choice: the gift of facing towards life

by victoria larkins

In light of national eating disorder week, I want to share my journey with mental illness. I’ll take you back to a young girl that just wanted to be the best version of herself. A girl who hit puberty and felt the overwhelm of external pressure to be too much. How quickly she succumbed to this pressure, turned to bulimia to try and control it all. And, how fast her life disappeared before her eyes. This young girl with hopes and dreams, now had fear in her eyes, fighting for her life at fourteen. Sleeping in hospitals, innocence lost in facing a mental illness that would kill her if she didn’t wake up. Falling asleep with fear that she might not wake up, awakening to heart monitors alarming and nurses shaking her until she opened her eyes. ⠀

I remember the day the doctors wanted me to go back to that place, and my parents had to sign legal documents saying they would be held liable if I died on their watch. They told me it was a risk every night to fall asleep at home without the monitors. But that place was killing me. The culture within the sterile walls of that hospital was fueled by fear. Every few hours a new professional would come to my bedside to analyze my behavior. I was told not to trust myself, that I was disordered and I should be ashamed of what I had done. I carried pounds of shame for inflicting pain upon myself, yet in my heart I knew I would never intentionally hurt myself. So why did I keep doing it? ⠀

Bulimia is a serious mental disorder. With bulimia, the brain gets a surge of dopamine and shortly thereafter crashes. I’d go from the highest high to a deadly drout of healthy brain chemistry within minutes. The experience felt like the whole world was collapsing. All of the sudden it would feel like my vision, my sense of myself, my body, my breath was dissolving. It would register that I was dying, fight or flight would kick in and in an attempt to survive, I would start the cycle of binging all over again. This was my reality. I had gone animalistic.

It started out wanting to loose weight. I wanted to be a good girl, to be a smart girl, to be beautiful, to be a good big sister, to make my parents proud.  But once the bulimia started, I lost track of why I had even begun the behavior in the first place. I lived in this numb space where it felt as though my life was a few arms lengths away from me. I lived in fear of myself with PTSD during a time where it was taboo to talk about mental illness, especially bulimia. I hid at lunch because I was bullied at school once everyone found out, and lost most of my friends. It was too big, too much for my friends to digest at that age.

Every new doctor, institution, or treatment program had a new cage for me to crawl into. I was diagnosed with bulimia, anorexia, depression, suicidal, suffers from social anxiety, multiple personality disorder, bipolar disorder, the list goes on, and those are big names. Each different disorder meant a new drug. As a result of misdiagnosis and taking the wrong drugs, I developed tremors, occipital twitching, and episodes of epilepsy. My brain chemistry was all over the place. It felt like torture to wonder what each drug would make me do, how it would alter my reality. I had taken to the belief that since I couldn’t trust myself, I would only find the answers out there.

I remember afternoons in physical therapy training my body how to walk properly after weeks of being bed ridden. Waddling in the parking lot, I felt broken, crippled by fear. I had forgotten the beauty of who I truly was. Malnourished, my cognitive functioning and emotional processes decayed. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t connect. I would lose my train of thought upon speaking. I couldn’t feel my legs, my arms, my emotions. I had fallen out of connection to myself, and out of connection to those around me. I felt unrelatable, heavy, and so incredibly alone.

It was within all this time to myself, that I began to see things differently. Removed from everyday life, I began to witness the absurdity of external pressure. Everyone had something different to say, it was information overload. That is where I began to wake up. I began to hear a voice within that whispered gently, “only you have the answer”. It would take years of therapy, yoga, meditation, community, self reflection, radical self acceptance, forgiveness, communication, taking responsibility, time, and tough love to pull myself out of the well that I had dug myself into. Yoga and meditation have been the most natural and effective avenues for me personally to re-discover my aliveness. It was loosing and reconnecting back to the feeling of aliveness itself that fueled my healing. Life felt like mine again when I realized I had a choice. Struggling with a mental illness, I learned it was pivotal to my survival to learn how to discern the part of me that was my conditioning and the part of me that had always been there. This I am still navigating.

Through this ever unfolding journey connecting to my internal compass, I have come to value living in accordance with this part of me that naturally knows the way. To me, this is my heart. To live this way is freedom. That’s why I started sankalpa. To create jewelry as an avenue for remembering how to listen to our hearts, because I have learned along the way that everyone is just trying to find their way home. I have come to understand that no matter who we are and what we know, our worth is not dependent on anything outside of ourselves. our job, our skin, our body, our image, our relationships, our political affiliation, our bank accounts, our mistakes, our accomplishments, even our sense of belonging…all these things do not hold the power. all these things have nothing to do with who we are. They are things. The greatest gift has been to realize that there can never be a thing that could possibly define us. Our value lives in existing. We are as vast as the universe, and there is no limit to who we are, what we are capable of, and what could happen next. We don’t know. We actually will never know. What is to come, will come.

Facing death reminds you of what it means to be alive. The experience of life, to me, feels like chapters of dying and coming back to life. It is within this oscillation I discover the incredibly empowering nature of choice. I reflect back to the times I decided to begin again—healing, and living for that matter, feels like a series of unfolding choices. It is in the moments of new beginnings that everything takes on new life. I am so grateful to be here. I am so glad I get to walk this path with you. If you have struggled or currently struggle with mental illness, or even with the feeling of life being hard, you are not alone. Remember that you are alive, and in that, the whole world is yours. You are capable of literally everything and anything. If you forget, begin again, and again, and again. Surviving turns to thriving the moments we turn towards life, towards growth. That can happen wherever we are. To me, this choice is the greatest gift of being alive.