The past few weeks have really put my recovery to the test. First, my parents flew to Montana for four days, leaving me at home to cook and eat meals on my own (I’m still amazed that I didn’t burn the house down). Then, of course, I published my second book. Obviously I’m overjoyed that Breaking Free is out, but at the same time, it’s turned me into a colossal nervous wreck. I’m constantly on edge, and I’m even more indecisive than I usually am, which is a problem whenever I have to make choices surrounding my diet. Deciding what to eat for dinner has been exceptionally challenging lately.
This week, my family and I were vacationing in Southampton. I use the word “vacation” cautiously, as my trip was largely spent networking and promoting Breaking Free. That said, I had a lot of fun. It was nice to escape the constant hubbub of suburban life to relax in an upscale lake house with laidback people and—dare I say it—some damn good food.
My family aims to visit Southampton every summer, but I haven’t been back since seventh grade. I’ve had difficulty in the past adapting to unfamiliar environments, and, after a string of failed vacations, I decided a few years ago that it wasn’t worth the hassle. My rigidity around food made it impossible for any of us to enjoy vacation because we were constantly at war with each other. Any small alteration of my meal schedule would send me into a full-blown panic, and I’d cry or yell or just shut down. As if that weren’t bad enough, more often than not, I’d return home weighing a pound or two less than when I left.
But as years went by and I developed skills that made stepping outside my comfort zone less likely to result in catastrophe, vacationing slowly became enjoyable again. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about returning to Southampton, where the lifestyle is a stark contrast to that of WeHa’s, but this trip has exceeded my expectations in more ways than not.
Rather than spending most of my time holed up in my room, I had genuine interactions, partook in local activities, and even went to a waterpark—in crappy weather, but still. Food, while anxiety-provoking at times, was overall manageable. I adjusted to a more lenient routine and even enjoyed brunch with my cousin’s South African neighbors. Brunch is difficult for me, as it falls around the time when I eat my morning snack. I’ve historically avoided it at all costs, but, since I’m trying not to let my anxiety get the better of me anymore, I decided “screw it,” had a bowl of cereal to tie myself over until eleven, and went to brunch. It turns out that with quality food and the right people, brunch isn’t so bad after all.
I’d encourage anyone who struggles with eating away from home—whether because of an eating disorder or something entirely different—to not let that fear hold you back. Exposure therapy isn’t easy, but with time and patience, it’s gotten me to a place where my mental illness doesn’t dictate whether my vacation is good or bad. That’s in my hands now.
Of course, there were still a few hiccups along the way, but my trip to Southampton was yet another indication of how far I’ve come. Realizing that I can do well outside of my comfort zone motivates me to keep progressing in recovery. I have an entire lifetime of vacations ahead of me, and while I don’t expect that they’ll all be smooth sailing, at least I know that anything is possible.
Here it is. After months of nonstop brainstorming, cramped fingers from vigorous typing, sleepless nights, and meticulous edits, I’m pleased to announce that my new book Breaking Free went live on Tuesday. Breaking Free is the sequel to Changing Ways and chronicles the protagonist’s life outside of a treatment facility as she learns how to navigate the complicated real world. Similar to my first book, the story is based on my personal experiences of being in recovery from a mental illness.
Recovery has taught me the importance of perseverance. When I started writing Changing Ways two years ago, I had a goal, and nothing was going to stand in my way. Not my unpredictable mental health. Not the people who told me I was too young or inexperienced to write a book. Not writer’s block—though that came close to bringing me down on more than one occasion.
Almost anything is possible if you want it enough. No matter how many times I get knocked down or how many obstacles I’ll have to overcome, there’s one thing I know for certain: I’m never going to stop writing.
Publishing a book is nothing short of terrifying. It’s vulnerable. It’s unpredictable. And, by putting your story out there, you’re deliberately subjecting yourself to criticism and judgement (thanks, Goodreads). So, why did I do it? There are many reasons that compelled me to write and publish a book, but the most important one was this: I had a message that people needed to hear.
I vividly remember the nerve-wracking feeling of sitting at my computer and staring at my browser as my mouse hovered over the orange Publish Your Paperback Book button on KDP. This was in early September, when I was getting ready to publish Changing Ways. Questions sped through my mind:
What if this is a bust?
What if nobody reads it?
What if they do read it and hate it?
What if the past year of my life has been all for nothing?
But, amidst the negativity and doubt, another question arose: what if this works out?
Spoiler alert: it did.
Changing Ways has been the best thing to ever happen to me. Being a published author has opened a door to so many opportunities that I never imagined I’d have. I’ve spoken at libraries and book stores. I was on an anxiety panel at my former high school with four licensed therapists. I did a live interview with Fox61 and a podcast with iHeartRadio. But above all, I now have a platform to share my story, and by doing so, reassure people who are actively struggling with mental illness that hope DOES exist. Not everyone is as fortunate.
