Brain Waves: Picture Imperfect

Brain Waves: Picture Imperfect

Neely Sammons, Contributing Columnist

I went abroad to Buenos Aires, Argentina last year and lived with an 80-year-old woman named Elena for five months. It was just the two of us and we adored each other. There was, however, one thing that really got under my skin. She had it in her head, based on my appearance and very-much-abridged life story, that I had never encountered any type of problems, sorrows or challenges. She was so convinced that she even created a little song about it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth, so I went along with it. Unfortunately, Elena wasn’t the first to make this assumption.

I’ve been told by several friends and acquaintances that I have it all. According to others, I’m lucky and some would kill to have my life. Everyone thought I was perfect, I knew this, and I let them believe it while I suffered silently. What they don’t know is that I’ve struggled with depression since my early childhood. I’ve had an eating disorder for as long as I can remember. I was raped when I was seven and again when I was 18. I was verbally abused for years. Most importantly, I hid all of that darkness behind my big smile and bubbly disposition. It was an exhausting life of deception. I kept it a secret, but I was the most miserable I had ever been by the time I finally lost the control I craved.

It was right before finals week of my spring semester junior year. It was honestly all a blur, but I remember my body aching. I remember skipping class after class. I remember staying in bed for days on end and locking myself in my room. I remember my roommate finally calling my mom to come get me. I remember my mom’s disappointment and confusion, followed by her boundless compassion when we got home. “Well, now what?” I wondered.

I left school without taking my finals and didn’t look back. My plan was to take the summer off to help my mental health and then come back in the fall, completely fixed. That reality check hit me hard when I realized I had to take the fall semester off as well to continue treatment. I ended up checking myself into outpatient rehab for bulimia and PTSD, which ironically weren’t even the reasons I returned home in the first place. I had lied to myself so intently that I didn’t even realize how much damage I was inflicting upon myself, both mentally and physically.

Treatment was, of course, a game changer. I met my “Embrace the Suckage Squad,” with whom I still group text daily to check in and share our struggles. I went through trauma therapy and was finally validated, despite my bogus facade of perfection, popularity, beauty and levity. I ate a sandwich without picking apart the bread and wanting to cry for the first time in years. I celebrated 100 days without purging or cutting and I had a group of women who laughed, cried and held hands with me.

Yes, I am changed, but I am not fixed. Brokenness is just as important as wholeness in the beautiful, confusing human experience. This I do believe. I still struggle with myself daily. I now take Lexapro, despite the stigma of antidepressants. I get sad and mad and anxious, but now I allow myself to feel instead of pushing it down. I feel absolutely no shame in sharing my struggle because I know that I am not alone. When I posted my story on Facebook last year, I was shocked by response from both people I knew and people I had never met. I was thrilled that it caused such a discussion because yes, anyone can struggle with their mental health and yes, it could very well be the person you’d least expect. That’s what I want everyone to know: you are not alone in this.

The most important thing I learned is that if I can be more honest with myself about this, I can take off my mask and share myself with those who need the support. That is my part in eradicating the stigma of mental illness. Living with depression, anxiety, PTSD and bulimia in a collegiate environment is hard. No one should have to do it alone. My greatest accomplishment in life will always be the moment I decided to love myself enough to take the leap and turn everything around. Take it from me: it is never too early or too late. It will never seem like the right time to do it, but when you do, you’ll never regret it. What you gain will forever outweigh what you might lose.

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