Reasons to Die II

When you wake up on a psych ward, your first thought will probably be Where the hell am I?, followed soon by How did I get here… again? At least, that’s what it was like for me about a month ago, when I found myself in a small, bare room, going for round two of hospitalization.

The New Year had rung in a little more than a week earlier, and as I sat at my desk ignoring breakfast and mentally beating myself up for somehow being stupid enough to get locked up again (granted, it was actually a good thing, especially from the whole not-dying point of view), I composed a list, called WHY; a list of reasons to kill myself. A few hours later, at lunch time, I composed its sister, WHY NOT. These are the lists from the previous post, Reasons to Die.

So, with Day One of my stay slowly going by, the question remained: which list would win?

The answer might seem fairly obvious; the Why Not list is longer, ergo, it wins. It’s worth noting, however, that from my back-of-menu hand-written perspective, the two lists were actually equal in length – if anything, Why was slightly longer because the writing seemed smaller and more compressed.

It didn’t take me long to make up my mind, though. While both lists contained some scenarios which were hypothetical as well as some concrete examples, the Why Not list was far more based on hopes and dreams. I firmly want to believe that I have something to offer in this life, but I very well could be wrong. A lot of that list also banked on me changing my beliefs or negative self-talk; I need to firmly and permanently alter the idea that I am unworthy of love, that I will always be defined by my past and by the pain I have experienced, that I deserve no shot at happiness. Changing that kind of mentality takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work. It requires a commitment that, as much as I want to believe I am willing to make, I have thus far never succeeded in maintaining for more than a few weeks, a couple of months at most.

And yet… The Why Not list was winning in my head.

So why? Why do people, people who feel completely and total despair, helplessness, hopelessness, still cling on to that little sliver of hope that somehow things might be different now? How do they hang on?

I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone does. It exceeds all rationality.

I’ve often thought about destroying the Why list. It’s been recommended to me. Why cling on to a list of reasons to die when you have picked life, and aren’t supposed to look back? Aren’t you just torturing yourself? Aren’t you going to make yourself suicidal staring at a piece of paper that is essentially telling you to kill yourself?

And the fact of the matter is that yes, in the moments where I wholeheartedly choose life, reading over the reasons to choose death brings an echo of doubt into my decision. But it keeps me grounded. It challenges me to remember why the answer hasn’t always been so easy, and to not take for granted that I will always want to choose life.

In the moments I choose death, I look at Why Not and remember the things I wanted to do, experience, feel. It reminds me that my depression is not permanent and that I need to keep going to give myself the chance to choose life again. It reminds me that I was able to wake up in a hospital room, confused and angry and wanting to die, and still draw up a list of twenty-two reasons to live.

Reasons to Die

10/01/17 – Details to Come

WHY

Because it’s been ten effing years and sometimes I still feel like I’m at square one. Because it’s going to keep happening again and again and again. Because this is going to be the rest of my life. Because I let everyone down. Because I’m never going to get better. Because what if I never get better? Because I don’t believe in the superiority of human life. Because I don’t believe in this world. Because I’m tired of seeing everything, of hearing everything, of being everything. Because death. Loss. Grief. Terrorism. Accidents. Murder. Idiots. Pain. Disease. Abuse. Because I’m never going to forget. Because I don’t want to be me anymore. Because I just want it all to stop. I want it all to be gone. I want to be gone. I want to be dead. Because I know it wasn’t my fault, but I know there’s always going to be a tiny piece of me that believes that anyway. Because I’m a terrible person and we all damn well know it and I don’t know why everybody won’t just admit it already.

WHY NOT

Because I believe I have something to offer in this life. Because I am not defined by the people who have hurt me. Because my past does not determine my future. Because I am worthy of love. Because one day I will love someone, and they will be beautiful, and perfect, and everything I ever wanted them to be. Because one day someone will love me, and I will be beautiful, and perfect, and everything they ever wanted me to be. Because I deserve a shot at happiness. Because I don’t hurt people nearly as much as I think I do. Because I cannot let the people who have tried to hurt me win. Because I want to watch the seasons change, the sun rise and set, the years tick by. I want to be old. I want to retire. I want to hold a sleeping child in my arms and know that I will not hurt that child the way I was hurt. Because cats. Long hikes. Friends. Celebrations. Music. The Future with a capital F. Because I love myself, and even on the days I don’t I want to give myself the chance to keep trying.

