I’ve racked up four diagnoses over the years. Clinical depression (I say clinical so it feels a little more credible), anxiety, anorexia nervosa, and body dysmorphic disorder. It’s weird to write them out so casually, like a grocery list or something – like it’s that easy to just spout off these things that have so drastically changed my life.
People often ask me why I have these, how they started. I think it’s an attempt to understand me and I appreciate that, but it’s the most difficult question because it’s terrifying to remember I had no control in this. All that to say - I think I’ve tracked it down to sixth grade. Shit apparently hit the fan in sixth grade. I was a mess of trauma. It’s likely that that’s when everything began to develop, when I began to lose all the weight and light and hope. I separated myself from friends, boyfriends, family, everything. I lost the will to live. Anxiety and depression ruled me and I couldn’t figure out how to stop it other than ending my life. But even that seemed overwhelming. How does someone do that?
I remember waking up on a spring morning and I didn’t feel right. I had spent the night working off the little number of calories I’d eaten the day before and I was dizzy and nauseous. I walked out of my bedroom to the landing and blacked out. When I opened my eyes, I was on the floor vomiting. A week later, I started treatment for anorexia.
It’s been a little over ten years since then and I have been through the gambit of ups and downs in my recovery. Just last year, I was hospitalized for attempting suicide.
It took a lot to come to the realization that I am sick; I have an illness – or rather, I have several illnesses. I don’t know if they’re curable, but they are manageable. The first time I received treatment, I was coerced into it. While it did keep me alive, I was far from understanding the gravity of recovery. I currently have the best treatment team I have ever had and I am so grateful for the people who walk alongside me, professionals and friends alike. It wasn’t until I genuinely opened myself up to the type of help that I needed that I actually started to understand what I needed, and that it was okay to need something at all.
It’s hard to imagine life without all of my illnesses. To live without eating disorder thoughts is like trying to imagine living without gravity. I’ve been living and responding and reacting this way for more than half of my life. It makes sense that recovery, making the choice to change that, would be so difficult. My life is a daily fight sometimes. Anorexia is a bitch. I’ll be honest – I’m in the midst of an intense relapse and it’s exhausting to battle the thoughts I have during every moment of every day. It’s even more exhausting to step away from them, have compassion with myself, and let them pass. Again, it’s starting to make sense that it would be this difficult to change all of that. And that’s okay. It will come.
There are so many things that I want people to learn and know and understand about mental illness. There are still so many unbounding stigmas surrounding it, it’s almost as overwhelming as recovery. Mental health is just that: health. Mental illness, then, is not a weakness. It’s not an excuse. It’s not a movie plot. It’s not a villain. If you’re physically sick, you see a doctor for treatment and you heal. You take care of yourself – at least I hope you do. I recognize that we have a long way to go when it comes to seeing mental health as an important part of our full health. I recognize that our society has made large strides, but it’s a strangely unclear journey. So I’ll say this. If you’re struggling, if you feel like you’re not okay, that’s okay. There are people, me included, that are with you – not here for you, not behind or in front of you, but with you. There are people with compassionate, gentle hearts that want to walk with you on this path.
And for everyone that has someone they love with a mental illness: You might not understand. You might not be able to make sense of the actions we take. You might get frustrated and angry because it doesn’t make sense. What we’re going through will probably never make sense. We know that and it’s frustrating for us too. We don’t expect you to get it, but we would love for you to try. Ask questions. Seek understanding. Come from a place of honesty and vulnerability. I know it’s a lot to ask, but it’s not impossible. We know that you care and you just want to try to do your best. Thank you.
I am not owned by my many illnesses. Sometimes I’m even thankful. These awful things that try to claim my life have given me the opportunity to live my wildest dreams. This year alone, I’ve been able to share my story in places I never thought I would be able to. I’ve written for TWLOHA.com and theheartmag and Hello Giggles – dreams I’d had for a long time. I think it’s just the beginning. My struggle isn’t unique, but my voice is and so long as someone needs to hear it, I will continue to use it.
#dontcallmecrazy. My name is Lauren and I have #clinicaldepression, #anxiety, #anorexianervosa, and #bodydysmorphicdisorder, but it does not have me.
- Lauren Penna, 2018