I grew up being a chubby girl. People weren’t mean about it, but they used to talk about it. A lot. I grew up listening how I shouldn’t eat this and that, how I should exercise more, and not because of my health, but because that way maybe I could lose some weight. And maybe I would look better. That of course, caused me to have several questions about myself. Was I fat? Does being fat means being ugly? Wasn’t I pretty enough? Was that the reason guys wouldn’t look at me? Was that the reason why they always prefered my skinny, pretty friends? I remember being around six years old and wondering if my tummy would ever be flat. No six year-old should have to worry about that. Ever.
When I was fourteen I dropped some weight, as most girls do at that age. Still, I always saw myself as the fat girl. I hated my body so much, I would only wear baggy clothes. I hated my arms so much, I would almost cry everytime someone would touch them. And then, an incident triggered something on my mind that would change my life forever.
A guy that was supposed to be my friend told me, in front of almost everyone in school, that I was so ugly that no one would ever love me. That hurt. It hurt so bad that when I got home that same day after school, I locked myself in the bathroom and tried to put my fingers down my throat for the very first time. I don’t even know why I thought about doing that. I just knew I had to. I had associated the word “ugly” with the word “fat” my entire life. If people saw me that ugly, to think that no one could possibly love me, it surely was because I was fat. And I was tired of it.
It didn’t work that first time. But after that, I was never the same. I started to eat less and less. I tried exercising more and more. Which, one would think, is a good thing; that’s healthy. But the reasons why I was doing those things, weren’t healthy. My mind wasn’t healthy.
A year later, I moved to the States. My parents weren’t home most of the time, because they were working. My sister and my little brother were too young to even pay attention to what was happening. I started a “food journal”, where I would write down every single thing I’d eat each day, along with their calories. I would exercise in school, sometimes even staying at the gym after school. I’d get home, most of the time avoiding any kind of food. Then I’d go running alongside the Columbia River, and when I got back home, I would exercise more. I got to the point where even people in school started asking questions. Was I ok? Why did I look sad all the time? Was I sick? It was funny how, that was the time when I felt better about myself, and even then, people thought I looked sick.
As if all those things weren’t enough, I started to lock myself in the bathroom after dinner, trying to learn how to make myself sick. And that’s when I started binge eating. When my parents weren’t home, I would go to the kitchen and take everything I could to the room upstairs. I’d eat everything as fast as I could, and then I’d make my walk of shame to the bathroom, and with the guiltiest mind, I’d put my fingers down my throat one more time.
It didn’t take long for me to find my way to depression. Adding that to losing one of my closest aunts in a tragic accident, I slowly began to sink. It got to a point where I used to go to bed begging God not to wake up the next morning, and then I would cry myself to sleep. Every. Single. Night. And for the first time in my life I considered suicide as an option. I have never really talked about it, but let me tell you that for someone to get to the point where they’d rather die instead of keep on living on this earth, is because they truly are living in hell. To consider suicide is to go to the darkest place you can imagine inside of your own mind. And once you’ve tasted its dirty, black waters, you can never really come back. It’s like quicksand; the more you keep fighting to get out, the more you sink. Lower and lower.
Flashforward to my parents and siblings moving back to Mexico, and me staying in California with an aunt that was basically a stranger to me. She was so overprotective, it was harder for me to do all the sneaky things I used to do. Those were the hardest six months of my life. My mind was a living hell. Constantly repeating to myself: you’re not good enough, you’re fat again, you’re eating way too much. I hated to eat in public. I felt like people were looking at me, thinking: why is that fat girl eating? She has no right to eat. I know it sounds crazy, and maybe even stupid, but those were the thoughts running through my mind everyday in school. I’d have a chicken burger in the cafeteria, and only eat half of the chicken. And the carrots. No bread, no milk, no dessert. I couldn’t concentrate on class; by the time the final bell would ring, I could barely hold back my tears ‘till I could make it to the bathroom. I was miserable. And no one knew. Everyone would look right through me. My teachers saw me as just that “smart” girl that had learned english really fast. My classmates looked at me as just the quiet girl, sitting always in the back. Trying too hard to be invisible. But no one ever asked why. No one even cared.
But for me, that was perfect. I didn’t want anyone to find out. My eating disorder, my depression and my anxiety had become a part of me. I couldn’t just push them away.
And then, after only six months of living in California, I moved yet once again. This time back to Washington. By this point I felt like even a glass of orange juice would make me fat. I could feel my arms getting bigger with each sip of it. Sometimes I would put food on my plate and feel like it was too much, and then when someone else would look at it they would say something like: why don’t you eat more? Aren’t you hungry?. And then, when I’d look at my plate again, I’d see what they were seeing: the plate was almost empty. I wouldn’t even walk into the cafeteria anymore; I’d take five grapes and four almonds, and I’d lock myself in the bathroom to eat them. One by one. Then I’d go to the library and spend the rest of the lunch break there. Alone. I had no friends. This time, I was really invisible. I’d get home and prepare a smoothie: a few strawberries, a tablespoon of greek yogurt, orange juice and honey, and that was it for me. I wouldn’t eat dinner. And if I was really hungry and made the mistake of eating something else, I’d punish myself by throwing it all up. I would spend the rest of the day locked in my room, lights off. All I wanted to do was sleep. And it got to the point where I didn’t even have the strength to get up in the morning. I felt too weak to get out of bed.
