For so long, I had built this "perfect" vision of who I "should" be.
From high school into university, I was straight A student, an overachiever... the girl who from the outside looking in had her sh*t together. But on the inside? Not so much. I remember curling up in a ball on the edge of my dorm room bed, crying myself to sleep for no reason at all, yet not wanting to admit that anything was wrong. After a few weeks that turned to months, I realized this wasn't just a small issue to brush aside, I finally opened up to a close friend who helped me book an appointment at the Student Health Centre.
Honestly, I was terrified- I didn't want to give someone the opportunity to tell me that I was flawed. I had to convince myself over and over again in my head as I walked up to the doors not to turn around and run. I told the doctor what I was going through, and she told me I had depression. She prescribed some medication and off I went, tears in my eyes, feeling completely crushed.
Some people who have gone through similar experiences have told me that receiving a diagnosis was like a weight off their shoulders - a total relief. For me, it was the opposite.
It was the first time someone had externally validated that something was wrong with me. The idea of this "perfect image" came crashing in my head, and yet, I realized that I was the only person who knew... so I kept it a secret.
I was plagued with self-stigma.
Growing up, I didn't learn much about mental illness - it wasn't something that was really present or talked about in my life, or at school. So in turn, I had this idea in my head of what mental illness looked like: bad childhood, history of abuse and neglect, drugs, homelessness. None of that applied to me. I didn't fit the bill. And so despite feeling miserable inside, I thought "My life is great - I can't have a mental illness. That's not me. Things aren't that bad."
But, mental illness doesn't discriminate.
It affects every age, race, gender and doesn't care about your socio-economic status. Yet, stigma paints us a different picture.
Eventually, my depression developed into an eating disorder, which was more serious, and more difficult to keep a secret, but I still tried. I remember finding ways to cheat the weigh-in system so that I would be just a few ounces heavier and this whole nightmare would come to an end.
To be honest, I don't remember much about that period of my life.
My eating disorder stole a lot of memories from me. I wish I could speak more eloquently about my experiences, but my mind pushed a lot of it out (and maybe it's best left forgotten).
It's been nearly 3 years since I started to speak openly about my mental health journey. I remember some of the first few people I told and the conversations I had being some of the hardest, ever. But with every conversation, things got a little bit easier. I became a little bit more comfortable, and a little bit more secure in myself. That was around the same time that the idea for Wear Your Label came about, and building this company has honestly been one of the best things for my recovery journey.
Looking back, I don't think I ever would have expected to be where I am now - self-aware, open, happier, and healthier than ever. It's been a long road to get here (3 years...) and it's not the end yet, but it is so empowering to take a step back, see how prevalent the topic of mental health has become, the amazing work that organizations and individuals are doing everyday, and the online communities that are fostering this awareness and togetherness.
I hate the term "recovery".
I don't know if "recovery" really exists... From my experience, there's no cut and dry answer to solving or curing an eating disorder. Rather than thinking of recovery as an end goal, I've learned that recovery is an ongoing process of learning to manage your mental health (symptoms might not always go away completely, but you learn to deal with them better over time). I wish I had set in stone advice to pass on to anyone who is struggling, but frankly, I'm still figuring it out every single day.
What I will say, is that simply coming to terms with my ED was a big part in getting better. For so long, I was in denial. Self-stigma told me that I wasn't "sick enough" to get help - that other girls were thinner, and more troubled than I was. But that's the nature of the eating disorder - it wants to convince you it's not there, so that it can thrive in silence. The best quote I've ever heard that describes this is:
"Having an eating disorder is like fighting a war, in which the opponent's strategy is to convince you that the war isn't happening."
Only you can make the decision to recover.
No one else can choose for you to get better. No matter what a doctor, psychologist, nutritionist or therapist says - you have to be open, ready, and willing to work to kick ED's butt. And it is the hardest thing you will probably ever go through. But god damn it- it is so worth it.
And if you ever find yourself feeling isolated, hopeless and lost... know that you are not alone. That I have been there, and so many others have been there. And if you ever need a reminder, you know where to find us.
- Kayley Reed
CEO of Wear Your Label
Photos by Allie Beckwith