Rachel s Story
Charleston, SC USA
"I've been thinking about a phenomenon of humankind: the filter. Humans acquire their filters; it is not something they are born with. Children speak whatever comes to their minds; but somewhere in that awkward and turbulent stage of child to adolescent, people learn to filter their thoughts and desires.
We are told to think before we speak, and to keep some things private, and there is certainly a point to this. But, when did we learn to filter our feelings? When did we decide that maintaining a perfectly cultivated pretense of having our lives together was more important than speaking up when we are hurting?
Children project themselves in the world with unimpaired and unapologetic totality – when did we lose that? I spent over a year – since Emily first started this nonprofit – wanting to share my own story but being too afraid.
What if someone I know reads this? What if they don't look at me the same? That's the point, though, isn't it? Our experiences – raw and unfiltered – are what will shatter the stigma of mental illness.
I was an average-sized kid: not thin, but not overweight, and I never really thought about it until I found an interest in the fashion industry as a preteen. I went with my parents to the grocery store simply to scour the racks of Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, and Vogue. I was drawn in by the artistic layouts, the dramatic photo spreads, and the impeccable beauty of the women featured in those pages.
One day, I came across the now-infamous words of Kate Moss: 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.' Some may be able to brush off those words without a thought, but they stuck with me. I became painfully aware of how my body compared to others. Was I too heavy? Did the small bit of fat I could pinch on my stomach make me ugly?
I was thirteen, a child, and already so burdened by body image.
By the time I began freshman year of high school, I weighed eighty-six pounds. I was skeletal. But I was so far deep in my disorder that I couldn't see what was staring back in the mirror. At my regular checkup, my doctor gave me an ultimatum: put on at least ten pounds in a week, or enter an inpatient treatment center for anorexia. Anorexia.
I remember being embarrassed of the word – as though self-preservation was more important than my health. But, jarred by that diagnosis, I put on healthy weight. I learned to accept that, to this day, what I see in the mirror is not what other people see.
I had a hold on my mind – a fragile but determined grip on my sanity. Until my cousin took his own life, and that vulnerable thread holding me together threatened to snap entirely. I would eat, but felt nauseous after. I wanted to sleep away the pain, but was restless at night. I ran miles to find some kind of escape, but ended up running into more problems than I was fleeing from in the first place. I wanted to die, but saw what the reality of life's impermanence had done to the people around me.
I was untethered, but I created a façade of control. In my mind, I felt that if I acted like I had everything together – if other people believed the mask and couldn't see through the cracks in the armor – then I would start to believe it too. If a tree falls in a forest but no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound? If I filter my feelings from the world, do they really exist? Yes, they do. And that darkness that so many of us try to filter and run away from will not lighten if you don't try to face it head on.
I couldn't lighten the emotional burden on my shoulders by fabricating perfection; I had to actively chase happiness. Any time that you feel the weight of that darkness begin to creep over you, put your hand to your chest and feel. Feel your heart thrumming in your chest. Feel your lungs expand and contract with each breath you take. Feel the warmth of your skin under your palm.
You're alive – don't let anyone or anything threaten that, least of all yourself. Push through the darkness, whether it feels like a transient cloud of fog or a blanket so thick you cannot see the light. The light is there, beyond the darkness, and it's waiting for you."
Photo By: Jesse Volk