Yet despite how well my first publication went, as I get closer and closer to publishing Breaking Free, I can feel the anxiety returning. Doubts keep me awake at night, and with each preparation I make, I question whether I’m ready to put myself through this 24/7 stress-fest again.
Rest assured, I’m going to publish this book. Because while the unexpected can be daunting, it can also be amazing. Who would have ever thought that a socially-awkward eighteen-year-old with a convoluted history of mental illness would one day have the confidence to publicly share her story? Not me—that’s for sure. Outcomes like such emphasize the importance of taking risks. As cliché as it sounds, change rarely comes from playing it safe.
So, take a chance. Embrace the unexpected. And get ready for Breaking Free, ‘cause shit’s about to go down.
This week, my mom and I visited Boston, where I’ll start school at Emerson College in the fall, to meet with three potential therapists. All of them walking distance from Emerson and trained in eating disorders, our objective was to find someone to offer me local support as I begin this next chapter of my life. This is one of many steps that I’m taking to ensure that my first year away from home is a success.
While we were in Boston, we also had lunch and dinner at the dining hall. For many people who struggle with an eating disorder, having to choose from so many options—not to mention the noisy and crowded environment—can be incredibly overwhelming. At home, I have an eating routine. I know which foods I like and, for the most part, they’re accessible. And while I’ll likely continue my three-meals-and-three-snacks-a-day eating schedule, I’m fully aware that I’ll have to adapt my diet to meet my dietary needs.
Despite the initial panic that overcame me when I stepped foot in the dining hall, it turns out that having options wasn’t as challenging as I’d anticipated. I was able to assemble meals—pizza and salad for dinner; a sandwich, apple, and chocolate milk for lunch—that resembled what I’d have at home. Yes, I had to make adjustments (i.e. there was no soy deli meat, so I added another slice of cheese to my sandwich), but overall, it was a good experience.
I returned home feeling victorious. I had a new therapist I liked, I was confident that I could handle the dining hall, and I felt comfortable enough getting around the general vicinity. Additionally, my request for a single room had been recently approved, and I’m looking forward to furnishing with my graduation money.
I know that next year will present challenges that I’ll have to overcome. I know I’ll get overwhelmed and struggle with portion sizes and doubt whether I’m eating enough or too much. Recovery isn’t linear; it’s messy and unpredictable—but that’s not to say it isn’t worth it. For a long time, I never imagined that I’d be in a place where college was feasible. Now that it is, I’m excited to embrace college life. I’m ready for a fresh start.
Like many kids, when I was younger, Christmas was my favorite time of the year. From the presents to the food to the traditions to the time spent with my family, it was an all-around magical experience. Snapshot memories like riding the “Polar Express” in Essex, portraying an Archangel in my church’s Christmas Pageant, and exploring Rockefeller Center in New York City have stuck with me to this day, many years later.
But the holidays weren’t always a joyful time for me. In eighth grade, I was struggling a lot with my mental health. Food, once one of my favorite parts of Christmas, had become something I dreaded. I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy my favorite childhood treats, like peppermint bark and sugar cookies, I loathed the way my new clothing fit me, and I was constantly at war with my parents. Everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, was a battle with them to the point where we were better off not speaking at all.
Ninth grade was even worse. I was at such a low point in my life that I genuinely believe that the excitement of Christmas was the only thing worth living for. So, when Christmas morning came, I tortured my family by opening every gift painfully slowly, desperate to drag out the experience for as long as I possibly could. And then, when there were no more presents under the tree, I cried. That small shred of hope that I was clinging to was gone, and it was devastating.
This idea that Christmas was the temporary cure for my problems persisted in the years that followed. While my mental health slowly improved, I continued my new tradition of making Christmas last all day. I would block out times to open gifts around my scheduled meals and would frequently take breaks in between. And of course, when the time came to open my final present, I was overcome with sadness and disappointment. No matter how amazing my gifts were, it was never enough to compensate for the fact that the next morning, I’d return to my miserable daily grind. The vicious cycle of deprivation, denial, and defiance that had dominated my life since eighth grade seemed like it would never end.
And then, propelled by external support and internal strength, it did.
This holiday season, I decided I would not let my mental illness dictate how I spent Christmas. Instead of preoccupying myself with worries about food and dreading the moment that the festivities ended, I focused my attention on everything that was good in my life. I’d recently been accepted into my number one college. I had a book on the market that was doing well. I’d even begun to enjoy food again.
I know that I will never forget those miserable Christmases, but at least I have the opportunity to create new memories—better memories. Unlike in the past, I’ve found reasons to look forward to the year ahead. I’m excited to embark on new experiences, to meet new people, and to continue improving myself as a person. After all, isn’t that what the New Year is about?
Happy World Mental Health Day. Today is a more important day than ever to remember those who lost their battle, celebrate those who found the strength to persevere, and remind anyone who is still struggling that they are so much more than their illness.
