depression – Active Minds Blog http://activemindsblog.org Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 Now What? http://activemindsblog.org/now-what/ Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:00:17 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5417 It sounds counterintuitive, but on March 28, 2012, the hot and rigid properties of asphalt made up the most forgiving surface of my life. I had attempted suicide, but I had survived and was posed with the toughest question of my life: now what?

I suppose I should back up. I had been depressed for much longer than I knew what depression was. Even in third grade I can remember getting down on myself for not doing as well in school as I thought I should. My perfectionism followed me throughout my childhood casting a shadow of disappointment on my accomplishments.

Things took a dark turn midway through high school. The summer after my sophomore year I watched my grandmother, a sweet and caring woman, succumb to pancreatic cancer. From that point on I established a negative worldview, one where bad things happen to good people for no reason. My faith in the goodness of the world disappeared.

A year later, my parents separated. I’m an only child and the closest non-immediate family member I have is a ten-hour drive away. Their divorce left me feeling abandoned; floating through the world untethered and alone.

The most devastating thing to happen to my mental health occurred during my senior year. Soccer is my passion. Being on the field with my best friends playing the game I love were my happiest moments. All I ever wanted was to play the game at a high level. But in ultra-competitive northern Virginia, success on the soccer field comes only after years of high-level training. Training that I never sought because I was naïve enough to think that recreational leagues were sufficient.

So four years in a row I was one of 100 or so boys to try out for the soccer team; and four years in a row I was cut. The fourth year broke me. I identified myself as a soccer player and the world told me that I wasn’t good enough at that.

The only thing that kept me going was the love I had for my girlfriend at the time. But that was a relationship that had been failing for a while, and when she ended it, my last ray of hope was extinguished.

That brings us back to my original question. I’d been given a second chance. Now what?

Initially, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from friends and family. So many people expressed love during my time in the hospital that I made it my immediate goal to get “better” and restore their friend and son.

In the short term, this strategy worked. I swept my problems under the rug, went off for my freshman year of college and had the year of my life. Over time, I accepted the things that troubled me. Death is a part of life. My parents’ divorce was for the best; they’re both happier now. I found other girls to love. Most importantly, I found a passion and talent for sports public relations.

But I continued to ignore the underlying problem, and my junior year of college depression crept back into my life. I was consumed by guilt from my suicide attempt. I had caused so much pain to loved ones, incurred huge medical bills for my parents, and made my ex-girlfriend look like a monster. Compounded with the drinking and sexual habits of what some think of as “a typical college male,” I felt like a terrible person.

So I took a crucial step that I hadn’t taken before: I asked for help.

James Madison University’s counseling center was an incredible resource for me. My counselor and I discussed morality, depression and relationships. Such a deep level of introspection was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but it was just as rewarding.

I’m not going to pretend that my life is perfect and easy now. There are still days where the black cloak of depression covers my world. But I survive and thrive now because I have made my own mental health a priority. I recognize and accept that depression is a part of my life, and actively self-help to prevent myself from becoming suicidal again.

Now what?

Now we end the stigma around depression, suicide and mental health.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

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My Cat, the Lifesaver http://activemindsblog.org/my-cat-the-lifesaver/ Fri, 16 Sep 2016 13:00:31 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5486 IMG_1080 (1) I’m only a little embarrassed to say that I think my cat may have been partially responsible for saving my life.

I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder for a long time–almost ten years now that I look back on it–but I’ve always been able to find my way back with some time, effort, and a lot of therapy. But last summer I fell into a depressive episode that was deeper, longer, and more debilitating than anything I’d ever experienced

For the first time my mood wasn’t the only thing affected by my mental illness. My body hurt, all the time, constantly. I was either sleeping for 14 hours a day or less than four. I’d go two weeks eating almost nothing and another two weeks eating almost anything. I could barely move but worse than any of that, I could barely think.

I’ve always felt smart, and I’ve liked using my brain. My job demands that as my primary function, but suddenly I found myself floundering. I was forgetting common words; losing them halfway through a sentence I’d already started. I developed a stutter and couldn’t think through tasks or projects, immediately overwhelmed by everything. I would write emails with the same care and attention that I normally would but people would write back saying I wasn’t making sense, that the sentences didn’t mean anything when put together.

I’d fallen into old habits of self-harm, and I was struggling with constant thoughts of suicide. And if I managed to drag myself into work on any given day, I’d be faced with coming home utterly exhausted to a lonely apartment in a new city, far from my friends and family.

