Works in Progress // Stephany

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, traits of borderline personality disorder, GAD, and an eating disorder, Stephany has overcome so much. Fighting her way through an abusive relationship, sexual assault, and even homelessness, this strong soul is the definition of a mental health warrior. 

Meet Stephany.

 

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Name: Stephany

Age: 20

 

**Trigger warning: rape**

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

When I was a freshman in high school I moved from my La Jolla home to Carlsbad in hopes of escaping the bullies and finding a new sense of belonging. With all the changes of a new home, new school, my mother’s new boyfriend, my best friend moving across the world, and entering high school, I fell into a deep pit of hopelessness.

In the heat of a massive fight with my mother, she threatened to send me to my father and that was the exact moment that sent me spiraling out of control. After 12 weeks of missing person reports, truancy, failing grades, days of hiding behind locked doors, and refusing to eat, I was admitted to a residential treatment facility in Utah where I spent six agonizing months learning how to cope and sharing my deepest fears with strangers. While I was there, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, severe post traumatic stress disorder, traits of borderline personality disorder, generalized mood disorder, and an eating disorder.

With a team of doctors, therapists, and facility staff I was able to work through the wreckage and claw my way out of my first experience with rock bottom.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

After I was discharged, I returned home and continued my treatment with a team of doctors and therapists and spent three years coping with mild anxiety and the normal stresses of a teenager. Then, in May of my senior year of high school I entered into a depressive episode after becoming homeless and living out my car with only $100 to my name. At the time I was in an abusive relationship with a man who was older than me by four years and I truly believed we were in love. After managing to find a full-time job, graduating high school with honors, and finding a place to live, my relationship began to crumble because I was no longer in need of his help. We broke up in the beginning of July and two weeks later he called to invite me over for drinks. That night is the night that I was raped.

A year and a half later, I came to accept the reality of that night and sought help from a therapist who asked me, “Well did you say no?”

After that session, I was determined to fight my demons on my own and spent endless hours researching the affects of trauma and steps I could take to work through it. I slowly began to share my struggles with my closest friends who helped teach me that the smallest victories are worth celebration and I am worthy of self-love. The most pivotal moment of my recovery though was when I shared the story of the sexual assault with a friend who knew the offender and said to me, “I believe you.” 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Today, I still have my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating, but I have learned that I am not alone and by sharing my story I can help others on their journey. I am unashamed of my demons and I often wake up and thank myself for not giving into those low points where I felt like there was no way out of the misery I was experiencing. I am strong and I want to empower others to feel their own strength.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you might be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Maria Elena

With anorexia controlling every curve of her body, Maria would feel suicidal if she didn’t have the perfect weight. Fueled by the constant validation she received from being “skinny,” she eventually discovered that something was wrong.

Reaching out to counselors, family and close friends, she was met with comments that downplayed her pain and even congratulated her figure. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to save herself with help from her boyfriend and close friends.

On a mission to love her body just the way it is, meet Maria Elena and read her story below.

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Name: Maria Elena

Age: 21

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

Once I hit high school, I noticed I started to gain some weight. Anytime I would sit down, my stomach rolls would sit down at the top of my thighs, making me feel oddly uncomfortable. I felt worthless. I started to analyze the women around me, fawning after the skinny ones and fat shaming the not-so-skinny ones. If I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room, I would feel suicidal. I kept pushing myself further and further until I could feel each and every bone in my body. 

My fuel wasn’t food, it was comments like, “How is your waist so small? Your figure is perfect! Omg, body goals. How did you lose so much weight? Ahhh you’re so tiny and cute!” That’s how my eating disorder developed. It wasn’t even affecting my every daily life…that’s an understatement. It WAS my everyday life. All I thought about was counting calories and my thinspos. It was my obsession.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

Sadly, I never got professional help despite my desperate need for it. I talked to two school counselors, two doctors, several online chats / hotlines, quite a few friends, and even my family, but everyone downplayed my issues and sometimes even congratulated my figure. I had to take matters into my own hands. I’m not blaming anyone specifically for what happened; I’m blaming the diet-obsessed society that sees my past behavior as normal and even inspiring. I knew I had to save myself. Obviously, I did have some help along the way. Art, documentaries,  inspiring articles, and the support from my boyfriend and close friends.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Every now and then I’ll fall into anorexia nostalgia. It’s like, I’ll miss the attention or validation I got when I had an eating disorder. Or I’ll miss fitting into smaller clothes. I miss being seen as small, fragile, cute. I’ll miss the feeling of having complete control over my life. Honestly, it gets hard sometimes and I don’t think I’d be able to cope if society hasn’t changed as much as it did since I had an eating disorder. I live in a diverse city now and society has become more accepting of all body types. That’s what keeps me sane.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Empathy. Sooo much empathy. I can feel energies the moment I walk into a room. I can look at someone’s social media feed or talk to them for a few minutes and my heart will FEEL them. I have a hard time hating even my worst enemies because I know they might be dealing with some sort of pain and I don’t want to make them feel even half of what I once felt. People with mental illness are often portrayed as bullies, but I think it’s made me more considerate towards peoples’ feelings.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

I know you think the world will end if you gain weight, but that is nothing but a lie. In the future, you won’t be skinny, but guess what? You will love yourself, so much. You will inspire thousands of people with your words. You will live in a huge city and still thrive. You will have someone that loves all of your rolls and curves more than you could even imagine. You will eat the best foods the world has to offer and you’ll enjoy every second of it. And you’ll still be beautiful. 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Victoria

Hailing all the way from Argentina, this strong woman shares her story of confronting an eating disorder and the anxiety that came along with it.

