To Rachel Platten, Who Gives Me Strength to Conquer My Demons

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I am sure you get many letters, fan mail and gifts. I didn’t send you a letter about how you’ve helped me because, well, I am sure you get lots of those. I recently saw you singing with a young girl who has cancer, and your song “Fight Song” helped her immensely. You see, there are many illnesses out there, not just physical ones but mental ones, too. And I want to express how you have helped me.

I have been struggling with anorexia nervosa for almost 13 years. People tend to brush it off because they don’t understand the facts about eating disorders. They quickly classify us as vain, attention-seeking and selfish. But this is far from the truth. There are many reasons I developed this disease. I have a lot of family issues and I have a personality trait of being a perfectionist (it’s my one sense of control). I didn’t have an image in my head of a celebrity’s body that I wanted to attain. I just wanted to be thin. I wanted to be skinny enough to be loved, to be perfect. I just wanted to be enough.

When my anorexia started at age 10, I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was, never mind that I had one. It quickly escalated and I developed severe medical issues. I have almost lost my life numerous times, and I believe the only reason I am alive has to be God. I’ve had heart damage, and there was one point where most of my organs were shutting down because I was in septic shock. My latest health scare happened a few months back. I started having multiple seizures a day. I ended up in the hospital where I spent three weeks trying to get them under control.

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Bekah

Now, for the past month I have been stuck in a skilled nursing physical rehabilitation facility — a 22-year-old in a nursing home. I lost almost all muscle strength in my legs. I can’t even stand longer than 30 seconds, and that is with a lot of help and support from someone else, so technically I am doing half the work. I constantly think to myself, How did I let it get this bad? I would tell myself that I am done, that this is what is going to kill me.

Until one day, I was down in physical therapy and we decided to play a song to help me get through the excruciating pain that struck my legs. We played “Fight Song.” I instantly started crying while I was trying to stand. Tears of joy. It motivated me greatly. I carefully listened to the words and knew they applied exactly to my situation. I kept telling myself I will get better, I will be able to stand again and dance. I will conquer this eating disorder and depression and anxiety.

You see, my dream is to help people through music like music has helped me. I actually do sing — would I give anything to get to sing with you. I think people need to also see the reality of eating disorders — they are not glamorous, they are deadly diseases, tormenting and affecting you both mentally and physically. I call it cancer of the mind. I have tried to kill myself five times because I thought it was the only way out of this demon. But I thought you should know that “Fight Song” really helps. I also looked into the background of why you wrote it, and I resonate completely. I want to make it in the music industry as well. My dream is to help people through music like it has helped me.

I doubt you will get to read this, but I pray you will. You deserve to know your song is helping people of all struggles and challenges.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo credit: YouTube user madbadhadsad screenshot

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5 Real Reasons to Date a Girl With an Eating Disorder

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Nothing screams “there’s so much misogyny and prejudice about mental illness in the world” louder than a good old-fashioned article about “five reasons to date a girl with an eating disorder.” But it’s more than that. Eating disorders are — quite appropriately — considered an illness that can affect people of all ethnicities, genders, ages and socioeconomic statuses. In other words, the presence of an eating disorder is as much a reliable predictor of various socioeconomic, cultural and personality traits in a person as a sprained ankle is: not at all.

The idea of dating someone because their illness makes it easier for you to get what you want is repulsive, if not sadistic, which is why I wanted to challenge that article and the prejudice surrounding mental health.

I could respond by describing what it’s like to have clumps of hair fall out every time you brush it. Or how hard it is to get through a day when your vision is blurred and you’re shaking with weakness. Or what it feels like to be trapped in your own head and tortured by your own thoughts. Or what it is like to have a mind so cloudy that you are unable to construct a sentence or concentrate long enough to hold a conversation. Or what it feels like to have a feeding tube inserted through your nose and down your throat. Or how humiliating a supervised shower is. Or what it is like to have someone else decide when you can see your own family.

But it seems illogical to respond to such a negative article in such a negative way. I chose instead to try to describe what mental illness, such as an eating disorder, feels like. I have only scratched the surface, but I hope I have used that destructive article as an opportunity to show a glimpse of what mental illness is like. From my experience, something good comes from all destructive things.

