Recovery is Not Linear

Illustration by Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk

When I was twelve years old, I was slammed with intense anxiety, my first boyfriend, the throes of puberty, and relentless body issues. This combination left me with a severe eating disorder. Sixth grade was drawing to a close, and summer provided the perfect opportunity to starve myself.

Every morning when I woke up, I lifted up my shirt and inspected my hip bones, relishing in the feel of my skin clinging to the bone. I went into the bathroom and stood with my ankles together, staring at my thighs, trying to find even a hint of a gap. I remember the first time I saw one. Relief and pride flooded me, followed by an immediate need for ​more. I needed it bigger. I needed to be smaller.

I would try my hardest to consume nothing but plain green tea until dinner, then eat the bare minimum as to not alert my parents. I scarcely left my room, instead laying flat on my bed, pushing on my stomach because I read somewhere that it makes you feel more full, and staring at myself in the mirror until I wanted to scream. I spent hours huddled in my closet, my computer open, staring hungrily at images of sickly, underweight girls with tiny thighs and sharp hip bones, gaping collarbones, and arms around which you could wrap your fingers. I fell asleep dreaming of slicing the fat from my thighs, my hips, my stomach. I constantly researched tips to conceal my increasing state of starvation, and did my best to deflect concerned questions from my parents.

However, I was not as sneaky as I believed, and after three months and an investigation into my laptop’s search history my parents found a therapist for me. I hated her. She was a family therapist, meaning she demanded to see my entire family for our appointments, and anything I told her was shared with my parents. She seemed to be there more to teach my parents how to manage my restriction than to actually serve as a sanctuary for myself. About a month after I started seeing her, I went to my doctor and was promptly told I was medically unstable and must go to the hospital immediately.

Eating disorders affect at least thirty million people in the U.S. and are the third most common chronic illness in adolescents. With treatment, 60% of those sufferers will make a full recovery, but only one-third will seek treatment of their own initiative. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and every 62 minutes someone dies of an eating disorder.

Today, eating disorders are quickly becoming more and more prevalent, and 50-80% of the risk of an eating disorder is genetic. But diet culture and societal pressures remain enormous contributors. The average U.S. woman is 5’4” and weighs 165 pounds, but the average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds. Because of this heinous cultural ideal, there has been a significant rise in cases of anorexia in young women 15-19 every decade since the 1930s, and cases of bulimia in 10-39-year-old women ​tripled between 1988 and 1993. In fact, four out of ten individuals have personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has.

I was at Stanford Hospital for four days. Here I watched hours of TV, was woken at five every morning for my weight, heart rate, and blood pressure, and attended multiple group therapy sessions. Finally, I was permitted to go home, where absolutely nothing changed. Not my eating habits, not my mindset, nothing. Every meal was a battle: me against my parents.

Two months later, I started at a new school, which was an entirely new spiral of awfulness. The second day, one of my friends looked me up and down and complimented my weight loss. I smiled widely and brightly thanked her, swallowing the urge to cry.

Eventually, my parents were too worried to allow me to decline steadily downwards. They contacted a treatment facility called the Lotus Collaborative and set up a consultation. I was adamant that I would not go. They made me. I met with the head of the program for about an hour, and she told my parents that at the very least I needed to be in their all-day program, from 11:45 AM to 8 PM every single day. I was distraught and threw multiple fits, and finally my parents conceded. They informed me that if I agreed to eat, I wouldn’t have to go. I agreed. I ate.

For about four months anyways. At the beginning of the second semester, my middle school took the height and weight of its students. I had not been permitted to see my weight since I was diagnosed, and my shaky resolve to eat was completely obliterated. I came home from school and wouldn’t touch my food. My concerned mother asked me multiple times what was going on, until haltingly I told her. Furious, she called the school and berated the principal for a good fifteen minutes. Then, she tried to reason with me. The problem, however, was that the person that she knew was not present. It was still me, but I was enveloped completely by the hard, inflexible shell of my eating disorder. I refused to eat.

Within three weeks, I met once more with the Lotus Collaborative, and this time I was admitted. My parents compromised, and I was to attend their IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) care, which ran from 3:45 to 8 PM. I vividly remember my first moments there. The other clients were in a group session, and I arrived a few minutes late. I was instructed to introduce myself, which I barely managed to do without crying. I spent that day in an anxiety-induced haze.

