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My Encounter with Mental Illness
At the end of the summer, in a café in London, I sat contentedly with a friend and told her with great confidence that I knew this year was going to be a good one.
Little did I know that this would be one of the most difficult years of my life.
In year eight grade, I had been diagnosed with minor Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which had been a relief because it meant help could be given to me. My 'habits' had become fewer, and things seemed to be improving.
Ninth grade began, and the usual teenage dramas commenced. However, in the course of three months, these trivial problems began to seem increasingly serious. In hindsight, I see that it wasn't the situations that were becoming more serious at all, but rather my perspective was harboring a more and more negative sheen. Horrible friend went to lower self esteem went to increasing OCD habits went to nights crying myself to sleep, all leading up to one day when I looked in the mirror, and saw a failure looking back.
Mid-December came, and when I woke up one morning, a solution came to me. I simply declared to myself, "Today, I will not eat". Rapidly, I cut things out of my diet: carbohydrates, fats, dairy... until all that was left was a limited amount of fruits and vegetables. As my weight dropped off, and the dinner table became a war zone, it was more than obvious that something in the equation had gone wrong. I was diagnosed with depression and given medicine. When this medicine didn't work and the pounds came off me, I was also given the diagnosis of anorexia. I was begged to eat as weight disappeared and my bones began to protrude, until I had lost my period, was under one hundred pounds, was always shivering, and most of all, was constantly miserable.
I have solely my family to thank for my decision to begin eating again in March. The threats of hospitalization and pressure of doctors had done nothing for me; but the suffering I was inflicting on those I love most had effected me enough that I decided, if I cannot live for myself, I will live for them. And so, I began the long journey of weight gain (I had 15kg to put on before I could be considered a healthy weight again).
You may think that the decision to eat was the cure to my condition; but despite my physical health improving, mentally I went lower and lower. I don't like to remember the darkest of those days, but they largely consisted of hours staring at blank walls, curling up in corners and hoping never to be found, and telling people repeatedly that I wanted to die. I was referred to a group of intense therapists, who at the time I didn't know what to think of, but whom I now realize saved my life. I started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and when there was still no improvement I began attending a day program at a psychiatric hospital.
That hospital was an eye-opening place: as disturbing as many of my experiences were, I met the most courageous and inspiring people there. As I gained support from people in my own position, my confidence grew, and the loneliness I had felt for a long time began to fade. From May to December I continued to see therapists three times a week, and very slowly things seemed to look better. I analyzed the roots of my depression, realized the misconceptions I had formed through my illness, and after a long while, decided that I would in fact get better. I went back to school in November (I had dropped out in April), and built up a social life again. It was a tedious process, but it was working.
A present came to me at Christmas in the form of a discharge from the hospital, and I saw therapists twice a week rather than three. Very timidly, I started to smile again, then laugh, then even sing. I began to see the good in the world, in people, and in myself.
There were many teary-eyed goodbyes as I moved away to Hong Kong, but more than that, fright at leaving my long established support network. But although I left that behind, I also said farewell to the worst of my days. I arrived in Hong Kong, determined to make a new life for myself.
I now sit in my home in the Asian continent. And I feel happy. I certainly have my bad days, and I still take medicine and see a doctor, but my life is almost 'normal' again. I've been through a lot, but I now choose not to dwell on the bad parts, but to take all that I have learned from my experiences and make something good out of them. I now plan to waste no more time feeling depressed (although I accept there may be moments of this). I love my life, where I am and who I'm with, and I consider every second of contentedness a gift.