Coming Out: One Year On

A little over a year ago – a year and a month today, to be precise – I came out as gender queer/non-conforming/non-binary. I just wanted to share my thoughts on what the past year has been like, and how I see the future unravelling.

It’s been a journey, to say the least. It’s been a time of trial and error as I continue to struggle with both defining and accepting who I am, while also trying to make myself 100% comfortable with the fact that I’ll probably never know exactly who I am (and frankly don’t care enough to fight myself every idea in order to fit a certain label or stay within the confines of what is considered acceptable for my gender, even though that gender is non-conforming to begin with).

Coming out has certainly been a weight off my shoulders; though I still occasionally panic when people begin discussing LGBT+ issues by fear that by standing up I will accidentally “out” myself, I always find myself relieved when I remind myself that it’s no longer something I’m trying to hide.

No one should have to hide who they are.

Like many people, I was deeply impacted by the recent shooting in an LGBT+ club in Orlando. It was the same kind of thought process I had when I learned about the life of Harvey Milk, and again nearly every time I hear about the death/murder/suicide of a member of the rainbow community.

There’s something about knowing that people have died simply for being themselves that makes it feel all the more important to live openly and unapologetically, both in honour of those dearly departed, and for those who have fought tooth and nail for this cause, and continue to fight to this day.

I want to be myself, fully and unapologetically, without caring what anyone thinks of it.

It’s a pledge I made to myself after watching Milk for the first time (and the second and the third), and again after hearing of the Orlando shooting, and again after my first time attending the Toronto Pride Parade. It’s a pledge I make again to myself every day, because I think it’s so (pardon my French) goddamn important.

Being yourself is incredibly difficult. I have friends and family members who refuse to accept me or who will simply never understand, and that’s okay. Some of those are people who within the past year have simply stopped being a part of my life, and that’s okay too. It sucks, it hurts for a little bit (or a while), but ultimately, I am better off without them, and will not let them stop me from striving to be my true self.

The past year has been challenging. I have been unfortunate enough to learn first-hand some of the discrimination that trans and non-binary folk encounter, but fortunate enough to be surrounded by incredibly supportive people that are by my side no matter what. I’ve had to deal with being almost constantly misgendered, being singled out and being made to feel somehow inferior to my cisgender or gender-binary peers. I thank my lucky stars every day that I have not experienced any form of physical confrontation or violence stemming from my gender. But throughout everything, I’ve tended to stay quiet about my experiences.

I will be quiet no more.

So here’s to the coming year. A year of celebration of who we are, a year of fighting for justice where it is missing, a year of voices that were silenced being heard. But most importantly, a year of freedom. The freedom to be who you are, without a second thought, whatever that may look like.

Wishing everyone out there the best in their endeavours, and may your lives be filled with as much joy, love and support as possible,
JT.

(P.S. I say it is important to be yourself, unapologetically – and it is. But understand that this is not an excuse to be a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted person. It’s about being yourself without caring about others’ feelings towards you, not about being yourself without caring about others. Note the (very, very important) difference.)

Doing Simple Things with Mental Illness

Within the next month or so, I will be creating a series of posts relating to the difficulties associated with accomplishing seemingly simple tasks when one is affected by a mental illness such as depression or anxiety.

I will explore such activities as personal hygiene, swimming, or talking on the phone, among others.

I’ll be drawing on my own experiences with these matters, but also talking to friends and family members, maybe throwing some statistics in there once in a while too. Mostly, though, I will speak for myself, because that’s really my area of expertise. I know this won’t be representational of the general experience or how the majority of those affected by depression/anxiety feel, but I think the personal reflection might add a little depth, a little more meaning.

All the posts from this series will eventually be able to be found under the category “Simple Things.”

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you as I begin this new chapter in Unsilenced.

The Future…

Around this time last month, I had a moment of sheer terror when considering my future, and what it might look like.

It’s interesting, I’ve noticed, that whenever considering what lies ahead for me, it always seems as though the future will be fantastic. Of course, it also features a fair amount of grief and heartache; I know my parents will eventually grow old and die, I never picture myself in a long-term relationship or with a family, and more often than not I suspect a large-scale war or an awful epidemic sweeping the planet.