After a month of that, my Lotus-appointed therapist rightfully saw no improvement and told my parents that I either needed to step up to PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) from 11:45 AM to 8 PM, or I would need to go to residential care, where I would live at a facility full time. They chose the PHP, and I was informed I would need to leave school. I cried for three hours.

During my first two months of PHP I ate only while I was at Lotus. If you refused a meal, you needed to drink a meal-replacement shake called Ensure. If you refused the Ensure, you would get a mark on your chart. Enough marks and your level of care was increased. So, I ate only while at Lotus. I attended a lot of group therapy (three groups a day), and as a result forged deep bonds with the other clients, all of whom were older than me. Soon, Lotus became my sanctuary and simultaneously, my prison.

In mid-May of 2017, my hard shell began to crack. I was learning the skills I needed to fight back. I still detested the way my body looked, but maybe a little less. I began to eat, and my therapist deemed me ready to step down to IOP in June. I was enthralled. I had been asking for this for months, and now finally I had it within my grasp. I had learned to communicate with others, and I had learned to be vulnerable. I had learned how to see my body through fresh eyes. I began to compose my own meals; I began to become comfortable in my body.

On August 29th, 2017, six months after starting and a year after being diagnosed, I graduated the Lotus Collaborative Eating Disorder Treatment Facility. I composed a peace treaty with my body and my eating disorder, and read it in front of all the clients, staff, and my parents. I cried the entire way through. I cried for the little girl who believed she would rather die than weigh over a hundred pounds. I cried because I had grown to think of Lotus as my second home, as my sanctuary. I cried because I was proud. I was proud that I had come so far, proud that I had persevered for so long.

Recently, I found one of my old diaries. Thumbing through the pages, I stumbled upon several passages I had written while I was deep in the throes of my eating disorder.

“I’m definitely losing weight. I can see it. I was bad today though. I binged. So, I am fasting for the next two days. Then, on the third day, I’m only eating at dinner. That’s my plan: only eat at dinner. My hip bones are prominent and I ​almost​ have a thigh gap! Yay!”

“I’m not saying anorexic because I ​know ​I’m not anorexic. Girls with anorexia are skinny and they worry about food all the time. They’re also never hungry. I’m not anorexic because I’m always ​hungry.”

“Every time I eat, I can ​feel the fat on my body. It’s disgusting and makes me want to vomit. I am seeing the doctor, I think next week? She’s going to see if I’m physically healthy but I’m not. How can a fat girl be healthy?”

Looking back on these words makes me sad. Sad for the person that I once was, and the beliefs that she held. Sad that I hated myself and my body ​so much that I turned to starvation. I read these entries and I want to take my younger self in my arms and whisper in her ear that she is so much more than her weight. I want to stroke her hair and hold her while she cries and tell her that everything she is so fixated on—thigh gaps, bikini bridges, concave stomachs, prominent collar bones, the ability to see every single rib—means absolutely nothing. That the girls that she sees in those pictures are not okay, that they are sick and so is she. That the reason she is still unable to exercise for over half an hour without needing to lie down, ​nearly three years later, is because she is destroying her body, bite by refused bite.

I have lived with an eating disorder for two years and nine months, and I am still not recovered. Lately, my anxiety levels have risen to the point that I am skipping meals, and now, most food makes me physically nauseous if I taste it, smell it, even think of consuming it.

My therapist tells me it’s part of the disorder, that my hunger and fullness cues have been thrown out of whack by my restriction, that I just need to power through it and swallow each bite, one at a time. But ​damn it,​ it is so hard. It is ​still​ so hard to see my body in the mirror, to prepare my own meals, to write these words without crying, to look down at the spiderwebs of stretch marks across my hips and thighs without hating them with everything I have, to silence that voice in my head that is constantly shrieking in my ear that I am not pretty enough, smart enough, funny enough, popular enough, thin enough, thin enough, ​thin enough.

Recovery is not linear. It’s a phrase they repeated over and over again at Lotus, a phrase I painted in thick black letters and taped to my wall, a phrase I tell myself every day. Recovery is not linear. Recovery is not linear. So bite by bite, I power through, fighting the nausea, telling the voice in my head to shut up, forcing myself to eat my food.

