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Editor’s Note: For Mental Health Month 2019 our theme is “It Gets Better.” As part of our campaign, we are interviewing Libero alumni and asking them to reflect on the past and share words of encouragement to those who can relate to their stories. CLICK HERE to learn more about our Mental Health Month campaign!
What was your life like before you took steps towards mental health?
Before I took steps towards mental health, I was trapped in a prison made up of my own shame and secrets.
I spent years controlled by an eating disorder fueled by depression, anxiety, and lack of self-worth. I didn’t have any desire to get “better” because I didn’t think I deserved any better. My destructive behaviours were a form of self-harm that I used to cope with deep-rooted feelings of shame, loneliness, and a belief that I wasn’t ‘enough.’
What was the turning point that led you down the path of change?
After half a decade of living in torment and cycles of self-abuse, I hit the point where I was experiencing suicidal thoughts. In addition, my eating disorder was at its lowest point yet and was posing a serious risk. I was talking with a mentor and asked how long I could go on without eating. They told me that humans can go for about 30 days. I calculated it out in my head and came to the conclusion that 30 days was simply too soon for me; I wanted to be alive.
Deciding this was the first step. The next step was making changes so I could stay alive.
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When did you first reach out for support?
Immediately after the conversation with my mentor (this was in 2010), I ended up staging my own intervention. I called friends and family from around the city and they gathered in my apartment. I told them what I’d been going through. I told them I didn’t want to stop my eating disorder behaviours, but that I was at the point where I wanted to want to stop. I told them that was my first baby step and that it had to be enough for them. It was.
After that, I began searching for a therapist who specialized in eating disorder recovery (I found one), I gathered my own resources (workbooks, etc), and began the path towards recovery and wellness.
What gave you the courage to ask for help?
In short: it was the desperation to stay alive. That, coupled with the supportive community around me, helped me cling on to the hope that not only was recovery possible but that I was capable and worthy of it.
What types of support did you pursue and which were most helpful for you?
I sought out help from a variety of places. I received treatment from an eating disorder specialist, I read books written by those who had lived through eating disorders, I completed a couple of workbooks, and I began blogging about my own recovery journey online.
The most helpful support I’ve received has come from professional therapy. Second to this is having a strong support system and reading the stories of others who have walked similar journeys.
How did Libero help you along the way?
After making the decision to enter recovery, I began writing out my story. When it was done, I gave it the title “LIBERO,” which is the Italian word for “Free.” Not knowing what would come of it, I posted it on my personal Facebook profile. My goal was to let anyone who could relate to my story know they aren’t alone and that they don’t need to feel ashamed.
As people began sharing my story, its reach spread and a community began to form. I received messages from others who were encouraged by my story and wanted to share their own and Libero formed into a platform for them to do so. At this point, I also decided to start blogging my recovery journey, and through this, I developed friendships with others from the mental health blogging community that are still strong to this day.
Libero’s community began to grow and through it, I found purpose, community, and hope.
It’s hard to say what my story would be like without Libero. All I know is that on bad days, my passion for Libero kept me going and on good days, celebrating with the Libero community fueled my passion for mental health advocacy.
How does your life today compare to your life before beginning the journey towards mental wellness?
There is no comparison. When I think back to when I was a teenager or see pictures from before 2010, it’s almost doesn’t feel like me. While I know the real me is hidden deep down inside of her somewhere, she is completely disguised by shame, fear, anger, and hurt.
Now, I have strong friendships, hobbies that bring me joy, and a career that I love. Today, I am freely being me.
Do you still have “bad days”? If so, how do you respond to them?
While I don’t have bad days in terms of my eating disorder, I do still have bad days with depression and anxiety.
With eating disorder behaviours, I always say that I sometimes have thoughts that someone who hasn’t lived through an ED wouldn’t have. These thoughts, however, don’t affect me and I’m not even tempted to act on them. As a friend once put it, they are kind of like bubbles floating by; I notice them as they float past, but they don’t affect me.
With anxiety and depression, though, it’s a bit different. I believe anxiety, in particular, is something I will always live with. My ‘bad’ days now, however, are completely different from my bad days in the past. I no longer use unhealthy coping mechanism and I no longer look down on myself for experiencing negative feelings.
Instead, I turn to new, healthy coping skills, my strong support system, my therapist, and my newfound inner strength (and peace) to carry on.
What is something about your life today that you never would have thought possible before?
Zoey. Zoey is my 70lb Goldendoodle and I’ve had her for five years now. There was a time when I couldn’t take care of myself, nevermind another living thing that depended entirely on me. I raised Zoey on my own from a puppy. I fed her, I trained her, I loved her and took care of her.
Back when my mental health was at its lowest, it would have been impossible for me to be solely responsible for a dog, despite how badly I wanted one. Now, I am able to love Zoey and she is able to love me back. I take care of her and, in many ways, she takes care of me, too.
What do you wish you’d known when you were first reaching out for support?
I wish I’d known how accepting people are when you open up about what you’re going through. I was so scared that people would judge me, look down on me, or simply not care. I was so so wrong. People cared, they gathered around me, and they walked through it with me.
In short: I wish I’d known I wasn’t alone.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your former self?
You’re not alone. You are worthy of being happy, you are worthy of love, you are enough. Everything else is a lie.
What would you like to share with those who can relate to your story and may feel that things won’t get better?
I understand why you feel that way; I felt that way, too. Please listen to me and others when we say it, though, that things do get better.
You are worthy of ‘better’ and you are capable of accessing it. You are always stronger than you think; never forget that.
Is there a specific quote or song that helped get you through difficult times?
“Lies cannot nourish or protect you. Only freedom from fear, freedom from lies, can make us beautiful, and keep us safe.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Believe in yourself. Stay strong. Keep fighting. You are worth it.
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