I have met some of the most beautiful people in my recovery from anorexia. By this, I mean people with so many truly amazing qualities — real beauty. I have written about just five of these qualities.

1. They are strong.

Recovery involves battling with your own mind every single day — facing your most terrifying nightmare on a regular basis. I don’t think there is anything braver than embarking on a journey you cannot rest from, even when you are so scared and so exhausted. To learn to override your thoughts and feelings, realize that your life is worth living, accept yourself, even like yourself, persist with friends and family as they try to understand and face the stigma and misconceptions of mental illness day in and day out takes real strength. There are few situations that take more strength than this to overcome.

2. They understand what it means to be patient.

Patience is such an important virtue — in our relationships with people around us, with our hopes and aspirations and to get through the tougher aspects of life. To recover from an eating disorder takes real patience. Patience with yourself as you try to comprehend why your thoughts are telling you to starve, that you are worthless and that no one could possible tolerate you, let alone love you. Patience when you take a few steps backward even though you want to go forward. Patience in accepting where you are, and patience to get to where you want to be. Patience with your friends and family when they unintentionally say things that hurt you as they try to help you. Patience to accept that everything takes time.

3. They are compassionate.

People recovering from an eating disorder or other mental illness know what it feels like to be hurting on the inside, but hiding behind a smile on the outside. They know what it feels like when the whole world is crashing down on you, and to feel broken at rock-bottom.

Sometimes we can be too wrapped up in life to notice that other people are suffering. But when you know what it is to be hurting, you begin to understand other people, to get a glimpse of their hurt — in fact, you feel it yourself and are compelled to show compassion and be there by their side.

4. They know the value of friendship.

Eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, tell you that everyone hates you. You deserve to be alone. You are not worth friendship. People in recovery know what it is to be terrifyingly lonely, even if you are surrounded by friendly faces — it’s part of being unwell. So recovery involves breaking down these false beliefs and recognizing that you are worth so much to your friends and family. But what’s more, it’s realizing your friends and family are worth so much to you, and to be human is to need other people to laugh and to cry with — to understand that relationships can seem scary and will be hard work, but have so much value.

5. They see how beautiful life can be.

We don’t choose to be alive. But those who are recovering from an eating disorder do.

Eating disorders consume your mind. They consume your feelings about yourself, your value, your worth. They consume your hopes and aspirations. They then consume your friends and family, leading you to believe you deserve this isolation. Finally they consume your body and your life. Eating disorders destroy a person’s whole existence. But to choose to recover is to choose to live. Each day isn’t something you just have to get through, but something you decided you want, and fought so hard to have. Going into life with this mindset, you cannot fail to appreciate how pretty a pink and orange sky looks, or how fun it is to mess around with your friends, or how good a cup of tea is, or how fuzzy a hug from someone you love feels, or how refreshing raindrops feel on your face, or how electric it feels when you make someone else smile. They have chosen to see how beautiful life can be.

In the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, beautiful people do not just happen.

Follow this journey on Beautiful People Do Not Just Happen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You Have to Schedule Your Living Around Surviving

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On Thursdays, our socks must match. Tuesdays, you should wear nice underwear. Wednesdays, it’s best to put on a dress or something loose enough to hide the painful, jutting corners of your hips. You don’t want to trigger any of the others, she said to me, gently.

My illness is my part-time job these days. I keep consistent company with therapists, doctors, nurses, needles, pills and scales.

Their job is to keep me alive. They poke, prick and prod my body. I wince, and they tell me, repeatedly and patiently, that I must do as they say to keep from dying.

On Thursdays, our socks must match — we remove our shoes to step on the scale, and the first week, my toenail polish was chipped. Tuesdays, you want to wear nice underwear—that’s the only thing you leave on when the doctor and her resident take inventory of your anatomy. Wednesday, it’s best to put on a dress or something loose enough to hide the painful, jutting corners of your hips — because that is Group Day, and you’re the only one underweight, and all of us can’t help but notice the shapes of the others.

