Content Warning: Mentions of depression, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders
“What would you do,” my nutritionist asked me on a particularly difficult day, “if this was the body you were stuck in for the rest of your life, with no possibility of changing it?”
I had been seeing Terri for a little over two months when she asked me this. She was a smart woman whom I had grown to respect immensely with every session. She wasn’t my therapist, but she had a way of seeing through my shit that few professionals could manage. From the second I walked in that day, she could tell that I hadn’t been following the meal plans that she’d had me write out the week before. Eating disorder recovery, though I had been the one to seek out help in the first place, was proving to be more difficult than I had imagined.
“I think I’d kill myself.”
I meant it. At 17, the prospect of being trapped in my body as it was, forever, was enough to drive me to hopelessness. Looking back now, I find it difficult to identify with the girl who sat in Terri’s office two years ago, which is ironic considering that at the time, I couldn’t imagine a future where I was comfortable with my body. Depression is a pit; a deep one with steep sides that make it seem impossible to climb out of. When you’re stuck in that pit, everything feels permanent. Even when logic tells you that somebody will eventually come by with a rope to bail you out, it’s nearly impossible to fight that hopelessness.
Fun fact about recovery: it takes a long time. It’s also not linear. The change was almost undetectable as it was happening; some days, the world was still bleak and I felt like I was detached from the life around me. But other days I would see a cute dog or feel the sand on the beach crunching between my toes, and suddenly I could feel again. A little kid waving at me while I was at work or the sight of an elderly couple basking in each other’s company were some of the glimpses of joy that I witnessed through mundane interactions which fueled an overwhelming desire to have that kind of joy in my life again.
So I started chasing after that joy. I’ve been running since I was thirteen years old. I used to joke that I was running away from my problems, which wasn’t entirely untrue. I started running as a coping mechanism, a way to escape the dark cloud that was constantly hovering over me, and it eventually fed into the eating disorder that crippled me through much of high school. Now, I find that I’m no longer running away from anything, but toward something instead. I’m running toward the promise of tomorrow: the people I may meet and the experiences I could have if I just get myself out of bed. The trick to recovery is finding what motivates you to keep chugging along. For me, I rollerblade or run every morning and try to spend time with friends, even if we’re just studying together. I’ve picked up new hobbies like rock climbing, which has given me a newfound respect for the body that I hated for so many years. I’ve started playing the piano again and painting (even though I suck at painting). There’s always a reason to keep living, even if you can’t see it.
There’s no guarantee of happiness in this life. The world doesn’t owe us anything, and things don’t always get better. Only we have the power to make things better for ourselves. Sure, therapy and medication were major factors in my recovery journey, but one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about therapy is that talking about your problems for an hour a week is enough to fix those problems. Though it’s difficult to admit, we are often the primary reasons for our own unhappiness. Everything that happens to us, whether good or bad, is a direct result of our own choices. We can’t control the bad things that happen in our lives or the soul-crushing things that people say to us, but we can control our reactions. Happiness is a choice; the best part of living is knowing that we have an infinite capacity for joy, whether we are receiving it or giving it to others.
When somebody asks me how I’m doing, it takes me by surprise every time I realize that my answer is “I’m doing great!” For the vast majority of my life, I accepted that feeling shitty was my default mood, and now I can only lament the years that I spent being so much more miserable than I needed to be. It’s obscene to think that just two years ago, I was still the person that would rather die than learn to be comfortable in my own skin. The ability to tell people that I’m genuinely happy with the life I’ve made for myself is a privilege that I will never take for granted again. I don’t know what life has in store for me, but I have nothing but time to chase after every beautiful thing this world has to offer. That’s enough to keep me going, even when I do fall into that pit again. Those brief moments of joy are worth fighting through the darkness. Find what brings you joy, and never stop chasing after it.