*TRIGGER WARNING. SUCIDAL IDIOLIZATION. SELF HARM. EATING DISORDERS*
Maybe this isn’t a typical “about me” introduction, but I’ve spent a year on this journey now and it’s pretty much all I can write about in a non-superficial way. I could tell you about my awesome pets or my fancy degree (which now serves as more of an extremely overpriced wall decoration than anything that’s helped me actually get a career), or whatever else makes me interesting. But I have a feeling you came here for the catchy headline, so I’ll skip the “Hi my name is Roxy and I’m a taurus” and deliver accordingly.
In my quirky hometown of Spokane, Washington there’s this really busy section of road where Riverside Ave meets Lincoln Street. It’s right after a big bridge that goes over the Spokane River and patches together the space between downtown Spokane and the northern part of town. The road is kind of a safety hazard, but this is especially true in winter. On top of people being terrible drivers, the cross walk is between two of the shorter lights, so people often just plowed through it because of ice or impatience.
My first “real” job in my field was on this intersection and I had to jog across that road every morning with my coworkers to make it from the parking lot to my office. When my first winter at the job came around and I started joking every morning to my coworkers about wanting to get hit by one of the cars speeding by, because then I’d at least get paid time off.
It was something along the lines of “Can’t work if you’re in a coma!” or “Won’t have to work if you sue them and they pay off your college debt!”
I made those jokes so often in fact that I found myself thinking about what it would be like to be in a coma and it sounded like a relief. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to not be responsible for my life anymore. I didn’t want to have to be held accountable for anything going on in my life. Not for the work I couldn’t get done, or the food I was eating, or the life choices I was making in general that all seemed to me like apparent failures
I started romanticizing the idea of what not being accountable in that way looked like. I wouldn’t have to be blamed for anything. You can’t blame a girl who’s not even conscious. So, there I was at 24 years old, thinking about how badly I wanted to be hit by a bus. The thoughts were constant. I’d have them when I was leaving work to go home, and my workday was over. I was even thinking about it before I went to bed or when I was with my friends. So, I guess it shouldn’t have been too big of a surprise that when I finally snapped and entered a dissociative episode after work one day, I just took the walk-in front of a truck.
Mental health has a way of creeping up on you, and once it’s there it can demand to be noticed. It festered my whole life and called it my ‘drive’. I wasn’t controlling and hyper critical, I was energized and had high standards I wanted myself to meet. I always needed to be doing something because I loved being busy, not because I didn’t want to be alone with my racing, intrusive thoughts. Everything I didn’t exceed the expectations in was a failure, and those thoughts played in my head on an infuriating and frantic loop. I was lazy, I was fat, I needed to do more, I needed to try harder. I just needed to be better.
These thoughts have been the narrative of my life for as long as I can remember, but as I entered my mid-twenties it’d got to the point where I was never enough. It didn’t matter if I got a job in my field, I needed to have two jobs if I was going to ever pay off my college debt. So, I had two jobs. I went to school full time while working two jobs too, because my undergraduate degree was supposed to be finished years ago and I needed to stop being such a failure in that area of my life so I needed to do it as fast as I could with as many classes as possible. Of course, that was also the perfect time to try dating as an adult, so I then also had my first “adult” boyfriend outside of college dating. My life needed to be perfect, and I needed to be better at figuring out how to be perfect because nothing I was doing was enough. But how?
I went back to my scapegoat of choice so that I didn’t have to admit to myself there was something internally wrong with me. There had to be something externally wrong. I concluded that I wasn’t happy because I was actually doing great everywhere in my life, but I wasn’t skinny while I was doing it. Not that I wasn’t fit, or not healthy. Skinny. Just like that I had my answer and my mind hyper fixated back to the thing that always had something lacking, my appearance.
While I’d been in shape through my younger years, I never saw it that way. So, I would work out for hours at the gym doing cardio and restricting my diet to 1500 calories max. The days I was most proud of myself were the days I could go the longest without eating. I lived by the MyFitnessPal app, and I still know most foods’ calorie count by heart. I was 14 when this started. I was 15 when that became extremely difficult to maintain, and I started to binge eat and rapidly gain weight. It wouldn’t be long after until I started purging through excessive exercise, laxatives, and then finally, vomiting. Ironically enough, I got the final idea of full-on bulimia from one of the Degrassi re-runs to bring awareness to the dangers of eating disorders. It was essentially a how-to guide for a young mind, though I don’t blame Degrassi. It was quality trash TV that still holds a special place in my heart. From then on, my weight always fluctuated. While some people fluctuate a few pounds here and there, I would lose and gain 5-20 lbs. in very short periods of time all throughout my teenage years and into my twenties.
The summer after my freshmen year of college I’d get an injury to my Sciatic nerve and SI joint. I was prescribed the steroid, prednisone, and the results were devastating. I packed on weight and retained water, so I constantly looked bloated and my skin always felt tight, like a balloon. Even when I wasn’t eating, and I’d try to purge the weight away, but the weight still came. Eventually I gave into the food. I gained a total of 100 pounds, and I hated every single one of them. I went on antidepressants, but nothing helped. I had, once again, failed. The busy, productive girl who was high achieving and always on top of her life was gone. I had eaten her.
It took me two years to lose 50 pounds and each pound I couldn’t lose was a disappointment and took away from any progress I had made. It didn’t help that I was still in a pattern of constant fluctuation since I still lived in a cycle of disordered eating. When I approached my then doctor telling her I needed help to lose weight I was referred to a facility that mainly did weight loss surgery. I told them I didn’t want the surgery as I knew in the back of my mind that I could easily wreck a gastric bypass by my binge cycle, but I of course never say that out loud because that would mean acknowledging that I even had a problem. So instead, she recommended I went onto a strict 1,300 calorie diet. Better yet, to insure I could stick to it she gave me a prescription for a weight loss pill.
