I choose me: a story of eating recovery
The views and opinions expressed in the following story are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Mental Health Colorado.
By: Raya Patel
There are so many different ways to define this simple world. Webster’s Dictionary defines privilege as, “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” There is no specificity to race, there is no specificity to gender, and there is no specificity to events.
I was born into privilege. I never feared for my life, had a roof over my head, and food on my plate.
Despite these physical privileges, I did not grow up privileged. I grew up hating who I was, convinced that I did not belong on this earth. I grew up without emotional and mental privilege. I struggled with the physical ailment from the psychosomatic manifestation of control when I was 9. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I was 12. I was diagnosed with severe depressive disorder when I was 13. I was diagnosed with intermittent anger disorder and a traumatic brain injury when I was 14. I went to a therapeutic wilderness program when I was 14, and continued onto a therapeutic boarding school until I was 16. I am now 17. I do not have privilege, and yet I regret nothing that has occurred within my life.
I was ten years old when I hit womanhood. Ever since I was a little girl, I had always tried to grow up too fast. I was convinced that I was missing out on so many different creations, including the creation of my own self. When that womanhood hit though, it hit me like a truck (with 5000 weights attached to the sides). Nothing could prepare me for the simplicity of having to grow up. Imagine being in fourth grade, traumatized to even go to the bathroom because you knew none of the other little fourth grade girls would even understand. They didn’t. How could they? I WAS TEN. Being ten years old and having to suffer through your own pain of self-hatred was one of the loneliest feelings I have ever had to experience. I took on all of the stress and anxiety of having to grow up by myself. It was awkward to talk to my mom. I could not talk to any of my friends about what I was going through, let alone get supported. Over time, my brain could not handle the amount of emotional turmoil being suppressed. For a ten-year-old to be going through this point in her life, it was a lot to handle. Not only was I dealing with my inner critic, but I also had my mom as well.
Growing up, I saw my mom as this very controlling woman. She never let us do anything that was not within the “box” of her acceptance. I loved my mother, but I hated her control. Everything we did was monitored, from the food we ate, to the people we hung out with. Around age 10, right when my wonderful womanhood hit, I started experiencing excruciating pain in my head and my stomach. Each day, I woke up to a horrendous migraine or stabbing pains in my stomach. I started to recognize the pain and complain about it constantly. After around 6 months of the pain persisting, my parents decided to start taking me to doctors. Scan, after scan was performed. Nothing. On each CT scan, PET scan, MRI, there was not a single diagnosis that could be made. “How could that even be?” I was in so much excruciating pain, and there is not a single solution? I was given pills and remedies to try and alleviate the aches, but I had to continue my days, just with the knowledge that nothing could be done to “fix” my pain. I woke up every morning dreading the pain and honestly wanted nothing more than to just disappear.
All my life I had gone to a small charter school. Everyone was friends with everyone and there were no cliques or “popular” kids. We all kind of had our own group of friends, but no one was ever secluded on purpose.
At the beginning of 7th grade, things got disrupted. There was a girl, Kate (her name has been changed for privacy) who came to our school. In my eyes, Kate was this classic, pretty popular girl that I would do anything to be friends with. My entire personality changed. I no longer was this dominant, powerful leader. I started minimizing my voice so that I wasn’t critiqued by her and creating a stranger within myself. Every day, I started looking in the mirror finding everything that was wrong with my physical appearance. All of my life up to this point, I had been the bossy, powerful tween that made her own rules. I did not follow others around and I really just wanted to create my own person by myself. Kate changed all of that for me. She came into my life, took away my control, and made me feel like I had no place on this earth. Losing control to her felt like emptiness. I was a control freak and all of a sudden this girl comes in and changes everything that is familiar? Oh hell no. There was no other way that I knew how to control my life, except for what I had experienced growing up with my mother. My mom controlled everything, and the one thing that I picked up on was food.
I wanted my life back, my heart back, myself back. As I started looking in that mirror, I saw myself as fat, ugly, disgusting. I became convinced that I needed to lose weight, and that would be the solution to all my problems. Anorexia Nervosa. 5 months later, those words were ringing in my head as my dad continued to express what was going on. “What is this dude even saying? I am not even close to sick, I am literally amazingly healthy.” I weighed 80 pounds and I had a resting heart rate of 44 that skyrocketed to 120 just by merely standing up. And I believed that there was nothing wrong with me.
Yes, I was unhappy and I had lost all my friends because I could no longer physically control my anger, but I was fine. I was FINE.