“You need food to live, Nike, and just because you tell yourself you will be the one person who will be okay doesn’t mean it’s true,” I tell myself. “You will go back to Lotus, Nike. Is that what you want? You will have to repeat ninth grade, and just because you think it won’t happen doesn’t mean it won’t.”

“You are not exempt from everything terrible in this world, and just because you tell yourself that you are does not mean that it’s true.”

“You are not immune to the horrible consequences of starvation, so shut up and eat your damn food.”

Recovery is not linear—nothing really is. Over and over again, I find myself at what I think is the finish line but I’ve been running in circles. I think I’m still in the middle.


By Nike Cholden

Vincenzo the Barber














The front entrance locked.

“Hey, can I get a haircut, please?”
“Sure, sit.”
“Thanks.” I walked around the mid-century barber chair. 
“You want the circle or straight line?” He asked, pointing to the back of my neck.
“Circle, please.” 

Two sweaty armpits, a smoke cloud's worth of talcum powder, and $15 later I was on my merry way. This was the experience I frequently had at the Italian barbershop in North Perth. The barber, Vincenzo, was patient, specific, hairy-eared, and apparently only had two different haircuts up his sleeve: the circle and the straight line.

This gentleman lived and died by his craft. I was never entirely sure of his age, but I do remember hearing he’d been in business for 50 years around 2010. In the past few years, I've seen the old herb garden outside the barbershop grow barren; more recently, I've noticed that the storefront has been replaced with something I don't care to remember. As I said, Vincenzo lived and died by his craft. So I could not imagine him closing up shop for anything other the hair from his ears obtruding his vision. I say that with love, as this was one of the many idiosyncrasies that added to Vincenzo’s charm and made me come back for the "circle" hairdo.

Here’s to Vincenzo. 

P.S. This photoshoot was taken in early 2015 and was previously unreleased.


Modeled by and Written by Cole Baxter
Photos by Jules Szoke

Calmness





Calmness depicts a series of personal spaces that have helped me realize the importance of being on my own. I have learned how I feel when I am by myself, and I've become aware of the significance of these spaces. Personally, I feel more comfortable being by myself than in a room filled with strangers. I truly believe these spaces have made me realize the value of time and space. 

The places that I chose are in my home and my college dorm, and have helped me grow into the person I am today. Being able to connect with personal objects has enabled me to reflect on my struggles and be comfortable by myself


By María Sánchez

The Unpopular Aspects of Depression


Please be advised this article contains information about mental illness, self-harm, and suicide.

People don’t like to talk about the dark parts of depression. All you see on the Internet are pretty girls curled up in bed, crying and listening to sad music. People will post on Twitter, “Oh my god, I’m so depressed I got a C on my final exam.” Not only is this insensitive to people actually suffering from mental illness, but it generalizes symptoms of depression and makes them insignificant.

I was sixteen years old when I had my first depressive episode. My mother was in the hospital—I can’t remember what for, now—and I had a panic attack when my father told me. I couldn’t breathe, and it felt like my world was disappearing into a black abyss before my eyes. I didn’t eat for days and couldn’t sleep longer than a few hours at a time.

This pattern continued even after my mother came home. Things seemed to settle during my senior year of high school. I stayed busy with extracurriculars, I was taking classes that interested me, and I learned a lot about myself while applying to colleges. I still fell into some dark places, but I was pulled back out by friends and was throwing myself into theatre and tech work.

But it wasn’t enough.

I lived on campus at my university for my entire freshman year. I went to frat parties, I had an awesome group of friends, I kept my dorm clean, and I was studying harder than ever. I should have been having the time of my life.

What no one knew was that every night, after my roommate was asleep or at a friend’s place, I would cry myself into exhaustion. I felt nothing but emptiness. When I was having lunch with my girlfriends I would laugh and tell jokes, but I was feeling nothing. When I would talk to my boyfriend, Steven, on the phone I would tell him I loved him, but inside I felt empty.

I was ashamed. I was self harming, I was listening to the same music on repeat for hours, I was taking hour-long showers just to drown out the sounds of my crying. I was keeping to myself and going out less and less.

My parents and Steven had no idea how bad it had gotten. They knew I was feeling down, but they assumed I was homesick. Since I didn’t have a car on campus, my dad and Steven took turns driving me home every Friday evening and back every Monday morning.

