By Carey Cecelia Shook
I am the youngest of three and the only daughter in a well-off family. Andrew and Kelly are ten and six years older than me, and they never play with me or let me tag along with them. Mom doesn’t have to work, although she can’t because she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few years ago. Dad is the president of some type of company that sells machinery, and he makes six figures.
We live in a gated community in Lake Wylie, South Carolina. The four bed, three bath home with a workshop, basement, and two porches sits on a golf course. The driveway houses the Ford Explorer, F-150, and Mustang that are all less than two years old. We have a boat and a jet ski docked in the marina at the end of the neighborhood. We are country club members, but Dad hardly golfs anymore. We go on extravagant week-long family vacations every summer.
I never say “please” or “thank you,” unless my parents tell me to in front of important people. I throw a tantrum if I don’t get what I want. I never clean my room. If Mom says no to something, I ask Dad because I am Daddy’s Little Girl and he will never say no to me.
I am having a sleepover when I find out Dad is in the hospital after driving his company car while drunk into his boss’s garage. He gets fired. We find out about the addictions he tried to hide. He lost all our college and personal savings to cocaine, alcohol, and gambling.
Dad, Mom, Kelly, and I move into a double wide trailer about fifteen minutes away. We live on the poor side of town now. Andrew drops out of high school and enlists in the Marines. Dad sells everything we own except for one car, and it still isn’t enough to cover what he owes. Dad borrows money from Mom’s parents to pay for rent. We survive on food stamps and government insurance. Mom loses her insurance all together and stops receiving treatment for her arthritis. Dad can’t find a job in his field, so he works at a car dealership. He is a bad car salesman. He doesn’t bring home a lot of money.
I gain a lot of weight from stress-eating what little food we have and the free school lunch the government gives Kelly and me. The kids at school figure out that I live in a trailer now, so I am bullied for being the fat, poor kid. I eat my emotions away and gain more weight.
Dad finds a job two years later. We move to Apex, North Carolina. Kelly is nineteen, so he stays in South Carolina. We live in a two-story house now, but it’s small. Mom sleeps on the couch because she and Dad aren’t getting along. They get drunk every night and yell at each other, sometimes bringing me into it.
At school, I am the new, fat kid. I have no friends because it’s eighth grade and everyone already has their friend group. I am bullied because I can’t run the mile in gym and do not like changing in front of the other girls in the locker room. At lunch, I am forced to sit at the edge of a table with wannabe popular girls who don’t like me. They make fun of me for eating a packed lunch and not being able to afford the cafeteria lunch, so I stop eating lunch all together.
I am depressed for the first time. I fake sick at least once a week so I don’t have to deal with my classmates. I am not eating, except for dinner at home. One day I pass out and hit my head against my bed. I earn a scar next to my left eye because I hit a screw. The doctor knows it’s because I am not eating, but when she tells Mom that I need therapy, Mom says that Shook’s don’t see therapists.
Everything gets better in May when I tell one of my classmates that I like her purple hair. She asks why I have a bandage near my eye, and I tell her why. She tells me I can eat with her and her friends, and soon enough I have a group. Even after school ends for the year, the four of us hang out. I’m laughing a lot more, and actually eating again.
I have to make new friends when Wake County Public School System separates me from my three best friends because of zoning. I join the marching band and make friends with upperclassmen. I eat lunch with them every day during our one-hour break. I earn As and Bs, have my first kiss, and start writing short stories more often.
Near the end of freshman year, Andrew tries to kill himself. Mom and Dad drive down to South Carolina to meet him and Kelly at the hospital. I am upset, because even though I am currently happy, I have expressed interest in getting help for my eating disorder. I feel like Mom and Dad love Andrew more. While they are gone for multiple days in a row, I cut myself on my left forearm. It’s the first time I hurt myself. Over the next few weeks while I adjust to Andrew moving back in with us, I grow depressed again. Mom and Dad continue drinking and fighting. Andrew and I grow close; all we do is talk about our mental health. I stop eating lunch at school. My friends don’t notice something is up with me.