No, I was not okay. I never was okay, but I became an expert at hiding my emotions. When I started to eat again and maintain a healthy weight, it was all for the wrong intention. During the time period of my Anorexia, my therapist and parents made a consecutive decision to pull me entirely out of all sports. All my life I had played soccer and danced and I no longer had these outlets anymore. I was furious, all because it boiled down to control again. I had lost all control of my life, but more importantly, I had lost control over myself.
The interesting thing about eating disorders is they generally are covering up a bigger problem that no one can see in that moment. No one was prepared for what my anorexia had been covering up.
Imagine waking up every day for a week feeling suffocated. You wake up feeling as if there is a blanket covering your mouth and your nose and there is no way to break free. Now imagine waking up every day the next week feeling as if nothing can stop you and you are invincible. Your mind is racing and you feel as if you can create anything in your path. The problem is, the suffocating days outweigh the invisibility days. At this point, life never felt worth it because it is so unpredictable. That was my life. As my therapist had told my therapist when I was recovering from anorexia, there was so much more underneath what was going on. Depression, Anxiety, and Manic Bipolar, to be exact.
What the anorexia did was quite clever actually. It used itself as a distraction from the major internal problems that were going on.
For a time reference, all of this hit me right in the middle of eighth grade. For any other regular eighth-grader, life is tumultuous anyways. Now add in wanting to die every day. As dark and twisted as that sounds, that is how I felt. Every. Single. Day. I needed an out and I had no outlet. Everything that I seemed to use as a “coping mechanism” felt restrictive and redundant.
January 7th, 2017. The pain was too much, the voices too loud, the world too much. I couldn’t take it anymore and that day I had a plan to end the suffering permanently. I did not see a future for myself. I could not see a future, and even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t allow myself. I was hospitalized for 6 days at the Medical Center of Aurora.
I would love to say after my attempt and my recovery process at the hospital, I started to take a turn, but I cannot say that. Things got ten times worse before they got better. After I was discharged from the hospital, I devised a plan to start playing the system and myself. Essentially, fake it until you make it. I never truly worked that plan to the fullest extent, and the rest of the year was brutal. The tumultuous ups and downs would not end and it got worse and worse at home. Towards the end of the year, I finally realized that I could not keep living my life scared and afraid of myself. I had to find a way to start coping with my insecurity. One night, my middle school crush asked me to sneak out. I had never snuck out before and I also knew that he wanted me to come to his house so that we could hook up. I had never been in that situation, let alone had my first kiss. Originally, I was not going to go since he had asked around 12 am. Impulsively, I ended up going around 2 am. This rush of power and control came at me that night, as well as the feeling of being enough because a guy “liked me.” The empty hole had been filled within me. I got that security that I needed now to figure out how to live and I finally felt “secure” about myself.
It was all temporary, however, and every day I found a new way to fill that hole. I started sneaking out all the time, hooking up with guys, and partying with substances. By the time I had reached high school, my insecurity was off the charts. If a guy rejected me or did not want to see me after we hooked up (which was generally the case since guys want only one thing ever), I lost it. I never understood why I was not “good enough.” I was constantly telling my parents that things internally were getting better, and at first, they believed me. Eventually, they started to catch on as I continued to sneak out and get caught.
September 17, 2017. This night broke me. This was the night that a friend I trusted with all of my heart took advantage of me and sexually assaulted me. Because of the way my mindset had already been, he honestly was just another “situation” that happened that I would have to deal with at some point. After that night, I continued to sneak out and party and that is when my parents said enough. I was not aware, but they had started searching for programs to send me to. Therapeutic programs.
November 6, 2017. My mom walked into my room at 5 am. “Raya we have found a program for you. There are transporters downstairs waiting to take you to the program. Please get ready.” On this wonderful morning, I was taken by Liz and Sam (my amazing, amazing transporters) to Open Sky Wilderness. When my parents had been searching for programs, they came across this notion of wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is essentially backpacking and surviving in the woods with a group of the same gender to get in touch with your vulnerable self. When I got dropped off that night into the woods, I was angrier than I had ever been in my life. I had no clue why my freaking parents would send me to such a place. “I didn’t even need help, I literally was doing fine at home.” But that’s the thing. Not only was I not “fine”, but I was also on the path to destroying my future and destroying my life. Fine was my way of covering up and saying, “Everything is literally horrible but I am not going to say anything about it so I am going to say I am fine.” I spent 9 weeks at Open Sky, fending for hatred against myself. I learned how to tie 8 different knots, set up a shelter with a rope and a tarp, start a fire with 3 sticks, a string and a rock, forage for food, and live for myself. The one thing I did not spend my time doing was finding the true self-love for me, and my therapist knew I was faking the program. Around 7 weeks into my stay, I was told that I was going to be graduating Open Sky and leaving to attend a therapeutic boarding school in Arizona. Because there were 4 of us from the same group going to the boarding school, I was ecstatic. I had no clue what hell kind of ride I was in for.
