Ceasing Silent Struggles By Becky Halton
When the world around us feels chaotic, we tend to focus on the parts of our lives we can exert some control over. For me, one of these elements is food. Many factors influenced how I developed my eating disorder, including genetic vulnerabilities and environmental triggers; but, what matters most is how I cope with my problem now that I can admit it exists.
I have always had peculiar eating habits. At twelve, a junior high school teacher noticed I wasn’t eating much for lunch. For most of my high school years, my weight was a far cry from healthy; but, as is often the case, I was one of the last to be able to admit I had a problem. I kept myself busy with school, friends, and extracurricular activities so I didn’t have to reflect.
The little spare time I had was spent being a competitive dancer. I remember the instructor telling us to “pull up” and “suck in.” While fitting us for costumes, she would wrap the measuring tape around my hips and say loudly, for the rest of my classmates to hear, “Becky, you’re so skinny!” To me, this meant I was finally good at something, even if it was just being thin. In a sick way, I became flattered by the attention.
I needed the assistance of a healthy family unit or an equipped group of medical professionals to help challenge my unhealthy thoughts. At the time, I did not receive it. My eating habits were brushed under the rug as the problems my parents faced escalated. My grandma passed on the day before my 17th birthday. Shortly after graduation, I experienced another loss when an ex-boyfriend was in a car accident. Then my nanny, who had been a part of my life since birth, passed the following May.
By the time I registered for university at Carleton, my depression was in full force. Most days, it was a struggle just to get out of bed. I barely ate. My weight plummeted. My grades slipped. All of my relationships began to fall apart. I just wanted to sleep all day, every day. Amidst the chaos, a family friend took me out for a cup of coffee. “Rebecca,” she said, her French accent stressing the first syllable of my name. “Stay in school, my friend, even if it’s just one class. Take something you’ll like - la psychologie…” Those words saved my life. I will always be grateful for her guidance, though it did take me some time to listen to her advice.
Eventually, I went to Carleton University’s Health Centre, distraught and exhausted with my lifestyle. It took time, but my life began to improve. I was prescribed medications under the supervision of a doctor at Carleton. I registered in three classes and dropped two of them. I kept my course in psychology. I began to learn about myself and those around me. I got an A. Gradually, I started to feel better.
The following semester, I took another class in psychology and decided to switch majors. After some time, I was diagnosed with an anxiety and mood disorder. I was put on a different medication. This medication made it so that I could feel hunger more profoundly. I began letting myself gain weight. As my weight increased, I got a therapist. He challenged my negative thoughts and taught me to see food as fuel to pursue my goals rather than an obstacle towards attaining unachievable ones.
Learning to trust and to accept help from others has become easier. I have also gained a new confidence in myself and my abilities. I have taken up healthy hobbies: I began to crochet, to build websites, and to read. These skills helped develop my concentration and self-esteem. Slowly, I adapted and could handle taking more classes. I dove into readings on social, developmental and abnormal psychology, personalities and addiction. I began taking responsibility for my choices and pushed myself to make better decisions. Once finished my psychology credits, I decided to rediscover my passion for reading and writing by pursuing a minor in English.
I love to write – and now I have the energy to do it. I feel like an entirely different person from the one who walked into the Health Centre four years ago. I enjoy being able to express how I feel, and what I have learned. I finally have found a place in the world where I belong. I am forming friendships with others who share similar interests and encourage one another constructively. We edit each other’s work, share calls for submissions or contest links, and celebrate together when one of us gets published.
Forming these connections is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life. I realized there was nothing standing in my way but me, and so, I began making plans. Alongside my classes, I started taking on tasks that could involve others such as a hat making drive for the Ottawa Snowsuit Fund. Another project, a biannual magazine called Passion: Poetry, has allowed me to help and inspire. As the magazine’s editor, I promote emerging talent in writing, artwork and photography. I give back to the contributors by sponsoring annual contests with cash prizes funded through a portion of the magazine sales. The first issue was launched in September with great success. Since then, I have decided to take on another project to fill my time; I created a second magazine and indie press called Chick Lit, which is set to launch in June of this year. I am happy to be making healthy connections and I feel proud of myself for achieving healthy goals.
Becoming a writer and an editor has allowed me to grow as a person by developing a new part of my identity. I no longer feel the need to be “Becky-you’re-so-skinny” because I am getting noticed for being productive, my desire to help others, and a healthier physical appearance. And, I can honestly say – it feels really good.