3 Years

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This is what three years in jail looks like. 

January always marks another year. Another year that my dad has been in jail. Another year that I haven’t seen him.

I wanted to write about this for many reasons. First and foremost, I posted something similar a year ago, and a lot has changed since then.

Secondly, I just think sharing this kind of information is really important. I have an internal debate about this a lot though. On the one hand, I often worry that this type of experience (for lack of a better word??) isn’t relatable enough to the people most likely to read my blog. I worry that no one will care because no one (that I directly know) has been through something similar. But on the flip side, I also feel that this type of content is worth sharing even more than some of the other things I write about because it’s uncommon. I fear that, to an extent, I’m doing a disservice to myself (and others) for not making this all more commonly known.

Most often, I cling to that fear of not being relatable to avoid a bigger issue. In reality, this shit is just hard to put words to. I’ll preface the rest of this post with that. Even though it has been three years, I still have so many contradictory, confusing, and often inexpressible emotions tied to all this. I’m going to attempt to not let that deter me from sharing though.

When you look at the statistics, about 5 million children in America have parents that are (or were previously) behind bars. That’s about 1 in every 14 kids, or 7%. 

Less than 1% of white children have incarcerated parents though. 

My dad has been in jail for almost three years.

**To give a brief background for those of you who are unaware. My dad was arrested in January of 2015. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time. I haven’t seen him in person since Christmas of 2014. I just recently started talking to him on the phone this year. Over the past three years, he has been transferred between multiple facilities in multiple different states (PA, NY, CT). The details of his arrest are vague to me, partly because I don’t want to be involved, and partly because the justice system is extremely confusing and the process takes an extremely long time. From what I know, my dad was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. I also know that, as of now, he is attempting to appeal this for a shorter sentence. **

Each time I try to put words to paper about this, a few things always come to mind:

  1. I often compartmentalize this part of my life which makes vocalizing my experience complicated
  2. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the flaws within the current justice system and accepting the fact that I can’t comprehend how to fix it
  3. My relationship with my dad was very complicated prior to his arrest, which complicates the situation further
  4. There are people out there like me, even though according to the numbers I am part of the <1%
  5. My feelings and experiences are not entirely negative
  6. Incarceration is a loss too, but it’s not final and as a family member you can choose what that means to you over time

Along with that, when I think about my dad, I usually feel overwhelmed with a complex layer of simultaneous emotions. I always, without fail, feel anger, stress, guilt, loss, relief, shame, love, admiration, nostalgia, bitterness, and confusion altogether, every time.

I think that is what often makes me want to refrain from sharing this experience with others, in this way at least. Because my relationship with my dad is so complex, this isn’t just about having an incarcerated parent, it’s about having a parent with mental health struggles too, and how those experiences overlap.

So the way I have coped and the things I have learned are, in a sense, two-fold. Even though most people may not be able to relate to the situation directly, hopefully, what I have to share can possibly be beneficial to others in some way or another.

Part One: Incarceration

To start, I’ve learned to understand that incarceration is a loss, and with that comes grieving. There shouldn’t be shame in that. But there will be. Because the person you’ve lost is still physically there.

It’s not a death, but that’s the closest thing most people will compare it to. That’s the only way most people, who have never dealt with incarceration before, can possibly wrap their brains around the experience and the feelings tied to it.

Unlike a death, people will forget the anniversary. YOU will forget the exact anniversary sometimes. To complicate things, neither you nor your friends will usually know how to talk about it.

You also won’t spend time memorializing the person, not only because they’re not truly gone, but because your loss will always have lingering bitterness and confusion.

Also unlike a death though, you and the person you’ve “lost” will potentially have room to progress together. Your dynamic may change and your relationship may grow. It takes time though, just because you’re not ready at first, doesn’t mean you never will be.

First, you need to process the events surrounding their arrest. Regardless of the situation, I believe one thing will hold true, you will come to learn that no single person is all good or all bad. You will come to see that sometimes you can still love someone, even when they’ve done wrong.

As is true for most things though, the progress you make (both individually and within your relationship together) will never be linear. You will continuously feel like you’re taking 3 steps forward just to take 2 back. That part will never stop, but over time you will accept it as routine.