With the attitude of always having something to learn in her mental health, meet Victoria and read her journey below.

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Name: Victoria

Age: 22

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have been suffering from an eating disorder (Bulimia) for many years now and last year, due to the many pressures of habitual life, I started to suffer from panic attacks and social anxiety. You might wonder how one thing relates to the other but in fact, they are extremely related. It started when I was in secondary school. Since then, it has all been about prioritizing and pleasing the rest. It was all about feeling uncomfortable when on the eyesight of others. It was all about questioning the many things that were “wrong” with me. It was all about creating unconscious parameters on how I “should be” in order to be accepted and not to fear contact with others anymore.

It affected and shaped my daily relationships and my inner state as well. Imagine one of your most valuable tools in life, your capacity of thought, being permeated with these illusions of judgement. Imagine trying to fit each thought and action in the “regular/normal” parameter (which I eventually did against my own will!). A downright struggle. But I really do believe there’s power in this struggle. It has taken me several months of learning how to ask for help and support, of reading information about my mental health issue to prompt awareness, of practicing mindfulness meditation, of questioning my own thoughts…

Even though I am still on my way to recovery, i.e I am still a work in progress, I have reached a point in my life in which I can stop and realize the harming effect that such behaviors have on me and on the people that love me. Life is about daily choices and I believe struggles are in our nature for a reason: to choose to nurture from them.

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

Sometimes, we have the illusion that we are in control, that we can keep our anxiety or our condition at bay. But with the passing of time, you realize that is not the case. Asking for help is a priority when talking about mental health. We are social beings, and by this I mean that we have a biological need to share our experiences and rely on others. We need to be able to rely on people who love us and care for us. 

I decided to get help when I realized that my “control” over the situation was fictional, temporary, and it made it even harder, even impossible, to progress. When you think you are in control, it is perhaps when you are more prone to lose it completely. Something that also triggered my need for help (especially, professional help) was when I spotted in myself a feeling of shame because of my mental health condition. Stigma, I suppose.

When I thought I had found the exact and reliable recipient to pour down my feelings about my mental health issue, I realized that I had not chosen wisely. From this, I learned that you cannot be certain someone will understand what you are going through, and choosing who to share your experience with is one of the most difficult parts of the journey. Once you have found the right people in which to place your trust and rely on them, you will see that the process of healing is much easier to undergo and you will, by no means, feel out of place or exposed. You will feel your authenticity taking over and nourishing from the support of others.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

I believe that mental health affects each and every one of us. The problem is that we don’t speak about it. We are afraid of it. I was and still am afraid of it. And that’s why it still affects me nowadays. Awareness is a tool because if you’re not aware of your condition, you won’t be able to cure it. However, it is still a challenge to know that you are suffering from one and that you have lots of work ahead of you.

Is it bad to have a mental health issue? Why does this happen to me? Other people seem to walk through life carelessly while I sit and struggle with my own mind. If you ever had these thoughts in mind, you might understand what I felt: basically, shame and fear. 

Having to give your condition a label, knowing that there are symptoms and signs you have to beware about, but especially knowing how stigma might prevent people from understanding your pain. There’s this quote that always resonates in my mind and helps me go through these predicaments: 

“We live in a world where, if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast. But if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way.” – Kevin Breel

I am learning to cope with my negative, self-deprecating thoughts which are the result of years of letting the world make me believe I was not worth it. I am learning to question my own stream of thought, knowing that my mind is hardwired to think high of others and low of myself… I have learned to understand that “it’s okay not to be okay”, that my mood does not have to fit in any parameters, that there are shades of meaning to every single event and action and that my mind needs patience and practice to take the extra step. 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

To tell you the truth, undergoing this mental health issue has made me become a more curious, self-conscious person. I am in a constant search for answers and solutions, living in an increasing sense of awareness of my mind and body. I have learned to look on the bright side, to sit and reflect about what I want for myself, for my life, for the people that surround me. Again, I believe that there is so much more than suffering when you go through any kind of journey and that it undoubtedly will lead you to several instances of personal growth.

It has also given me the capacity to be more sympathetic, understanding and positive towards others. Knowing that anyone might be undergoing what you are suffering or any other similar situation, opens your mind to a completely different approach towards life. Life itself becomes a different experience and, regardless of all the negative breakdowns you might have, there’s always something to learn. I am not proud of having a mental health issue; I am proud of having found the strength to walk through it and the resilience to get back on track whenever I trip or fall. As I already said, it can become a learnable experience if you choose to fight for it. 

  

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

When I am struggling the most is when everything I do and even myself becomes useless. Let’s be honest – giving up is an option. Hiding and isolating is an option. Hating yourself is an option. Yet, I remind myself every single day that there is always two sides to every coin. I remind myself that I will win nothing by sticking to the self-damaging options. Go further. Do NOT stay in that position.

You can find ways to make the most of your current condition and even benefit others along the way. Another piece of advice which I usually tell myself is that when I am at my worst, I cannot and will not think clearly. So, I remind myself of the need to ask for help, to resort to my source of support, to give the situation a second thought and wonder if what I was thinking is the case.

Seek inside of you, among your wishes and your hopelessness, your joy and your pain, your strengths and your weaknesses. I believe that there is a way to overcome all these and it is through effort, through making concessions with one’s own mind and heart… There is power in the struggle and better things lie ahead.