**Written May 5th, 2018**
When I was a sophomore in high school, not only was I dying from an eating disorder, I was also diagnosed with social anxiety and major depression. Quite the intro to this post, I know. Following this diagnosis, I was put on Lexapro, a medication used to treat both anxiety and depression. This was a decision that my parents and I finally came to after grappling with it for months. I was originally resistant to the concept of medication. I didn’t like the thought that a tiny little pill would mess with my brain chemistry. I thought it was a hoax. A money making scheme. A waste of time. I thought it meant I was weak, that I was incapable of picking myself up and dusting myself off. But then I reached rock bottom. I couldn’t make it through the morning without crying at least three times. I was missing school to hide at home. I couldn’t function. I felt defeated. I didn’t know where else to turn. So I finally agreed.
I think it’s important for me to be as transparent as possible on this platform. No need to hide anything. This is my story, and I’m here to share it with you all.
Let the word vomit begin.
- First of all, I’d like to clear up a common myth. You do not need to be FORMALLY DIAGNOSEDfor your struggle to be validated. Whether that be an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, etc., what you’re going through is no LESSserious because a doctor didn’t acknowledge it. Far too often I’ll get a DM where the sender struggles with an eating disorder but “hasn’t been diagnosed”, so they conclude that it’s “not that serious”. This is an incredibly dangerous misconception and the stigma around diagnoses needs to be addressed. If you are struggling with an issue that is impairing your ability to lead a healthy and happy life, that is MORE THAN ENOUGH to get help for it. The situation should not have to get “bad enough” for someone to notice it and give it a name. You do NOT NEED TO BE EXTERNALLY VALIDATEDfor anything, ever.
- This is not a proven fact or statistic but rather my personal opinion based on experience, but eating disorders tend to be COMORBID(meaning that there is a presence of additional disorders with a primary one). For me, my battle with anorexia left me craving isolation and the dark recess of my empty bedroom. I avoided socializing in fear of having to eat with others, and eventually this tendency led me to develop anxiety in the presence of other people. Totally not ideal for a student at a high school with nearly 4,000 students. I remember going to school everyday and feeling like I was suffocating in the hallway. I would take longer routes to class to avoid running into someone I knew. I hid in the bathroom between classes and during lunch. I wore hats and hoods to avoid being talked to. My anxiety made me want to disappear.
- Let’s return to my experience with medication. There is a stigma around medicalizing mental health. I’m guilty of it too; thinking that someone who takes “happy pills” is weak, helpless. But being on the other side, I have a totally new perspective and appreciation for this option. Today, I’m passionate about holistic healing and Ayurvedic practices. I prefer herbal remedies over antibiotics, that kind of thing. But when I was fifteen, withering away, skin and bones, struggling to even hold my head up…the circumstances were different. I simply didn’t have the luxury to pursue any other course. Medication stabilized me. I started off with a relatively low dosage and worked my way up. The first couple of weeks I remember feeling a lot more at ease in the face of situations that would normally drive me wild (my eating disorder had this rule that I HADto wait exactly five minutes between bites of a meal…a couple of weeks on the medication and I remember feeling less anxious about breaking that rule). I’d say around two months I began to feel unmotivated to do anything, and sometimes nauseous. I can’t speak to why this was, but I remember crying to my mom that I had so much to worry about (SATs, AP courses, pre-college program applications) yet could not find an ounce of drive within me. It was as if I were dragging through the days. After about six months on a decent dosage, my doctor and I agreed that I could begin lowering my dosage. I found Lexapro to help ease my anxiety but it amplified my depressive nature. EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT.I don’t regret taking this medication one bit. I believe that it created a stable foundation for me to begin challenging the debilitating fears that allowed my eating disorder to thrive. Once I was able to start knocking these down, coupled with coming off of the medication, I began to focus more on my depression. Story for another post. Overall, I was on Lexapro from the end of my sophomore year right up until the month before I left for college. The last two years the dosage was extremely low and I was only taking it every other day. It’s so important to carefully and slowly wean off of medication. Brain chemistry is serious!
- During my sophomore year of high school, I kept a diary in the Notes app of my iPhone, constantly journaling all of my irrational worries and anxieties. I found this to be a source of comfort and a space to release my pent-up worries. I’d write all throughout the day. In bed each night I’d read through the day’s log. Seeing my irrational fears in words helped me realize they were just that-IRRATIONAL.
- A lot of what made me anxious was related directly to my eating disorder and fears I had about food, my body, and exercise. That being said, they were pretty irrational and simply WILD. If I didn’t do 200 crunches each morning before school, the anxiety would eat me alive, insisting that I would “get fat” and “lose my progress”. What helped me overcome these fears was VOCALIZINGthem out loud. I remember the first time I did this. I stood in the mirror, took a deep breath, and said, “If I don’t do 200 crunches before school, I’m going to get fat”. Just HEARINGthat, seeing the words leave my mouth…I realized how absurd it was. It made me realize that if I ever heard someone else say it, I’d go crazy. I’d insist it wasn’t true. But why would it be different for me? This conclusion allowed me to work through similar bouts of anxiety as well.
- My biggest tip for dealing with anxious situations is to be mindful of rationality. I can’t stress this enough. Are you anxious because going to a family party means having to take a day off from the gym? Sit with the discomfort. Why are you anxious about skipping? Is it because you think something catastrophic will happen if you were to give your body rest? Will you really feel happier after another workout over a day spent making memories with loved ones? Are your fears rational? Anxiety, at least from my experience, is based heavily on fears generated by irrational thoughts. Taking the time to recognize what is worth fear and what is not can make all of the difference.