You will always, always, always be filled with mixed emotions. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no handbook to teach you how to appropriately cope. Even though there are literally 5 million other people out there that can potentially relate to you, you will still feel alone.

Sometimes you will feel helpless that someone you know is suffering, alone, behind bars. You will feel shame and stigma associated with the concept of incarceration as a whole. You will feel guilty that you couldn’t help “fix” them when you still had the chance. You will miss them, even when you think you don’t.

Part Two: Mental Health

In my case, to some extent, I feel a lot of relief regarding my dad’s arrest too. If it wasn’t for his arrest, I don’t think I would ever feel so free from the responsibilities of constantly worrying about his well-being.

With that comes guilt too though. Guilt that I’m finally, in some ways, using this space as a chance to be selfish. Every letter and every phone call is another reminder that I have separated myself from someone who needs me.

My dad, from what I know, struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. As I think I’ve shared before, in a lot of respects, when my parents split up when I was 18, I became the person my dad turned to.

Until my dad was arrested, I spent almost every day helping to manage his problems that I couldn’t fix and emotions that I couldn’t bear. I did so partly out of love, partly out of fear, partly out of a false hope that I could really “fix” him someday, and partly out of a desire to avoid my own problems.

One of the best things to come out of my dad’s incarceration has been the realization that, at the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for anyone but myself.

In general, sometimes I also feel embarrassed. Sometimes I feel so unbearably alone. Sometimes I feel like all anyone can think about when they look at me is my father. And sometimes I think everyone forgets completely.

I’ve learned a lot this past year though. In many respects, my dad’s arrest has shined a light on all of his mistakes for me. It has given me an opportunity to see what he struggles with, avoid running into similar situations, and live my life completely differently as a result.

From this, I’ve learned that there is no shame in being yourself. In fact, the things you tend to be most ashamed of are the things that you should wear with the most pride. I’ve learned that people will accept you if you accept yourself, and if you wear your experiences confidently, people will often have respect for you rather than judgment.

I’ve also learned to let go of fear. It’s so easy to be afraid of what you have yet to try. I spent over two years telling myself I didn’t want to “live my life in fear like my father”, yet never truly followed through until recently.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t actually hurt that much to be disliked for being yourself. It hurts so much more to constantly try morphing yourself into the person you think people want you to be.

I couldn’t be more comfortable with who I am and what I like than I have been this past year. I am so proud to say that the things that kept my dad living in shame, like his mental health and sexuality, are some of the things that I am most proud to be open and honest about in my own life.

As selfish as it sounds, I can confidently say I would have never gotten to this place if my dad hadn’t been arrested.

Like I mentioned though, it isn’t always easy. It’s usually like sailing into uncharted territory with no sense of direction and no compass to show you the way. Most of the time I’m just guessing and hoping I make some sort of progress as a result.

I don’t have all the answers, in fact, I literally have none, but I hope, to some extent, my lack of knowledge is helpful too.

I think what’s most important to remember is that even the most confusing and seemingly negative experiences can have positive outcomes. And just because you don’t have it all figured out, doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with your experiences correctly.

Take things one step at a time. Don’t forget to look back at where you started, and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Be proud of who you are, and the factors that have helped to make you that way. And remember that everyone else is going through their own unique experiences too. Have patience, approach others with acceptance, and be understanding. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along. AMIRITE?

Happy 2018!!!!!!!! BE U AND LUV URSELF

(If you have any interest in reading the similar post I wrote last year, click here)

Summer in New York City | August ’17

First of all, I am very well aware of the fact that I haven’t written anything of value on here in literally months. Ya know, just figured I’d acknowledge my complete lack of commitment and say that I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE ABOUT AND I WILL SHARE THEM SOON.

In the meantime, check out August’s vlog ft. my friends with video footage to prove that we do in fact watch sports occasionally.

Summer in New York City | July ’17

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything. I have A LOT of things I want to write about, I just haven’t had a ton of time to dedicate to it, SO more to come on that.

But …….today I wanted to share July’s collage vlog! Very delayed I know….but without further ado, here’s what my friends and I did in July:

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Sammy

Today’s piece is written by one of my best friends, Sammy. My friendship with Sammy is the kind where I  can genuinely say we know each other to our cores and I really mean that. I can’t say that about very many other people.

