Nobody expects a diet to drive them to insanity, but that is exactly what happened to me three years ago. I was 22 years old, finishing up my senior year of college, and gradually developing the most significant mental illness of my life. As I continually dropped weight and felt powerless to stop, I wondered to myself, “How did something as innocuous as a diet make me lose my mind?” I felt dumbfounded, as if I had been blindsided by this affliction that nobody understood — least of all me.
I had struggled with my weight for my entire adult and adolescent life, and during the fall of my senior year, I decided that enough was enough. I downloaded a popular calorie counting app, and I began tracking my caloric intake and exercising moderately. At first, my diet felt innocent enough, but the casual nature of my diet gave way to a frightening intensity as time went on.
I became much more meticulous when counting calories, and my workouts lasted for hours on end. I started to notice small signs that my health was declining, but I felt powerless to stop it. My hair began falling out, my sensitivity to cold ramped up and I lost my menstrual cycle, yet I was unable to fully process how rapidly I was losing my grip on reality.
The ensuing decline in my mental health terrified me to my core. Nothing compares to the feeling of slowly going crazy, and that is exactly how I felt. The thoughts that I had no longer made sense. I started to think that one latte would make me go up a pant size. I feared the calories taken in by chewing gum. I began to believe that every single calorie counted and that I could calculate my intake and expenditure down to the tenth of a calorie.
At my worst, I was weighing every morsel of food that I ate, refusing to chew more than five pieces of gum per day and watching my body shut down. I had become depressed, anxious and irritable, and I hardly recognized myself. The funny, vibrant girl who should have been enjoying her last year of college had been replaced with the mere shell of a person. It was then that I reached a breaking point, and I decided to seek help in the interest of survival.
Anorexia is a fascinating mental illness because of its significant physical component. A starved body cannot think clearly, and my mental illness did not begin to dissipate until my brain could begin healing itself. Even after the body and brain have been fed, it takes time and hard work to undo the lies that we begin to believe when our body is starved and our decisions are being made entirely from a place of mental illness. The recovery process is long and arduous, but it is entirely possible.
Three years later, I still struggle to rid myself of all my disordered thoughts, but I have managed to build a wonderful life that is truly worth living. Although mental illness may be something with which I struggle for quite some time, I’m not willing to let it keep me from living the life that I want. With determination, strong supports and openness to change, I believe that anybody can create and live a life that brings joy.
Before I experienced this terrifying reality myself, I never would have imagined that it were possible. I was an excellent student pursuing a degree in social work. I had a fantastic group of friends, and I thought that severe mental illness was not something that would directly affect me. Yet, despite all this, I found myself in the grips of an eating disorder that made me feel absolutely insane.
I now realize that anybody, at any time, can experience mental illness. Fortunately, I have also come to learn that recovery from an eating disorder can be a reality and that it is possible to break free from the stigma of mental illness and live a fulfilling life in spite of it.