I made excuses. I needed to do laundry, my sister had a dance competition that I wanted to attend, I missed my dog. It was all a cover-up. I couldn’t be at school. I couldn’t be alone there with my thoughts. But every Monday morning would come, and I would get myself so worked up that I would be physically sick.

It wasn’t until spring break that I finally told my mom that I was harming myself and having thoughts of suicide. With a history of mental illness, she launched herself into research with my dad. They looked for the best available young adult therapist in the state. We finally found someone taking new clients.

She suggested I see a psychiatrist, and I started seeing a doctor who really understood and respected me. Things were looking up.

I tried to be candid with my family and my boyfriend, but telling the truth about how you feel can be really hardespecially when mental health is so widely disregarded.

In March of 2018, I was feeling more alone than ever. Steven and I were living on our own in an apartment that we could afford, with a dog that we adored, and steady jobs and school. I was texting my mom every single dayusually multiple times a dayabout how I wanted to hurt myself. How I was too scared to get in my car to drive to school. How I would sit and cry and watch Netflix specials and eat three pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in twenty minutes just so I could feel something. How I couldn’t talk to Steven because I didn’t want to upset him.

I was hiding. I was closing myself off again. And behind closed doors I was broken again. I was worthless again. I was self-harming again.

Even after my psychiatrist recommended me to the best psychological health facility in the state, I was hiding. I didn’t tell anyone. The only people who knew were my parents, my boyfriend, and my two closest friends. Not even my grandparents knew until I had been there for a few days. I felt guilty for causing my parents so much heartache, and I felt shameful for staying inpatient at a hospital because I didn’t feel safe on my own.

But here’s what’s amazing: shame goes away if you tell it to. I spent eight days and seven nights inpatient, and six weeks in an intensive outpatient program. I learned that it is okay to be open about my illness. In fact, it was crucial that I was open about my illness. If I wasn’t honest with my doctors, with my caregivers, or with myself, I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

My metaphorically boarded-up doors were being taken down piece by piece. I was learning more about my disorder. I learned I had a team of experts at my disposal whenever I needed them.

My journey through Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder has been a continuous uphill battle. But the most important thing I took away from my stay in a mental health facility is this:

Even your bad days are one step closer to getting better.

Even when you feel hopeless and helpless, as long as you’re trying, you’re making progress. That’s what matters. That’s what counts.

If you are feeling unsafe or having harmful thoughts, please reach out to someone you trust. It can be a primary care doctor, a teacher, a friend, an auntjust make sure someone knows how you are feeling. And if you don’t have an adult in your life whom you can trust, consult the internet. There are countless apps, websites, and phone numbers for free (or very, very affordable) hotlines and safe spaces. I looked up a text line and it was life-saving. Whenever I felt really low, say, at three in the morning when my mom would have been asleep, I texted the hotline and they helped me understand why I was feeling this way and what I could do to distract myself from the paralyzing thoughts.

Mental illnesses are designed to make you feel unlovable and shameful. But you are in charge of you. Don’t let your mental illness tell you you’re worthless.


By Megan Clark

Flower Girl





Through the exploration of my artist practice as of late, I have struggled with meaning. I have yet to uncover what my art owes me and what I owe it, but through film a median has dawned. It grants the dreamer, the wonderer, the romantic an ability to escape reality. Piecing together what little information is given by setting, costume design, and lighting, portrait photography informs viewers of nothing more than a subject’s body language and their occupancy of the space. Much less of a narrative than cinema, much more tangible than a painting, portrait photography allows me to capture a scene with just a glimpse, leaving viewers to adapt and conceive with their own disposition. This photo series draws upon just that.


By Josh Castellano

Cleaning Out My Closet


You will need about four trash bags. The biggest you can find. The most durable. You will need to lug those bags into your room. One by one, splay them out on the floor.

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This will take about an hour, maybe more, so play some music, something jovial and antsy, a song ripe with the bittersweetness of reinvention. Open the windows; let the light in. Open the closet. Peek in for a moment, tiptoe your fingers along the edges of sweaters and jeans, let yourself drink in the dust and settle into the loss you are about to commit. Decide which section to tackle first. The tee-shirts, let’s say. Pull your hair back. Open up the drawers. Take a trash bag between your hands. Begin.