Sometimes I forget my classes, but I cannot forget my “recovery team.” They have my number and each others’, and as I criss-cross town I am aware of being always on their grid. It’s a safety net. It’s a prison. It’s a bridge and they swear on the other side there is Real Life. I choke down chalky protein shakes, alone and unamused, their promises ringing in my ears.

If things had been only a little different, I might be in an institution, they say. I’ve endangered myself, they remind me, so much that perhaps I don’t deserve custody of my own body. But I’m over 18, and I’m stubborn. I listen to them count my ribs and I hear them say just how serious it is, really. I take what they give me and I try to swallow.

Mondays we can wear what we like; on this day it’s just a quiet couch and 45 minutes where I try to say the truth to an understanding stranger with a Ph.D and a notebook. I wonder if he thinks I’m crazy. When I tell him I don’t “feel thin,” he can’t hide his surprise. When I tell him I’m doing better, he asks me to explain. My favorite is when we talk, not about food and poundage, but how hard I find it to believe in my pen and all the pages I hope to fill.

It’s a strange walk so far, a path high and narrow. From my perch I make long-distance calls to loved ones and beneath our conversations run the dark waters of their questions. They’d love to see a picture — are my elbows rounder, do my legs look thicker yet? But they’ll never ask. I tell them about my studies, my projects, and what surprised me this week. I don’t tell them I typed a paper in the student health waiting room between my blood work and nutrition appointments. I don’t mention my trips to counseling, my prescription refills, the maddening meal plans that eat up so much time and mind space.

I am taking steps across this bridge, trying to believe in the shore that so many speak of. Dry land where my body will be safe to use in the ways I used to love, without the need for chemical calibrations and endless cautionary lectures. “We’d rather you be an inpatient,” they’ve said, so many times, but I tell them I’m too in love with the world to leave it. One friend, an angry angel, said to me, “Then you have to keep yourself from dying.”

Sometimes my closest ones ask me for the numbers. I tell them what I can about the data — but the doctors keep some secrets. I told my sister I think I’m getting better because my bones hurt less when I sit on wooden benches.

I’m still chasing life, I swear I am. It’s what’s at stake, after all, but for now I must schedule my living around surviving. This week I spent 20 hours in treatment offices and on the subway to and from them.

But I’m still chasing life. I’m still trying to make art. I’m going on dates, and I’m drinking vanilla shakes, and I’m trying not to hate myself for landing so far from shore. I’m pinching my arms, hoping and dreading to find them growing soft with flesh, and I’m peering into books and trying to feel those old, fiery feelings that literature once ignited. I am looking for the parts of me I shed on my way down, for the pieces that were dropped while I fell victim to the poison in my head.

No one said a word for all those months I was melting. Maybe they felt their language would be clumsy. Maybe they were afraid to see. Either way, they were wrong to be quiet. It would have hurt, and healed. The truth, I mean.

Now, I live alone and it’s up to me to listen for it — the truth. It’s frighteningly hard some days. Doubt can echo so quickly against empty walls, and the thing called hope is mostly a trick in lighting. But there are things I’m still certain of. Moments I nail to the wall, like Peter Pan’s shadow, scraps of love, art and faith. On bleak mornings I find them there, a little limp and looking small in harsh light, but proving that once on a Yesterday I felt real, true, good. And I remind myself that I can count on time to keep on rolling, as little as I know why.

Yesterday I wore blue socks. I stepped on the scale, backwards, another ritual of the closed-doors world. She told me a number, for once. One pound. How many more, I wondered? She said we’ll take it one pound at a time. At the end of her emails, she always writes me, “Take care of you.”

I don’t know if I’ll regain what was lost, or if I’m building something new. But I stomp my foot just to feel the ground, hard and real, beneath me. And I swear I want to stay here, on this soggy-sunny half-dark rock, and to keep learning what that means.

I want to stay here.

Follow this journey on Sarah Aziza.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Insurance Company That Sees Me as Just a Number

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My name is Bekah. But all you probably know is my ID number on a piece of paper or computer screen — either of which you will use to judge whether or not I’m worthy of potentially lifesaving and life changing care and treatments.

