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Secure Your Anchor To The Light

It’s insane to think about all that can happen in one year. It’s so amazing to me that you can actually become an entirely new person in just twelve short months. The whole world can transform into a completely different place. Maybe a year ago you were stressing about GPAs and SATs and other ominous acronyms and now you’re sitting back enjoying your summer before you go off to your dream school for the next four years. Maybe you were going through a vicious breakup and swearing you wouldn’t survive and now you’re going on a date with that cute guy you met at the bank (or let’s be real, on Tinder).

A year ago I was smack in the middle of the worst year of my life. Just 8 months earlier I was in a horrible five car pileup in the center lane on 275. My car was totaled. I had nightmares of car crashes for weeks and had to start taking the 2-hour bus ride to and from work. The next month I was missing Christmas with my family and fighting to raise enough money to save my best friend’s life. I was bedridden, calling out of work and drowning in anxiety and fear that I would never get to see my baby again. Then it was January of 2016. I was nursing a broken cat back to life, knowing very well that the doctors said she probably wouldn’t recover, and sitting on $5000 in vet bills. When we finally made it out of the risk period and it looked like she was going to be okay, I went to Walmart to buy her a new collar to celebrate. I was standing in line at the self-checkout with my groceries and Cat’s new present when I got a text.

“I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Meg’s gone.”

I dropped the eggs. I closed my eyes and took a long breath. I finished scanning my items, called a cab home, and brought my groceries inside. The door hadn’t even closed before I dropped to the floor in agonizing sobs.

The next few months were a blur of razor blades, blackouts and benzos. Nothing prepares you for losing a friend to suicide. I didn’t leave my bed for weeks. I dropped out of school and quit my job. I ignored all my friends and began despising the people I once loved. I ate too many white sticks and blacked out for days at a time. I was the farthest from okay that I have ever been, so deep in the darkness, no speck of light could reach me. I self-destructed.

Around this time last year, the dark storm clouds in my head were starting to fade. I slowly started to come back to the real world. I was nowhere near okay yet; I still had another car crash, mono, a heartbreak and a suicide attempt ahead of me, but I came up for air for a little while. That little break was enough to restore some bit of hope deep inside of me. Something in me anchored onto that light and though I dove back down into the darkness and lost it for a while, I eventually found it again and started to climb. Now here I am, in 2017, alive. I just got home from a job that I love and I’m sitting in the bedroom that I’m in the process of remodeling, texting my (human) best friend and petting my two healthy cats. I have real friends who genuinely care about me and a blade hasn’t touched my skin in months. It’s an entirely new world and I’m an entirely new person. I’m happy.

I know that this has been long, but I hope that you read it and that you see that no matter how dark your life gets, it’s always possible to come back to the light. You might be ready to end your life today, but think about how much can change in a year. A year from now your life will be in a different place than it is today, and don’t you want to stick around to see what that’s going to be like? Don’t you want to give yourself a chance to be happy? I’m living proof that it’s possible. I always say cliches are cliches for a reason, and this is the perfect example: It gets better.

 

 

Dedicated to everyone who lost someone this past year, and to anyone who may be hurting.

What I’ve Learned Since You’ve Been Gone

It’s been a year since you’ve been gone. Actually it’s been a year, three months and a day since you’ve been gone. It’s weird that I’ve been on this Earth without you for this long. There’s so many things I’ve wanted to tell you. When the boy I liked broke my heart I needed to hear your comforting words assuring me that I was better off without him. When a “friend” monumentally screwed me over I knew you’d be here hating her with me and listening to me vent. I saw today they took our show off of Netflix, and I knew you’d be as furious as I was, but I couldn’t text you about it.

One year, three months and a day is a long time to think. I still think about you and how sad I am that you’re gone, but I also think about me and how much I have grown. Losing you forced me to grow up a bit faster than I’d planned. It forced me to think about things in ways I’d never considered before. Suddenly all the lessons you’d been brought into my life to teach me made sense, and I knew that I had to do right by you. I had to become the person that you’d always wanted me to be.

Since losing you, your lessons have really sunk into my brain. I’ve learned that friends should always come first, and no boy can ever change that. I’ve learned that the most important people in your life are the ones who want the best for you, and to always be available to those people when they need you. I’ve learned that true friends won’t let anything come between them (no matter how cute he is!!)

I didn’t always do right by you. I chose boys over our friendship more than once, which led to fights and led to me barely seeing you the last summer we had together. I will always regret that, but I refuse to allow that to dictate my future. I refuse to ever be that person again. It’s too late for me to make it up to you, but you always gave me the chance to rectify my mistakes. I didn’t while you were still here, but since losing you I’ve been working to do just that. I haven’t always done right by you, and I know nothing will make up for that, but I promise to never do anything like that to anybody ever again. I promise to be the friend you wanted me to be, the friend you deserved.

