Dear Depression, Bulimia, and Body Dysmorphia: You Don’t Own Me

Life’s not easy, for anyone. It’s a constant, never ending game of hide-and-seek we’re playing. Sometimes, we run all the way across the field from one point of our lives to the other just to peek behind the corner and realize we’ve found our kryptonites. Others, we don’t have to go far to find the best thing that’s ever happened to us. This game, this scavenger hunt for the days the compose our lives, can be fun to some of us. To others, that field is a battle ground, and you’re swinging a sword you’ve never been taught to wield and peaking behind corners that could kill you.

I stand with the latter.

From an early age, before I gave a shit about girls or boys, I was at war. From the first time I realized the birthmark on my face wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I scrubbed to the first time my adolescent self started sucking in his stomach, I hated myself. As a short, stubby kid, I always got bullied for being both. It got so bad that one day, in the midst of the maelstrom of malice that was my home life, I came to school to find out everyone I knew (and a bunch I didn’t) were suddenly calling me “Martitty.” From that moment I tried sucking in my stomach more, I tried hiding my protruding nipples, I tried being nicer — doing whatever I could to get it all to stop. But by the time the kids got bored and moved on, the damage had already been dealt, and I had slowly began to bleed out.

There was days I wanted to die — before I had even turned ten, I wanted to die. Then there were the days I’d be happy for no reason at all until, for no reason, I’d explode. I started calling an innocent girl in my class a slut. I threw chairs around the classroom. I wrote song after song about taking over the world. Then the high would be gone, and I’d crash back down to the ground. I no longer called the girl a slut because I no longer thought I was above her. I no longer threw chairs around because I no longer had the energy to even talk. The songs went from taking over the world to just wanting my father to love me. I had no idea I was bipolar.

These things followed me as I grew up. I’d gone from eating my feelings to barely eating at all at times. The holy war I waged on myself got dirtier, bloodier. I’d started self-harming after I saw something on TV about how it made things feel better. It didn’t at first, it hurt. But then it did. And it did again. And again. And again. It kept going, and I realized these ugly scars — these imperfections are exactly what I deserved, because I was imperfect. The kids at school said so. My life said so. Perfect kids don’t do this, yet here I was.

The cutting stopped for a while after I thinned out, and I took up drugs, alcohol and sex while either not eating, or throwing it all up. The drugs sedated me. The alcohol gave me that invincibility that began coming less frequently. The sex…gave me power. And that was exactly what I needed. These vices became my knife, and I knew it when I was a teenager that I was bleeding myself because I didn’t care anymore.

Reaching young adulthood (18), the purging took precedent. I was skinny now, and I was obsessed with staying that way. I did dark things to people I love because, for once, I wanted to be the one causing the pain. I had sex with people I hated because they worshipped me. They looked at the fine mess and begged me to dance in it. I was going to destroy myself. Life had taken everything from me, so I deserved it take it.

But then 19 happened, and one day, when my little brother begged to come into my room to hang out, I started screaming at him. I didn’t care about his feelings at first, but then I heard him talk to my mom in the other room.

“Just leave him be, Josiah,” she said. “That’s just how he is.”

“But he’s always like that now,” he said, disappointed. For the first time in a long time, I felt my heart. I felt it shatter and shred every piece of me. When I was a kid, I prayed for my little brother. He’d be someone to talk to, someone to share with, someone I could mold into the opposite of the kids who bullied me. Now look what I’m doing to him.

I started going clean. I hid my razors. I tried eating regularly. I cut off the bad people. I needed to get better. For him. I still hated my body and myself, but I promised myself I was going to get better. I ate small portions so that my meals wouldn’t intimidate me, and I’d finish them. I wore shorts on days where I felt confident enough to do so. I rerouted my addition to caffeine. They were slow, careful, deliberate steps to recovery. I was going to get better.