With Sammy (and my other best friend from home, Gina) I feel so lucky. They are two of the only people I have ever met that can truly empathize with my feelings and emotions in their entirety. There is just some sort of unspoken connection we have – I can’t explain it, but I know it’s there. There’s just no other way to describe how well we understand and relate to each other. Without them, I would be lost. Without them, I would literally think I was broken. 

Sammy is always the first person I reach out to when it comes to my blogging ideas. For one, she inspires my creativity unlike anyone else – she’s always pushing me to try harder. For two though, I know she has amazing words that are worth sharing. I always want her thoughts and experiences to be part of my projects.

When Sammy sent me this piece, she said, and I quote, “I feel like a fraud, it’s not really about suicide.”

I want to stress that statement because I feel like it brings up such a great point. I feel like there are so many instances where we allow ourselves to belittle our own feelings, convincing ourselves that they’re not worthy of being acknowledged because they may not be the “norm” or the “extreme”.

Part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is acknowledging the fact that all experiences are different, but they are all equally as valid. Sammy’s experiences with suicidal thoughts are uniquely hers, as are everyone else’s. 

In my opinion, progress comes only after certain steps are taken. The first step is acknowledging that your feelings exist and are legitimate. The second step is voicing those feelings. Only after both of those steps, will you be able to accurately begin making positive change. 

It’s scary though! In most cases, it’s easier to brush off thoughts and emotions that we are struggling with. It’s easier to convince ourselves they’re not “bad enough” to be “real”. It’s easier to slide under the radar, silently grappling with our emotions, rather than acknowledging and vocalizing them. 

I can tell you from experience though, that the harder route brings so much more success and happiness. Your experiences and thoughts are so valid and they are so worth sharing. You are worth being cared for. You are worth progress and change. You deserve happiness.

Somehow, Sammy found the strength to share her words, regardless of the doubt and insecurity she initially expressed. I hope her words encourage some of you who may feel similarly to do the same. 

Check it out: 

I have this dream and it’s always the same. I’m in a mansion overlooking the ocean and the valleys of California. I walk through the french doors into the foyer, through the halls, until I’m standing where I can see the doors that lead to the back. The house is vacant and quiet but there is a woman outside in a long lace nightgown and long hair, both blowing in the wind. She’s standing on the balcony ready to leap into the unknown. I never see her face and I never try to save her, but I know who she is: she’s me. 

I need to emphasize something about this dream. It does not bring me satisfaction. It does not seem like an end to all my problems. It’s just one of many scenarios I craft up in my head when I want to end the thoughts and the sadness. 

I picture killing myself because it’s a way to picture killing the thoughts, but there is never a desire to kill me, the living human body form of me. I’ll keep the highs but I want to chuck the lows over a building, drown them in a tub, pour a bottle of pills down its throat until it is no more and I am left with only the positivity and the sanity that I know I am capable of. 

I was driving in the car the other day – the windows down, the music just right. It was one of those moments where I checked my surroundings and I felt the beauty of it all, this thing we called life. Fuck, I felt truly ALIVE. But then, the unsettling feeling came over me and my mind told me to cherish this moment for it would not be this way tomorrow. And guess what? My mind was right. The next day, I couldn’t look at myself. I felt ugly. I felt gross. I felt I couldn’t do anything right. I felt like a failure – living at home still, working the same job I told myself last year I’d get out of to find my dream job. I made all these promises to myself and where the fuck were they now? It didn’t matter yesterday that I hadn’t accomplished all my dreams yet, but my shortcomings sure as hell mattered the next morning, my mind said they did. So that is what I focused on all day. I sat in front of the TV smoking weed until I reached the kind of high where you just don’t: don’t think, don’t move, don’t talk. 

My depression is interesting. I know how loved I am, it never blocks that from me. Sometimes it will try but I am able to swat it away before it solidifies into an actual feeling. I know I am not a burden on others, and I know my passing would hurt many. I mean this, not because I think I’m the greatest human to walk this earth, but I have felt death and I have seen it break those who I love. I have watched and experienced the passing of others and that is partially the reason I battle depression in the first place. That and the fact that is has always lived in me in some way. 