Spring Ridge Academy, or SRA, was in the middle of a small town in Arizona. When my parents pulled up to the school, I was livid. “How could they shuttle me off to another place where I will just find a way to get myself pulled from the program because I am all better! Open Sky fixed me completely!” When I entered the building, two girls walked up to me. One has these huge eyes with a huge smile to combat the eyes, while the other was darker and kind of looked like me with glasses on. I noticed both of these girls were wearing uniform skirts. As I was later introduced to them, these were my two big sisters. “These two idiots. They literally look like they would trip over the stairs.” I was more than livid at some points because I was scared. As I continued my process at SRA, they wanted me to start diving into the trauma of my life and who I had become because of that trauma. I was so afraid of getting deep within myself because if I got deep with who I really was, I would have to start living life for myself. I just simply was not ready. This was my thought process for the first 7 months of my stay at SRA. I went through a concussion in my third month, trying to switch caseloads at 2 months, having no friends cause I pushed everyone away, trying to fight a girl, screaming at my parents that they had to pull me otherwise I would run away, to being disrespectful to every staff on campus. I was a victim. Finally, I went through a workshop called Challenge. Challenge is all about starting to challenge me to think deeper and think inwards instead of blaming the outside world for all my problems. One morning after I completed the Challenge, I woke up and said, “I have to start living life for myself.”
When I say that it was a literal night and day realization, it was a night and day realization.
After that morning, I started to realize how many little things I had been missing out on. I had been so focused on avoiding myself and my true journey of self-acceptance, that I had started to push everyone out of my life. Most importantly, I had pushed myself away. From that point forward, there was an intention for my every choice. I started looking into my trauma and what made me the person I am today. I started creating myself and finding the true inner child that had been lost for so long. - Raya Patel
I had grown up too fast. When I was getting those headachesand pains as a kid, that was my body telling me how much stress I had been putting myself through. The anorexia was the insecurity of not knowing who I was anymore and allowing myself to succumb to my mom’s control. The depression and bipolar was me not understanding who I was. I started making relationships within the girls at SRA, realizing that we were all going through the same struggles. Yes, we were individually our own people, but we were not special. Each of us was at SRA for a reason, and if we used those reasonings to help strive in our relationships, we would have friendships that would last a lifetime.
After those 7 months of fighting the system, I allowed the system to overtake me. I began to know, I am a unique person. I have so many traits within myself that make me a fighter, an athlete, a Bollywood dancer, a quadrilingual, a 2nd generation Indian, and so many more attributes. No one could define who I was, except for me. I graduated from my program on June 22, 2019, with the knowledge that I am a unique and authentic woman who has strength and vulnerability. I am passionate, I am creative, and I am me. Did I want to perceive those 21 months spent in treatment as a waste of a “normal” high school experience or did I want to see those 21 months as the months I spent finding the person who sits here writing her story today? Life is about perception. The second I started to see that all of the trauma and life experiences I had gone through shaped me to be the person I am today, the second I started to live life for myself.
The reason why I created GIRL was because I knew this was a never ending cycle. Yes, I can do as much as I can to help myself, and at the same time it is about changing the way we perceive each situation. I have had multiple events that have occurred that have sent me spiraling back into that scary place I used to reside in. The difference in the present experiences and the experiences that occurred before treatment, is that I now know myself. I now know that no matter what, I am me. No one can take away the strength I have built for myself. No one can use their words to try and destroy my path. No one can take ME away from me. I have been left heartbroken, shocked by humanity, grieving, hurt, happy, joyous I am alive, and shell-shocked on numerous occasions in the past 3 months. But I know, each and every one of these experiences is going to grow me into an even stronger and resilient human. I have THE power to change every situation, every laugh, every cry. I cannot go back and undo the past. I cannot go forward and shape the future. But I can change how I choose to perceive each present moment. I have the power to be me, to choose me. Do I choose to see the events that have occurred, and continue to occur, as excruciatingly painful, or do I choose to see the events as a learning opportunity through the journey? March 28, 2003. I came into this world bearing power within my presence. I say this, not because I am a self-absorbed prick, but because on 3/28/2003 I was born at 3:28 pm. From the very moment I entered this world, the universe knew there was something special about me. There was a reason I was put on this earth, a reason I was meant to shine my brightest light. I choose to shine that light.
I choose me.