Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders and attempted suicide that may be triggering to some
“I was about 7 when I first realized something was different about me. In kindergarten, you play most of the time, and first grade is also learning through play. It doesn’t require steady focus. Most children at that age aren’t expected to focus anyway. Besides, I knew all the things they were teaching. My mother taught me reading and writing at 4. So in first grade, at the age of 6, I mostly remember the play.
In second grade I was shell-shocked. My brain was in a constant state of panic. I couldn’t pay attention long enough to digest anything being taught. It was all… noise. At 7, I lacked the language skills to explain what was going on to my mother. She loves us fiercely, but her standards were always so high. We had to look a certain way, behave properly, speak properly, and do well in school. She would do homework with me with no patience, not understanding how I couldn’t understand a lesson taught to me only hours earlier.
My second-grade teacher quickly identified an issue. She filled out a form and wrote my mom a note. When my mother read it, she quietly told me she was making me a doctor’s appointment. As I was getting ready, I wondered if the doctor was going to be able to tell me what was wrong. I was excited, thinking maybe I could be a different person after leaving the doctor. Anyone other than who I was, which was a chubby, depressed, girl who couldn’t pay attention in school. The appointment was brief. The doctor asked me questions in a way I could understand and answer. He looked only at my mother and said, ‘She has ADHD’ and left the room. When he came back, he handed my mother a slip of paper while they spoke emphatically in hushed tones.
What is ADHD? Was I cured after my doctor’s appointment? This was before the internet (I know, I’m ancient) so I didn’t have immediate resources to gather the information. And would I even understand? I was 7. We went to the pharmacy, then home. My mom handed me a pill at dinner and told me to take it. ‘This will help you pay attention,’ she said. The pill went down easy, but I still had a lump in my throat. There was still something wrong with me.
I grew up in a small family. It was just my tall, naturally thin mother, my sister who is 2 years my junior, and my brother who is 10 years my junior. My mother raised us as a single parent. My mother is loving, kind, and was fiercely set in her ideals. The time she grew up in knew even less about mental health. She divorced our father after she caught him cheating. She did away with the cozy confines of being a housewife and went to work immediately caring for us, trying to raise us in the ways she knew. Once our parents were divorced, our father stayed out of our lives. We have rarely heard from him since.
During this time, I developed an unhealthy coping mechanism. When my mother and siblings were asleep, I would eat. It didn’t matter what I was eating. I just ate. I shoveled crackers in my mouth in the bathroom so my mother couldn’t see. I ate snack cakes on my dark kitchen floor so my mother couldn’t hear. So naturally, I gained weight. Rapidly. Food was soothing. It didn’t know I was taking medication every day or I was frustrated because no one talked to me about my ADHD. Food didn’t care I was depressed and too anxious for words. I got a boost of endorphins every time I took a bite. Eating was cathartic.
It wasn’t too long before my mother noticed my weight gain. Once she noticed, she took every opportunity she could to ‘help’ me. After dinner, she would sit a bowl of plain fat-free yogurt in front of me and hand my sister an ice cream sandwich. When I would pout, she’d say, ‘Lose weight. It’s your fault for letting yourself get this big.’ So here I was not, even a pre-teen, yo-yo dieting. Eating only vegetables, lean meats, and fat-free snacks she bought. ‘No one wants a fat daughter,’ she would say while putting skim milk in the shopping cart. So anorexia and binge eating became my religion. My mantra was ‘no one wants a fat girl.’
I was 15 when I decided I was done living. I was plagued by mental issues I couldn’t comprehend. Everything was bigger than me. I felt so small. I would watch diet pill commercials on TV and cry. I compared myself to every person I saw. I was triggered to binge eat until I vomited, or starve myself until faint. Why couldn’t I be normal and thin?
One Monday evening, while my mother was asleep, I went into her room and swallowed a handful of pills. I then went to my bathroom cabinet where I had hidden some candy and I sat on the floor crying and shoving candy in my mouth. I don’t recall feeling afraid, I was just TIRED. I was exhausted. And my sadness was because I didn’t want to leave my mother, sister, and brother. That was my only regret. I looked forward to the rest I would finally have, but was so sad about the people I had to leave behind.