I did a decent job keeping up the façade of being depressed but functioning…or at least that’s the only explanation that I can think of for why my friends decided it was time to redouble their push for me to adopt a cat.

I’d wanted a pet for as long as I could remember but it was not in the cards for me as a child. So, when I moved out on my own it was a top priority after getting settled. A dog probably couldn’t deal with my life as an individual who worked full time and sometimes took weekend trips to friend’s houses, so I settled on wanting a playful cat.

My plans got derailed when it felt like I could barely take care of myself but my friends were persistently sending me the posting of the local shelter and, against my better judgement at the time, I fell in love with one based just on the description and picture. She was a small, four-year-old black cat who had been at the shelter for almost seven months after being found on the streets, abused by her last family.

She had a broken tail that healed so the tip pointed in the wrong direction. She was apparently overwhelmed in the cat room of the shelter, so she spent her days in the office of one of the dog trainers but never got too close.

She loved to play and hunt but it took her a while to warm up to people. Her personality actually sounded exactly like me and after a half hour of meeting her and playing she was purring and rubbing against my legs and arms. The shelter staff said they’d never seen her warm up to someone so fast.

So I took Luna home. I gave her a warm bed (even though she prefers mine), and her own food with too many treats sprinkled in (she also prefers mine), and lots and lots of toys (she prefers my shoelaces).

On nights when I felt depressed and suicidal and like the minutes were dragging until the sun would rise so I could start my zombie-like day yet again, she would snuggle close and purr.  I would tell her that I knew she’d had a hard life, but she was safe now; that I wasn’t going to leave her alone again.

I got worse before I got better, but Luna and her big, yellow eyes kept me company when I couldn’t sleep. She forced me to get out of bed to feed her and, while I was up, she convinced me to run around my apartment and play. And when I needed to go out to get more cat food for her it also made sense to pick up some fresh fruit and some human food from the grocery store. Cat litter and hair gets everywhere so I actually needed to start cleaning my apartment again and needed to do the dishes to avoid suspicious lick marks on my plates the next morning.

My cat certainly isn’t the reason that my depression finally abated (I have lots and lots of therapy and medication tweaking and family and friends to thank for that), but I do give her some credit. I actually don’t think I’m embarrassed to say that my cat may have played a part in saving my life because, even when I couldn’t convince myself of my worth and that my life was worth living, she was able to just by being excited for me to be home and coming running when I opened her food.

I just wish she could even remotely understand what her companionship has meant to me, but maybe I’ll just buy her some more toys in the meantime.

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Fighting For My Sister, Fighting For Me http://activemindsblog.org/fighting-for-my-sister-fighting-for-me/ Wed, 27 Jul 2016 15:20:18 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5186 Elizabeth is a member of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and a chapter leader at the University Alaska at Anchorage. Learn more about the Student Advisory Committee

EWilliams1 I joined Active Minds my first week of college. “Why?” my family and friends asked. “For my sister,” I always replied. “She has bipolar disorder.”

Shortly before I had begun college, my sister had survived a mental health crisis that landed her in the mental health unit of the local hospital. She stayed there for a week, and every time I talked to her on the phone I felt helpless. I had never even heard of bipolar disorder before she was diagnosed. I didn’t know how to encourage her. I didn’t know what to do to help and what not to do to make her symptoms worse. I was in over my head and I hated myself for not being able to interact with someone I loved so much.

I promised myself I would never feel so helpless again. I would educate myself about mental health so the next time a loved one became sick, I would know what to do. I would not sit by and watch next time. I would get in and fight for them.

The choice to join a mental health organization in college was obvious then. I attended my first Active Minds meeting with fire in my blood. I was going to become the most passionate mental health superhero my college had ever seen. I would do it for my sister.

Why did I spend cEwilliams2ountless hours organizing depression screening events, teaching suicide prevention classes, and preparing eating disorder awareness displays? For my sister. Why did I voraciously read research on mental illness treatment options? Why did I talk endlessly about the need to end the stigma associated with mental health? Why did I forge an identity as a mental health activist and stigma fighter? For her. It was all for her.

Until one day it wasn’t just about her. Fall of my sophomore year I faced my own battle with depression. All the things I once enjoyed—classes, my on-campus job, volunteering, even my relationship with my boyfriend—seemed like hard work. I struggled to get up in the morning. I struggled to maintain my status as the hard-working and super involved student that I once was. For months I struggled. And I thought it would never end.