But all that aside, whenever I look into the distance, I am oddly sane.

I certainly understand that, while not cured, mental illnesses can be treated and effectively managed, causing little to no interference with day-to-day activities and normal functioning as a member of society. Yet I am doing little to try to reduce my symptoms or ease my struggles, and still expect to grow up and perhaps grow out of everything – depression, anxiety, etc.

In periods of severe depression, I often have difficulty picturing my future, be it a year or two away, or just the next week; and that’s absolutely a symptom of the illness, I recognize that.

However, no matter how happy or sad I am, as long as I’m not picturing myself dead, I see myself becoming a well-rounded member of society; holding down a steady job, volunteering, perhaps continuing some work in the mental health advocacy field, and functioning exquisitely.

How can I assume this will be the case?

It’s certainly not as though I’m picturing any kind of ideal, since I never see myself with a partner or family, two things I think I might (eventually) desire. I never see myself being a casual, “normal” drinker, because I know that that’s something I’ll probably never be able to do. I’m never surrounded by an impenetrable wall of pure happiness when I think of what my life might look like twenty years from now.

But how can I assume I’ll be able to hold down a steady job when I’ve barely made it through the last four semesters?
How will I magically be able to volunteer in the future, if right now, despite my desires, I’m too weighed down by social anxiety to participate in anything?
Why should I be sane twenty years from now when I’m the complete opposite and barely doing anything to change that?

When I started asking myself such questions not too long ago, I have to admit that it freaked me out a little bit. I became very uncertain as to my future, and frankly found it a little distressing to suddenly realize that there was absolutely nothing guaranteeing that I would be able to function as a working adult.

It scares me.

I know the statistics, and maybe that’s a double-edged sword – there is an established link between poor mental health and an increased risk of homelessness; all too often in movies, books, or TV series, we see the classic picture of a parent unable to get out of bed and care for their child; the earlier the intervention, the greater the chance of full recovery. While having that knowledge may compel some to seek treatment in order to reduce their risk, it can also be paralyzing.

I am terrified of growing up only to discover that I am the same person I was back in high school, at least on the level of mental health. But what reason is there that something would change?

It’s easy, especially at a young age, to dismiss poor mental health as something one will grow out of, or move past when they learn to cope. Sometimes, it happens. People grow up and out of eating disorders, or maybe have only one episode of depression, or experience panic attacks for only a short period of time because of a major stress or trauma – but it’s rare.

Nevertheless, more often that not, any kind of mental health challenge will require professional intervention, with some form of treatment and follow-up for a period of time once the illness seems to have been taken care of.

I guess, if there were to be a point to all of this, and it wasn’t just cathartic writing, then I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves struggling, whether they’re seventeen, forty-eight or ninety, to seek help from a professional. Early intervention leads to a greater chance of success in treatment, but whether you’re experiencing your first episode of an illness or your hundredth, receiving help from a qualified person or team of people can drastically improve quality of life and assist in preventing subsequent problems.

Trust me on this one: you deserve the best chance you can get. If there’s a little voice in the back of your head, or even a big, loud voice front and centre telling you that you’re not worthy of treatment, or that’ll you’ll always feel like this, please believe me when I tell you the voice is lying.

You are worth recovery. You deserve the best possible treatment. Mental illness doesn’t need to last forever.

And perhaps most importantly, we all deserve a future – a bright one, where we can be the people we want to be and do the things we want to do. The future doesn’t have to feel terrifying.

Isolation

Just over a year ago,  I was getting out of hospital for what was considered to be a suicide attempt.

And every time I see or think those words, I need to pause. I need to take a moment to gather myself and wonder: what is the significance of what I’ve just said?

One could argue that it is immediately obvious that I’m not “better” — that clearly, the fact that I still have yet to fully come to terms with the idea that I may have tried to willingly end my own life is a sign that no, I’m no better off than I was thirteen months ago.

And frankly, I’d be in no place to disagree.

Iffy wording and mildly non-sensical run-on sentences aside, I am amazed by how far I have come, yet also by how little progress I have made.

I mean, yes, I’ve beat the odds by not ending up with a second attempt on my life within six months of my discharge, and even arguably defied expectations by avoiding the hospital altogether in the months following my release.

