By breathe bar Guest Contributor Emily Rutherford
My first memory of struggling with depression dates back to when I was sixteen. Anxiety - that was much earlier - probably in middle school. Hating my body? That started when I was four years old. I remember being in Kindergarten and comparing myself to my classmates and best friends and repeatedly telling myself I was fat, unworthy, awkward, and alone. I remember being in dance class and avoiding the days we were measured for costumes because I was so ashamed of my size. The saddest part was, I was the exact same size as everyone else around me; it was just my mind convincing me I was not.
The end of high school and all throughout college were when anxiety, depression, and my eating disorder picked up in full swing. But, up until my sophomore year in college, I kept everything a secret. My parents were going through a messy divorce. I was miserable during my freshman year and decided to transfer schools. All the while, I was putting a smile on my face. I didn’t want anyone to know I was sad. I felt so, so much shame about how I was feeling, and thought I was weak for struggling.
The problem with any mental disorder is that the stigma is so great around them in our society, that it leads us to believe that we’re doing something wrong, that we're bad for feeling how we feel, that we don’t deserve to feel this way because we were fortunate growing up, or that we should be ashamed of how we’re feeling. This only reinforces the silence. So, I turned to restricting food as my coping mechanism for feeling depressed, because it was the only thing I could control. And, eventually, that silence and depression became too overbearing, and turned into a suicide attempt.
For the past two years I have been through all levels of treatment, from hospital stays and residential programs to a partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient program to outpatient therapy to get my weight to a healthy place and my mind as well. I spent the first year of treatment simply going through the motions. Show up. Eat the food. Get through the night without doing anything too self-destructive. Show up the next time. For months this was my life, and although I was restoring weight and learning skills, I was so deeply depressed that I couldn’t look a day into the future. Nearly every day, the therapists and I would safety plan how to keep me alive until the next day of programming. Needless to say, it was exhausting.
I wish I could say there was a magic cure to all this, but the closest thing there was for me was learning to hold onto hope. The question always on the forefront of my mind was and still is, “Is this worth it?”
Is recovery worth it? Is living another day worth it? Am I worth it?
Self-worth, or my lack thereof, has always played a role in my life and the way I view myself, from self-sabotage and beating myself up, to the way shame washes over me when I make a mistake or embarrass myself. Something I always remind myself when I’m getting wrapped up in a shame spiral is shame researcher and bestselling author Brene Brown’s quote, “Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” That, and, “shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” Now when that shame starts to wash over me, I always try to channel my inner Brene Brown and speak that shame to stop it from growing. In learning to do so, it has opened the doors to finding connection, authenticity, and most importantly, hope.
If you’re ever feeling hopeless, are losing hope, or need that extra nudge of encouragement, know that hope is still alive for you whether you’re holding it, a therapist is holding it, your friends and family are holding it, or anyone that is going through a similar experience is holding it. I’ve learned that the people who help you the most are the ones who have lived a similar journey, and have come out on the other side to prove recovery is truly possible.
Because we live in a world that values always doing more, doing better, and working harder, taking a pause is often conditioned in our minds as be viewed as lazy or a cop out, when in reality, taking that pause is often the bravest and hardest step to take. It’s full of courage and resilience, not shame and failure. I think that growing up in our society today, everyone can work on being more gentle and kind to themselves, whether or not they struggle with a mental health issue or not. Self-care needs to be practiced by us all. Here is a short list of ways that can we can practice self-care:
-Cover your mirror with positive affirmations
-Reach out to a friend for support
-Remove your triggers (i.e., throw out your scale, a toxic relationship, etc.)
-Take a mindful walk
-Light a candle
-Call your mom, sibling, friend and tell them you love them
-Write a love letter to yourself
-Carve out time in each day to meditate, whether that be on an app, in a class, or just by yourself
-Go to a regular yoga class or any other physical activity you enjoy
-Do an art project
-Take action! Whether that be by calling your representative to increase funding for mental health research and treatment, or advocating alongside organizations like NAMI, NEDA, Project HEAL, AFSP and others, your voice matters.
As for me, it wasn’t until this year that I found true reasons to recover. For the first time in years, that heavy, overbearing darkness was lifted and I didn’t walk around barely able to make it to the next day. The people who have helped me the most on this journey are the members of my treatment team that opened up and shared, “I was once in your shoes.” They inspire me every single day and are living proof that recovery is not only possible, but so is using your own recovery to help others. For the past few years, my team has repeatedly told me they’re holding hope for me when I can’t hold it for myself, and from that I’ve learned to put all my trust in them. There are so many times that I’ve given up on myself, but they’ve held onto hope and reminded me I’m worth it. And ultimately, that’s why I’m still here.
Don’t give up. You are so enough.
Editor's Note: October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Thank you to our former intern, Emily, for sharing her story and inspiring hope.