But during those long, dark days Active Minds was there. Active Minds reminded me that depression was not my identity. Active Minds told me I was not alone. Active Minds whispered in my ear that I could always reach out for help.

After spending a year as a mental health activist encouraging people to seek appropriate help, I finally took my own advice. I started attended therapy. I made lifestyle changes. I surrounded myself with positive, supportive people. Things got better. They really did. The message I had been trying to spread across my campus was also true for me: Help is available. Help works.

Today I am still a mental health activist. I do it for my sister. I do it for the thousands of people living around me who feel isolated and trapped by their mental health condition. I do it because my state has the highest suicide rates among youth in the entire country.  I do it for the hope of a society that is healthier and happier. But I also do it for myself. I do it so I can face my future without the fear of my depression taking over. Before all else, I am my own activist. I thank Active Minds for teaching me to not only fight for the wellness of others, but to also fight for myself.

EWilliams3

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Mental Health News Round-Up: July 15 http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-news-round-up-july-15/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 12:54:00 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5246 Pokemon Go Having Unintended and Amazing Effects on Players’ Mental Health

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Who would’ve thought we’d hear “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” again? Who would’ve thought a video game would be beneficial to your mental health? Pokemon Go is an interactive app where users can walk around outside and catch different Pokemon. It has encouraged people to get up and get some exercise while learning their surroundings – any many people are reporting that it’s helping with their depression and anxiety!
Pediatricians Urged to Screen for Suicide Risks Among Teens
A new American Academy of Pediatrics report encourages family doctors to screen all teenagers for risk of suicide. The risk of suicide among teens is heightened by factors such as bullying, physical/sexual abuse, or issues related to sexual or gender identity.

New Mental Health Program Helps Students Transition to Campus
University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus is implementing its Supported Education program to help students with mental illness get ready for college. This program helps students who have been away from school for a while due to mental health issues get used to studying and school again.
Olympian Allison Schmitt: Bringing Darkness of Depression to Light
There’s a stigma about mental health when it comes to professional athletes. People believe that if their physical health is great then their psychological health is in shape too. Olympic swimmer Allison Schmitt opens up about how her time trials weren’t the only trials she struggled with. She talks about her depression and the importance of openly talking about mental health among athletes.
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Mental Health News Round-Up: July 8 http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-news-round-up-july-8/ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 12:29:20 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5178 U.S. House of Representatives Passes Mental Health Bill

Capitol-Hill

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would seek mental health reform across the country. Among other things, the bill would implement direct funding for mental health illnesses, reorder the structure of the federal agency of mental health, and develop requirements for private insurers to cover mental health care.

How Racism Affects Mental Health — & What We Can Do About It

With July being Minority Mental Health Month (MMHM), it is important to understand the effects of prejudice and racism on minority communities. Forms of racism have reportedly shown an effect on depression, anxiety and stress. Addressing disparities and making sure everyone receives proper mental health care can help us take control of our own lives.

Here’s some surprisingly upbeat news about depression

With mental health conditions appearing more and more prevalent in today’s society, a new study shed some much-needed good news on the topic: According to researchers, many people who were once depressed go on to have satisfactory and happy lives. Many of these individuals sought medical attention and said their biggest help was having one close relationship with someone.  Keeping the conversation of mental health going is helping keep people alive and on a road to recovery.

5 Tips For Social Media Self-Care!

Social media can have its positive and negative effects. Here are five tips to successfully enjoy social media while keeping your self-care in mind.

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Mental Health News Round-Up: July 1 http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-news-round-up-july-1/ Fri, 01 Jul 2016 17:42:00 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5148 Demi Lovato Talks Mental Health, Addiction, and Recovery

Pop star Demi Lovato speaks out about her recovery from addiction and an eating disorder.  She discusses how her mental health has inspired her music. She is now mental health advocate, emboldening her fans every day.

Effects of Exercise on Depression Underestimated, Review Finds

The latest report in the Journal of Psychiatric Research shows exercising has an influential antidepressant impact on those diagnosed with depression. Studies showed aerobic and mixed exercises made a significant effect by reducing depression symptoms. Exercise can now be considered an evidence-based treatment to manage moderate and severe depression.

