This is What Mental Illness Looks Like by Amelia Moran If people were to look at my background — where I come from, how I was raised — chances are, they wouldn’t guess that I have struggled severely with my mental health. Perhaps they would even question why or how it happened. I’ve always had a roof over my head, food on the table, clothes to wear, friends to hang out with and a large family that loves me so much. But what I’ve learned from my mental health journey is that mental illness can affect anyone. I had a very normal childhood. I loved to dress up and hang out with friends — and I especially loved putting on shows and making up dances. I went to grade school and middle school without a care in the world. I was probably a bit insecure, but nothing out of the ordinary for any child trying to figure out what she wants to be and who she is. However, as I got older (probably around 14 years old) I started to see a change in how I was thinking, feeling and acting. I started to feel the need for attention, good or bad, I was extremely insecure and I had no self-confidence. I became consumed by what other people thought of me. I also felt unfulfilled; I felt like I was always searching for more — but I didn’t know what I was searching for or why. The negative thoughts only got louder. Once that switch flipped, there was no return to my “normal” childhood. I obsessed over my weight and appearance, didn’t eat properly, over-exercised and misused medications for weight loss. It became all I thought about; I felt so in control but so out of control at the same time. Eventually, my family noticed how my new habits were taking over my life. I struggled to complete everyday tasks. I was missing and failing school. I was sleeping majority of the days, crying a lot. I was sad and in such a dark place every single day. But why? I was popular and pretty, I came from a great family, I was involved in cheerleading and dancing and I had tons of friends. I had everything, so how could I feel so sad? A few long months into my sophomore year of high school, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. By that April, I was admitted into my first inpatient treatment center. I thought that treatment would magically fix everything; I was going to be back to my happy, healthy self in 30 days! I worked my way through the treatment program, calling my parents every day and begging them to come get me because I was “better.” I was eating the meals, so everything was fine, right? Treatment did not turn out to be the easy fix I’d hoped for; it was a challenging experience. I lost all connection to the real world, and my days became structured schedules of therapy, specific bathroom times and designated eating times. I will always remember the first thing they told me in treatment: “It’s not about the food.” How could it not be? It was the only thing I thought about. After that first inpatient stay, I reverted to my old habits within two days of coming home, and I felt awful once again. I spent the next six years in and out of treatment. I missed out on so many life milestones because of my how much I was suffering. I didn’t get to graduate high school on time, perform in dance recitals, go to senior prom or enjoy holidays with my family. I began to surround myself with people who made me inadequate, and I pushed my family away, thinking they were trying to hurt me. I eventually hit rock bottom. But, thankfully, I had support from my family and friends. As many times as I wanted to give up, I’m sure they did too. But we all kept going. Now, I realize that mental health is something I am going to have to work at every single day — but I’m grateful to be here for the good days and the bad. I’m slowly learning to love and forgive myself and figuring out how to cope with normal life stressors. I take my medication regularly, see a therapist and nutritionist weekly, find healthy ways to exercise and have a full-time job. I have an amazing relationship with my family, friends and my boyfriend. I am fortunate that I can rely on these people on my bad days. They often remind me at how far I’ve come since those days when I thought my life was over. They push me to keep going.