But most of the time you seem to deem me unworthy. You’re either asking for more at a pace I cannot tolerate, or you’re telling me I’ve “progressed enough” and that I don’t need any more care. All cases are not the same. Some struggle more than others. Let me tell you a little about myself, so you don’t just see me as a number.

I am 22 years old, closer to 23. I’ve been a competitive dancer since the age of 3 and it’s one of my many passions in life. I also love to sing, help lead praise and worship at a church and hope to further my music. I also want to go into the medical field and become a pediatric nurse — I love kids and I love helping people. I’m a nanny for 2-year-old twins and absolutely adore them and my job.

But right now, I’m the one in desperate need of help.

I’ve suffered with anorexia nervosa for almost 13 years, starting at age 10. My disease isn’t about being pretty or glamorous, as many seem to think. One factor you probably don’t know that contributed to my illness is that I was sexually abused from ages 4 to 5 and again at age 7. I can trace a deep hatred to my body back to age 3. Eating disorders are dangerous — anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. I do not want to become another statistic.

As you probably know, due to malnutrition I have had lots of muscle atrophy and weakening, not to mention a severely injured ankle. But I’m trying my damn hardest every freakin’ day to gain strength back at this skilled nursing facility/physical rehabilitation center. I’m 22, not 90 — I have a full life left to live, preferably walking and dancing through it. Why do you get that power to cut me off because I couldn’t stand an extra 30 seconds or turn my feed rate up due to nausea? Sure, I may not reach those goals at the snap of a finger; maybe I stand an extra 5 seconds. The fact that I’m even keeping my feed on is huge progress in itself.

For once I can say I think I’m finally starting to do a little better, 13 years later. To cut me off in the middle of this is wrong. It’s a death sentence. How come you get to determine what “enough” progress is? You don’t know my name, you don’t know my story and you don’t even know my face. All you know me by are notes scribbled down on paper then transferred to computer. Why not try talking to the client? Why not try hearing them out and understanding where they’re coming from?

As for me, I’m taking steps. They may be baby steps, and maybe I’ll even take three forward and then six back. Maybe I’ll have a rough day or week, but does that make me unworthy of care? I ask that you stop determining what I’m worthy of by a stupid number, or note, or assumption. I am a damn human being.

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Bekah at her treatment facility

If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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I Met My Boyfriend in a Psych Ward

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When you’re admitted to a psychiatric hospital, you expect many things — long boring days, lots of medications, loneliness, arts and crafts, restraints, seeing unimaginable events and maybe, if you’re lucky, a breath of fresh air for five minutes each day. But what you don’t expect is to make long-lasting friendships. You especially don’t expect to fall in love.

Well for me, that’s what happened. In July of 2013, after a suicide attempt and a major decline in my health due to anorexia, I was placed in a psychiatric hospital. The doors slammed behind me as I rode in a stretcher. Horrifying thoughts and feelings flooded my mind as the reality finally hit me — this was going to be my home. I instantly panicked at the thought of being trapped inside. I felt like a prisoner. A prisoner on the outside and a prisoner in my own body. My chains? My own thoughts and distortions.

For the first few days — or maybe it was the few weeks — I isolated. I didn’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone or hear anyone. I was in my own little distorted world, trying to cheat the system to avoid weight gain.

After a month or so, I finally came out of my shell and left my room. I started attending most groups and activities, but I still felt isolated. It seemed like no one understood what was going through my head. Most of the other patients were struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism or other mental illnesses, and I felt like I couldn’t relate. Until that one evening. The evening that perhaps changed my life forever.

I was so malnourished, I had to use a wheelchair. Michael happened to be in the same situation. I remember that evening perfectly. We were both sitting at the medication window waiting for our bed time meds so we could finally go to sleep. Something inclined me to introduce myself. That introduction turned into a two-hour conversation. We quickly realized how much we had in common. We both struggled with an eating disorder and suicide attempts. We laughed, sharing our painful secrets and memories. We connected on a level I had never connected with anyone.