I take these thoughts seriously. I’ve never taken them as my desires or my truth but I do take them very seriously. Suicide is not selfish, not when you know what is truly going on inside someone, but that does not make suicide the answer. Please seek help if you are hurting, and fight with every ounce of you to stop the thoughts from becoming actions. It is easier said than done, I know. Suicide is not the action to take. Kill the thoughts, not yourself. Every living soul is different and every case of depression is different, but I believe that suicide is always the same in the sense that it does not solve anything. It only passes the hurt along. 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Alyssa

I am very excited to share a piece today written by my friend, Alyssa. Alyssa is someone I have known for years, yet have never been all that close with. We were in the same sorority in college, but a couple pledge classes apart. 

The reason I mention this though, is twofold. For one, it helps to prove my point that you really never know what someone is struggling with at any given time. And two, I just want to say that I was taken aback by Alyssa’s genuine willingness to share. Talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts is terrifying. Sharing something so intimate can make you feel completely exposed and beyond vulnerable. Somehow, Alyssa was able to put that fear aside and contribute to this project anyway. She shared some of her most intimate feelings and experiences for me, someone she has never been extremely close with, and even more so than that, for all of you reading.

As you will soon see, Alyssa is still in the midst of her recovery process. Having said that, she has still found a way to explain her mental health journey, and how it ties into this month’s theme of Suicide Prevention Awareness, in hopes that her words will positively impact someone else.

I may have said this in the past, but I cannot stress enough how meaningful that is. Being able to put words to some of your demons is hard enough. Sharing those words with the world is even more difficult. Like those who have shared before her, Alyssa is one of the few people that has found a way to break her silence in hopes of breaking the stigma.  

Without further ado, check out her piece here:

Suicide and depression are complex and are so unspoken that it becomes difficult to find the words to express the darkness. It is hard for me to understand the effects these diagnoses have on my brain, let alone on my life.

For many years, I was able to keep these things hidden. I struggled constantly and knew I wasn’t like everyone else. Something was wrong with me. I grew up thinking I was a defective version of a human, flawed beyond fixing. I lived my whole life constantly criticizing myself and convincing myself I was not enough. If you can’t imagine, this becomes extremely exhausting. A daily battle with yourself, filled with negative thoughts and feelings of shame and guilt. Feeling guilty for just being alive. I lived basically my entire life inside of my head, never taking a breath of fresh air or stopping to enjoy what was around.

Having depression and suicidal thoughts is like walking through darkness with your eyes closed. Everything just seems pointless and confusing.

For years, I convinced myself that I could beat the flood of negative thoughts by myself. By the time I turned 21 though, I knew it was a serious problem that I could not solve alone. Around this same time, I was also still battling my eating disorder – a very physically harmful component of my anxiety. I was sick, but I was able to realize how unhealthy these habits were really becoming.

I panic every time I think about the effects that 8 years of an eating disorder had on me. It ripped my life right out of my hands and forced me to think I did not deserve anything. I was not worth love or life. Suicidal thoughts were not foreign to me. They had been very present in my head ever since high school. 

One day, as I sat on my couch wanting to die, I was scrolling through my phone when I came across #projectsemicolon. I immediately thought to myself that I needed this tattoo. As an impulsive person (probably not much help from my anxiety/depression), I was on the way to the tattoo parlor in under 10 minutes. For those of you that have not heard of Project Semicolon, I highly recommend looking it up, it is beautiful.

This tattoo gave my life a little bit of purpose. It was exactly what I needed. I promised myself that after I got the tattoo, I would confess to my mom that I needed help. She had been in the dark just like everyone else in my life. Keeping all of these things hidden became too easy, and that is a scary thought. I was struggling more than ever and I was not okay. I wrote my mom a note explaining everything, put it in my nightstand at home, and left it there for “the right time.” (Now my only wish is that I would have asked for help sooner).

Finding mental health services alone seemed impossible, but telling my family about my anxiety and depression was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want anyone else to feel the way I felt, and for some reason, I thought it was something they would take personally.

