My story begins with my feet turning blue.
I felt cold, numb, and disconnected for so many years, but I never told anyone. When I looked at my discolored feet that day, I realized something was deeply wrong. I desperately needed to reach out to someone, but I couldn’t surrender my secrets. My life at that time was defined by dysfunction, abuse, and fear.
So I remained silent about my blue feet – until the day I collapsed at school.
I was 15 when I was unexpectedly taken to the hospital. They wrapped me in a hospital gown, placed me in a wheelchair, and gave me my first diagnosis: Anorexia Nervosa.
My case was severe. I was told I would most likely never recover, but the news got worse. There was also the possibility that the disease might kill me if I went into cardiac arrest. Acknowledging my mental illness was like having a sudden and thick fog that set in, robbing me of clarity. The future I had once imagined quickly vanished in the mist.
Anorexia felt like something separate from me, as if the disease was a person I was in a violent relationship with. She was cunning, determined, and manipulative; she was obsessive, powerful, and persuasive. She had this ability to twist reality and distort the way I saw myself. I hated who I was and how I looked. At that point in my life, death seemed like a better option than continuing to live confined in this internal prison.
I had a decision to make: Did I want to live or did I want to die?
In the hospital, I was forced to make a choice after a woman named Lisa shared her story about her battle with cancer. She gently explained that she couldn’t eat like me because of the chemotherapy she was undergoing for breast cancer.
Lisa told me that everyone has a reason to be alive. She said that everyone has some reason to get out of bed in the morning. And she explained, “I keep eating because I have hope. I am going to see my daughter finish primary school. You must have things that give you hope?”
That was when I started to cry. At that point in my life, I honestly wanted there to be nothing left of me because I believed that there was nothing of value worth keeping. Even though the situation felt completely hopeless, her words never left me.
Her life was one of sickness and struggle, yet as she lay in that hospital bed, she saw her story differently. She was not defined by dysfunction; instead she was full of hope, strength, and love for others.
She showed me that stories matter.
Her story changed my life; it became a beacon of hope in a dark time. When I was transferred to the psychiatric ward in the hospital, I constantly thought of her hope and the faith she had despite the fact she was dying of cancer.
In the psych ward I also discovered that there were other young people, just like me, suffering from severe mental health issues. Our stories mattered because we were fighting the same silent, misunderstood, and internal battle.
Our stories had similar themes of hopelessness and pain, yet I knew they could have remarkably different endings. And I believed that, if I recovered, I could use my story to help people see that their lives mattered. I could show them that they were valuable, had a purpose, and could recover.
Knowing there was purpose in my pain, I started to eat again. Eventually I began to imagine a different ending for my story, one that didn’t end in sickness, relapse, or death. After being discharged and undergoing years of counseling, anorexia left my life forever. Thanks to the support of a few incredible people, I was free.
I emerged from those years of my hellish battle with scars, but I also had a story of resilience and recovery.
Real stories are powerful because they give us evidence that things can change. They show us possibilities in impossible situations.
Now that I am fully recovered from anorexia, I share my story.
I speak in high schools and have written a book called “The Skeleton Diaries.” It tells my raw and honest account of battling to survive and recover from anorexia.
At first, I was terrified to share my story. I remember my hands shaking and nausea engulfing my entire body before I spoke. Despite my anxiety, however, I watched people’s lives change as the words began to tumble out.
Stories create openness and a platform to be honest, and personal stories reveal that we are not alone in our experiences. Through writing my book and speaking to audiences, I have discovered that stories really do matter.
In fact, your story matters.
Your story possesses the capacity to inspire courage. It can create change and compassion, transforming a culture of stigma and misunderstanding. Your story matters because it can give another person hope. Just like Lisa’s story gave me hope in the hospital, you have the ability to give someone a sentence that they clutch to in their darkest moments.
So be strong and courageous, share your story. Speak hope into hopeless situations…because your story matters.
You can read more about Rachael’s story here.