Telemedicine Companies See Mental Health As Next Frontier

Telehealth firms are pushing to offer access to mental health specialists through smartphones, tablets, and computers. Users will be able to access psychiatrists, therapists, and receive video consolations in hopes of improving the quality of mental health care through technology.

How neighbors can help cops improve mental health response

On top of police mental health training, communities are offering workshops to educate locals on mental health. “It’s not a police-only issue. It’s a community issue, and we’ve got to work together on it,” says Patricia Doyle, who runs a mental health training company called Vision for Change. This will help people dealing with mental health disorders receive proper care when faced with a serious situation.

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How Active Minds Changed My College Career http://activemindsblog.org/how-active-minds-changed-my-college-career/ Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:55:20 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5097 Hannah Metzger is a former member of Active Minds at West Chester University and is currently serving as a summer intern for the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

SelfieThe transition into college is rarely a quick and easy one to make. You go from the comfort of your hometown and people you’ve known for years to a very different environment full of strangers and new things to explore. It’s difficult to find a new group of friends, or a place that feels comfortable for you to express yourself. Even if you stay close to home, as I did, it’s still a huge difference from the daily routine you mastered in high school. Because of this transition, many people struggle with mental health issues that may have not been present before.

Though I had experienced some issues with anxiety and depression in the past, nothing could have prepared me for the storm of emotions that was brewing and coming my way.

As always, I was anxious during the first week of classes and feeling overwhelmed with all of the work I was going to be expected to complete over the semester. Had it not been for the support from my mom, I still think I may have dropped out that week and let the anxiety win. She kept a firm hand on my shoulder and led me through the next few weeks. All the while, I tried to hold my head high, maintain my composure, and make daily life as bearable as possible.

About two months into my first semester, I lost that sense of composure and felt my world crumbling down on top of me. Terrified about what may come next, I confronted my mom and told her that for the first time, I was considering ending my own life. As someone who has lost her father and 14-year-old brother to suicide, this was the hardest thing that I have ever had to admit. Saying those words out loud made everything so real, and it petrified both my mother and me. After many tears and hours in hospital waiting rooms, it was decided that I was stable enough to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) rather than being hospitalized in an inpatient program.

A month later, I was finished with the program and feeling considerably better. I had a much more positive outlook on life, and was working hard to find happiness within myself. The only thing that I was still struggling with, was finding that place on campus that felt safe and comfortable. Early in my spring semester, I discovered Active Minds and found exactly what I had been looking for. Not only did their mission align with many of my personal interests, but the people were inviting and always offered support when needed. It was, by no means, a replacement for therapy, but it gave me a place to express my thoughts and feelings where it seemed that people genuinely cared.

Towards the end of the semester, elections were approaching and nobody was interested in being the President of our chapter on campus. Mostly as a joke, since I was still new to the organization, I offered to run. Though I ended up running against someone who probably knew more about the organization, I was elected president! I was fortunate enough to hold that office for both my sophomore and junior year, stepping down before my senior year to give someone else a chance, and to focus on preparing for graduation.

During my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to attend the Active Minds National Mental Health on Campus Conference at Georgetown University. That weekend is when I really fell in love with Active Minds and all the work that it does. I met some incredible people, heard heart-wrenching stories, and connected with strangers on a level that I have yet to achieve with some personal friends. I felt like I was finally in a place where my voice could be heard and nobody would turn away for fear of upsetting my fragile heart. People genuinely wanted to hear my story and share theirs in return.

While attending the conference this past year in Irvine, California, I heard about the Active Minds Internship Program. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do. CORRECTION: I didn’t want to, I HAD to. I worked hard to piece together my resume and cover letter to make it as appealing as possible, so they had no choice but to hire me as a summer intern. About two months before my graduation, I got the email I had been waiting for- I GOT THE INTERNSHIP! I was absolutely thrilled and quickly began thinking about what I needed to accomplish before I left in May. I graduated the first weekend in May and began counting down the days until I would move to DC and start working for my favorite organization.

From my very first day, the entire staff welcomed me with open arms. I never felt like a lame little intern, while everyone else was a real staff member. Everyone is treated with respect and the office environment is very friendly, making it easy to ask questions. It may only be my third week here, but I already feel like I have found a second family in the Active Minds community.

Had I not discovered Active Minds during my freshman year, I may have never found that sense of belonging. Maybe I would have joined a different club or organization on campus, but I don’t think any of them could have aligned with my interests nearly as well. It may sound cliché, but I honestly believe that Active Minds has, and will continue to, change my life.