Two things are important to note here:
- I had undiagnosed ADHD at the time, and I was being given the wrong kind of stimulant. While neither my doctor nor I knew it, I would personally recommend not jumping the stimulant train unless someone in the mental health department is involved
- People went on this pill to “regulate” themselves into proper eating habits. I went on it to relearn how to starve myself. And boy did I.
It was like my own golden ticket. Not only was I given medical permission to starve myself, but I was also given this magic pill that made it so I didn’t want to eat or even sleep. I lost 25 pounds in less than 2 months. I was an insane, overstimulated, but skinny, Zombie. I looked great, and I was being praised for it. Never mind the fact that my work life was circling the drain, I was failing all my classes of what should have been my last quarter of college, and I was lying to my family, friends, and boyfriend about how great I was doing. It was really all coming together in my sick mind. Soon I’d lose enough weight to be happy and everything was going to be fine.
Ruminating thoughts are the most major symptom I have of ADHD. While others with ADHD can’t physically calm their bodies, I can’t mentally slow down my mind. That causes it to jump around from subject to subject when I’m unmedicated. Now, I was on the wrong medication, so I was essentially feeding it everything it needed to go from a quiet indoor voice to being a constant hypercritical scream that was draining my drive to not only be ‘successful,’ but to even just want to be alive.
My then boss called me into her office before lunch on February 18, 2020. I actually don’t remember too much about that day, but I’m sure it was horrifying for her to have a 24-year-old girl sobbing in her office when she brought her in to ask her about her poor performance. That’s the last thing I remember for 6 and a half hours. My mind literally shut off. Let me say that again. My mind shut off like a light. One minute I was in my boss’s office, and the next I was in a street and I had no clue where I was, or what time it was, or where I had been for almost a full workday.
It’s still scary to think about now. I went on auto pilot for hours of a day and wouldn’t come out of it until I almost got hit by a truck which is what my mind had been thinking about for weeks. I had talked to people, went to HR, sent emails, worked an entire workday, and I don’t remember it.
Later my therapist would come to the conclusion that it was due to PTSD as sometimes your mind can disassociate to protect itself when it senses trauma. While that definitely could be part of it as I do have an innate fear of failure and had an authority figure calling me on my BS… I wasn’t telling anyone the full story for a long time. I wasn’t able to really acknowledge what was going on until this month, almost a year later, because I didn’t want to admit what I’ve known for 10 years. I have an eating disorder. The day I had that meeting, it had been 2 days since I had eaten and I downing diet pills and laxatives like it was my full-time job. My mind was keeping me up at night telling me that I needed to stay busy to stay successful even when I should have logically been sleeping, meaning I actually have no idea how much sleep I’d been getting, if any.
When I came to in the middle of Lincoln the truck driver was yelling at me and honking his horn. He said something along the lines of “do you have a death wish, Lady?” and at that moment, I did. It terrified me. So much so that I called my lifelong best friend sobbing in my work’s parking lot. She was confused and lived in Alaska, so I couldn’t just run over to her house, but she listened.
Elizabeth is the best kind of friend because on top of being an amazing person, she’s impossible to lie to. You want to confide in her because often times she actually has a lot of the answers, or at least a lot of smart options. I know I’m serious about something in my life when I tell her about it, because she kicks life into high gear for the people she cares about, so much so that you want to be there with her, and she lets you.
So, when I told her I needed help, and that I didn’t know where I was, or what was happening to me she advised me on what to do. I voluntarily went to the hospital that night and spent a little over a week in inpatient. The time they just diagnosed me with a burn out caused by general untreated mental health issues and being overworked. Which they weren’t wrong. A social worker had a heart to heart with me before I left inpatient, and she advised me to leave my job, and my hometown behind. I couldn’t create the boundaries I needed to in that place, and I needed a new start and to surround myself with the right people to do it. I called that same friend. “I don’t know what to do,” I cried. Elizabeth replied in her typical cool fashion and told me she knew what to do. Before I knew it, I had sold everything I owned, packed up my car and my dog and drove up to Alaska right before they closed the boarders due to COVID.
I’ve taken just under a year now to find out exactly what’s been the major malfunction with my brain, and although I knew I was still in denial for a majority of it, I handled some major things issues that I had pushed down for years. I’m in consistent therapy, I journal, I’m actually coming to terms with my mind and accepting the help I need both from people and pharmaceuticals, both of which are a God send.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know what I’m doing 99.9% of the time. The breakdown saved my life, but it didn’t give me manual on what I’m supposed to do with it now that I’m ready to really take it on. I’m 25 and barely employed during a global pandemic and I still don’t know essential life lessons like, how do taxes work? Or how often I should actually be getting an oil change?
But now I can reflect on what I do know. I know I spent 10 years of my life in a downward spiral, and they were 10 really fundamental years of development into adulthood. Years when I should have been focused on just being a kid, or what I wanted to be when I grew up, or even just honing in on a skill that wasn’t so self-destructive. But now that I’m addressing the big stuff, I know I’ll have plenty of years left in my life to make up for and recover from those 10. I know that I want to be present for those years now, and that self-harm and mental illness shows up in many different forms, and that keeping it a secret will inevitably ruin your life. I hope more people become open to the ideas of talking about mental health and getting proper treatment for it isn’t taboo and doesn’t make them a failure. Personally, addressing my mental health is one of my biggest successes.
It’s time to move on and I know that 2021 will be just the year to do it. Cheers to a new year, thanks for reading if you got this far, and I’ll keep you posted as I try and find myself through it all.