02/03/2015 05:32 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT

Mental Illnesses Are Pack Animals

Sam Edwards via Getty Images

When I was 14 years old, my best friend and I decided to start jogging. Every morning before school, we'd meet on a street corner, and we'd run our little hearts out until we began seeing results. Although we were both petite, there is an area on a girl's body which, most people don't even acknowledge, but for us, it was the focal point of our weight loss. This area is between the thighs -- a little area known to those who strive to rid the body of any rolls, flab, or in this case, chunk. Chunk. It ruled our lives.

For both of us, our obsession with ridding our body of this "chunk" trickled into our eating habits. Now that we were seeing weight loss from the daily jogs, calorie cutting was also crucial in achieving the ultimate "thigh gap." This is right around the time that Tab became my beverage and meal of choice.

Before I even knew what an eating disorder was, the kids at school were talking about me being anorexic. When a boy in grade 11 told me that I had a "nice ass," it further provoked me to continue on with my quest for the perfect body.

Of course, if you aren't perfect, you're a loser...or so I thought. Thus began my descent into a darker place. Suddenly I was no longer bubbly and excited when with my peers. My head was wrapped in negativity and sadness. I felt ugly, fat, unpopular, unwanted. Every boyfriend who broke up with me directly impacted my self-worth. When I wasn't in school, I'd stow away in my room, curled up under the covers of my bed; the curtains closed to keep out any light. I wouldn't answer the phone. Images of my death preoccupied me as I imagined swallowing pills. I no longer knew who I was. The girl who had begun jogging for fun had disappeared.

Moments were spattered with new boyfriends, new hangouts, new activities, which I would cling to like a buoy. When I became captain of the cheerleading squad, for days I bounced out of bed and made my way to the gym, excited for the opportunity. But again, after a few practices, I could no longer concentrate. My mind became muddled, and I was unhappy with the cheers, and overwhelmed by the talent of other squads we had to compete against. Once again a loser. I skipped cheerleading practice, and remained in my bed for days, the school calling over and over to leave messages that "Sandra was absent from school again today." My mother and father worked full time, so I deleted the messages, and crawled back into the darkness of my room, my tears soaking the pillow were I remained stiff; a statue representative of the illness.

I can go back throughout my past and pinpoint several moments were veils of blackness mummified me. And then just as suddenly, something would cause me to pounce out of bed, ready to tackle a new feat: a pageant, a boyfriend, an application to university.

The moments of starvation and extreme exercise, when I felt like my grip on the calories and the miles I travelled pounding the pavement; hammering away at the constant gnawing pain of my depression -- these moments contained the promise of escape. Perhaps one more time around the track and my will to die would subside. Perhaps participating in school activities would feed the beast; the one that would not stop running like a leopard through my psyche, wanting more...more of something inexplicable; a fuel that has not yet been invented. The insatiable nature of my mania is a complex relational example of my eating disorder. The high I experienced from turning down yet another meal; or the constant hunger pains fueled the mania of the Bipolar II.

Mental illnesses are like pack animals. There is never just one without others lurking behind corners waiting to jump on us -- their weight holding us down; their teeth ripping through the flesh of our throat until we are too weak to fight back. As we lay bleeding and broken, available treatment is more difficult to reach.

Which begs the question: In my case, which came first? The eating disorder or the Bipolar II disorder? The Major Depressive Disorder or the General Anxiety Disorder? The answers are not simple, but when that familiar hum of mania pokes its head into my world and says, "Pssst...We should only eat one small salad today then go for a 10 mile run to burn off the calories," I'm caught between knowing this is wrong, but so desperately wanting that satisfying, sick feeling of having triumphed.

Success in this endeavour promises a high; an accomplishment. I am a winner. But when the inevitable crash of the mania makes room for the depression that proves far more terrifying and longer lived than the mania, the eating disorder, with its sweet-talking ways; with its ability to right a wrong; with its duplicitous method of convincing depression that eating is not necessary when darkness cloaks the world -- when this occurs, it doesn't matter which came first. Both mental illnesses are lethal.


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