Since then, it has been two years and a rough road to recovery. There have been days where I wanted to give up, but my support system has kept me going. I would be lying if I said that recovery is smooth, because there have been times of relapse and obstacles. I have spent months crying and not feeling like myself. I surrounded myself with people who bring love into my life and helped me see positivity. My friends and my family are the reason I am alive today to share my story. I am forever thankful for all that they have done.

Along the way to recovery (where I still am today), I have endured a lot of self-discovery, both good and bad, but all of it makes me a stronger person in the end. I am thankful for yoga, coping skills and ALL of the mental health services. Two years later, and I have no shame seeing my therapist weekly or taking medications to help my brain reach a healthy place – both things that seem to have a negative connotation. There are still days that seem never-ending and way too difficult, but the main thing recovery has taught me is to enjoy the little things. I have learned to celebrate all of my minor accomplishments (and some days they may be smaller than others.)

On my journey to recovery, I have found my passion, which gives me purpose. Something I lacked my entire life, until now. My preschoolers bring a special kind of light into my life and filled a hole I did not even know I had. They make me feel happiness – a feeling I had long forgotten.

Some days, my accomplishment is just making it through the day with minimal tears. It’s the little things that make life worth it. To this day, I still struggle wrapping my head around all of this, because it’s something I’m still battling. But for now, I have started to see the beauty in the world. Throughout this process, I have learned that I am worth love from myself and from others. I will continue to take life day by day, minute by minute, because at the end of the day- All we have is now.

I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. You are enough. You matter. The world is a better place because YOU are in it.

Learn more about Project Semicolon here: https://projectsemicolon.com/

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – What It’s Like to Lose Someone to Suicide

Another crazy busy day at work means another video as today’s post (sorrrrrry!). I think this video is extremely powerful though, and I think it’s a great sequel to yesterday’s post.

Although I feel very strongly that suicide is NOT selfish act, I do believe that it definitely has a wide-spread impact. Suicide has a way of affecting so many people in so many different ways.

Sometimes, with regards to death in general, I have this theory that some people do not allow themselves to accept that they’re struggling/grieving as much as they deserve. Does that make any sense? I think that because death is scary, yet common, yet simultaneously difficult to understand, we don’t always know how it’s supposed to affect us.

In reality, loss impacts each of us differently, and no one way is right or wrong. Because of this, we should accept that we each cope differently too. I don’t think there should be any shame in this. I also don’t think that we should expect the pain to go away at any specific point. Grieving takes time. In many senses, I don’t believe grieving really ever ends.

If you have lost a loved one and you want to talk about your feelings and your grief, I highly encourage you to. It can (and will) be extremely therapeutic and cathartic. If you are not comfortable sharing that part of you yet, don’t! You need to wait until you’re ready.

My only advice regarding this is to share how you’re feeling at some point, when you feel ready, whenever that may be. Like I said yesterday, there are people that understand what you’re going through. There are people that care and there are people that want to listen. Please don’t ever convince yourself that the way you are coping is incorrect, shameful, or unworthy of vocalizing. Your feelings are so beyond valid.

Loss is confusing and heartbreaking. It brings with it a mixed bag of emotions. Loss due to suicide, in some ways, is even more complicated. Please cut yourself some slack and just allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – I Survived A Suicide Attempt

I have been SWAMPED these past few days at work, so I haven’t had as much free time to curate written submissions like I normally do. Having said that, I found a few really awesome videos that I knew I wanted to share this month, so what better timing than now!

I especially appreciated today’s video because it puts faces to the topic of suicide. On the surface, before hearing their stories, the people featured in this video all seem similar to any other person you’d likely encounter during your day to day life. Each from different backgrounds, with different experiences and upbringings, and each with a different reason for their suicide attempts.

It, again, is such an important reminder that you have no idea what someone else is going through at any given time.

It also helps to make an amazing point that, if you are struggling with similar feelings, you can find help and you can find a light at the end of the tunnel. You are not alone. Do not just assume that other people cannot understand what you’re feeling. More people than you realize can relate and empathize. I know it seems literally impossible, but find the strength to share what you’re thinking about and going through. Even if it’s only with one person. There are people that understand. There are people that can help. There is hope. It is possible to feel less empty again. I promise that it is possible to find a will to live.