When I was very sick, I relied on my mental illness. I was convinced that without it, I was nobody. Now that I’m in a better place, however, I realize how completely wrong I was. Mental illness destroyed my relationships with my family and friends, stripped away everything I once enjoyed, and made me feel worthless and unwanted to the point where I wanted to die.
But with a lot of therapy and support, after three years of enduring constant mental and emotional torment, I was able to commit to recovery. If you or anyone you know may be struggling with mental illness, please do not hesitate to seek help. Whether or not you believe it now, YOU ARE ENOUGH.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
I knew when I decided to self-publish a book that negative reviews would be inevitable. I processed it, I accepted it, I prepared for it . . . and it still sucks.
Earlier today, I received a review on Goodreads that claimed the psych ward in Changing Ways is unrealistic because Grace had “far too many opportunities to get away with not eating.” A large part of me was tempted to leave a comment rebutting this reviewer’s remark. After all, Grace’s stay at CTC is entirely based on my own experiences with psych wards, many of which were utterly incompetent when it came to eating disorders. Like Grace, at six of my seven inpatient admissions, I too manipulated the system and consequently lost a startling amount of weight.
I wanted to say this. But I didn’t.
I knew it wouldn’t matter. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion because everyone sees things a little differently. And that’s what makes humans so fantastic. I don’t expect every person who reads Changing Ways to like it. It tackles a subject many people are uncomfortable with and is written with a strong teen voice, something others may find annoying or unsophisticated (yes, I’ve heard both of these).
I’m proud of my book, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. If I had let my fear of criticism get the best of me, I never would have published Changing Ways. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to share my story, to speak my truth. But I do, and that alone makes every shitty review worthwhile.
A life that’s dominated by fear is a life I do not want to live.
Fall is undeniably one of the most beautiful times of the year, but for someone like me, who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s also one of the most difficult. As the days become shorter and the temperature drops, I begin to feel sad, tired, and lack motivation to do even the simplest of things, like getting out of bed or dressing nicely. It’s because of this that the majority of my winter clothing comprises of sweats.
I began struggling with SAD when I was in the eighth grade. Although it’s been five years since I hit my lowest weight, four since my first hospital admission, and three since I was finally able to commit to recovery, many of the bad memories I associate with fall are so vivid, they might as well have happened yesterday. And while there are still times when I feel overwhelmed or lose hope, as the years progressed, I’ve discovered several coping mechanisms in order to prevent SAD from derailing my recovery:
1. My lightbox. Lightboxes mimic sunlight to evoke a chemical change in my brain, which lifts my mood and alleviates other symptoms brought on by SAD. I usually spend ten-to-fifteen minutes under my lightbox while I eat breakfast. The morning is the best time, as lightboxes can disrupt sleep if they’re used too late in the day.
2. Focusing on the positive. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s easy to forget the progress I’ve made when I’m down. That’s why, whenever I feel my mood beginning to dip, I take a moment to reflect on how far I’ve come over the past few years and another to remind myself of how shitty it would be to return to that dark, miserable place.
3. Being with people. For me, nighttime is when my depression is the most intense. That’s why in the evening, I hang out in a central location or watch TV with my family until I’m psychically and mentally exhausted. That way, when I crawl into my bed, I don’t have the energy to think negative thoughts or remember unpleasant times.
4. Doing fun stuff. It’s really easy when I’m feeling down to lack motivation to do much of anything. I used to sleep to escape the pain, but now I force myself to engage in activities that bring me joy, like board games or funny YouTube videos or playing with my cats.
5. Putting my health first. This should be a no-brainer, but for many people (including myself) it’s easy to get caught up in the constant hubbub of school, work, sports, etc. That said, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nothing else matters when I’m not well.
Remember; how you let SAD affect you is (mostly) in your hands. There are dozens of other coping skills I didn’t mention, but in order for them to work, you must commit to using them every day as best you can. YOU have the power.
If you think you have SAD or want to learn more, click here.
On Saturday, September 29th at 1:00, Book Club Bookstore and More will be hosting my first book talk. I’m so excited (and a little anxious) to finally have a platform to share my story. The past five years of my life have been a mix of terrifying, insightful, unexpected, and at times, downright crazy. I’ve had days when I couldn’t get out of bed, then others when I embraced the world with open arms. I’ve sobbed for hours on end. I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt. I’ve wanted to die. I’ve fought tooth-and-nail to be alive.
When I began writing Changing Ways one year ago, I had no idea where it would take me–and I still don’t, not really. That said, I’m ready to start exploring this next chapter of my life. The future is an open door . . . and so is Book Club Bookstore and More. Now all I have to do is figure out what the hell I’m going to say.
It’s happening!!! My debut novel Changing Ways is officially available for purchase on Amazon. This is a huge accomplishment for me and an even larger step forward in my recovery. Four years ago, I couldn’t imagine living today, much less achieving my goal of becoming a published author, and now that I have, I’ve never been happier to be alive. This is a dream come true, and I’m so excited to share it with each and every one of you.