On the other hand, I can’t say I’ve been doing exceptionally well in school as of late, also known as I-haven’t-actually-really-been-attending.
A reading of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as well as a viewing of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (a movie based on his book of the same name) for English class have left me feeling less than stable emotionally, as both deal with content that could be considered triggering.

And my social life? Well, more or less non-existent, especially when it comes to face-to-face interactions.

There have been a few meet-ups with friends here and there, a couple of text messages exchanged, but above all, I’ve been in a bit of a self-imposed isolation.

It started out innocently enough; I had a lot of school work to do, old friends seemed suddenly unappealing and I simply could not be bothered to expend energy I didn’t have on anything that wasn’t deemed strictly necessary.

Yet once the work was done and the extra energy found, I still didn’t return to the social life I once had, either physically or internet-ically.

Facebook messages remain(ed) unanswered. I spoke to very few people if I saw them in the halls, or during class. I began to enjoy the occasional cigarette again, before remembering I had quit back in September (oops).

It wasn’t depression, no, far from. I was, and continue to be, rather un-depressed about my life. I found no discontentment in my social isolation, and never once questioned whether or not I should try to up my interactions with my peers.

I think my first clue that something was wrong came from the urge to post my entire life in pictures on Facebook.

I don’t mean pretty photographs of everything that goes into my mouth or detailed descriptions of my daily activities; rather, I felt/feel the strong desire to upload old childhood pictures, and lots of them, to my account. While there’s nothing wrong with this, and I may even actually do it, it was my first hint that I was feeling way too disconnected from everyone around me — perhaps the same kind of detachment I was feeling thirteen months ago.

So it’s time to make a change.

I will begin to become more active again, reconnecting with people I have lost touch with. I hope to blog more again, although I still find myself running low on potential topics and sources of inspiration. I have slowly begun to increase the number of people I talk to through social media.

I’m getting back on track.

I can’t say I am where I was just a few months ago — addictions treatment, counselling, medication, the works — but I certainly hope I can’t say I am where I was last year.

This may well have been one of the lengthiest, least comprehensible blog posts I have ever and will ever write, but it’s a start; getting the words out in black and white is better than keeping them as thoughts.

Those words still make me shiver: just over a year ago,  I was getting out of hospital for what was considered to be a suicide attempt.

I never thought I would get to a point where I felt so low, and the knowledge of the pain I felt is enough to break the heart of the five year-old kid I once was.

But here’s to making an effort to never again reach such depths; taking it easy, one day at a time. And once again, despite the post just hours ago announcing a hiatus, wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

Hiatus

As is most likely obvious by the fact that I have not posted anything for many months, I am taking a bit of a break from blogging for the moment. There’s no particular reason to this, although I suspect it begun with a simple lack of inspiration, but I do expect this trend will continue into the new year.

I know this time of year can be trying, especially to those who have lost someone dear to them, and often also to those with mental health issues. I hope everyone is doing well, and I do still plan on returning to blogging as soon as I feel ready. Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

Coming Out

A decision that’s been a long time in the making.

The following is excerpts from a longer freewrite done July 9th, 2015. For the full version, please contact me directly.

I never wanted to be defined by one part of who I was; like when you’re introduced to someone and the person presenting them says, “This is Alfred. He’s gay,” or when great people are remembered only for one thing, be it a scandal they were involved in, their sexual orientation or the way they died.

I’m not the first to say it, and I certainly won’t be the last — people cannot simply be defined by one word. You can tell me she’s transgender, but leave out that she’s an amazing photographer and even had some of her photos published in a magazine. You can tell me he died of a heroin overdose, yet fail to mention that throughout the course of his life he frequently volunteered at the soup kitchen and, even on the coldest night of the year, would more than willingly give you the coat, sweater, shirt and undershirt off his back if you looked like you needed some warmth.

I never wanted to be “the gay kid,” or any other “that kid,” for that matter; an endeavour in which I failed as I found myself becoming more and more defined by the small things about me that I didn’t think mattered, but that were all anyone ever mentioned about me. I was “that crazy kid,” “the new kid,” “the french kid,” or “that kid who got drunk at school and totally told the math teacher he was stupid.”

