Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Underwear. T-shirt. Fleece-lined leggings. Sweatshirt. Wool socks. Thermal joggers. Shell jacket. Winter coat. Mittens. Hat. Oofta! I layered these piece by piece at 7 am on a Friday morning, knowing that if I am cold I won't be able to enjoy the present moment to its full potential. Most people would be sweating by the time the wool socks were on, but I was more than comfortable all bundled up.
I flicked the snow from my gold Ford Taurus's windshield and sat down in the driver's seat. It takes me forever to get anywhere because I have to triple check that I didn't forget anything important. Purse. Camera. Tripod. Notebook. Pen. Water bottle. Chapstick. Where is my left mitten? I am headed to meet a friend to venture up the North Shore, with no exact destination in mind. These are the kinds of days I live for.
I often wonder what I would be doing if I hadn't gotten out of my hometown. Would I be driving my two sisters to high school right now before leaving to my own job? Would I still have my own apartment in Fergus? Move to Fargo? As the what-ifs swirl around inside my head, I suddenly realize how lucky I am to have a place that feels like home away from home because I was due for a big change and a fresh start.
I have diagnosed anxiety and depression. I've been an anxious person since I can remember, and depression hit in 8th grade when the pressures of being a student, athlete and a middle schooler took a toll on my mental health. I went through counseling after trying a few different anti-depressants that either heightened my anxiety or left me feeling numb, finally giving up on both for awhile until I was walking around with a raincloud over my head that I just couldn't shake.
My new coping method sent me into a pattern of eating disorders, which in turn made my anxiety skyrocket as I tried so hard to hide each meal I would skip or each time I'd head to the bathroom after eating. I didn't think it was a problem for a long time because for a lot more people than expected, some form of self-harm for coping is normal. After more than 3 years of this, my breaking point was last Thanksgiving, when I couldn't keep any of my grandma's turkey and mashed potatoes down.
I went to my family doctor for a "check-up" and explained to her that no one knew I was bulimic and I wanted it to stay that way. She talked me through the dangers of continuing this cycle, which include side effects like mood-swings and guilt, to dehydration and fertility issues. She sent me out with a few words of wisdom, some pamphlets on the disorder, and the reassurance that I could call her anytime. Unfortunately, I chose to fight this battle on my own.
I remember sitting in my bedroom and pulling out a notebook and a pen. I started making a pros and cons list, which might seem silly to anyone else because there is a definite lack of "pros" to continuing an eating disorder but I needed to see that on paper. After creating a list that obviously tilted towards the negatives of my situation, I started nursing myself. As I look back now, this was a big mistake.
My own self-medication was the decision to avoid the things that triggered a purge. Seems like we are on a good track, right? Well, the things I started to avoid were my friends, who wanted to go get wings at Applebee's for fun, and my family gatherings because love in my midwestern hometown revolves around food. I didn't have the courage to grab a family member, spill my secret, and get the help and support that I needed. I didn't want to feel like a burden to carry and most of all I felt like these were my broken pieces to pick up and put back together myself.
I've come a long way since the day I made that pros and cons list. I still have mess-ups, big ones, like booking a trip to Europe, only to be debilitated by anxiety attacks which prevented me from going. The only reason I'm sharing this extremely personal story is because I feel like I have kicked out some of the demons that were housing a place in my mind. I'm beating comparison - nobody is quite like you. I'm beating the cloudy days - you have your own rays of sunshine to show the world. I'm beating being too critical of myself - you are putting your best foot forward each day and that's amazing.
I'm beating the cycle of sadness I was in by choosing this creative outlet as my new coping method. When I think negative, I read a book. When I think self-harm, I draw or paint. When I think purge, I write. After 21 years with this mind and body, I have finally learned how to turn my rain into flowers.
I want you to know, Dear Reader, that everyone around you has a battle, unknown to you, lingering deep inside them. The scars on her wrist underneath that colorful scrunchie. The happy mask he puts on to face the world but takes off as soon as he's back in his abusive household. The test anxiety he has from skipping studying to watch more game film to help his team. The sleep she lost listening to her parents fight. The medical bill he is stressed about. Take a look around you. Everyone. Has. A. Battle.
So what can you do?
It starts with a conversation. The only thing that really took the weight off my shoulders was talking about it, hearing that someone else cares about me, and listening to their own struggles so I knew I wasn't alone. Pick a friend, family member, teacher, pastor, coach, or neighbor. There is someone who cares for you.
What else can you do? Share some love. Smiling at a stranger will feel better than leaving them ignored. Hugging your family member will feel better than waving goodbye. Calling your friend will feel better than wondering how he is doing. Pet that dog. Pick up that litter. Share that beautiful picture. Find something that you absolutely love doing and put your heart into it. The things you do make a difference because you matter.
Whatever battle you are fighting - big, small, financial, mental, physical, social - keep pushing.
The only way out is through.
Love, peace, and positivity