Today is the first day of May, which is also, coincidentally, the first day of Mental Health month. Over the next few weeks, we will have various contributors share their mental health journeys. Advocacy to end the stigma surrounding mental health is something that is very near and dear to my heart. Here’s my story:

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a good relationship with my head, or my body for that matter, and it’s taken quite the toll on every aspect of my life. It’s been that way since I was at least 12-years-old.

I started paying attention to how I looked when I was 10, counting calories at age 13, working out for hours on end to burn as many calories as i could at 14, self-harming at 16 and much more in between.

At the time, I thought what I was doing was healthy. I was losing weight and I was getting compliments on my appearance. I’d never gotten those before. That fueled my fire. I kept eating less, working out more, sucking in, and anything else I could to change my body.

Looking back, what i was doing was the furthest thing from healthy I could have been doing for my body and my mind. Alas, these 1200 calorie days were not feasible. So I started bingeing. I was eating 200 calories before 5 p.m. and then when my body couldn’t handle the lack of food, I would overcompensate with hundreds of calories in junk food to satisfy my pent up cravings.

Then, I hated myself more for what I’d just done.

Somehow, though, I lost 50 pounds. I was “happy.” People were saying I was pretty and that I looked great. The attention I was getting was unlike anything I’d received before and I loved it. Boys liked me, popular girls talked to me, It seemed great at the time so I kept eating less and pushing my body past its limit.

What I didn’t realize then was the toll that this would take on my physical and mental health. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and, despite not having been officially diagnosed, I’m almost certain I had/have a binge-eating disorder [but we do NOT self diagnose in this house so despite what I think, until I get the official “you have or you do not have an eating disorder” I will go on living as though I do not]. I stopped seeing friends, stopped doing the things I love and my grades in school dropped. Overall, I felt empty and hopeless. I wanted to die. I couldn’t get smaller. I couldn’t fit into society’s ideal image of the perfect human being.

So I started self harming. If my body couldn’t do what I needed it to do, it had to be punished.

This hateful cycle of not nourishing my body, over exercising and self-harming continued all the way through college. It took me until I was 20-years-old to discover CHAARG [a health & wellness organization on my campus that strives to make fitness fun for college-aged girls]  and things that make me happy such as the color yellow, the current people in my life, music, children, the outdoors, good food and so much more.

I have spent 11 years hating what I saw in the mirror looking back at me. I’ve spent the past 11 years trying to change my body to fit a standard I was never meant to fit.

I’m 21-years-old now. I never in a million years thought I’d make it this far but, I’m genuinely happy. Of course, I still have my bad days,  but now there are more sunny days than cloudy. I have an amazing support system with the best friends in the entire world, I have a body that does all I need [and more] and I have the will to persevere through anything and everything.

What I’ve learned from this is that everyone needs to put down whatever their device is and thank their body. Thank your body for all it does for you. Thank your body for healing you when you are sick, for allowing you to lift heavy objects and walk long distances and for loving you unconditionally no matter what you do to it.

The last thing anyone wants to hear is that it gets better, but the one thing everyone needs to hear is that you are not alone. I needed to hear that 8 years ago, I needed to hear that last night. Everyone fights their own battles, mine just happen to be with myself.

So, to my body: thank for you for loving me despite everything I have done to you.

To my mind: no matter what you think, you can’t stop me from blooming.

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