Eventually, Michael was transferred to the other unit solely for eating disorders. I thought that was the end. I thought I would never hear from him or see him again. It was just a great few days and that was all.

Now, three years later, I’m proud to say Mike is my boyfriend. We’ve been together for five months, although it feels like it’s been much longer than that. This is the first relationship I’ve been in where I don’t have to hide my struggles and true feelings. Because I know he understands. Some question whether our relationship is healthy considering we both struggle with an eating disorder; I say this is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. He understands me and I understand him. We push each other to do better, to become fully recovered. Although Michael is much further along in his recovery than I am, it motivates me to get to that same place.

I started to lose hope in ever finding anyone who understood me, but my dream has come true. They say that princes aren’t real, and I tend to believe that. Maybe there are only a few true princes in this world. I’m grateful to say I have been blessed with one of them. My future with him looks promising, and as long as we both stick to being healthy, who knows what we can achieve.

How our paths crossed was unfortunate, but honestly, I don’t think I would change it if I could. Everything truly does happen for a reason.

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What I Want My Family to Know About Having Anorexia on Thanksgiving

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As the first few weeks of November go by, my anxiety has been getting worse. I keep asking myself why? What’s so different? Then I remember — Thanksgiving isn’t far away.

For many people, Thanksgiving brings pleasant memories: warmth, laughter, sharing, seeing family you haven’t seen all year and of course, stuffing your face to your stomach’s content. But when you have anorexia like me, Thanksgiving can be the most dreaded day of the year.

To my family sitting around our Thanksgiving dinner table, let me try to explain what’s going through my mind.

When I think of Thanksgiving I don’t think about positive things. I don’t have any excitement. I feel dread, anxiety, distress, depression, shame, guilt and fear.

I’m not thinking about family time. I’m not thinking about the people I’ve missed. I’m not even thinking about what I’m grateful for. There’s one thing on my mind and one thing only: I am going to get fat.

This fear is so dominating it keeps me from enjoying anything about this joyous holiday. I’m physically there, but mentally I’m gone. I’ve entered the world of numbers and my brain becomes a human calculator. My anxiety has gone from one to 100 just by walking into that room, let alone choosing what I’m going to put on my plate.

When we all sit down at the table, people are talking, laughing and sharing stories. I feel like a shell of a human being. Anorexia is yelling at me the entire time. It’s like putting your headphones on and listening to a record on repeat — except this record isn’t nice. It’s screaming, “You don’t deserve to eat. You’re fat. You’re a failure. You’re disgusting. You’re unloveable. Everyone is staring at how much fatter you are than last year. Everyone will judge you if you eat. You’re ugly. You’re stupid…”

That’s why I’m asking this year for my friends and family to please be patient. It takes courage and strength to sit at that dinner table. Here are some things you can do to make it a little easier:

1. Don’t comment on my looks.

Even comments like “you look good” or “you look healthy” can be extremely triggering. It’s best to avoid appearance-oriented conversations all together.

2. Don’t comment on what I have on my plate or how much.

People in treatment are sometimes on a meal plan and will base their meals off those guidelines. Bringing attention to portion sizes may raise my anxiety and increase eating disorder urges and behaviors.

3. Don’t discuss your own thoughts or worries about eating.

Making comments about calories/fat in food, talking about diets or discussing exercise plans can encourage eating disorder thoughts and worries. It also sends the message that being full is not acceptable.

4. Please don’t watch me eat.

I’m already uncomfortable and self-conscious — this will make it worse.

5. Do enjoy the food and model healthy eating behaviors.

This includes not “fasting” to get ready for the meal and including a variety of food on your plate if you can.

6. Tell me how happy you are to see me. 

It could be exactly what I need to hear.

7. Plan other activities to do as a family.

Distractions before and after the meal are very helpful.

8. Have normal conversations that don’t include talking about therapy and treatment.

I want to be at that table. I want to spend time with you. The best I can do is just get through it, breathe and remember it’s just one day. I will survive. This eating disorder will not define me or beat me.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorder confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Related: 40 Things People With Eating Disorders Wish Others Understood

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