I’ve always been insecure. Genetics, society, my personal type—whatever the reason was, growing up, I was no stranger to self-consciousness. That said, I was genuinely a happy kid. I smiled. I laughed. I was praised for my creativity and penalized for my impulsivity. In fact, it wasn’t until my teenage years that my insecurities superseded everything else.
In seventh grade, I began to question my identity. I knew I had a lot going for me; I played the trumpet, I was a starter on my travel soccer team, I had a nice group of like-minded friends, and I did well in school. But I was simultaneously overwhelmed with pressure, anxiety, and negative body image. I would look in the mirror and despise the person staring back at me. I thought was too tall, too fat, too needy, too impulsive. I thought I wasn’t good enough.
These insecurities continued to fester inside me until the beginning of eighth grade, when they manifested into an eating disorder and depression. I lost just about everything that year. I became disinterested in the trumpet, I was too physically compromised to play soccer, I isolated myself from my friends, and my grades plummeted from As to Cs. This period of my life was dark and frightening, and some days, I couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed. I was completely entrenched in my eating disorder. I was convinced that it was my identity, and that anyone who tried to tell me otherwise was delusional. My mothers, the two wonderful women who brought me into this world, became my worst enemies. I thought they were trying to destroy my life, when in reality, they simply wanted to help me.
This vicious cycle of denial, deprivation, and defiance, persisted for several months until I was eventually admitted to an Intensive Outpatient Program at a facility called Walden. I was at Walden for eight weeks, and when I discharged, I was physically in a better place, but mentally, I was still a mess. I was no longer in school because I was unsafe, so I spent most of my time at home sleeping or watching television or moping around my house, bored out of my mind.
Also at that time, my then-therapist was suggesting coping skills to make my miserable life more manageable. Most of them I refused to try. I thought they were stupid and a waste of my time—I even thought that about writing the first time she mentioned it. But once I sat down at my computer and started typing, this incredible feeling of relief overcame me. After years of suppressing my troubling emotions, I finally had a non-destructive release for them.
I realized I had found my voice.
I continued to write as often as I could in the brutal years that followed. No matter where I was or what resources I had, I would always find a way to write. I remember being at a psychiatric hospital—I don’t remember which one, as there were many—composing a poem on a scrap of paper with a stubby orange crayon because patients weren’t allowed to have pencils.
But writing was not a magical cure for my mental illness. The longer I struggled, caught in a seemingly-endless tug-of-war match between relapse and recovery, the more I realized that there was no magical cure. Recovery wasn’t a five hundred word document or a pill or something I would one day wake up in. Recovery was a process; it was a winding road full of detours, speed bumps, and numerous obstacles that I had to overcome. Though this road was unpredictable and intimidating, I regularly reminded myself that with every sunset, there is a sunrise. The ominous thunderclouds that overshadowed my life would part, and in their place, clear skies and sparkling sunlight would emerge. I would find better days. I had to.
On October 3rd of 2015, I was admitted to my final inpatient treatment facility, Center for Discovery. Center for Discovery changed my life. In retrospect, it was a combination of finding a facility that had the resources to help me and being genuinely fed up with the poor quality of my life. For the first time in years, I was able to find the motivation to commit to recovery. I wanted to get better.
Since I discharged from Center for Discovery in February of 2016, my life has progressively improved. Today, I’m a part-time student, I recently applied to college, I’m learning how to eat independently, and this past September, I published my debut novel Changing Ways: a contemporary young adult story about a sixteen-year-old battling mental illness that’s heavily based on my personal experiences.
If someone had told me in eighth grade that in five years, this would be my life, I don’t think I would have believed them. But it is, and even though what I went through was horrible and I’d never want to relive it, I also wouldn’t change a thing. My experiences provided me with an unique perspective I otherwise wouldn’t have. They taught me that I have a strong will and the courage to overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of freedom. They also helped me discover my love for writing, and, quite frankly, I can’t imagine my life without it.
I used to believe I had no purpose, and that I’d be better off dead. Perhaps if I’d remained in limbo and continued to straddle the fine line between relapse and recovery, that would have been my demise. But by utilizing external motivation and drawing from internal strength, I’ve chosen a side; I’ve chosen life. Though there are still—and will likely always be—plenty of highs and lows, one day at a time, I’m learning how to live again.
Written by Julia Tannenbaum