Speaking in front of high school students is no easy task, but I was amazed at how receptive they were when it came to sharing my own personal experiences with mental illness. I appreciated every second of the talks, met wonderful individuals, and had lots of fun! Did you ever think I would have 'fun' speaking in front of people!? Another one of my fears challenged and conquered; actually a few that came along with speaking before high school students. I am feeling satisfied, proud, and moved. Those individuals that came up to speak to me afterwards; I commend their courage and bravery; to face and question their fears, gut instincts, and concerns. The expression on all the unique individuals moved me. Each person is so special. Thank you for listening and hearing me out.
So, a bunch of significant issues came up as well as questions that I thought would be good to address here as I feel they may help those in similar situations:
-If someone you knew were suffering from an eating disorder what would you suggest? Let the individual know you are concerned and talk to them without mentioning weight or food. Keep trying, persevere, and don't give up.
-What is the most important factor in treating eating disorders? To treat the body and mind equally. A good therapeutic/professional fit with trust and support. For those around to be persistent. Being aware of your self and gaining knowledge of past demons that may be affecting your state of being. Seeking help and support wether it be speaking up or getting treatment so you can start the process towards recovery.
-What were the contributing factors of my experience with eating disorders? Losses, too many unresolved transitions in life, genetics, environment, abuse, discrimination, perfectionism, inability to express my emotions and no opportunity to speak for myself. It is a multi-faceted issue and there are many that contribute to eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
-What were some long term physical effects from your eating disorders? Digestive problems, bad skin, constantly chipping nails on my middle and index fingers, hormonal imbalances, altered brain chemistry and heart palpitations... shorter life expectancy... and I have to face these sort of consequences everyday for the rest of my life (although I have been eating disorder free for over five years the after effects still do exist and I deal with them as they arise).
(I used to keep the empty boxes laxatives came in; me after first treatment, I asked my mom to take a photo before I threw them away. This was probably only a month worth of laxatives or so... a lot of damage, on top of restricting, binge/purge, other eating disordered behavior.)
-How did I make a conscious decision to turn things around? I had to commit myself to inpatient treatment, and to connect and trust the professional staff. Learn to trust and make the program work for me. It is not a one shot deal and it takes many trials as well as timing. One size does not fit all when it comes to eating disorder or any mental illness recovery process. I needed to make myself open to improvement and help.
-Who has been affected by your eating disorder? Everyone, especially those close to you that care most.
-How did becoming an artist and being creatively expressive help? I could express myself freely in a healthy non-destructive manner. Being an artist allows me the time and space to be in tune with my body, mind and soul. I am able to feel safe expressing stresses and hardships of life through my work, as well as opinions and give myself a clearer voice. I live being and doing something I love and believe in, sharing my story with others. Working with my hands also keeps me focused, calms and soothes my constant 110% sprinting brain and nerves.
-When did you become aware you needed help? Were you afraid to tell someone? Deep down inside, in my gut, I knew I needed help as things worsened but until I was literally dying did I make a conscious choice to get well. The eating disorder made my body physically compromised, but with the depression and anxiety it took over 7 suicide attempts and then some for me to really start turning things around. And at the time I didn't/couldn't trust anyone except for my boyfriend who was in tune with what I was going through. Everything looked good on the outside but in reality I was completely shattered and broken.
(On the left is how I presented myself to the world, and how others perceived me, on the right is how I was really feeling; worthless, nothing.)
-What kind of treatment did you receive for your mental illnesses? I searched for help at the teen clinic at a hospital, pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, guidance counselor, specialists, out patient programs, inpatient programs, emergency room(s) stays, psychiatric ward, psychiatric emergency rooms, ICU, nurses, support groups, etc; some worked, but many others did not. Most importantly gaining knowledge of myself and the illnesses, their treatments, programs, many options in programs, journalling, reading, and being acutely aware and in tune with myself and my conditions were helpful. Being open to possibilities, and being determined to get better. Also for me meeting my therapist, who I trusted and saved my life many times over.
-How does medication fit into your experience with mental illness? I began trying different meds when I first reached out for help, and the whole process was trial and error for a long time until finally the professionals and I were able to find a balance and mixture of meds that worked specifically for me. Some of the side effects were severe but it really was about sticking to the process and trial and error. Once we found the meds that worked I had to be put on a very very high dose in the beginning for my body to respond; but everyone's body is different and react accordingly to medications. I also have to add and can't stress enough that medications are only one piece in the complicated network of the puzzle that needs mending.
This is a lengthy blog post, but mental illness is complicated and recovery takes time.
* Recovery is a personal and spiritual journey.
* Be the expert of your own body, mind and heart.
* Anything is possible and perseverance is key.
* You are not alone.
* Find what works for you; treatment is individual and personal, so take control of your recovery and do not be silenced.
* Face life and treat yourself with compassion and honesty.
I am not an expert or professional in this field although I am an expert of my own story, life experiences, and mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual self. If you or someone else is struggling please approach them in a gentle manner and talk to them; they may not look or act like it, but they will hear your words. Please do reach out for support and help to those you feel you can trust, and responsible legitimate resources. If you are feeling like you are triggered in any way, have an urge, feel you are a danger to yourself or anyone else please do not hesitate to go to the nearest emergency room, call 911, or speak to someone.
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (free 24 hours a day 365 days a year)
Gerstein Center Crisis Services: (416) 929-5200 (Toronto), (416) 289-2434 (Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York, East York), (905) 278-9036 (Peel), 310-COPE (York Region)
There is no need to feel like this and keep suffering:
I have never shared these images with anyone as these are some of the things I did at the start of getting treatment (way before becoming a visual artist), but I believe they provide a different option and perspective.