One year, three months and a day is a long time to think, and all I can think about is being a better person for you. I am becoming a better person for you. Thank you for coming into my life when you did and thank you for guiding me to become the friend I always should have been. It took a while, but I’m making progress, and I can only hope that you’re proud.

Love you forever, Meg.

It’s Not Always Us

An essay on mental illness

When things go wrong it’s human nature to look for someone to blame. Often people look for others to blame but for a lot of us with mental illness, it’s more likely that we’d choose the easier victim – ourselves. It makes sense. We’re the one common variable in everything bad that has ever happened to us. We’re the one thing that doesn’t change. Something I hear people say a lot is “I hate myself.” I say it too, often when I’ve done something embarrassing, but for a lot of people and even for me sometimes, it has a deeper meaning. We’re not saying it out of embarrassment but out of pure, true self-loathing. It’s because we blame ourselves for the bad things that have happened to us, and in some cases it’s true. It is our fault. We’re the idiots that got drunk and lost our wallets. We’re the hotheads who got into a fight at the bar and landed an assault charge. We’re the cowards that picked up a needle for the first time.

But it seems we often forget about another common variable, and that is our mental illness. It is never without us and we are never without it. Something so so important is the ability to recognize when it’s coming into play. It’s important to be able to recognize when it is to blame. It’s not always really us having a panic attack over a boy that didn’t text us back, but our anxiety. It’s not always us jumping from one wild decision to the next, but our bipolar. It’s not always us making the decision to pull out a blade or swallow a bottle of pills, but our depression. In order to stay sane, it’s crucial that you learn to recognize this. You’ll drive yourself mad blaming yourself for everything bad that has ever happened in your life. Sometimes it really truly just was not your fault. Your mental illness is never your fault.

I wrote before about how I’d never felt more suicidal than the day after I attempted suicide. A lot of that was due to the regret and embarrassment I felt both from failing but also for ever trying in the first place. I was embarrassed that my friends had to be practically stripped down in order to visit me in the hospital. Mainly though, I felt a bitter, almost cruel sense of guilt. I felt so guilty that my roommate had to drive me to the hospital on her first night back from vacation. I felt so guilty that my best friend was being attacked for not getting to me first. I felt so guilty that everyone had to change their everyday pattern in order to cater to me, the suicidal psychopath sitting in bed next to someone who “really deserved to be there.” What I’ve come to realize about that night is that it wasn’t me who picked up that bottle. It wasn’t me shoving pills down my throat. It was my depression, and it was trying to kill me.

This is not to say we should blame all our faults on our mental illness. As I said, sometimes it really is just our fault! Sometimes we really did mess up and in those times we should accept blame and deal with any repercussions that follow. However, sometimes our mental illness makes decisions for us that are beyond our control, and during those times we should cut ourselves some slack. It’s not our fault that we self-destruct. It’s not our fault that we’re sick.

 

Dedicated to a friend who needs to give herself a break.

An Apology To Those I’ve Let Down

Now, the only thing I’ve ever been good at has always been helping people. My friends have always come to me when they’ve needed advice or someone to listen to. Recently I told a friend I didn’t know how to help her and she said, “Just be Erica.” That’s what I’m known for – being someone that anyone can go to. Since high school people I’ve never talked to have come to me for help. I’ve always loved that. I’ve always loved being able to be there for people when they needed me. I’ve always loved being the person that anyone can go to.

It seems that lately I’ve lost that ability. I no longer know how to help anyone, or maybe I just don’t have it in me anymore. I get irritated when people text me for help. I take hours to respond to someone’s message about something that’s bothering them. I turn people away, I don’t give advice, I ignore. I don’t know what made me become this bitter shell of a person and I don’t know how to fix it. Maybe it’s just years of helping people while no one’s helped me. And it’s not like people haven’t offered or tried… it’s just that I’m beyond help. Nobody can help me and because of that, I can no longer help people.

This is my apology to those who I’ve turned away. Those to whom I’ve said “maybe you should get a therapist” or “sorry I can’t deal with this today.” This is an apology to everybody who I’ve put my own problems above. I’m sorry. Sometimes, more often than not, my life becomes too much to handle and I don’t know what to do. During those times it’s really hard for me to see anyone else’s struggles as if they’re as important as my own. It’s hard for me to recognize that other people are hurting too. So I grow a hard shell and refuse to acknowledge anybody else’s troubles.

This is my apology to all the people I didn’t help, to all the people who came to me expecting to be saved and were only disappointed, to all the people I’ve lost. And this is a thank you to all of you who have stuck with me, to those of you who understand that I’ve been in a bad place for a long time and don’t expect anything from me. This is a thank you to the people who have forgiven my mistakes.