And that’s not who I am.

I’ve dealt, and continue to deal, with mental illness; I’m fully bilingual, French and English; I have a history of extensive self-harm; one of my favourite things to do is help out on a dairy farm; I’ve attempted suicide; I hold a blog that is (mostly) about mental illness; I am surrounded by friends and family that love me and care about me; I once, while intoxicated, told the math teacher he was stupid. I could carry this list on and on for a while longer, but that’s not what I’m here to write about today — and I’m also not here to tell you I’m gay.

What has brought many of you here to this blog post today is likely my name change on social media — indeed, for those who aren’t connected to me that way, I’ve recently made the decision to go by my preferred name, Ji (pronounced like the letter ‘G’) and pronouns they/them.

This change comes as I distance myself more and more from what is considered to be strictly feminine and move towards things that are more gender neutral, or outside of the binary altogether. More and more often, people are coming to realize how much the binary limits us, and how flawed it is to begin with. Because of this, more and more people are also choosing to opt out of the gender binary system, and that can look like many things.

I don’t want a label.

And I get that for many people, this is a problem. We have a need to label people, to know exactly where and how they fit in with the rest of the world; we can’t accept people that don’t fit into our boxes. In many instances where people don’t fit into these boxes, however, we’ll make a new one just for them, or ask them to create a new box/cage/prison to stick themselves into.

I don’t have a label.

I began by identifying as genderqueer, which did, and still does, fit quite nicely. I then settled on “gender failure,” a term I heard of from the book of the same title by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote. Later, I learned of the label “genderfuck,” which means, quite literally, fuck gender. I’ve also been referred to as being gender non-binary or gender non-conforming. These are all words and terms that could be applied to me, but I have never felt, and still do not feel, the need to pick one and stick to it — though Facebook’s need for a label is leading me to simply identify as genderqueer for now, with preferred pronouns they/them.

By no means am I trying to shame people who have chosen a label for themselves; I am more than happy to call them what makes them most comfortable, I just have never found myself being quite comfortable with any of the options that have been presented to me.

Asking to be called by a new name was a decision I didn’t take lightly, and I have at least one friend who by now is a little annoyed by me incessantly asking them if they really think I’ve chosen the right name.

In fact, I spent a lot of time regretting this decision — publicly coming out as Ji — even before it happened. I wondered if it wasn’t better to just go around and tell each friend or family member as I saw them, telling them personally and answering their questions as they came up. Times have changed so much through the widespread use of social media that it becomes a tricky question of when and how to deal with it.

I knew I wanted to transition the name and pronouns over the summer, to come back to school in September going by Ji. The only difficulty with this decision was being out of the country for the entirety of July and August, meaning when I told people, it would have to be via the internet.

After having made the decision of when and how to come out, I consulted with a friend on my fears. Because yes, while part of me is done with caring what others think, and whether or not they choose to accept me, part of me is still scared. I’ve had friends walk away for less than this. Yet I also know that those who don’t care enough to make the effort and choose not to stick around are the ones that I clearly didn’t need in my life — cliché, but true.

I expect backlash. I also expect messages of unconditional love and support. I hope earlier declarations of unconditional support won’t be retracted because of this — but it’s also something I’ve prepared myself for. I’m ready to face hatred if I have to, because at the end of the day, I’m doing this for no one but myself, and as selfish as it may seem, that’s all that matters.

I understand that this is something that will take time to adjust to, and I don’t expect people to automatically start using the right name or the correct pronouns; Hell, even I sometimes get it wrong. It also won’t be an entirely universal change, as I keep in mind some people who either just aren’t ready to accept me or wouldn’t be able to process a change.

To those who still aren’t convinced and insist I am too young to know what I am doing: to a certain degree, I agree with you. There’s no way to be entirely certain of the journey I am embarking on, and to that extent I don’t know if I’ll ever really be truly confident in the decision I made today. All that I know is that this is how I feel right now, in this moment. The more I look back on it, the more I realize this is how I’ve felt for a really, really long time. If I try to project myself ten, twenty, fifty years into the future, I can never see myself as strictly female.

All I’m really sure of right now is that I don’t want to be another sad story of someone who can’t be open about who they are, and stays that way until they’re twenty, or fifty, or eighty and lying on their death bed. I don’t want to take this secret to my grave. I don’t want to be driven to suicide because I am not living my life as myself.