“Everyone is worthy of life” 

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Kathleen

As a special two-part series, I am extremely humbled and proud to share the words of Kathleen MacDonald – someone I consider to be such an inspiration to myself and so many others.

I first met Kathleen during my sophomore year at JMU. As many readers know, I was part of a sorority in college. Every year, during February, my sorority would put together a “Speak Out” for Eating Disorder Awareness Month. The “Speak Out” functioned as a safe space, where students were encouraged to come listen and share stories related to struggles with body image and eating disorders. The event was in honor of a sorority member, Leslie George, who passed away after losing her battle with bulimia. Kathleen (for reasons you will later read), hosted this event every year. 

When I heard her story for the first time, I was blown away. She seemed like the happiest, most loving, kind-hearted, vibrant person in the room. I couldn’t fathom that she had gone through the experiences she was explaining to all of us.

Kathleen’s words changed my life. She changed my views on beauty and self-love. And more so than that, she taught me that inner demons are often so easily hidden from the outside world.

These two parts will be lengthy, but they are without a doubt worth the read. Check it out:

By most accounts, I should not be alive today.  To this day, I am not sure why I survived what so many others have not.

No one ever sets out to have the deadliest of all mental illnesses: an eating disorder, and all its accompanying symptoms of depression, moodiness, etc.

No one ever sets out on a diet, hoping that one day they will be suicidal.

And even though I am guilty of having once said, “I wish I could have anorexia for just a little while,” it still wasn’t a “choice” for me to suffer from that mean and terrible disease.

When the eating disorder took root, it changed my brain chemistry and rid me of the ability to have good sense.  Ironically, despite being trapped in its prison, and despite all of the hell the eating disorder brought to my life, for the majority of the years I suffered, I never felt like I had a serious problem. I never felt I was ‘sick enough’ compared to people who were thinner than me. Most people didn’t know that I lived daily with humiliating inner-embarrassment, pain, and shame because of what I saw in the mirror.  To boot, at my worst, when I was severely suicidal because of the eating disorder, the day I reached out for help after using laxatives for 18 years, my doctor patted me on the knee and told me, “I wish I had more patients as thin as you” (a comment that he and I eventually discussed, in depth, with good results).

I want to start my saying: To all those who suffer with eating and/or body image issues, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and to all those who love someone suffering, I hope with all my heart that the words in this blog might meet you with compassion and kindness, encouraging you to realize that you are not alone, and that you deserve to believe in a day where you live free from whatever is making you endure thoughts of suicide.  I hope that, no matter if you’re a sufferer, or a loved one or friend of someone suffering, after reading this, you begin to realize what I began to realize back on June 13, 2002: that no one was created to die by suicide, that you are beautiful and wonderfully made…and that YOU deserve to love yourself, and treat yourself with loving-kindness, every single day.

My story is a long and complex one, but like many people, what pushed me to develop an eating disorder was nothing out of the ordinary.  When I was about 10 years old, I began to feel pressures to look thin and pretty.  Coincidentally, around the same time, I broke my nose.  Because I never had my nose ‘set’ by a doctor, my nose changed shape and it became the subject of discussions and teasing; I was called “mogul nose”, among other things. Up until then, I never gave a thought to whether what I looked like was pretty/not pretty, good/bad, attractive/unattractive. When I broke my nose, I became acutely aware of what I looked like to other people, and acutely aware that people did not like my face.  This caused me to feel intense confusion and sadness because, at just 10 years old, I realized that all the things I thought people liked about me – my kind-hearted, loving nature, and strong relationships with friends and family- didn’t matter, because I wasn’t “pretty.”

When puberty hit, I grew even more uncomfortable with my appearance, not because I noticed the changes so much, but because other people started commenting on my body and its (natural) weight gain.  Our society sends a very loud message to (especially) young women that “thin is pretty.” I didn’t handle the teasing about my body very well. The utter confusion that wreaked havoc on my mind and spirit was horrendously painful.

