I thought that it would be appropriate for me to blog about a story which is both inspiring and important for the world to hear. Although it is not a personal experience, it is still very dear to me and is close to my heart.
The “Mental Health” platform, in my opinion, has a very broad horizon; there are so many categories such as: diseases, factors and influences which are all in relation to this subject. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, Bi-polar disorder, lifestyle, self-harm, genetics, eating disorders, bullying, suicide, alcoholism, traumatic events, self-esteem, and abuse. All of these smaller subjects each relate to mental health in their own way, whether it is a mental health condition or affects the mental health of a person.
Today, I am going to share a story about one of my best friends – Jessica. The first few words that come into mind when I think about her would definitely be: bubbly, outgoing compassionate and optimistic. I know that it is hard for you to imagine someone that you have never met, but I can assure you that, if you are ever fortunate to meet this girl, you would be immediately captivated by her smile from ear-to-ear, her friendly soul and her unbelievably contagious laugh. I feel pleasured to be able to spend a lot of time with Jessica because of her influential personality; she always knows how to brighten my day and put me in a positive mindset. I can guarantee that she would brighten anyone’s day simply after having a conversation with them, and I have witnessed that impact she has on others, first hand.
One thing that I think you would be surprised to know is that Jessica spent a total of 7 years of her life battling an eating disorder. As a young girl, she had been through many tragic events, which was seemingly overwhelming for someone to handle at such a young age. Jessica experienced death at a young age, losing an uncle in a car accident and lost a woman that was very close to her and was her best friend at the time- her grandmother. Jessica and her family went through a house fire and her parents also had a head-on car accident which, thankfully, they are still here with us today despite that tragedy. Ever since she was young, Jessica showed compassion to others and displayed selflessness but, in the meantime, forgot to take care of herself and neglected her own feelings. This negligence led her into her fate, which, resulted in a battle, fighting for her own life.
Before she knew it, Jessica was restricting her food intake and was losing weight drastically. It was not until one of Jessica’s aunts noticed this change in her weight and her restriction of food intake. For a ten year old girl, this didn’t seem to be a phase but, rather, something quite serious as it progressed and as more weight was lost. This change in Jessica was brought to her parents attention. After taking a step back, her parents noticed that there was definitely something going on and that they had to take action. They brought Jessica to their family doctor and after visiting for a month, she was then referred to CHEO as an emergency case.
“There was a thought in my head everyday telling me that I was worthless and ugly.”
While at CHEO, she was seen by many doctors and at the age of eleven, was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Jessica was admitted into CHEO a total of four times- her first admission being for two and a half months, second admission being for four months, third admission being seven months, and forth admission being for eleven months. Adding up all of these months and you get: 24 1/2 months…that is two and a half years at CHEO.
During her second admission, Jessica was fourteen years old. The doctor at CHEO told her parents that she was so malnourished and was so extremely underweight that, quite frankly, she may not make the night.
“You wake up and try to battle the thought everyday- the only freedom was when you were sleeping.”
She remembers a moment, and described it to me, in which, I was able to paint a vivid picture of it in my mind and feel the emotions. That night, her mother was sitting in the chair next to her, when, suddenly, one of the heart monitors that was connected to her started going off frantically. Her mother was hysterical. That could have been it right there, and that was the gut-wrenching thought that went through their minds.
She ended up making it through that night. While I discussed the story with her she said in her optimism, “God wasn’t ready for this crazy gal yet, I guess!”. Indeed, she must have been right, because this world needed her and her story to impact the lives of others. It is evident that she has already done this working in the field of Mental Health, public speaking about eating disorders and providing a listening ear to those who are struggling.
Jessica tried to overcome the challenges she faced. She tried to fool the medical staff by putting weights in her clothes to make it seem like she had gained weight when her weight was measured at the hospital. One time, back when she was living at home, her parents sat with her at the kitchen table until 2:30am waiting for her to touch her dinner, but she did not. She told me that she used to do running laps around Walmart when she went grocery shopping with her parents just to burn some extra calories, and also, that she even got to a point where she restricted the intake of water because of the fear of water-weight. Another small instance she recalls was when she was in grade nine. She was playing in a school soccer game, but, shockingly, blacked out in the middle of the game because of malnourishment.
“You wake up and the first thought in your head is ‘What can I do today to burn calories?’ or ‘What can I do to get out of eating the next meal?’.”
Jessica was later referred to Avalon Hills at the age of seventeen years old because of how severe her case was. She recalls how much she did not like being there at all for the first while. She states that she “did not want to listen to the help they were offering, she still could not look in the mirror without negatively judging herself, and that she also missed her family and friends so much”. Ultimately, Jessica wanted to go home. While having limited privileges for the first three months of being at Avalon Hills, she found it tough. After these few months went by, she had an eagerness of determination. Jessica wanted to be freed of this illness and move on with her life. She began to listen to the medical staff and, even though she knew it wasn’t going to be easy, she fought through it.
“If it wasn’t for my family doctor, I wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t for CHEO, I wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t for Avalon Hills, I wouldn’t be here.”
After spending a total of ten and a half months at Avalon Hills, Jessica successfully graduated from the program on April 27th, 2011 at the age of eighteen years old. She came back home and later graduated high school and, recently, graduated with a Social Service Worker Diploma. As a registered Social Service Worker, Jessica is now able to live out her passion everyday and help to inspire others to be strong, stay positive and defeat the battles of their life. By her fifth month of being at Avalon Hills, Jessica knew that she had hit rock bottom, but also realized that there was nowhere to go but up, and she definitely did that.
“I feel blessed to be able to provide hope and inspiration for those that are going through what I went through.”
And so, to conclude, that is Jessica’s story somewhat briefly. I realize that this is a blog, but I felt that the more in depth I could write about her story, the more impacting it would be for those of you that read it. Stories like these are why we should be talking about mental health. We should be talking and sharing in hopes that we will be able to change lives, and possibly even save them. We should take pride in the battles that we face because that only shows just how strong we are as humans.
Sometimes we may find it hard to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it simply takes time to get there. You’ve just have to keep moving forward, because, like this story displays, there is a light and there is hope.
You can win your battle, do not give up.