Some will tell you it’s realism, some will tell you it’s too much anxiety, but I am someone who is acutely aware of the fact that anyone could die at any moment. Should something ever happen, be it an accident or an instance of being-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time or anything else, I’ll be leaving a mess behind, a web of interconnected lies and regrets and things I could have fixed but didn’t. But I don’t want to die not being true to who I am, as much as I can be and am ready to face up to.

So I hope you understand that I did this because I had to do this in order to contribute to my happiness and to be able to continue to work on getting better and healing, that I did this so that I can lead the life that I believe I deserve to lead — content, at peace with myself, and maybe, just maybe, some day, happy.

Sending lots of love to all you wonderful people out there,

JT.

Note: This will likely be the last you hear of LGBT+ related issues from me on this blog. I will continue to update with posts on mental illness, and you can also find me at my new blog dedicated to gender identity and sexual orientation, S2J.

Eating Disorders ≠ Being Strong

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Entertainment Tonight discussing Meghan Trainor, her experiences being bullied and her struggles with body image. Since that time, I have been wanting to talk about it. There are many things wrong with the article, but I’d like to focus on one specific quote:

“‘I wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder,’ she said. ‘I tried to go anorexic for a good three hours. I ate ice and celery, but that’s not even anorexic. And I quit.'”

Do I even need to point out what’s wrong with this?

Eating disorders seem to have a different reputation than most other mental illnesses. While depression is considered a sign of being weak, schizophrenia is something to be ashamed of or personality disorders shouldn’t be talked about, eating disorders are hip, trendy, desirable. Eating disorders, anorexia nervosa especially, are widely thought to prove that you’re strong, you have willpower, you have something to make other people jealous.

Let us be clear:
1. Eating disorders are not a sign of strength.
2. An eating disorder is not something to admire.
3. Eating disorders are a mental illness, and like all mental illnesses, they are not a choice.

To help us reinforce these points, let us replace “eating disorder” with other mental illnesses. Do the following statements make sense?
“I didn’t have enough willpower to have depression.”
“I tried to have schizophrenia, but I wasn’t strong enough.”
“I am so jealous of his borderline personality disorder!”

We as a society seem to think eating disorders are good, great even, because they lead to being skinny, and [sarcasm] skinny is some wonderful exclusive club that we should all strive to be a part of! (A secret from someone who’s been there: When you join the thin club, you get a free poney. Seriously.) You are nothing if not skinny.

The problem with this mentality, of course, is that it seriously harms young (and older) people’s self-esteem and body image. Perfectionists especially will feel the urge to strive for this ideal of thin; and since perfectionists always put 110% into everything they do, a simple diet could be taken to an extreme eating disorder.

There are other ways in which eating disorders maintain a good standing in society’s eyes. It’s something I’ve mentioned before –– eating disorders are often viewed by many as a more or less acceptable form of self-harm. Not only that, articles such as “5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder” ( and this brilliant response by poet Megan Maughan) create a harmful view of eating disorders, again portraying them as something desirable. An eating disorder is the it mental illness.

It’s actually something I’ve heard before, and I was, to say the least, shocked when I found out this was actually a common mentality amongst youth: different mental illnesses have different “cool” factors. Anorexia nervosa ranks pretty high, since it’s viewed as a sign of strength and leads to the ever-wanted kingdom of skinny. Schizophrenia was also somewhere up there, because “you get to hallucinate without using drugs!” (a quote from someone I was discussing the cool factors with). Depression used to be something to brag about, but now that everybody has depression, it’s nothing special anymore. Binge eating disorder would get you laughed at – “it’s not like you’re actually sick, you’re just making excuses to eat a lot” (same person). Severe anxiety is cool only if it gets you a prescription for Xanax – you get the idea.

It’s a twisted view, granted, but I’ve known few people who have been exempt from it. Then again, we’d be getting into a whole other issue –– mental illness is not a competition –– that we’ll avoid for now, perhaps saving it for some other time.

For now, remember those three things:
1. Eating disorders are not a sign of strength.
2. An eating disorder is not something to admire.
3. Eating disorders are a mental illness, and like all mental illnesses, they are not a choice.

