By: Julia Hark
*Content Warning: This post includes general discussion of eating disorders, trauma, and suicide. Please prioritize your own wellbeing first.
When I talk about my trauma, I am not undoing. I am not begging for pity. I am not shredding scrapbooks of sins or thumbing through diaries with whiteout. I am not shattering the rearview mirror in blind pursuit of a reckless tomorrow. I am not taping over the VHS of my being & rewriting a blank slate innocence.
I was 11 years old when my older brother became dangerously ill. His body began battling breathing & eating, attacking the very substances that kept it alive. Food allergies & antiseptics plagued our household. We lived in constant fear of germs & epidemics, knowing that even the slightest allergy or the most common cold could be deadly.
I was at the dawn of middle school-a time of unpleasant growth, identity crises, and ambiguous independence-and told not to discuss the distress of my home life with anyone at school. My peers would head from their older siblings that my brother left school in an ambulance, but I couldn’t give them any detail. Lies and secrets slipped from my lips out of survival. I was petrified I’d say the wrong thing to the wrong person & enable even more rumors in our small town.
Eventually, local services were no longer enough and an ambulance ride down the street was replaced by an emergency helicopter transfer to a major hospital 2 hours away. Instead of waking up every night to sirens and screams, I awoke in the mornings to an empty house and a necessary routine. I took on the roles of homemaker, dog-sitter, caretaker, and maid, while my mom became a full-time bedside advocate for my brother and my dad worked daily. We’d take the 2-hour drive to the hospital after school, if my dad didn’t pick me up early, so that he could be my brother’s overseer & I could relieve my mom from the claustrophobic confines of the unknown. I followed in the shadows of my parents everyday, desperate to be the single shred of consistency & unquestionable, self-sufficient support in the crisis of our life.
But silence breeds suffering.
Silently, I surrendered to hell. I developed depression and anxiety soon after my house became a haven for 9-1-1 calls. Slumber fell victim to panic attacks of sweat-filled nightmares and a racing pulse, as if my heart beat to keep my ailing brother alive. Images of my brother on a breathing tube or barely conscious on our living room floor or stabbing himself with an epipen would flood my vision, cascading through the dam of tear ducts anytime I was at school. My craving for control manifested in perfect grades and, when that wasn’t enough, the beginnings of an eating disorder. With furrowed eyebrows & wrinkled frowns, my teachers would pull me aside during lunch or hold me after class, but their worries only extended so far. I maintained straight A’s in advanced classes, participated in clubs, volunteered, and went to school early for extra study sessions. I was doing everything I was supposed to do – that’s all my parents witnessed. When my teachers’ concerns did reach my house, they slipped into oblivion, masked by my persuasive smile and perfect report cards.
When I entered high school, the depression escalated. Ninth grade is a water-stained polaroid in my scrapbook, as I drifted in the now-dueling duality of perfection-on-paper & strong-and-steady-support. I was a ghostly, bruised blur at school and isolated in my room at home, where concealed cries culminated in self-destruction. In all the times I visited my brother at the hospital, I never cried – but the hurt had to release somewhere.
Silence finally screamed in tenth grade when I had to file a police report against abusive boyfriend. Fear of him was the catalyst for finally seeking out therapy, but the help was futile. I was told not to tell my therapist about my self-harm or my friends about the abuse, while my brother remained the only priority anyone could see.
Silence resumed. And I gave up.
My eating disorder became my best friend, my conscience, my way of coping with the split of my life. I tried to reconcile the pain by punishing myself and becoming smaller. I knew if I didn’t eat, my body would shut down – and, if my body shut down, I’d escape the pain.
Since I graduated high school in 2017, I’ve been to residential eating disorder treatment twice. I am now further in recovery than I’ve ever been, the eating disorder now just a whisper in my mind. I’ve also been sexually assaulted twice, robbed at gunpoint, and diagnosed with PTSD. Just two months ago, I spent four days in the psych hospital after intentionally overdosing. This is not to say that I’m drowning, but, rather, it is to say that healing is not linear.
When I talk about my trauma, I am granting permission to my past & forgiveness to my faults. I am remembering the little girl who once danced down the school hallways in a black tutu and purple flowers in her hair before learning the world would never love her back. I am telling you how I learned – despite the abuse and the hurt – to keep going. And, if you still don’t know how, then let me believe in you until you can believe in yourself. Because to die of suicide is to never again live in the present tense. It is adopting the past tense in lieu of a past not perfect. It is never watching your future inherit your present & eclipse your past.
I am in love with your future. I have been where you are, and I promise there is a beautiful tomorrow waiting for you.