Until the dark night when I snapped, and scoured the dirty Alabama streets for a beer bottle that I shattered, and used to cut myself again. This demon was back in full force, and I knew that if I didn’t do something I’d end it all tonight. I went home and started screaming at my mom to take me to the hospital with her on her way to work. She didn’t need the details. She just needed to take me.

She kept begging for an explanation I wouldn’t give. She knew the things I’d done to myself after finding me with over 30 scars on my uncovered biceps. She knew the things I’d do. This was between me and her, and she knew exactly what I needed her to do. But she was scared. I knew that. Still, I screamed.

Then my father intervened, and I snapped. I stopped trying to make sense, and started screaming obscenities and trying to get out through the bedroom window after they locked me in the room. My brother and sister were on the other side, scared, my sister crying, my brother begging to see his brother. When the cops and ambulance showed up, I told them, repeatedly, as if the only words I knew was a chant of, “I’m not crazy.”

They told me to breathe. I did.

They asked my name. I gave it to them

I carefully told them everything I researched. I told them I may have bipolar II disorder, and that I struggle with self harm and addiction. To me, I’m now calm. But they see a bawling, stumbling, erratic boy who chokes on every other word.

That night was one of the darkest of my lives. My mom pulled some strings to keep me out of the psyche ward, and a seemingly never ending chain of ugly scrubs and white coats came in the question me. They took my phone and my clothes and my blood and asked me all kinds of stupid, invasive questions. Then they put me on contract. I had to go to a psychologist. I had to promise I wouldn’t hurt myself, or they’d lock me away. I signed.

It wasn’t easy after that. I went through outpatient treatment and received the tools I needed to handle my disorder. I relapsed tons of times, struck friends, isolated myself, did drugs, had bad sex with bad people, but…I was doing it all less. In this time, after all my bad habits — all that I had to cope with — were gone, I was numb. Cold. Like I was already dead, and I wondered if this was at the other side if living was even worth it.

Then I met Jonathan. His laughter was art I got lost in. His voice was a melody — a baritone of notes that struck me in ways no one had. He lit a match in the coldest parts of me, and made me realize I wasn’t alone. He loved me. He made me love myself. He made me love him, and all the intricacies he didn’t expect anyone to notice — how good he was at changing subjects when nearing a topic that hurt him, how seamless; he way tried to cover up his drawl and ended up accentuating it. His favorite color was orange, which I hated, and he knew exactly how I ran, and how to catch me.

A year later, I moved to San Francisco, slowly but surely repairing myself. I started wearing more sleeveless shirts when I felt bold. I talked more. Smiled more to people I didn’t know. Then there was my first San Francisco Pride — all the half-naked, confident peacocks strutting about. I wanted that, but knew I’d never have it. I’d settle for feeling good enough about myself to take off my shirt at the beach. I’d settle for being able to look myself in the mirror and not want to peel my face off.

But that same time, two years later, look at me: confident and free.

I eat regularly now. I don’t forget meals very often, and even eat three times a day. I refrain from drugs, and only drink socially. I’m able to look myself in the mirror and not break down. I’m in love with everything about myself that I used to hate. I’d panic looking at the scale and seeing I’m 120lbs, but now here I stand, my heaviest, 160lbs and I don’t give a fuck. I used to wear pants to the beach and barely ever take off my shirt. I used to wear black and shrink myself and pray to not be seen. Now I’m marching through the streets on Pride weekend, half naked, and I’m not tense, or anxious, I’m smiling.

I don’t purge. I don’t self harm. I don’t try to find validation, or power, in the pants of people I hate. I don’t care what bad thing people have to say about me, or my body. I don’t care because I love myself now, and I’m enough.

If you are struggling with eating disorders, mental illness, or addition, I want you to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The door to self-loathing has closed, and though the door to complete discovery and self-love hasn’t completely opened, I’m still having fun shaking my ass in the hallways. You can to.

Life is a battle, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. But we can all become stronger, and better at swinging the sword.