Finally, this is a promise. This is a promise to all of you. I will get better. I will rededicate my life and myself to helping all of you and making everyone else’s lives better. Even when my own is in shambles, I will make sure to be there for anyone who may need me. So although I’ve always said this, this time I mean it in full: If you need somebody, I am here. The only way I’ll get through what I’m going through is if I help others to deal with what they are going through. The only way I’ll survive is if all of you do.

My phone is always on.

978-729-4131

Lovesickness and Rice Cakes

I remember being so in love with my disease. I wrote her a million love letters in a little pink diary bookmarked with a red ribbon. I specifically remember one day in late March, standing in line at the snack bar in the school cafeteria, blurting out “I wish I could have the eating disorder without the depression” to my best friend. I don’t remember how she reacted. She probably just laughed it off, but I was serious.

I remember depression always being the devil on my shoulder and the eating disorder being the angel. “Don’t eat” she cooed. You could hardly even tell where her throat had been scratched from her pointy white nails. “No! Eat! Eat yourself to death then punish yourself!” depression boomed. I suppose when you’re caught in between the barrel of two guns, it’s easy to rationalize that one bullet might hurt a little less than than the other. Love causes people to be blind to all the faults of a person. Maybe it does the same with sickness.

When I was younger I’d spend hours online reading blogs and forums where the skinniest girls taught other skinny girls how to get even skinnier. I had hidden food stashes around my room where I stored all the candy my mom gave me on Holidays that I’d sooner die than so much as smell. I hid a little glass scale under my old stuffed animals in my bedroom closet which I only pulled out late at night, once everyone had drifted off to happier worlds. I put my journal inside my textbooks and during class would read and reread the notes I’d taken every day for weeks: Current weight. Highest weight. Lowest weight. Goal weight. Anorexia was my dirty little secret, and I cherished her like a child. I loved finding sneaky ways to drop my weight into conversation and hear the worries and pleas of my friends. I loved the satisfaction of seeing everyone around me grow up while I just got smaller. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels: A common phrase in the world of eating disorders that I truly took to heart.

Throughout the years of my illness I’ve had several people come to me for “advice.” They’d ask me how I did it, knowing very well that I was sick. They’d ask me for tips and tricks to avoid eating around family and friends. They’d ask me my opinion on throwing up, or laxatives, versus simply not eating. They’d ask me how to curb their cravings and how many calories I thought were in the chicken parm and green beans their moms had made for dinner. On my bad days I’d give them the information they were looking for. On my even worse days I’d stay silent, not because I cared for their health but because I didn’t want to give up my secret. I wanted to be the skinniest girl in the world.

What I’d say to those people now is this: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I helped you in your unhealthy quests to lose weight, but I’m even more sorry that you got to a point where you felt that you needed to ask someone who was dying for advice on how to get the illness that was killing them. I’m sorry that you, too, thought you could get the eating disorder without the depression and I’m sorry that I didn’t know enough to stop you. I’m sorry that I loved being sick more than I loved you.

I think, to a certain degree, I’m still in love with my disease. I see the faults and I know that it’s wrong but I still find myself praying to hear her sweet whispers in my ear. I still find myself wondering if the (exactly) 210 calories in those California rolls were worth it. Like really, truly worth it. I find myself begging the universe for the strength to practice again what I once thought was self control. The thing about eating disorders is they don’t exist without the depression. You don’t get the weight loss without the self hatred. You don’t get the body you always wanted without the hair loss, the mood swings, the lack of focus, the organ damage… You don’t get to just get skinny and have your world turn back into sunshine. Mental illness doesn’t just turn off when you’re done with it. Once you’ve accepted a life of sickness, there’s no turning back.

Please, eat.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place between February 26 – March 4 in 2017.

Take action against eating disorders

Take the first step to recovery with this free online screening tool

Find a support group in your area

Toolkits for parents, educators, and coaches/athletic trainers

Information for parents, family, and friends

Information for those in recovery

NEDA Instant Message Helpline

NEDA Telephone Helpline: (800) 931-2237

NEDA Crisis Text Helpline: text “NEDA” to 741741

From an AB Adult to All of You

A lot of kids have talked to me about their wish to get the perspective of a teacher, parent, administrator, etc. on what’s been going on in our community. Luckily, one of those people also messaged me and asked me to share this anonymously with all of you. Incredible words that everyone should live by.

“So many words of sorrow from young people mourning their peers, remembering times of anxiety, depression and hopelessness in their own lives, and asking for change – whether it be from their school, their parents or themselves.