Fast forward ahead two years – two years of me feeling heartbreakingly ugly. I’m 12 years old.  It was the first time I watched an after-school-special about a young woman who falls victim to anorexia. The movie made eating disorders look easy and attractive. The movie made it seem like anorexia fixed that girl’s life. It made her pretty and made everyone value her more.  That movie, coupled with my lack of self-worth and the pressure I felt to be thin and pretty, compelled me to take a simple step the next day that would change my life forever.  The day after watching the movie, I skipped lunch for the first time.

I was 12 years old.

Like most people who suffer from an eating disorder, I never intended to have one, let alone to have it take up over half of my life.  I thought my ‘diet’ of skipping lunch would make my happy, pretty, and well-liked.  I thought that I would only be on a ‘diet’ until I lost a few pounds. Surely then I would receive approval from my friends and family. Surely then they would think that my body looked good.  I had no idea that this ‘diet’ would actually drive all of my friends away.

The next time I ate lunch was 18 years later.

It may seem odd that I can remember the exact day, but it’s because, on that day, I actually called my mother to say, “I ate lunch.”  Most adults don’t call their parents to report that they ate something –they call to tell them about a job promotion, an engagement, or a completed graduate program. I called because I had eaten some food.

But for me, it was a big deal.  It was the first time I had eaten during the day (outside of a hospital setting) and kept it down, in 18 years.  I was scared to not purge, but I was also so proud of myself.

My mother, however, wasn’t able to be excited with me –and looking back, I don’t blame her.  She had suffered 18 years of hell because of the way the eating disorder made me feel (moody, depressed, angry, etc.).  In response to my phone call, she said, “Great. Now, what are you finally going to do with your life?”  I faked a response that wouldn’t let her know how deeply her words hurt, and we hung up the phone.

When we hung up, any feeling of hope and accomplishment I had immediately turned to visceral and deep sadness, intense self-hatred, hopelessness and suicidal planning.  I sat there realizing that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life beyond that moment of eating lunch. I felt ridiculous knowing that I actually thought eating was an accomplishment.

Just when I thought I had finally made a breakthrough, my heart sank and I cried because I felt like such a failure.

So I called in sick to work, and I stayed home and I wept.

I wept about what a waste my life had become.

I wept thinking about what a waste I had been for 18 years –focusing so much on whether or not I was fat and basing my happiness on whether or not my pants fit the differently than the day before.

I wept because I had disappointed my family, disappointed myself, and lost all of my friends.

I wept because I, a former 4.0 student, had been kicked out of college twice because of the eating disorder and my resultant inability to handle going to class.  (Oh, and after re-entering college at age 28, they told me not to come back second semester because I was still too sick to feel attractive enough to attend class. Yes, that’s how warped my brain was.)

I wept because I had depleted IRA’s and at least $60,000 in mutual funds to pay for food, laxatives, food, laxatives, alcohol, and more food and more laxatives.

I wept because I had wrecked my credit after failing to pay doctor bills, student loans, rent, etc.

And most of all, I wept because I realized that I might never be able to get rid of the thoughts that had been controlling my life, making me miserable every single moment that I was alive.

The thought of having to live this way for the rest of my life felt unbearable.

I finally decided that if I couldn’t overcome my body image issues, bulimia, and anorexia, I did not want to live.

Unlike what I saw in the movie when I was 12 years old, what I was going through was not simple or pretty. It was not about being thin, it was not about getting attention or winning friends.  Up until the day that I ate lunch, I honestly believed that the thinness I had sustained for those 18 years would someday, somehow reward me –it didn’t.

Being thin never ever resulted in anything positive.

So, I purged my lunch.  Disgusted with myself, I ate more, and purged that, until I eventually felt numb.  I remember crawling into bed and begging God not to let me wake up.

But I did wake up.

The next morning, after weighing myself and glaring in disgust at my puffy post-bingeing/purging face in the mirror, I broke down crying over my bathroom sink. I was alone and tired and felt so ugly. I just wanted the vicious cycle of my pain to end.  I stared into the mirror, looking for any sign of hope in my eyes.  I saw none.

What I saw was someone looking back at me who was so very tired of just barely “getting by.”  I saw someone who was so very tired of depriving their body and mind, but someone who couldn’t seem to stop the deprivation.  I saw someone so very very tired of life being so empty.

