Editor’s Note: If you struggle with self harm or have experienced sexual assault, the following story may potentially be triggering. You can contact Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741 from anywhere in the U.S. or call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to reach RAINN, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.
Anna May's Story
I have always been a highly sensitive person. This has shaped my world and who I am as a person. This sensitivity has made me more susceptible to mental illness (along with my genetic predisposition). I had my first panic attack when I was in fifth grade, but I remember distinct moments of anxiety starting as early as preschool. When I was in sixth grade, I switched schools and within two weeks of being at the new school, an acquaintance at my old school passed away. This was my first experience with trauma. I remember feeling alone at my new school and guilty that I wasn’t in my old community during a time of loss. This event sparked what would soon become Major Depressive Disorder.
As middle school continued, I found myself in my first relationship that, in a few months, would end in me being date-raped. Over the course of that relationship, my anxiety was something that was affecting most aspects of my life and my depression was something that kept me feeling isolated from everyone in my life. Within two months of one relationship ending, I found myself in a new one. I remember wanting to get as much space between me and my rapist as possible (which is a very common trauma response). My new boyfriend used my past trauma and mental illnesses against me and soon the new relationship was even worse that the last. Over the course of a year, the relationship became increasingly abusive. I was raped and sexually assaulted more times than I can count, and my depression and anxiety became so much worse. During that year, I developed an eating disorder and began to self harm as a way to cope with the abuse.
After countless treatment programs, I finally went to a residential program and was able to breakup with my abusive ex. Residential changed everything. It didn’t save my life — it showed me that I was strong enough to save myself.
I graduated from residential two and a half years ago. In that time, I have made incredible new friendships and rekindled old ones, reported one of my rapes, relapsed in my eating disorder and pulled myself out of the relapse, started trauma therapy, and begun to build a life that is not defined by my mental illnesses.
When I began real recovery from my eating disorder as well as intensive trauma therapy, I started a recovery account on Instagram. It began as a way to connect with people who have experienced similar things as me and it has grown into a place where I can take my power back, heal, and take up space. I didn’t know the power of being heard until I experienced it and once I did, everything changed. I am never going back to people who don’t believe and value me because I know that my story is important and that my words have value.
I wish that I had read a story like mine when I was struggling because I know how isolating mental illnesses can be. You feel trapped. You feel hopeless. You feel like no one could possibly understand what you’re experiencing. But I promise, that is the illness talking. Mental illnesses thrive in silence and secrecy because they rely on you believing in the distorted reality that they have created. When you talk about what is happening in your brain, you take away the power the mental illness has taken from you. Everyone deserves to live a life that they are proud of. Everyone deserves to receive help and to be heard. The greatest strength I have ever witnessed is people asking for help when their brain is screaming at them not to.
I want anyone who has been sexually assaulted or abused to know that I believe you. I believe your pain and please hear me when I say that it was not your fault. There is nothing that you could have done differently. It’s okay to feel angry, sad, disgusted, betrayed, and anything else that you need to feel. You deserve to be treated with respect. Life starts when you forgive yourself. There is no right way to heal but know that you deserve to heal from this. I love you and I see you.
To anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder — you deserve to take up space. Your body has worked its entire life to keep you alive. Wondering if you are “sick enough” is an indication that you ARE. Eating disorders do not have a look, age, gender, ethnicity, class, etc. You are valid no matter what your body looks like. At some point, you either die or you recover and you deserve life. My god, you deserve life.
Mental illnesses are real. Mental illnesses are painful and terrifying and confusing but I promise that you are not alone in this. I know that recovery is hard. Heck, it is the hardest thing that I have ever done but if I hadn’t committed to it again and again and again, I wouldn’t be here today. I am so grateful that I am still here because there is life beyond mental illnesses. There is love and laughter and heartbreak and LIFE ahead of this. There are people to love, books to read, music to listen to. Recovery is hard; recovery is worth it. Thank you for being alive and thank you for reading my story. The world needs you, darling. Whatever you do, don’t forget that.