To anyone reading this post: this is not a celebration of my past or a glorification of it. It is an honest confession of who I was. It is not healthy or okay to treat your mind and body in this way, and I truly hope that if you are in a place to even think of doing so, you will reach out for help. It sounds cliche, but it does get better, and help is waiting for you if you ask for it.
WARNING: This post may contain triggers for some people. Topics include poor self-esteem, anorexia, cutting, and thoughts of suicide. If these topics are uncomfortable for you, please do not read.
I was not bullied in school. No more than the offhand teasing that high school has always come with. No more than a handful of comments that stung from people who never knew me, but never bothered to put any real effort into hurting me either.
I didn’t come from a split family or have a tense home life. I was in the top few of my class of over 500 students. I excelled in my extracurricular activities, even winning awards in them. I couldn’t walk down the hallway without finding a friendly face and open arms for a hug. All of the teachers loved me.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to have a broken life around you to feel broken.
At age 18 I could count my ribs in the mirror without holding my breath. They weren’t grotesquely visible, but I was terrified that if I lost even one rib to what would actually have been healthy body weight… I would become fat. I knew I wasn’t fat in my current state, but at the same time I had no concept of how skinny I actually was. I thought I was still too heavy. It didn’t even matter that I knew my BMI was 0.2 under the minimum to be considered healthy.
I was 117 pounds at the lowest I gave in to weighing myself. There were points when I probably weighed less. To be truly healthy I should have weighed 130-135. But I saw all the pictures of the frighteningly anorexic people, and I knew I weighed at least 20-30 pounds MORE than they did, so I was completely convinced I wasn’t like that. I was just ‘watching my figure’. Truthfully, I just liked food enough that I never let myself completely starve.
But I would go stretches without eating. I didn’t consider myself anorexic because, not only did I weigh so much more than the worst-case scenarios I was faced with, I would have at pizza and hamburgers and soda and cookies and whatever junk I felt like, when I felt like it, just like a normal teenager. But then I’d see that scale inch up 2-3 pounds, so I’d put myself in positions where no one really saw me around mealtimes, so no one could tell if I was eating or not. There were even times I dirtied dishes to make it look like I’d eaten.
I didn’t get any better at this for 3 years. My husband was the first person to really notice what I was doing. When we started dating just before I turned 21, he used to make me eat. Not much, he didn’t want to further break the part of my mind that already wasn’t working, but enough that I stopped feeling faint. If I skipped one meal, he made sure I had at least some of the next. If he wasn’t with me to see me eat, he would call or text me to ask if I did. At first I tried to lie, but he always caught me. It was my first experience of anyone looking out for me. For the longest time I didn’t know what to do with it. I spent weeks, months, waiting for him to leave.
But my image issues were more than skin deep.
I hated myself. I don’t know why. My depression told me a lot of lies about myself. That’s the thing about depression. It will always lie to you. Unfortunately those lies are all too easy to believe.
My senior year of high school I thought long and hard about overdosing on sleeping pills the night of prom. I thought perhaps I could go out with a party, dressed in my finest, and creating a final set of happy memories. . . then quietly slip away.
I used to pray, telling God I’d heard all the stories about the suicide sinners, about how they should be cast away. And asking Him, if he truly loved all of His children, would He toss aside the most broken ones? It made no sense to me. I used to ask Him if I jumped from somewhere, would I really feel the ground or would His arms catch me at the bottom? I used to beg for there to be anything at all after this life, because I couldn’t handle more darkness. As depressing as these conversations sound, they got me through another day.
Something else that got me ‘through another day’ on more than one occasion was this song by VNV Nation. “Illusion” is quiet and simple, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I’ll share it here:
The night before my 19th birthday I hit a new level of pain. One I could no longer quietly deal with when tears and prayer were my only weapons. So I broke a razor blade out from a disposable razor in the bathroom, went back to my bedroom, and cut myself. It hurt. And I felt better. Only I wasn’t better. I had made myself worse and a tiny, quiet part of me in the back of my mind knew it.
I never had the desire to openly get attention with all of the things I was doing to myself, but at the same time having everyone around me NOT notice and actively comment on how bright and happy of a person I was felt awful. I knew I was lying to them. But since they believed the lies, I felt I had to lie even more. The longer I lied to them, the more I believed the lies myself. It became far too easy to be the girl everyone wanted me to be, and quietly cut away the pain when the lies got to be too much.
I was careful and meticulous. The marks on my skin rarely looked like more than scratches. They were infrequent enough no one thought to say anything if they did notice, and were easy enough to explain away as scrapes from stocking shelves and moving boxes at work if someone did ask. In a way, even my cuts were a lie, because I controlled them too.
The only positive thing — if that’s possible — that came out of cutting myself was that it dulled the thoughts of suicide. I now had a way to deal with the pain and not completely give up the hope of everything getting better. My depression told me that wasn’t going to happen. But I knew as long as I stuck around, there was always the chance that it could. It was worth holding on to.
Until the day, a couple of years later, when things got worse. And my controlled cuts weren’t enough. So I slashed at my hips instead. They were shallow cuts, barely bled, healed within a day, and never scarred, but I was losing control. I had quickly gone from no more than 5 or 6 tiny nicks in the skin on my arm every couple of months to 20-40 shallow slashes across my hips and upper thighs…daily. I felt like I was spiraling out of control.
To all of the people who have perhaps not been on this side of things, but have witnessed a friend or family member losing control… it really does take just one person to help. At this time my husband and I still weren’t dating, but he took the time to notice. He was the first person to recognize that the little scrapes on the side of my wrist weren’t from work. He didn’t judge me. He didn’t yell at me or fight me. He just expressed sadness and disappointment. That’s what it took for me. I couldn’t bear to have someone I cared about so much, feel that way about me.
(And to all of the people who have been or are on the side of things I experienced… it’s okay to tell someone. It sounds scary and awful, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves and we need someone else’s hand to guide our way for a bit. This is okay.)
Change was far from overnight. I fought him against my needing help. I was unpleasant on far too many occasions. I made him put up with highs and lows that could give anybody whiplash. And like any normal person there were times he was quite frustrated with me… but he stuck with me and stayed determined.
My last cut was in April 2008.
I wasn’t able to give up my razor yet. Even if I wasn’t using it, knowing it was hidden away for me to run to at any moment was a comfort, even if I didn’t allow myself to indulge.
But then, finally, on July 4, 2008, I gave that up too.
Now, nearly 5 years later, I still remember all of these things vividly. But I have tucked them away into a place where they do not harm my day-to-day life. I can touch those memories, share them, write about them, but then tuck them away again. This, also, took time.
Not long after we got our house last year, I was standing outside on a late spring night and staring at the moon. I thought about all the times I wanted to give up, all the times I thought there was nothing in life for me but pain. I thought and realized… those years in my life are something I would never wish on anyone, but at the same time they brought me on a path that found me immense joy and satisfaction with many parts of my life. I had found love and friends, and I was standing on the porch of my home on a perfect breezy spring night (my favorite kind of weather) and soaking in LIFE.
Depression lied to me. I believed it. Until I decided that, even if I believed it, I had to hold on to find out. And what a simple but beautiful outcome lay ahead. The thought that I nearly threw it all away… it wouldn’t have just affected my life, but more people around me than I was capable of noticing at the time, and all the people whose lives I wouldn’t be a part of now.
It sounds cliche but… it gets better. And if you think it won’t, please, give it the chance to try.
This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest.
Don’t forget to read part two of this post, “An Unlikely Role Model,” posted today as well. That one is a lot more fun and unexpected… in a good way!