There are many other discussions to be had about eating disorders, like how they come along since it’s not a choice, whether or not they really are a form of self-harm and the gender divide within eating disorders. But the most important thing I’d like you to take away from this post today: eating disorders are not a sign of strength. If anything, the true strength comes in overcoming the eating disorder.

Passion

There are very few reasons in this world to wake up every day.

I don’t mean this in a melodramatic, pessimistic, angsty-teenager kind of way. But if I were to ask you to go to bed at half past ten tonight and wake up at 4:30 tomorrow morning, the likelihood of you saying “absolutely!” is slim, especially if my reasoning is “just cuz.”

Take a moment to think about it. Why do you wake up, get out of bed and go about your day 365 times a year?

The answer, for many, might be “I don’t.” And sure, fair enough, we all like to occasionally take a day to just lie in bed, relax or not need to worry about getting out of our pyjamas. For some people with mental illnesses, notably depression, simple and mundane tasks such as getting out of bed or brushing one’s teeth can seem to require huge amounts of effort. I’ve had days where I’ve applauded myself for lying on the couch all day, because at least I got out of bed and out of my room. Even now, out of depressive episodes and more or less symptom free, I congratulate myself every time I brush my teeth.

I look back on those dark days, however, and I wonder, How on Earth am I not only willingly, but enthusiastically, getting out of bed at 4:30am on, if I’m lucky, six hours of sleep? And why can I not find this motivation during the school year?

The answer is simple: passion.

If you feel passionate enough about something, you will do what it takes to make sure it happens. I remember the first time I got out of bed before six on a school day was to make muffins for one of my friends who was going through a bit of a tough time – friendship can be, and often is, interlaced with passion.

So, you ask, why exactly are you out of bed at 4:30?

Cows!

Baby Cows!

It was in December of 2014 that I discovered a new activity I thoroughly enjoyed: participating in the milking and general care of cows. The small village in which we spend much of our vacation time is overlooked by a dairy farm of about eighty cows (thirty or fourty of which are being milked at any give time). I spent my summers drinking full-fat, non-pasteurized milk that we would buy from them; eventually, we started walking up to the barn just to look at the cows, until two years ago we were offered the opportunity to bottle-feed a calf. My father, my brother and I all took turns over the course of a few days, and I went back on multiple occasions to repeat the experience. By the end of our stay, I had become more friendly with the owners and got around to helping out with the milking of cows once or twice.

By the time we returned for Christmas last year, I knew I wanted to spend more time on the farm, which they gladly agreed to – the farmer even joking she wouldn’t let me go back home. I worked there every evening, and occasionally made it out to morning milkings as well. I was introduced to many more of the tasks that had to be accomplished, such as cleaning, feeding and “tarir” (I do not know the English equivalent), which is injecting a product into the udders so that she stops producing milk, to give her a rest a few months before she gives birth.

This summer, I’ve managed to convince my parents to come for the entirety of July and August, minus a couple of weeks where I’ll likely go off to camp. I haven’t been here long, and already I’ve been taught almost all the tasks that ever need to be performed on a regular basis (no one can really plan for the unpredictable; that you learn as you go). I’ve taken to getting up at 4:30 to sneak out of the house and go assist with morning milking. I often find myself a little sleep-deprived, or lacking enough time in the day to accomplish everything else I want to do. And I love it.

Finding a passion is often something that can be helpful to people with depression. It gives you a reason to move, to live. Even on my worst days, like back in December when I had just gotten out of hospital, I would force myself to go up to the barn and help out. This blog was born out of a depressive episode. I found out how much I love event planning when I used that as my reason to live for a couple of weeks.

Even to those who live without a mental illness, passion spices up your life, makes you go to work every day. Hell, I know plenty of students who only go to school every day because they know it’s the doorway they need to do what they really want to with the rest of their lives. And that’s great.

So get out there and find what makes you feel good. It doesn’t have to be something huge, life-changing or time-consuming. It can be even just a small project that you do on the side whenever you need a little distraction after a long day. Finding something that really makes you feel okay about life can be a great tool in overcoming the darker days and making it tomorrow.

Give yourself a reason to get up in the morning – because there are very few reasons to do that in the world, but there’s at least one out there waiting for you.