Have you ever felt that having a mental illness makes you ugly -- not just imperfect or slightly flawed, but soul-deep, glaringly, hideously ugly? I have. It comes over me in waves of revulsion and self-loathing. When I scrape my hair back at night or catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror window I feel ugly. Every day I take off my makeup and find another wrinkle, another blemish, or an additional hint of age. And it terrifies me. I see the puckered white-purple scars on my arms and legs, the chapped skin on my lips. I see somebody who it is impossible to love. I wonder if having a mental illness makes me ugly?
Eating Disorders - Tough Times
Growing up is difficult. It is unstoppable, beautiful, ugly, painful and hard. It is full of examinations, zits, hormones, bad hair days and unrequited crushes. Awkward first dates, sloppy first kisses and neon pink eyeshadow that really does not look good with those red skyscraper shoes. But throw a mental illness and a desire to date into the mix and growing up can be torturous.
I grew up in a household that threw around words like "accountability" and "free agency" right along with "dinner time" and "brush your teeth". I was constantly told that I had the right to make my own decisions and my own mistakes. Because that was what God wanted; that was why I was alive -- to make my own choices, be my own person and to ultimately end up dwelling in eternal, celestial bliss. Because that was the fine-print, the unspoken stipulations: they were the loop-holes. I could make my own elections – provided they were correct. I could be my own person -- on the condition that I was the right one. And I could live however I wanted, as long as I followed all of the rules and abandoned my individual self-confidence.
In my experience, I have found that the diagnosis of a mental disorder can be almost as difficult to deal with as the illness itself. In fact, it can be enough to throw your whole life off kilter and send you spiraling down into the blackest abyss – scrabbling at mass segments of misplaced sanity and reason. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. Being diagnosed with anorexia as a teen -- 13 -- evoked a conflicting quantity of emotions. I was hit with a sense of surrealism, fear, confusion and even a barely formed hint of masochistic pride. Because the verdict literally happened overnight, one moment I was a young, active and apparently healthy teenage girl – and the next I was anything but. I was anorexic -- malnourished, insensible and broken. I was a pariah.
My name is Hannah Crowley, and I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2003 when I was just 13 years old. I was a young, sheltered, over-achiever with absolutely no concrete idea of what my diagnosis meant. Weren’t anorexics all just stick-thin models who were far too vain for their own good? Because that’s what I had heard, somewhere. That’s what the papers told me. That’s what my parents said. That’s what I read in the pages of magazines I had hidden covertly between the covers of English classics. Bronte, Dickens and Austin. Anorexia was stupidity. It was a sin. I should probably just eat, get over myself, and grow up. Right? Wrong.