The Choice I Have in Life With Mental Illness


Inspiration strikes at random. That is the realization I have made today. I was sitting on my couch, reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and listening to Ron Pope, when I began thinking about the months ahead. Thinking about this, I felt happy, sad, scared and excited all at the same time.

Let me backtrack for a moment. For the past eight years, I have struggled with depression, anxiety, personality disorders, anorexia and bulimia. I have been in the hospital more times than you and I can count on both our hands together. We could probably add a third person to this, and we still wouldn’t have enough fingers to tally all of my admissions.

The last few admissions have been the scariest though. It seemed with every relapse, I would get worse and worse. With every relapse, I lost more hope and faith in the fact that I would ever recover. I spent weeks in the hospital, both on a cardiac floor in the medical hospital and on an eating disorder unit in a psychiatric hospital. I lost all will to fight and all hope to live. It was the saddest and scariest time of my life.

One of these hospital stays is still in progress, but is soon coming to an end. While I am no longer on an inpatient unit, I am in a partial hospitalization program (PHP). Inpatient was hard, but PHP is a whole different type of hard. I have more freedom, more independence and much more responsibility. I had to really face the real world (at least part of it) for the first time in a long time. While it was the most challenging experience of my life, it was also the most enlightening one I have ever been through.

Reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” I started thinking a lot about all the things in the past I have missed. If you do not know anything about the story, then let me tell you it is definitely a worthwhile read or even watch. (They made an excellent movie based on the book a few years back.) Without giving away too much of the story or my life these past years, I will say that just like Charlie (the main character), I have experienced much hurt and pain in my life. I used these as reasons to become sicker and sicker and to stop trying as hard to fight my disorders.

Don’t get me wrong, please. There is not a single part of me that believes these disorders and the thoughts that accompany them are a choice. However, one thing I have recently realized and do believe is the choice comes when it is time to fight. At some point, one needs to learn to accept both past and present situations and start to fight for what one wants.

As my PHP stay comes to a close, I find myself worrying a lot about what the future holds. I worry about holidays. I worry about relationships. I worry about school, and most consistently, I worry about relapse. I worry that the past will repeat itself, and I will spend this Thanksgiving on a cardiac unit attached to a feeding tube as my family bonds over Thanksgiving dinner, just like last year.

I worry about ruining relationships with people and missing out on new ones because my obsessions with food and sorrow consume me again and take away my ability to care about anything else. I worry about a lot more. To sum it all up, I mostly worry about missing out on life even more than I already have. Here is where the inspiration comes in: I cannot worry about the past and the future because it takes away my ability to stay in the present moment. I can’t enjoy time with the people I love if I am too busy letting my thoughts be consumed with worry.

For the first time in my life, I am enjoying myself. I am going to fairs and pumpkin patches with my little sister and my niece. I am going on dates with a guy I think I might have a major crush on. I am going to parties and spending time with my friends. I am writing again.

Most importantly, I am laughing again. That is the best feeling in the world. I find myself not worried about food, weight and self-harm nearly as much as I used to, and I look forward to things for reasons other than what my disorders want.

For the first time in my life, I realize I am so much more than my disorders and my past does not define me. I have hope and passion for things I never knew I had, and it excites me so much more than I can even put into words. I am realizing the past is the past, the future is the future and only I am in control of my life from now on.

I used to want my life back, but I realized today I don’t want this anymore. I want to create a new one. One where I decide what happens, and I decide what I do. It is no longer my disorders’ decision what I do and do not do, but rather my true self’s. I did not choose my past, and I did not choose my disorders. However, I am now choosing to be in the present moment and live life to the fullest, as it is meant to be lived, with joy and laughter.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

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