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To the Teacher Who Said 3 Words That Helped Me Face My Eating Disorder

I was 15 when I was diagnosed with anxiety, which was rapidly followed by anorexia and depression, and my world was turned upside down.

I had gone from a happy, bubbly teenager to someone I barely recognized. My attendance, which had never fallen below 99.8 percent, had dropped to the low 80s and even when I was in school, I couldn’t face lessons.

“You’re a smart girl, what’s happened to you?”

I’d always worked so hard, been so chatty, but couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. I barely spoke and, and when I did turn up, I spent most of my lessons with my head on the desk or staring off into space. Scared that if I spoke I might slip up and tell someone what was really going on in my head. Scared to admit I didn’t see a point in life anymore, other than to be the thinnest girl in the room.

All my friends were working towards GCSE’s and I was working towards starving myself to death and hiding it from everyone around me. I disengaged from counseling, shut myself off from friends and family. Started getting kicked out of lessons for answering back or being rude.

Anytime someone confronted me, I shut them out with promises of, “I’m fine, there is nothing to worry about.”

It had become a struggle for anyone to get through to me.

That is, anyone except the one person I thought least likely to notice me; you. You had simply stopped in a corridor one day and asked the words, “Are you OK?” maybe not even realizing the magnitude of that simple action.

From those simple words, you became the person who got me back into class. The person who knew the me that was so hidden beneath fake smiles and hard work.

Your office became the place where I could be honest about how I was feeling and you became the person I trusted with anything.

You didn’t stop with just listening though. You sent me to the doctors when I spiraled, helped me with my exams, let me use your boardroom to rest when I needed to escape people. You did everything you could to get me through.

Things got worse but every time I fell, you seemed to be there to catch me, always with a reminder that recovery goes up and down, and that even when it’s the darkest it has ever been, it just means you have to go back up soon.

You showed me it was OK to be more open to those closest to me. I engaged in counseling and began to let my other teachers in and everyone around me began to understand. Because of you, I let myself build the support system I was so terrified to have.

But you know all of that, or I hope you do. What you don’t realize is why the words, “Are you OK?” saved my life that day.

I was exhausted that day. It’d been an awful few weeks, but that day, that day had done it for me. Having hit a new lowest weight, I’d looked in the mirror and seen nothing but fat. I’d cried three times before I’d left the house and my day didn’t improve. Until you just asked those four simple words.

What I didn’t tell you when we sat down in your office that afternoon was that I was planning to end my life that night. I’d argued with my mom that morning over breakfast, my dad had texted me to tell me I was being selfish and did I realize how much I was hurting them? And my best friend had given me an ultimatum: she wasn’t going to lie about what I’d eaten anymore. I’d never felt more alone than I did that afternoon, but you stopped, and you asked if I was OK.

Not because you had to, or because I was visibly upset. I was just walking down a corridor and you cared enough to ask how I was doing.

Something in your tone of voice convinced me not to lie. We spoke about things, and you made me promise not to write myself off just yet because it could get better. I don’t know why, but I believed you. So many people told me it would get better, but you made me feel like it would. You didn’t just tell me people cared, you made me feel like they did, and I went home and I kept that promise. I’ve kept it every day since then when I’ve felt like all hope is lost.

So if you see this, thank you. Thank you for giving me hope. Thank you for never trying to pretend you could fix it all. Thank you for being there day in and day out and giving up your time to try and get me to talk when all words left me and all I had were tears and “I can’t do it.” When I talk about school, I talk about the people who never give up on me, even when I’ve given up on myself. That’s you, and I can’t thank you enough for keeping me here.

It might not be better yet, but thanks to you I know it will be.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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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