I was awoken by my sister the following morning. She was shaking me and screaming. My mother had already left for work and my sister had discovered me on the bathroom floor. I was horribly sick. I threw up violently throughout the day. I hated the fact I was alive still. I assured my sister I was fine and had gotten sick in the middle of the night. I stayed home from school and cried the entire day. ‘When will this feeling end,’ I wondered?
Wednesday morning, I went to school like normal. Still sick from the overdose, but feeling better than before. It was in Honors English it all came apart. I don’t remember much from that day, however, I do remember Coach M, the instructor, asking me to stay after. He kindly asked if I was okay. He explained I seemed different today and had missed class Tuesday. He just wanted me to know I had someone to talk to. I broke down immediately. I couldn’t form words as my body was racked with deep, guttural sobs. He held me until I could speak. I told him I had tried to kill myself Monday night, and now I would have to do it again because I failed. I failed at losing weight, I couldn’t focus without a stupid white pill, and I failed at killing myself. Then I asked, what kind of loser couldn’t kill themselves?
When I was able to stand, he took me to the office where they called my mother. She came immediately. They left me in the hallway while the teacher and assistant principal talked about what happened. When they called me back in, my mother tried to assure me everything was going to be okay. My mother called a local mental health hospital while she drove me home. She told them what happened. As the call continued, she said, ‘I think she’s just doing it for attention.’
My mother is not a bad mother. We are healed now and healthy. She grew up in a time with different ideals and practices. People are so very much a product of their environment until they can come to see otherwise. She raised me in the way she knew. I do not fault her. I know she does not love me less. She will tear down walls to get to her children and does. I know she has regrets, and she expressed them. I have forgiven her fully. There is no strain in our relationship.
Once I was admitted to the mental health hospital, I was afraid and alone. On my first allotted phone call to my mom, I begged her to let me come home. I apologized and told her I was sorry. My mother cried and explained I wasn’t there as a punishment. She relented and said she didn’t know what to do and I was there to get help. I believe something changed in her that day.
I spent a few weeks in intensive therapy alone and in a group setting. My mother even joined me for therapy. I was listened to. I was supported. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, binge eating disorder, anorexia, and generalized anxiety disorder, in addition to ADHD. For the first time in my life, I was humanized. A doctor explained in great detail what these disorders are and how they affected me. He also explained I was going to be able to function, be in less pain, and live a normal life.
I left the hospital a new person. I was becoming healthy both mentally and physically. I was on new medications and had a new understanding. I continued my journey of mental health healing and eating disorder recovery into adulthood. I still attend therapy. I know it’s okay to ask for help. I give myself grace and allotment for my feelings. I realize taking meds and going to therapy doesn’t mean I won’t have bad days. I felt afraid for so long to take up space, to be anything other than what the diet industry and my mental health convinced me to believe I’m worth.
Well, now I do take up space without apologies. I don’t compare myself to anyone. I have come to realize in my adulthood that some people are predisposed to be thinner. Some bodies are predisposed to be larger. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Diets don’t work. They warp and twist our mind’s ability to recognize, hunger, thirst, and satiety. They make us believe we have to restrict ourselves constantly if we ever want to enjoy life or be happy. I will always fight against this narrative.
I now have children of my own. I have achieved in my lifetime what I thought I would never do. I never assumed I would be mentally well or capable in any capacity. I have the career of my dreams, a healthy mind and body, and a great family support system. I also have a relationship with a man who gets my soul.
Life can and will get better. It’s okay to search for your own answers and seek help professionally. It’s okay to take prescribed medication that makes you feel better. Having depression doesn’t make you weak. Being fat doesn’t make you unlovable or undesirable. I have enjoyed more life and love at this stage in my life as a fat woman than I ever had. Self-love and self-acceptance are key to any life you want to have. Think of self-love as a journey you will take for all of your days. Not every day will be easy, but it will be worth it. The destination is a peace so profound, it will be unlike anything you have ever felt. That is my wish for you.”
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