The Best Choice I’ve Made This Year: Putting My Mental Health First

For the past seven years I have been dealing on and off with many mental health issues: eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, name it, I’ve been there. And this year I finally made the decision to really get the help that I needed and on a long term-basis.

It all started in middle school. I lost twenty pounds because I wasn’t eating. I attributed it to having acid-reflux disease. Looking back, I realize now that I had an eating disorder. Flash forward three years to the beginning of the 10th grade and again I lost another twenty pounds (after regaining the weight I originally lost). But this time I did it purposely. I did not like how I looked in the mirror. I was disgusted with my appearance. I wanted to be skinny and look like all of the actresses on T.V. and to look as gorgeous as the Victoria Secret models. I compared myself to my classmates and my friends and I questioned myself why I didn’t look like them. Was it my upbringing? Is it my genetics? My sister’s skinny! Why aren’t I?

I have always blamed my mom for not being skinny. She always stocked the house with crappy foods and hardly taught me how to eat a balanced diet. I was sick of how I looked. And I took drastic measures to change it. I saw fat as the enemy and completely eliminated it from my diet. I would eat non-fat yogurt, fat free cereal, and I even modified peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by substituting the peanut butter with apple butter, since peanut butter contains approximately 17 grams of fat per serving. Some nights I would even go to bed hungry. By my sweet sixteen I was 5’5” weighing only 119 pounds. I thought I looked great, but my family and friends told me I looked sickly skinny. Consuming minimal amounts of fat and losing a lot of weight quickly as a teenager caused me to even lose my period for 8 months. One evening my mother got so upset over my habits that she threatened to bring me to the hospital so that they could feed me through a feeding tube! Thankfully, that never happened.

Flash forward a year and the opposite happened. I began to binge eat. I gained a lot of weight. I wasn’t 119 pounds anymore, instead I weighed close to 155. I would have intense episodes at least three times a week where I would eat anything I could get my hands on--ice cream, cookies, icing, chocolate, chips. I couldn’t restrict myself with dieting anymore. I was fed up and fed my emotions with food. I saw a therapist that year and got back on track.

Then college brought another load of problems. I was depressed from time to time, and relapsed a few times from my recovery. It got so bad that I would get anxious as well...mostly health anxiety where I would think the tiniest things, like a headache, could kill me. It sounds so silly but I really did think that my headaches could have been something worse, like brain tumors. They weren’t.

What finally pushed me to get help again was my experience studying abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but every mental problem I had had escalated. The depression and anxiety worsened and the binge-eating returned. I couldn’t control myself. None of my international friends could tell what was going on. I was really good at hiding my feelings. On the outside I looked put together, but on the inside I was a total mess. I was failing almost all of my classes, losing motivation. I would think: What happened to me? I graduated high school top 20 percent of my class with an advanced regents diploma with honors. Where did I go wrong? At one point I even thought of taking a leave of absence from college because I was so lost within myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore and especially did not like who I was becoming.

I couldn’t handle any of this anymore!

The best choice I made this year was finally getting the help I needed. I saw a therapist and learned how to deal with my anxiety. I even sought help from a psychiatrist who has helped me battle my depression and anxiety. And guess what!? I’m feeling awesome! I have never felt this great in years. The depression and anxiety have subsided and I have been almost 100 days without a binge-eating episode. No longer am I failing classes. In fact, all my professors know my name and I participate in almost every class, and my grades are improving. I am so proud of myself for my positive efforts and success.

Honestly, I was very hesitant to write this. It isn’t easy to write about my past and sometimes I tend to worry about what others think of me; which is something I am trying to work on. But I wanted to share this because I want every girl who is battling with anxiety, depression and/or an eating disorder to know that they are not alone! You can get help. But remember this: you have to be the one to be willing to get help. You have to make that choice to change. It may take awhile. I struggled for 7 years, and only recently made the decision to get the help I so desperately needed. One thing that I do know is that the future will be much brighter and easier for me now that I have gotten help. I am in a better place in my life. I am happy and confident in myself and how I look. I still have a long way to go, but I truly believe that it can only get better from here on out!

My advice: don't feel shy or reluctant to get help. You can confide in a close friend, a family member or someone you trust. College is hard. It brings a lot of stress and anxiety upon everyone. However, there's a difference between being sad everyone once in awhile to having no motivation to get up out of bed every morning. Losing a few pounds here and there to better one’s health is fine. But if it becomes too obsessive like counting your calories day after day, weighing yourself every day, maybe even resorting to purging, these may be early signs of an eating disorder. You only get to experience life on Earth once! Why not spend it as happy and healthy as you can be? In the end you will be doing yourself a favor and overall you'll be much happier.