Name: Alexie Kim
City: Montreal, Qc
Fav thing about your city: Summer is patio season in Montreal so the city really comes alive. Sunday picnics are my favorite activity!
Tell us a fun fact about yourself! I challenged myself to go vegetarian for 1 month over 7 years ago and I never went back. Vegan for almost 5 years now :P
What is your connection to mental illness?
Growing up, I was never able to make friends the same way other children did. I disliked sleepovers, birthday parties and most social activities. I cried every morning before school, but found solace in overachieving. Being the “star student” made me unique and pushed me to strive for perfection in all aspects. I always needed to be the best. Good grades and the approval from adults were more important to me than fitting in with kids my age. The anxiety never left.
Fast-forward to my teenage years and the desire to be perfect was still looming. I was always anxious. I could never fully let go, try new things or make friends. I was huge people pleaser and couldn’t say no. I took on more than I could and dedicated my energy to others at the detriment of my own mental health. Going to a competitive school, I felt like suddenly I had lost myself. I knew I was one of the top student but that wasn’t enough for me anymore. During the last two years of high school I developed an eating disorder. It began with the goal of “toning up” but quickly became an addiction to losing weight. My eating disorder was a form of self-discipline and I wanted to push myself further and further like I had done my whole life with schoolwork and sports. I made up rules, constraints and punishments. I ate very little and exercised for hours so that I could reach arbitrary goals. I became obsessed with numbers, my hair thinned, I started getting chest pains, I couldn’t stand in the shower and my mind was constantly foggy.
One day, it dawned on me that no one was asking me to be perfect. I was been putting all that pressure on myself. I was burning myself out trying to meet unfair standards.
How have you overcome your struggles?
There’s no simple answer or solution. Recovery meant turning my discipline towards different goals, re-evaluating my relationship with food and learning to appreciate my body for what it allows me to do, rather than for how it looks. Recovery meant forcing myself to do less exercise, donating clothes that would soon be too small, reconditioning myself to see food as fuel, accepting the weight gain, facing my fear foods, not allowing myself to step on the scale, deleting all my counting apps and learning how to be happy with what came naturally. Recovery also meant forgiving myself and apologizing to those I hurt. That was the hardest part.
Now I go to a weekly social anxiety group and I practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I talk about my mental health a lot more than before because discussing and advocating has helped me develop a passion for MH. Even though I don’t believe in a full “recovery”, I’m on the right path now. I overcame my struggles because I was tired of missing out on life and wanted to give myself the chance to be happy. I wanted to remember my life and make it memorable.
What does your every day look like?
Unfortunately my weekdays tend to get pretty repetitive because my program requires a lot of studying. My usual day consists of waking up around 7:30-8, eating, getting dressed, studying, going to class, cooking, studying some more, working out (if I have the time) and going to bed between 1-2am. Before I go to bed, I write in my bullet journal and organize my to-do list for the next day. In my free time I visit coffee shops, I go see friends, I cook and I look for new music. Even though I work really hard during the week, getting schoolwork out of the way means that I can enjoy my weekend :)
What advice would you give to your younger self?
• You’re allowed to say no.
• Don’t grow up too fast because the moments you impatiently wait for as a child go by in a flash. Be present.
• Everything you’re working towards will happen if you hold on long enough.
• Showing your emotions is not a sign of weakness.
• Remember that you are more than what you look like.
Who is a Role Model to you?
My aunts and cousins are a huge inspiration to me. I’m motivated everyday by their selflessness, hard work and confidence. The friends I alienated during my ED but held on are also my role models. They didn’t give up on me even when I pushed them away and that’s the type of person I want to be for others.
No one is perfect and role models are no exception. My role models are all the individuals who are unapologetically themselves. They are the people, who empower, educate, support and are honest about their struggles.
How do you spend your Self-Care Sunday?
What calms me the most is organizing the week ahead so that I can enjoy family/friend time without stressors keeping me from being present. Sundays are usually spent writing in my bullet journal, organizing deadlines, projects, to-do lists, shopping lists, all that fun stuff!
Since I’m still pretty new to the city, I like finding coffee shops and exploring new neighbourhoods. When the weather is nice, I enjoy hiking Mont-Royal or walking around the city trying to find dogs (no joke). Cooking is also a huge passion of mine. I like to spend my Sundays making my meals for the week and testing out new recipes.
Photos by Catherine Ong