Life is about interacting with those around us. It’s the reason solitary confinement is a severe punishment even in prison. Smiles are contagious, and so are fear and sadness. Our happiness as individuals is bound to the happiness of those around us, and especially to those we care deeply about. Of all the illnesses, the ones that infect our brains are the ones that most actively harm our ability to interact with people. They rob us of or ability to see reason and tell us we cannot leave our rooms for fear that everybody will frown at our approach.
If you don’t think mental illness affects your life, either by carving away at your own mind or by consuming the conscience of somebody close to you, somebody whose well-being is necessary for your own happiness, you are unfortunately wrong. This problem touches all of us. It should be fought by all of us.
The following email came to me from an 8th grade student. The problem of mental illness is a bastard for adults. In a fair and just universe, people this young would never encounter it. But life is not fair. In fact, sometimes it cheats pretty bad.
(The names have been omitted at the author’s request)
My sister was in her third year of recovering from an eating disorder. I am not quite sure how her disease started, but one morning about four years ago, I remember waking up in an empty house. The only other person there was my nanny. My heart sank and my soul was filled with an unexplainable sense of worry and confusion. Having no clue what was happening, I was driven to a hospital. The hospital walls were white, boring, and somewhat familiar. I had been there before after my family got in a car accident, and the memories were painful. Clearly, this day wasn’t going to be a good one. I knew a secret had been kept from me, and I was going to get to the bottom of it. As the day progressed, mysteries unraveled. I found out that the night before, my sister’s heart was close to failing, due to a severe case of anorexia and malnutrition. This battle was just at its beginning. She was taken out of high school and placed several hospitals around the United States for eating disorders and depression. Sadly, I got used to her being gone, and began to forget what she looked like and how she acted. The pain of not having my older sister around killed me inside.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been fat. It was always a problem I never wanted to confront, until April of last year. For so long, all I had heard was, “ It’s not your fault” or “ It’s your baby fat and you’ll grow out of it” and, “ You were born that way” or, “ You just have a different build”. But I was sick of it. I was no longer going to live like that. A change was going to be made, and I was going to do it all by myself.
On April 8th 2010, I saw my nutritionist for the first time. A lot of things were discovered on that day, a few too many for me to handle. I remember my nutritionist asking me what painful situations I had been through in my life. I thought long and hard about her question and came up with 2 specific ones: My parents’ divorce and the slow loss of my sister to a stupid eating disorder. How did I deal with the pain? I ate. Coping with this pain was something I was going to have to learn to deal with. Another thing I learned was that I was 30 lbs over weight. Quickly, I learned that the process of losing weight was a marathon, not a sprint. I had my ups and I had my downs, but nothing would get in my way.
Except, perhaps, the day my sister came home. That day was bitter sweet. I missed her like crazy and I could not wait to live with her again, but things had been so much simpler without her home. My sister and I were on two separate paths, and whenever they crossed, tension arose. I was trying to lose weight, and she needed to maintain weight. Several times, I had lost my patience. I always wondered how hard it could really be to just eat a cheeseburger. Why was having a piece of cake so bad? But at the same time, I could see where she was coming from. I was just as determined to lose weight. The difference was I was doing it out of the goodness of my body. She was not.
It has nearly been a year with my nutritionist. Now, looking back, I realize that I only have about four months to live under the same roof as her before she leaves for college and the world beyond. I am very proud of the 34 pounds I have lost, but I do have some regrets regarding my sister. I wish that I could erase all those stupid arguments I had with her. I wish we could have simply allowed ourselves to do our own things. We were on opposite sides of the eating spectrum, and acknowledging that would have been so simple. Instead, we caused unnecessary tension and anxiety. I regret not praising all those days I had with her when she was not a facilities’, because day by day, she gets closer to college. There is no doubt in my mind that the past year of my life and the problems my sister and I faced has changed my life the most out of any experience. I have also learned many lessons along the way, perhaps the most significant: enjoying every moment you have with someone. For a combined total of about a year and a half, my sister was all over the US at eating disorder and depression hospitals. I also learned to focus on my own problems, and to let others deal with theirs. For too long, I was focused on my sister and her state of health. This not only made her upset, but added stress and anxiousness to my life and tension between her and me. The perseverance and drive to recover from something as huge as an eating disorder has driven me to say that anything can be accomplished. The determination and will of losing 34 pounds has taught me never to give up. Food has changed my life. It will never be how it was simply a year ago.
From her sister, “L”:
~I HOPE THIS IS AN EYE OPENER FOR YOU~
personally i never really realized what we put our loved ones through, especially the little ones. who knew they paid that much attention? NOT me …because i was too absorbed in my own ed. going fwd my sis deserves a better older sister. Point. Period. Blank.