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How to Live Happily with Depression & Anxiety http://activemindsblog.org/how-to-live-happily-with-depression-anxiety/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 13:20:08 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4572 This blog is a guest post from DrugRehab.com. Learn more about addiction and recovery.

MOA-anxiety-depression-headlines

Everyone suffers from depression or anxiety at some point in life. The feelings are natural during times of high stress, transition or after a traumatic event. Starting college, a new class, moving away from home or preparing for finals can cause anxiety, sadness or both.

However, there are healthy ways to overcome depression and anxiety. The easiest ways are to reduce the amount of stress in your life.

Tips for managing moments of high stress or anxiety:

  • Take deep, slow breaths.
  • Count slowly in your head.
  • Force yourself to think positive thoughts.
  • Visualize success.
  • Take breaks from long projects.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs.

Daily tips for reducing feelings of depression and anxiety include:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep at night.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Exercise moderately.
  • Take a yoga or meditation class.
  • Participate in creative activity such as playing music.
  • Avoid isolation by connecting with friends and family.

For some people, feelings of depression or anxiety last for long periods of time. They’re unable to overcome unhappy feelings without help. That’s when it’s time to find help.

If you’re suffering from intense sadness for more than two weeks or you feel persistent symptoms of anxiety for more than a month, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder or a type of clinical depression.

Fortunately, most college campuses provide free mental health counseling services for students. Even if there isn’t a licensed therapist on campus, almost every college can refer students to a reputable therapist in the community.

Students should seek help from a therapist or counselor if they believe they are suffering from an anxiety disorder, depression or if they’re having thoughts of harming themselves or others. Talk therapy can often relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression.

In some situations, therapists may prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications. It’s important to talk to your therapist about the benefits and risks of medications and determine the best treatment for you.

Serious mental health problems can’t be cured with one or two therapy sessions. It takes time and hard work. Therapists will help you understand the underlying causes of sadness or anxiety and teach you strategies to overcome those feelings. It’s important to practice those strategies in between counseling sessions in addition to practicing the tips listed above.

Chris Elkins writes for DrugRehab.com — a comprehensive resource for addiction-related topics, including co-occurring mental health disorders and treatment options for recovery.

Sources:

1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress.

2. Mayo Clinic. (2013, June 11). Stress Management.

3. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, March). Anxiety Disorders.

4. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, March). Depression.

5. Old Dominion University. (n.d.). Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Stress for College Students.

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An Active Minds Speaker for Every Mental Health Day, Week and Month http://activemindsblog.org/an-active-minds-speaker-for-every-mental-health-day-week-and-month/ Fri, 19 Feb 2016 14:21:29 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4352 Speakers_Bureau_Logo_Website

Now is a great time to look ahead and plan your programs through the end of semester and beyond; if you’re looking for a way to promote your Active Minds chapter on your campus, and raise awareness about mental health and suicide, consider hosting an event around one of the mental health awareness campaigns coming up!

Let Active Minds Speakers Bureau provide a presenter on one of the topics being highlighted, and remember– when you book an AMSB speaker, your chapter will receive programming credits toward your annual fundraising goal!

If your Spring semester calendar is already full, get a head start on the Fall!

Whatever your focus is, and whenever your event will take place, let us help YOU educate your campus, promote mental wellness and earn program credits! Contact the Active Minds Speakers Bureau at speakers@activeminds.org or at 202-332-9595 x102 TODAY!

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Recovery: It Requires Tethers http://activemindsblog.org/recovery-it-requires-tethers/ Fri, 12 Feb 2016 13:40:03 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4321 I623556d1e6aebbfb83925b44add83613t’s been 11 years since I walked out the doors of my eating disorders treatment program and into a windy, but mild February afternoon.

My time there had felt both quick and endless. The days were long, the nights were short, and the effects were profound.

Unlike many other people who struggle with eating disorders, I didn’t end up having to go back to inpatient treatment ever again. I don’t mean to imply the road from there has been all puppies and rainbows, but I do consider myself incredibly lucky.

Because eating disorders will stick with you.

Eating disorders are the most persistent mental health disorders you’ll find. They stick with you because they are a complex mish-mash of mental and physical disorders.