I began to feel bad all the time. I’d always get colics, and most of the time I’d feel like I was walking on clouds. Like I was living in a dream, and everything was in slow motion. I knew my mind and my body just wanted to shut down. I lost interest in everything that I used to like doing. I didn’t even remember what happiness felt like. I was having more and more anxiety attacks at school. I would run to the restroom almost every hour and try to control my breathing. It felt like the air wasn’t enough, like someone or something was stealing it from me. My hands would shake uncontrollably. I was a complete mess and never told anyone. Everyone thought I was just too quiet. Too shy. Or maybe too weird.
And then, one day I came across an old movie. I don’t even remember the name. But it was about a girl that was dealing with anorexia. She ended up being hospitalized, and I thought: well, I’m not that sick. I haven’t gotten to that point.
I thought maybe my sickness wasn’t even real. Maybe I wasn’t sick at all. Because I wasn’t that sick. But there was one part of the movie, in which the girl, crying and desperate tells her mother: “I don’t want to die”. It was so powerful it made me cry. Suddenly I felt all the sickness, all the desperation. All the sadness and anxiety. Hitting me all at once. And I realized, I didn’t want to die either. I wanted to live and I didn’t even know how anymore.
So after a few days of convincing myself that it was time to let go of my dearest, most toxic friends, I called my mom in tears and told her everything. I was only a few days away from graduating high school, and I was supposed to go to the Washington State University in the fall. But I couldn’t deal with the pressure anymore. My mom told me she’d put me on a plane back home as soon as I was done with high school. And she did.
The day after graduation I took a flight back to the Guadalajara airport.
I got to the Denver airport at midnight, and had to wait there for my connecting flight until the next morning. I was traveling by myself, so I decided it was best if I didn’t leave the airport at all. I stayed up all night, all by myself. There was not a single soul there. So I sitted on the floor, thinking of all the things I was leaving behind. My hopes and dreams. And little by little I decided to let go. Let go of everyone’s expectations. I let go of the fear of letting everyone down. And I let go of the fear of feeling like a failure. I knew that I had to get better.
Being back home really helped me. I think that an eating disorder doesn’t just go away. It lives there, in the back of your mind, waiting for you to let your guard down and attack again. So you live in constant fear of going back to that dark place. I still struggle with food every once in a while. I can eat in public now. I allow myself to eat the stuff I want to eat now. I don’t count calorie by calorie anymore. I exercise but I allow myself to catch a breath more often. I don’t push myself more than I know I can take. And since I’m about to graduate from Law School, I’ve been too busy to really take care of my body, so I’ve gained some weight. And sometimes I get scared. Sometimes I feel the urge to run to the bathroom everytime I eat junk food. But it’s been almost five years since the day I promised myself (and my sister) I wouldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes my anxiety gets out of control and makes me eat more than normal, but I’ve been getting better at focusing on the problem that causes my anxiety, and channeling all that stress and anger out of my body through meditation. I still have a lot to work on, but I’m getting there. Once I’m out of school I want to take some time to actually take care of my body and mind properly. I feel like it’s necessary. I need to create new, healthier habits so that I can have more energy. So that I can be happier.
Now I know that all my problems came from the feeling of losing control. I was losing control over my future, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I honestly couldn’t see a future. I even had set a date to end my life: I knew it’d be after graduation. But my mom put me on that plane back home. As much as I wanted to stay and “live my dreams”, now I know that if I had stayed, I wouldn’t be alive today. I wouldn’t be here, writing this. I would’ve missed so many moments with my family, I would’ve never met the friends I have today. I do have plans for the future, and for the first time in my life I am excited to see what’s next in my life. But if I learned anything from my darkest time is that you have to let it all flow. Let life take you where you’re supposed to be, but don’t push it. When you have high expectations and suddenly you lose control of things, that’s when your mind starts suffering.
To anyone struggling with any kind of mental health problem I’d say get help. I know it’s not easy. I know it’s a battle against yourself, against your own mind. But it never gets better, until you tell someone. It never gets better until you convince yourself that you actually want to live, that you really want to be happy again.
And to everyone else, please pay attention to the people around you. Pay attention to your daughter when she spends all day in her room and all she wants to do is sleep. Pay attention to your sister when she loses interest in the things she loves doing. Pay attention to your friend when she says she’s tired of feeling pain. And remember that mental illness and eating disorders affect men too. The signs are there, and we need to start showing more empathy for others. So let’s start being kind to the people around us; ask your friends how they are, and smile to strangers. Back when I was in Washington I had a teacher that every morning would stand outside his classroom, telling each student passing by “hey! keep smiling”, with the biggest smile painted on his face. I don’t think he ever knew, but with that small act of kindness he managed to make me smile every once in a while, even when I couldn’t find a reason to.
So let’s all take his example and try to make strangers feel good. We’re all fighting our own battles and we never know what others are going through. And remember: life is too beautiful to waste it living as a prisoner of your own mind.