To ask the question of how mental health has impacted my life does not give enough strength to the power mental health can have over one’s life. It has not only impacted my life, it has completely grabbed my life by the horns and forced it on an entirely different route with me being dragged along for the ride.
My name is Ali. I am 28 years old and I have suffered from anorexia nervosa since the age of 9 years old. Additionally, I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yes, all of that. I’ve been struggling through more than half of my life with these mental health conditions. I’ve been told by many providers that I am an extremely strong person. To those who have never experienced a mental health condition themselves or through someone close to them, they probably cannot understand this. How on earth can someone like me be strong?
Because I’m still fighting. Yes, I’m embarrassed. About 5 years ago I appeared on the television show, The Doctors-where I spoke about my anorexia and was offered residential treatment (I’ve regretted my decision to do that ever since because of the stigma that came along with going public, hence my hesitance to even do this). I took the opportunity given by The Doctors and completed 5 months of residential (and cardiac unit) treatment in California-regaining weight and health. So why am I still struggling? How can you still be in the same situation time and time again after all of that? I was asked to go back on the show some months later to talk about recovery. My therapist was not in agreement with this as I was not and am still not recovered. What a blow. If only I was strong enough to get over this. If only I was strong enough to be bigger then all my diagnosis’, to not let them affect me every second of every day. With all of my diagnosis’ and all odds not in my favor, I’m still trying to live a “normal” life. Though my mental health rapidly sent my life down a completely different road then planned, there have been so many potholes and storms and barriers along this detour as well. I have been hospitalized over 30 times due to the medical risk and complications caused by anorexia. I have faced my own death and caused a lot of internal damage to my organs that are not repairable. This has drastically reduced my life expectancy.
“My story isn’t over yet”. I got the semi-colon tattoo on my ankle years ago representing this. Though I honestly hate what my story has been and often want to turn it into a period and throw in the towel, I trek on. I want to be a productive member of society and experience the things that have been taken away from me due to my mental health issues. With all my hospitalizations, it has been nearly impossible to hold down a steady job-even with my college degree-which took an extra year to obtain as I was in and out of treatment so much. I actually completed my final semester while in treatment (thankfully majoring in psychology had the benefit of more understanding professors).
I’m the oldest child in my family-with 2 brothers both younger than me by 2 and 8 years. Though it is unspoken, lets just be real and say both of them have far surpassed me in life as one is married with two children and one has already bought his own home while I’m over here on my detour crawling along trying to grasp to a life such as theirs. I feel bad for my parents-their only daughter-and my life hasn’t run the typical course one would hope for their daughter. They sure are troopers though, continuing to support me to this day.
My hope is that someday mental health is just as understood as something in a history lesson might be-common knowledge that everyone is capable of noticing, addressing, and talking about. Left to our own devices, things go downhill fast-but with the love and support of those around us-we are able to trek on.
20 years ago our family life was forever changed when at the age of 9 our daughter, Alisha was diagnosed with anorexia.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder which has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. As a mother, I have cried hours and hours while watching my daughter starve her 5’8 inch frame to as little as 85 lbs. , struggle to eat food and to fight the control her eating disorder had over her.
Alisha is (28) the oldest of 3 kids, we have 2 sons also, ages 26 and 21. Over the years we have been told how fortunate that my husband and I are still married, and that our sons and Alisha are still close. With eating disorders, many parents divorce and families fall apart because of the stress it causes on the family financially and emotionally. A few changes in our daily life were we all had to be careful what we said about what she ate, or what we ate or how food tasted and I had to be careful of the food I bought or what food I made. Eating out was extremely hard because sometimes she would refuse to eat while we there- making us all frustrated. Going to family gatherings- I was worried if she would refuse to eat there and seeing people stare at her because she was so sickly looking with bones sticking out.
The first 9 years after her diagnosis she sought help thru therapy and seeing her doctor. However Alisha’s anorexia was out of control by age of 18 and up until the present. She has been in and out of 4 different treatment centers in Minnesota, North Dakota and California. Alisha has spent as many as 6 months a year in treatment- missing important family gatherings, holidays, her job, college and other experiences in life. Alisha most likely will have to see a therapist throughout her life to help her to continue to keep her anorexia under control, which can be stressful financially. We haven’t kept track of how money we spent , but an average day in treatment can cost up to $3,000 a day. As a parent there is no limit that we would have paid to save our daughter. It meant we had to take out a medical loans or get a second or third job to pay it we did because her life was worth it.
As a mother I felt like I had failed her when she was diagnosed and continued to struggle for all these years. I felt like I should have been able to “save” her from this disease, to “cure” her and to “help” her recover so she could live her life like her friends and family were. But I learned years ago in family therapy that it wasn’t my fault or Alishas fault. She didn’t choose this disease, she wanted to get better, she wanted to recover.
7 years ago I thought she would die when she refused to eat and had a feeding tube. She has had several times where they were concerned with organ failure because she was so underweight. I’ve had to go to court 2 times and sit and wait to see if I would have to testify in order to save her from this disease she was committed to treatment for 2 years to make sure she followed her team of doctors orders to keep her alive.
There are few support groups for families going thru this with a loved one. I have felt so alone at times, finding myself defending Alisha and explaining to others the disease and that Alisha didn’t choose to have this disease-it’s a faulty wiring in her brain that developed at a young age.
I had chosen a few years ago to share her struggles and ours with others on social media because I wanted others to have knowledge and understand eating disorders and I want to be there for people who need someone to talk to. I know the struggle isn’t totally over but I find myself crying tears of joy now because Alisha is beating this disease and is the happiest she has ever been!! As a mother, that is all I have ever wanted for her.