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Around age thirteen I noticed a shift in the way I saw the world. The light-hearted experience I’d known as a young child was replaced by a darker view of myself and the world.
Around age thirteen I noticed a shift in the way I saw the world. The light-hearted experience I’d known as a young child was replaced by a darker view of myself and the world. As I entered puberty I became increasingly aware of my awkward tendencies that were highlighted in social situations. When my contributions to conversation were met with silence or ridicule, I’d spend the next two weeks berating myself, wondering how I could have been so stupid. Mirrors would stop me in my tracks, providing an opportunity to criticize every aspect of my reflection, a grotesque figure I did not recognize. Food, calories and weight were the center of my universe. I was teetering on the edge, a fragile and impressionable girl. Low self-esteem and body image issues quickly snowballed into an eating disorder. I was an avid follower of eating disorder focused websites that glorified the bodies of anorexic men and women, providing a place for struggling people of all ages to come together to compare notes and to give and receive encouragement and support on their journey towards starvation. I emulated the emaciated frames, but also felt a deep sense of sadness and fear for what I saw on these pages, including my involvement. Every day was a struggle to stay positive, and to convince all those around me that I was well. With the deep depression I felt, came self-injury as a way to deal with negative thoughts about my external and internal self. Superficial self-injurious actions, focused on my most hated of body parts, were replaced by attacks on my whole self – everything that made me me. I attempted suicide five times in hopes of leaving my miserable life behind and finding peace. I was hospitalized a total of thirteen times, which caused me to miss a significant amount of high school, and eventually drop out of college.
When I was in the eighth grade my concerned parents arranged for me to see my first therapist – the first in a long line of unhelpful counselors. I would generally show up for my appointments intent on sitting silent, arms crossed and head down for the full hour until I was told I could leave. Failed attempts at talk therapy caused my parents to seek out psychiatric help. I sampled just about every antidepressant, antipsychotic, benzo and combination thereof. When those didn’t work, I tried intensive out-patient programs, inpatient treatment facilities, residential treatment programs, and more extreme methods such as ECT or electroconvulsive ‘therapy’.
I began to notice a change within myself when I sought treatment at a residential facility followed by a half-way house in the Boston area. After exhausting years of sterile, intimidating and isolating psychiatric environments – this place was a wholesome sanctuary. I was trusted to wake up on my own, make my own meals, go to work and come and go as I pleased. This was where the change began but the real healing took place when I returned home and started practicing yoga regularly. I learned how to feel comfortable in my own body again, how to calm my mind, and how to navigate tough emotions and situations. I believe that yoga saved my life.
The life I live today is worlds away from where I used to be. Things aren’t always perfect, but most days are pretty good. I work full time, something I doubted I would be able to do. I completed my certification to be a yoga teacher and I am privileged to work for an organization that allows me to bring the healing power of yoga to people who have had similar experiences. After spending a decade on psychiatric medication, I am finally reducing my dose until I am able to go off of them completely, something else I never thought I would be able to do.
First, I would say that you are not alone. Second, there are places out there where you can go to speak freely about intensely painful thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment or the risk of being locked up against your will or reported to a professional. Finally, I would say that it’s okay if you do not respond to traditional treatments like counseling, CBT or medications. Your answer is out there, you might just have to look beyond the norm to find it.
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