For the rest of high school, I lose and gain many different friends. I quit band and join the yearbook staff. I earn Bs and Cs. I don’t eat lunch most of the time. I stay home from school. Mom doesn’t bother asking if I’m actually sick or skipping. I continue cutting myself. Andrew is the only one who knows the extent of how I’m doing.
After my junior year spring break, I get in a car accident that injures my back so badly I am on bed rest for four months. I do all my schoolwork at home. I gain forty pounds because I cannot get out of bed except to use the bathroom. When I go back to school senior year, I am bullied for gaining weight. Rumors are going around that I was gone for so long because I was in a mental hospital. I don’t have any friends. I almost drop out.
I’m less depressed thanks to my guidance counselor who I have lunch with almost every day. I stop cutting and earn all As. I graduate high school and leave everyone behind.
I am the first of my siblings to go to college when I start classes at Wake Technical Community College. I meet my first serious boyfriend in English and fall in love with him. I earn four As and one B in my first semester of college.
Three weeks into my second semester, I have a mental breakdown because I don’t know what I want to do with my life and I feel like I shouldn’t waste thousands of dollars if I don’t know what I’m doing. I drop out. I work full-time. I hurt myself. My parents are disappointed in me and argue with me. They think I am a failure. My boyfriend says he is too anxious to console me, but I am too afraid of being alone to break up with him.
My depressive episode ends after a short story of mine is published in Wake Tech’s literary magazine, The Wake Review, in May. I am back in classes in August. I become the Editor in Chief of the magazine in September. I am dating the same boy, oblivious to how toxic the relationship is. I lose fifty pounds.
Over a year later, my boyfriend begins controlling me. He manipulates me into moving into my own apartment, switching jobs so I can work closer to him and his schedule, and trading in my car for a stick shift that I don’t particularly like or know how to drive. He doesn’t let me see my family or friends, and doesn’t let me go to the gym. My depression comes back full force.
One day in February, I don’t get out of bed until 7:30 p.m. to brush my teeth. I cry on the bathroom floor, toothbrush in hand. I break up with the controlling boyfriend the next day and search online for a psychiatrist and therapist. I am diagnosed with binge eating disorder, borderline personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I start taking medication and seeing my therapist weekly. I sublease my apartment and move home. In May, I earn my Associate Degree. In August, I move to Wilmington, North Carolina to start my bachelor’s degree. I meet the best friends I’ve ever had.
In November, Andrew dies after going into cardiac arrest after using. My life shatters — I do not have anyone else who understands what I’m going through. I cut myself again. I binge every time I eat. I ignore my friends. I gain sixty pounds and stop doing anything that makes me happy. Six months later, I work a summer job that I really wanted before Andrew died, but fake my happiness. I get drunk for the first time and like it too much. I get drunk throughout the next few months to distract myself and cry every time. When school starts back up in August, I quit almost everything I love because I am so depressed. I almost drop out of school again. I have a break down while I am driving alone, and have my friends save me at Wrightsville Beach.
In October, I am fed up with being depressed. I decide to turn things around on my own. I start dating Alex, who has been interested in me for a while despite knowing how bad my mental health is. I trust my friends more and actually open up to them. I start seeing my psychiatrist again. I push away the toxic people in my life, including my parents. I don’t drink anymore. I set records with the magazine I am Editor in Chief of. I get accepted into my dream graduate school. I have an essay published. I’m not having panic attacks anymore. I fall in love with my friends, who never stop giving me standing ovations. I fall in love with Alex, who is my biggest supporter. I fall in love with myself, because I realize I deserve to be happy.
Carey Cecelia Shook holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She writes to destigmatize mental illnesses. She currently lives in Wilmington, NC. Her writing can also be found in Capulet Mag.