to ease my neurotic brain. Some days, I feel simply neurotic, spinning myself in circles around the same obsessive, compulsive shit. I was never diagnosed as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder formally, but this obsessive compulsion of mine has been with me for as long as I can remember.
It’s not ideal when it steals your mind from enjoying the present moment and sucks you into its tantalizing grip of momentary fixation. I suppose we all have our vice and thing though.
Mental health (along with physical health) is one of the most important things we need to keep talking about, in my humble opinion and “doctorate level” experience at this point.
Most of us don’t want to remain stigmatized or shamed away in the darkness. We don’t want to feel broken or fucked up. We just want to feel okay. We want to feel “normal,” whatever that denotation has meant for us.
But, the truth I am learning is this: none of us feel fucking normal. We all feel a little fucked up in the head.
These days, I am all about the alchemical process of healing. The word alchemy means “transformation of matter.” As physicist Antoine Lavoisier said, “matter cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another;” this universal principle seems to carry its weight and kernel of truth in our own human evolution and of all life.
Life is constantly regenerated into new forms. Just look at nature. This magic is demonstrated to us all the time if we are keen enough to observe it and notice it. We are not separate from this process of nature either, as we are intricately connected to nature herself.
Many of us were dealt a rough hand as children and even into adulthood: ill-equipped parents, abuse, neglect, witnessing of violence or death, lack of basic survival needs being met, lack of emotionally available or equipped parents to guide us when the going got tough, and the list goes on and on. The truth is we came into this broken world and got broken for it.
Many of us broke ourselves before the world could do it for us. Many of us chose to not stay here. Many are still making that choice. This is to say that many of us aren’t here today who maybe could have been if we had been talking about the things that actually matter and got the help we need.
Many of us know what it’s like to not be able to speak up about these things. To have felt like we had to censor our voices in the hopes others around us would feel more comfortable in our silence.
But, that day and era is ending, friends. It has to. It must. We must use the voices we do have now to speak up. To speak our stories. To share our stories with others. To let others know they are not alone and do not have to wage this battle alone anymore.
Many of us were forced to become alchemists. To transform our pain into healing. To transform our chronic mental illness into a story to tell. Art to share. Songs to sing. Words to write. Medicine to have. This is the alchemical process of healing many of us have been walking and have to consciously choose every day when our mental illness gremlins come up to the surface and want to drag us under again.
We have to choose it. That is what’s so exhausting some days. It is a choice to face the world when anxiety tells you how much of an embarrassment you’ll be, how you’ll fail, how you’ll lose it all. We have to choose to get up out of the darkness of our four-walled room and step outside into the sunshine and remember that being alive is the mission—an arduous one at that, but a mission nonetheless. And, maybe we can find remnants of joy today. And, some days, we can’t. Some days, we feel like we are drowning in our basket of anxiety, depression, addictions, and other mental ailments.
Days aren’t easy for many of us with ongoing mental illnesses. We have to take care of our mental health like it’s our job, on top of whatever else our daily real-world job is. Mental health is in and of itself, a full-time job though. And, it’s one most of us are silently, or not, fighting.
These days, I use my story to remind others that they are not alone in this weird, fucked up maze that is our mental sanity, and oftentimes insanity.
I am recovered for three years now from an eating disorder. And, still, I have chronic anxiety. I wrote a book encapsulating my journey and story entitled: coming hOMe: Healing From an Eating Disorder by Finding Beauty in Imperfection.
It narrates my mental health journey through a holistic lens of trauma, addiction, and a somatic-based understanding of healing.
None of this is easy. But, maybe it wasn’t supposed to be. So, if today, or any day, you are feeling alone, broken, or despondent about how you’ll ever face the day or heal, remember that just showing up is enough. Keep showing up.
And if courage grabs you by the hand, maybe you too can speak up about the things most are too afraid to talk about. End the silence. Make your voice outward to the world louder than the voices inside your head. Tell those inner voices they have had their day, and this day, you get to voice what matters.
Because you matter. Lives matter. We broken, oozing, mending, splintered-feeling, healing-seeking humans matter.