Exhausted of the cycle, I pulled out my laptop and decided to search one last time online for help.  Of course, in all of my Google searching, I didn’t find a single free treatment option. All I found that day was one single nebulous sounding group called The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action (EDC).  There was a “Get Involved” button, so I clicked on it, typed in my name and email address, and shut off my laptop. Then I started officially making my plan.

About a month later, I received an email from the EDC.  They needed a speaker to present to Members of Congress and their staff as to why people with eating disorders deserved insurance coverage for treatment.  I called the then Policy Director of the EDC, Dr. Jeanine Cogan, and told her why I thought I could help them out as a speaker at their Congressional Briefing.

On June 13, 2002, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak.  Little did the EDC, or my only remaining friend, Jim (who accompanied me to DC), know, I had a plan.

At the Congressional Briefing, first, a doctor spoke. He gave definitions and talked about what a “typical” eating disordered patient is like. The whole time he spoke, I tried to act as if nothing he said resembled me at all, trying to convince myself that if I didn’t fit his mold, I couldn’t possibly be someone who was sick and slowly dying.

Then, a woman named Kitty Westin got up to talk about her daughter who suffered from anorexia.  Her daughter’s name was Anna. When Kitty got up to speak, she brought along a picture of Anna –a big 18×20 poster-sized picture.  In the picture, Anna was smiling, sitting somewhere in the mountains, looking into the camera with a peaceful contentment in her blue eyes.  Anna looked healthy and alive.  But as Kitty continued to speak, I realized that the reason she was telling Anna’s story was because Anna was not alive to tell it on her own.

Anna had committed suicide because of her torturous battle with anorexia.

Anna was the first person I knew of who did exactly what I had wanted to do so many times over the course of my 18 years suffering.  And, Anna was the first person who made me realize how scared I was of my plan.

But after Kitty finished, I got up and calmly read my speech as if I was ‘fine.’ To give you an idea of just how fine I was that day, here is how I ended my speech:

“I wake up knowing that if I continue being sick, I will die. I wake up, therefore, wanting to go to therapy so I don’t die and become a statistic… I do not want to live my life as a result of these disorders. I want to live my life beyond anorexia and bulimia and all the years of torment and mistakes made… I never dreamed that throwing my lunch away one day would, 18 years later, result in me seriously considering suicide– for two years, every day, all day.”

I wasn’t fine.

And I was doing more than “seriously considering” suicide like my speech suggested. My plan was that June 13, 2002 would be the end of my life.  I had planned my suicide, and no one knew.  

I had planned to give my speech and then follow-through on my plan –in hopes that it would make people take note of the seriousness of eating disorders.

The Congressional Briefing concluded and there was a line of people waiting to talk to me.  I thought they wanted to congratulate me on how good my speech was.  But every person said something along the lines of, “You have to get help.  You’re going to die.”  I just kept telling everyone, “No, don’t worry. I used to have an eating disorder.  I’m fine now.”

I do not remember any of the 20 or so people who hugged me after my speech, except for two.  The very last people I spoke with that day were Mr. and Mrs. Ron George.  I will never ever forget how Mr. George, trying to refrain from gently sobbing, his face red and wet with tears, took hold of me and said, “I lost my daughter to bulimia, you need help or you’re going to die.”  And as I hugged him, I wanted so very much to collapse in his arms and beg for help…  But I couldn’t.  I had a plan.  So, I’m pretty sure I probably looked at him and said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Yet something happened at that Congressional Briefing –a miracle.  Between witnessing Kitty’s agonizing pain, and hearing Mr. George pour out his heart about losing his daughter Leslie (all the while holding me, a complete stranger), something clicked inside my soul.  It was in those moments that an undeniable surge of some unearthly spirit of hope took over, and I somehow mustered up the wherewithal to vow to myself that I would do everything in my power to finally stop. I would finally stop maintaining my thin-as-possible frame. I would finally stop exercising to maintain my weight and self-worth. I would finally stop using laxatives. I would stop purging and starving. I would stop believing that I had been sick for “too long” to get help. I would stop believing I was ugly.  And perhaps most importantly, I would stop believing that suicide was an option.

I am very humbled to tell you that instead of June 13, 2002 being the day I took my own life, it became the day that I began my final recovery process…and I never looked back.