Your medical chart will invariably lead with a diagnosis of some type of anxiety disorder. Most of the time depression will be found there, too. And depending on which eating disorder is plaguing you and for how long, you might have high blood pressure, or the early signs of osteoporosis, tooth decay, heart palpitations, or (as in my case) the early stages of liver dysfunction.

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa just before my 22nd birthday. For some this is late; for others it’s early. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on age.

Anorexia is known in the mental health community as being the deadliest mental illness. Every aspect of your life—your brain, your body, your relationships, your soul—breaks down. But outside the community, anorexia is seen as a privileged white girl problem; a diet run amok; a problem of vanity, not of health.

Before I was diagnosed, I clung to these stereotypes, too. But by the time I walked out of those treatment center doors, those faulty beliefs were a thing of the past. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on economics, race, ethnicity, or access to media messaging about body type.

On the contrary, wherever there is anxiety lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is shame lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is a need for control lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is ambivalence about life lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

For me, anorexia was grounded in anxiety. I was, and had always been, a perfectionist. I wanted intensely to be liked.

I wanted to be most likely to succeed.

And the obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis listed on my chart was over a decade in the making before it appeared there. Before I obsessed over calories and miles and pounds, I obsessed about getting the right answers, making the perfect throw to home plate, hitting the perfect golf shot, playing the right notes, and being exactly the kind of friend, daughter, and student I thought everyone expected me to be.

When I finally came out as gay at 21, any illusion of perfection I had tried to pull over others’ eyes seemed to be gone, and I grappled for anything else I could succeed at. I began to lose weight and hear those magic words, “You look great. Have you lost weight?”

“If you think this is good, I can do better.”

Better was smaller.

Better was tougher.

Better was less and less and less.

And more and more and more.

My OCD was abetted by major depression, which helped me hide the anorexia. Depression made me withdraw from things that made me happy—friendships, events, music. In that space, numbness grew. A deep ambivalence about what I was doing to my body and its effects. An ability to turn off all my emotions and just be a robot slave to the eating disorder voice in my head telling me what to eat and how to shed more pounds.

I couldn’t feel the pleasures of eating.

I couldn’t feel the pain of overexercising.

I could only feel shame.

“You deserve to be punished.”

And then my body started to break down, too.

My period stopped pretty early on, and over the months that followed my hair started to thin. My skin lost any kind of lustre, and I was cold all the time. I also started to get dizzy when I got up to do things—like help a student with a question while I was student teaching.

This led to some pretty stupid and untruthful explanations for why I fell down, or had to clutch the wall, or had to leave the room to my supervising teacher in the middle of a class.

When I was confronted by my psychiatrist, therapist, and parents about my physical condition (the last of several interventions by friends, family, faculty, etc.), I was already in pre-hepatic dysfunction. My liver endzymes were off the charts, which put me at greater risk for a heart attack. A heart attack from which they wouldn’t be able to revive me if it occurred.

I was hospitalized. At first for 72 hours locally, and then, after much debate and tears, to a live-in treatment facility a couple of hours away.

Treatment saved my life. Without it I wouldn’t be here writing this.

And I wouldn’t be here without my parents.

And I wouldn’t be here without my best friends.

And I wouldn’t be here without this persistent determination to change people’s minds about the nature of these pernicious diseases.

So, if you hang out with people peddling that b.s. about how someone’s eating disorder is just a cry for attention or an overinflated sense of vanity, set them straight. It’s time we recognized that eating disorders are serious illnesses. It’s time we recognized that they are treatable if people can access help and get it in time. It’s time we become a little bit more “there” for each other.

I’ve been in and out of therapy over the last 11 years. I have been on and off and on medications. I’ve taken up meditation. My positive coping mechanisms have evolved and changed. I’ve had the opportunity to help people through my work.

But the anxiety stays with me. The depression descends and lifts with time. The eating disorder voice only whispers now, but it still sneaks up on me just when I’ve forgotten about it and when I am most vulnerable.

That’s why I still need help from my family and friends. I need the tethers they offer to keep from drifting again.

That’s why I still need regular visits to my doctor and transparency about my medical history and current health habits.

I need my life lines. Someone out there needs you to be one, too.

I might have walked out of those treatment center doors alone 11 years ago, but I was going home to family and friends who have been with me every step of the way. And for the first time in a long time, I could see and feel the world around me.

If you’re wondering how to help a friend who is struggling, check out our Be A Friend resources.

If you or a friend need immediate help to find assistance for an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Information and Referral Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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