Warning: this post includes topics such as self-harm and content that some may find distressing
I watched with fascination as the blood pooled and then spilled over. My thin, white wrists burned from the camping knife I’d used to carve them. I was twelve years old and self-harm was the only way I knew to cope with everything going on in my mind.
From that day forward, hurting myself was a near-daily activity. Why? Because I was silently suffering from what would later be identified as depression, anxiety, and rapid cycling bipolar disorder. This might be hard to understand for those of you that don’t struggle with mental illness but let me explain something. There is a glaring stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Often, people don’t seek help for fear of judgment and discrimination. In fact, approximately 1/3 of those suffering from depression never seek help.
When I was fourteen, I set foot in a therapist’s office for the first time. It was a long time coming, something that took a lot of courage on my part. And I was scared, incredibly scared. I was nervous to lay out all of my shortcomings and struggles to another human being.
And guess what? My first therapy session wasn’t extremely helpful. This is for two reasons. First, your first session is pretty surface-level. You’ll go over your history, family life, and just begin to touch on what brought you in. With each subsequent session, you’ll delve deeper. The second reason is that my therapist wasn’t a good fit for me. The best advice I can give to those of you on your own mental illness journey is to find the right therapist. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. They won’t be offended, plus, you’ll probably never see them again.
After nearly two years of therapy and antidepressants, nothing had really changed. If anything, things had gotten worse. I had developed anorexia nervosa and lied about the severity of my food restriction to my therapist. I had started drinking and using drugs to self-medicate. I finally admitted to a psychiatrist that I’d been drinking and using drugs. She was concerned but also wanted to keep doctor-patient confidentiality. I was only 15 at the time. My mom later told me that at first, when she called, she wouldn’t say why, but said she recommended an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
Eventually, she told my parents what had been going on. Thus, began my first admission to a rehab. I still hadn’t told a soul about my eating disorder. But with my parents off my case, it was easy to slip further and further into my eating disorder. My rehab facility was simply not equipped to watch for or treat eating disorders. I spent eight months there. I got a feeding tube inserted for a while, which was extraordinarily uncomfortable but deemed medically necessary. I was released in December and had a bottle of alcohol back in my hands by January.
Needless to say, rehab hadn’t been the saviour we all thought it would be. At the time, I felt I hadn’t learned much and had essentially wasted almost a year of my life. However, looking back I’m grateful for the time I spent there. I made some lifelong friends, I did learn some valuable coping skills, and I was sober for those eight months. I also got on several medications that did help me quite a bit. My mental health improved. I didn’t experience suicidal ideation, and my self-harm, while not cured, had certainly gotten better.
I went back to school, and although my parents tried their best, I was using again pretty quickly, and my eating disorder hadn’t improved much. I spiralled out of control. My eating disorder left me weak and sleeping half the time. I had no energy. I was using harder and harder drugs. Things were dismal. I had no hope for my future. I was seeing a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. He encouraged me to look into an eating disorder rehab centre. At first, I was terrified. The idea of my food being out of my control? Horrifying. Not knowing the exact number of calories in each bite scared me.
I don’t know what finally convinced me to go for an intake interview, but I did. Maybe it was my weak limbs or my constant fatigue. Maybe it was just time, time for me to take a stand against the eating disorder that ruled my life.
My life changed in that facility. I found hope, I found peace, and I found myself. Once I was able to do an outpatient program, I was kicked out pretty quickly for using drugs. They call this a comorbid addiction, and often when one addiction is being handled well, the other one goes haywire.
Honestly, it took a drug overdose to get me clean and sober. My dad found me lying on the bathroom floor, eyes rolled into the back of my head. He called 911 and they were able to reverse the drugs. That was my ultimate wake up call. I didn’t want to die. I needed to heal.
I started seeing my therapist again. I stopped using, sometimes by sheer force of will. I got clean and I dealt with the emotional baggage that opened me up to. Now, I still have hard days, who doesn’t? But I am never driven to self-harm (in any of its many forms). I’m happy to be alive and I’m happy to be clean. I couldn’t have done it without seeking help, though.
If you only take away one lesson from this, let it be that recovery is possible, but it’s a process. There’s a good chance you’ll need to try multiple therapists and multiple medications. It’s rare to have those things fall into place the first time. But it’s worth it to keep on fighting.
So, if you’re struggling, please reach out. Whether it be a professional or just a close friend or family member, please talk to someone. Things can and will get better, but you need to take the first step.
Here are some further resources if you’re struggling:
SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-8255
CRISIS LINE (TEXT): Simply text “HOME” to 741741 from anywhere in the United States
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