Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Avoiding life

This is my best friend Jessica's Project Semicolon story, published with her permission.

The first time I thought it would just be easier to die was when I was fourteen.  My parents were away, as my mother was receiving cancer treatment, almost three hours away from home.  My Mawmaw lived with my sister and me during this time.  I cannot recall the reason I was so upset that day, but perhaps it was a culmination of hormones, the overwhelming aspects of Freshman year of High School, my mother not being there for me to talk to about boys, or even having my Dad around to make comments about how my grades could always be better and to practice guitar more. 

My father kept a rope in the garage.  One that I ran my fingers down that day, wandering how easy it would be to not exist. It was an oddly dry brown, rough to the touch, and I cut myself on it as I pet it.  Nothing ever came of that urge that day, and strangely enough, the rope disappeared and I’ve never seen it again.

They say that genetics load the gun, as it were, and that environment pulls the trigger.  For me, food became my ammunition. 

My mother decided to do the South Beach Diet, and asked me to join in.  This would begin a few different diets that I tried.  However, I began to walk a delicate line around the age of sixteen as I began to set rules for myself.  No soda, potato products, or sweets.  Then eventually no carbohydrates, no food after 7 p.m., and I would spend hours at the gym. 

This immense feeling of undeserving came over me, and all I wanted to do was to feel worthy –of what- I wasn’t sure, but it drove me to dangerous lengths to become what I thought would make me “more.”  It was easy to channel my absolute need to achieve into developing a full blown eating disorder.  Not that I would have admitted it at the time, or would admit for years. 

I began to have panic attacks at the sight of baked potatoes, bathing suits, and any type of social situation where I’d have to be around food.  Sleeping was all that felt good to me during these times, because I was caught in a ceaseless cycle of restriction and purging.  So little nutrition stayed in me that my hair thinned and my periods were inconstant.

Attending college made it worse in some ways, there was no set meal time that my parents would enforce.  No one limiting the amount of time I could stay at the gym, and my boyfriend at the time would only sing the words from Silverchair’s “Ana’s Song,” to me, instead of trying to encourage me to get help.  Insomnia set in. 

Four years after my first purge I finally sought help.  Anxiety Disorder.  Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Insomnia. So many titles for the achiever I was, and in some sick part of my mind I was proud.  Therapy helped, but I remained insistent that I really could get better at any time.  I would periodically stop taking my medication, just to prove a point.
“How do I know if I love you, or if I love the medication,” he asked me.

It was an accidental pregnancy that showed me how hard it is to live.  An ectopic pregnancy, one where I was bleeding internally for almost three days before finally going to the doctor.  Emergency surgery and I was back in a pit of wanting to escape.  It would have been easier than to live with the embarrassment of my family finding out I was sexually active by way of accidental pregnancy.  Easier than to live with what it did to my boyfriend.  Easier than to live with what it made me feel; like it was all my fault.

I’ve spiraled in and out of my eating disorder, but it was just two years ago when it finally came to a head.  My best friend and I attended a concert for one of our favorite bands.  I don’t remember much past the opening act.  This night hurt two of the people I loved the most.  My rock-sister-best friend walked almost four miles home in the dark by the highway because she couldn’t find me.  Two kind strangers apparently stayed with me until my boyfriend could come to find me, when I was unable to articulate much of what was happening.

I had been abusing diuretics, skipping my medication, and purging almost every morsel that went past my lips – save for wine.  It was so easy to feel nothing when I was empty.

The next day I came clean.  I went and sat with my best friend, who was also my roommate, and confessed what had been going on.  I hate what it did to her, when she felt guilty for not seeing it.  It wasn’t her fault, after all these years it was easy to hide it.  My boyfriend watched me as I flushed every last diuretic pill down the toilet.  He searched through my medicine drawer because he no longer trusted me.

My body revolted that day.  Pancreatitis gripped me and pulled me down, doubled over, and I was even unable to stay at my cousin’s wedding. I decided it was time.  I scheduled a consultation at an Eating Disorder Recovery Center.

I no longer consider the option of non-existence, and while I struggle, I am proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish in the last fifteen years. I have my family, my wonderful friends, and the Renfrew Center to thank for that.

My tattoo is simple, but poignant.  The symbol of the National Eating Disorder Association tied with the semicolon, representing that my fight is not over.  My fight is something I push through every day, but it is part of my story.  And my story isn’t over yet. 

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” -- Virginia Woolf


  1. Hi, fellow Jessica! :)

    You don't know me - we live on opposite sides of the world - but I want to thank you for choosing life. My baby sister hanged herself last year at the age of 22. The trigger for her was a sexually, physically and emotionally abusive relationship. She, too, had been a chronic overachiever and it has been a hard blow to take when she had to drop out of medical school two years prior (for unrelated reasons), so perhaps this was always going to happen, but we will never know. If she were still alive, I would tell her everything you have written here. Somewhere, in the confusion of it all, there is life to be rediscovered. In our case, there is life to be found quite literally, as another of my siblings is about to make me an aunty for the first time. I can't wait, but it makes me endlessly sad that my sister will never get to meet this new little person. Thank you for not putting your family in our position.

    Thank you for taking the time to tell your story, and allowing it to be read by strangers. At a time when the UK's health provisions are being slowly stripped away, this is a massive glimmer of hope.

    1. Hi Jessica! My name is Eve, and I am the owner of this blog. Jess is my best friend/sister/rock/one of the great loves of my life and, when she saw I'd published my story, messaged me to tell me I could publish hers on here too, as we have dealt with much of our issues these last five years together.

      Thank you so much for commenting and for being so brave as to share your sister's story. I'm deeply sorry for your loss and for the sadness your sister endured.

      I've passed this on to Jess so she can see it and perhaps respond here too. As a fellow Brit, I understand what you say about the health provisions back home in the UK, and I am glad that Jess' story sent some hope your way. She doesn't know how amazing she is, but hearing from you might give her a bit more of a clue. :)

      With love,
      Eve x

  2. I have followed your adventures ever since you moved - I found you through a friend's Facebook ages ago (we used to be online friends) - and so it's weird having you introduce yourself to me... although I have been a silent creeper and never commented, hah.

    My biggest aim is to shatter the stigma around mental health. My sister found it impossible to talk about, and I feel it is so important to tell people that yes, your experiences are valid, normal (in the sense that they're not shameful) and make you who you are. Perhaps if she had felt able to be more open, she would still be here.

    I just sat through an hour's Question Time on the EU Ref and just wish politicians would have impassioned debates on important, concrete things!

    1. Well, it's lovely to finally say hello to you "for real", then! Thank you for taking an interest in my daft adventures.

      I totally agree about shattering the stigma. So many people fear sharing their story because of it, but I firmly believe it'll be the sharing and open support that will reduce the stigma in the end.

      Ugh, politics on both sides of the pond are insane right now!


Thanks for taking the time to write! I try to reply to everyone, and I love to read your comments.