Article via The Odyssey.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year it is especially important to me.
This is my first Mental Health Awareness Month where I consider myself to be in recovery from my struggles with mental illness.
For many years, I suffered from an eating disorder and overwhelming anxiety. Starting when I was a little girl, I struggled with my body image and also had many perfectionistic tendencies. I started dancing at three years old, and as I got older, I got more serious about dance. However, as I got more and more serious about dance, my relationship with my body continued to get worse and worse. I was convinced that if I lost weight and had the ideal “ballerina body” I would be a much better dancer, I would get more attention, I would get more featured roles, and I would love myself more. As I lost more weight, I received lots of praise because people thought that what I was doing was healthy and that I was finally getting closer to that “ballerina body.”
However, there was nothing healthy about what I was doing in the least. What started out as a seemingly innocent diet turned into an all-out war with my body and mind. For years, I convinced myself that what I was doing was healthy and normal. My thought processes were very distorted. I thought that constantly feeling guilty, ashamed, and overwhelmed was just something I had to accept. I thought that my deeply rooted self hate was a normal part of life, and I figured it was just going to be that way forever. However, I was very wrong.
After many years of struggling silently, this past September I decided that enough was enough and I finally reached out for help and started Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). When I first started therapy, I was extremely ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was in therapy, and I was afraid that if I talked about going to therapy people would think that I was crazy or would judge me. For a while, I only talked about it with a few close friends. However, as I started to embrace the journey of therapy, I learned that I wasn’t alone. I learned that many people struggle in the way I do and that choosing to embrace vulnerability was the only way to fully start the healing process. I’ve learned to embrace my life for what it is, even when it feels like a mess. I’ve learned that perfection is impossible, and constantly striving for it will never bring me as much joy as just being who I am will.
Today, I’m still in therapy. I’m in a much healthier place (both mind and body) than I was 7 months ago, but I still have work to do! I still have my very difficult days, but I also have really good days. I’m learning to validate my emotions and my struggles, even when I’m really frustrated with myself. I’m gaining skills to navigate my anxiety, and I’m learning to heal my relationship with my body and food.
I have learned that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Because of the huge stigma our society has around mental illness, so many people aren’t educated properly on what it is, and so many people who are suffering don’t reach out for help, or can’t get help because of barriers that are in the way.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am part of the 1 in 4 adults who struggle with mental illness. I’m doing everything I can to help stop the stigma and bring more awareness to this incredibly important topic. To learn more about mental illness or to find help in your area, please visit www.nami.org.