Here is an adult voice with, perhaps, a different view. When my son was in high school (not AB) he was a happy, active, academically motivated and fun loving. Around the age of 16 things began to change. He began to stay in his room, and not go out unless it was to school or sports practice. His beautiful laugh disappeared; his participation in our family diminished and I was scared. I must have asked him a million times what was wrong, but he would never confide. Everything was fine. As things continued to slide downhill, I remember physically planting myself in my bedroom, which was right near his, so that I could be nearby in case he decided to come out and talk to me. Although eventually he confessed to anxiety, and I took him to a psychiatrist, after a few visits he would not go back. When he turned 18, things did not get better- but I did lose whatever right I had to get him help. For the next seven years he lived a nightmare, and I answered every phone call thinking that it would be the one where I would hear something awful. So far he is still alive, and I have been proud to watch him claw his way toward a good life- though far from what we would have once thought he would be, even though still burdened by demons beyond my imagination.

I think that young people have to stop blaming your school or yourselves for not doing enough because I think when someone is mentally ill they are not in a place that is reachable. It’s hard for anyone to imagine how deep the blackness can be; and sometimes no amount of love can break through. All that being said, I have to say that the kind of anxiety and depression that is rampant among young teens across our country is sometimes a different problem- not mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia but a symptom of societal dysfunction that we probably could do something about.

Your stories of “mean kids” and those who are unkind are not new to your generation, and while this kind of teen mind game is not helpful for a person who is depressed, it is also not the cause. Feeling as though school is stressful, feeling awful over poor grades, ashamed of not measuring up- these too are not new to you.

Two things seem new- and these things would require parents to make some changes. First parents have to turn down the pressure cooker and let kids just be kids. Stop signing them up for every activity in the world to keep them busy after school, or because everyone else is, or because “she really, really begged me to let her,” or because if you don’t she might not get a college scholarship, and you sure could use that! Make them put down the phone or computer once in a while- it’s not true that because we have technology it’s a good idea for your kids to use it 24/7. Stop encouraging them to do stuff because “it looks good on the college resume.” In fact, stop talking about college altogether. Trust me, they’ll go, and they’ll be fine, or they won’t go, and they’ll be fine, or maybe, somehow, they won’t be fine at all, and that sucks but it’s not something you can prevent. Trust me, I know.

Second, somehow the goal of keeping children safe in the world turned into keeping children in a bubble in the world. The bad thing about this is that you are kept soft, like a crab without its shell, and so when something hurts, you have no armor. We can’t make a world where there is no cruelty- unfortunately, some people are just idiots. But when you “survive” the humiliation of having kids make fun of your name, or your clothes, or your failures at an early age, eventually you notice that the world did not end. It’s kind of a cliche, but our parents and teachers really let us experience the world with very little intervention. If our teacher yelled at us, we never told anyone, and eventually learned that some teachers were nuts, and we kept out of their way. If we forgot our homework at home, no one brought it, and we certainly did not copy our friends. We took the detention, and tried to remember next time. When we didn’t have money to go somewhere, we didn’t go. When a kid pushed us around, we either pushed back, or kept out of their way. Our parents kept their eye on us, but let us go. And we got hurt, we misbehaved, some of us broke the law, some of us had, indeed, low self esteem. And the world didn’t end. Without realizing it, we were developing the kind of shell we would need when we left home. And thank goodness, because things got harder!

Young people should rebel more. And rebellion is hard because there are consequences. If you tell your parents you’re not going to do something you don’t want to do, it’s true they will be mad and might ground you, but I promise they won’t “kill you.” If you decide to take lower level courses because you would rather have more time to hang with friends, or read books or sit around and stare at the wall contemplating the meaning of life, I promise you will still get into college- though maybe not Harvard. Take the SAT’s just once and live with your grade; apply to four or five colleges, and then be done.  You should just ask your girlfriend to the prom with your words, in a quiet place, without  a prop- just you.  You should skip school in the spring on the first nice day, and take the loss of points on your GPA (maybe the school should just freaking lighten up on this skipping school punishment but that is a story for another day.) You should go out at night, and do silly things like make snowmen at midnight in a neighbor’s yard, or go pool hopping in the summer, or take the train to Boston just because. Forget trying to please teachers who tell you that their subject is the meaning of life- be true to your childhood, and play- they already had theirs, now it’s time for yours. I promise that getting into a “good” school offers little advantage just because of name, and certainly not any advantage worth your childhood- I promise that your own drive and motivation is what will make your education special.  When you are old and gray you are not going to wish you had gone to a better college.

I started this post talking about my son’s mental illness, and segued into a speech about how giving kids back their independence and childhood will make you healthier- mentally and physically. I was unlucky, because my son had a serious mental illness that I didn’t cause, and he didn’t cause and society didn’t cause. It just came, out of no where, like a sly darkness. But most of you are not in that place. There are these two kinds of mental illnesses- the one kind is a tragedy and no matter what part you get in that play, it is hard to make it come out well; but the one I think most of you are experiencing is more culturally spread, and I believe you can do things to lighten your load. It has to be done early, as we can see by the recent suicide of such a young child, and it has to be done often. Your childhood is not about preparing for college, it’s about preparing for life.”