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There are diaries, the kinds we write in rosy gel ink or thin-lined ballpoint pen, the kinds we store in notebooks, and then there are diaries, the kinds we don’t mean to write. Do not study each item too hard, do not try on every blouse or pair of shoes, do not let yourself graze every life you ever authored (or rather, every life that authored you), every person you ever were. Sift through your clothes, stretch out each and every piece of fabric, hold your garments up against the sunlight like you would a magnifying glass to an ant: let the memories smolder.

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This closet, you see, a confession box: scratchy bloodshot dress made of velvet and polyester, cutting off right at the thighs; what girl were you to buy that? Who squeezed and fumbled into the chokehold of that dress and mimed effervescence? Trace the outline with your fingers until that night swarms every inch of breathing space; remember how you stood alone in the corner of someone’s party tugging at the hem. The taste of orangey alcohol like brine down your throat, smearing the night with warmth and a nameless someone’s mouth on yours, listlessness like a seabed that you could not swim up from, airless, blue-bathed, alone. Fold up the dress and chuck it into a trash bag.

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Rebecca Solnit calls it “the violence of metamorphosis.” Yes: the trash bags transform into cocoons. The process of cleaning out clothesreally a filling of the hearse, a full-body shove of all your chalky corpses into a black car. Is this dramatic? To call the act of cleaning out a death of sorts? A little death: la petite mort. Which is also a euphemism for orgasm. Because how different are they, really? The vermilion flush of rebirth, swallowing you, a release of the self. Writing about orgasm, Percy Bysshe Shelley once said “no life can equal such a death.” The Romantics wrote odes, violent gushing love letters, to this death, to this coming-undone as the moment of self-erasure; you dissolve from yourself, the tissue and bloodrush and singularly-stamped skin of you made anew for one meteoric moment.

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This process may tear certain boxes in you free, ones you’ve kept unopened. You may tug your hair out; you may ruminate and question and pang with sentimentalism so petulant that you pick your nails to shreds. Looking at the hushed yellow of your graduation dress, quiet and coquettish, reeking of I am afraid to feel too good about myself today. Too bright-eyed. I am afraid that I haven’t earned this. Or: you will trail your hands over a plum-colored pantsuit and you will know: the girl who wore that pantsuit wanted to be seen. To radiate like angina, infuse rooms with the purple fabric of her gutsiness. Perhaps all that inanimate fabric is not so inanimate. Perhaps each garment reveals a loss, embedded like stalagmites in the cavern of you, reaching forward until you cannot temper its bottomless sting.

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There are paintings, coins, engravings, most likely originating with medieval Christianity, that all share the same implication: the reminder of our inevitable deaths. These they called ‘memento moris,’ a Latin phrase meaning remember you will die. The marriage of mortality to an object. Yes, death lingers even in your bedroom, this closet not quite a morgue but a love letter to dyingpeople shift, reform, unfold, invert, it says, and each time we wear a piece of clothing we trap our silhouettes in their folds. Things become other things, people become themselves over and over again in a million fractured ways, and this is not a curse. You will long like crazy to hold onto these items, to collect memento moris all your own. But your bedroom will not shapeshift into a catacomb, and you cannot keep every girl you ever were. Bury those people elsewhere, away from where you sleep.

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Your closet gives you away. Elusiveness dissolved; when those doors open, you are knowable. Your secret self disappears. You stain every one of those tee-shirts and bras and dresses. You cannot be washed out. When you empty its contents, things will blur. Everything cohesive about you will taper off. The girl you were becomes ungraspable. You know nothing of yourself; you cannot be held onto. You will slip like foam out of your own hands.

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The bags will swell until you cannot feed them anymore. Bloated with past. You must drag them from your bedroom and find some in-between place, the morgue before the crematory, see, maybe your car or an attic. Push them together, herd them like unruly animals (because although they are quiet, they can still bite), close the door, lock them in. Tomorrow, take them to Goodwill or hand them off to a neighbor or niece. Sell them online. Tell yourself: the person who danced and drove and wrote in those clothes has fossilized. No matter what people say, ghosts can’t live in a piece of fabric. Stop trying to hold them so close to your chest: you will buy new things, you will stand in a thrift shop, try on a dress and your heart will capsize, everything you were will settle like silt in your stomach, and you will fill your closet with what comes next.



By Sofia Sears