Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Throughout my life, I have ignored my body's way of asking for help.
These cries for help started out mild, but the more they were ignored the more intense they became.
I remember hearing about how the "devil" works harder on you before you leave on a mission. I blamed the devil for causing me to start purging a month after I got my mission call as a way to ignore reality. By doing so, I was completely ignoring the fact that I know myself better than anyone else, devil and god included, and that deep down I knew a mission would be my absolute breaking point. My body was trying to tell me that, and I ignored it.
I would go for about 3 weeks without purging and then lapse for about a week. After each lapse, I would convince myself to try proving my faith one last time to see if I could kick this carnal habit. I would pray my heart and soul out every second of every day for 3 weeks. Eventually, I would get to a point where I had so much shame, stress, and self-hate that I would fall back into the pattern over and over again. Somehow, I had managed to downplay the severity of this by saying it would only happen once a month, meaning, one time period a month. When in reality, even purging once should have stopped me from ever starting my mission. Anyone who even TRIES to make themself throw up is not mentally stable enough for the trauma a mission brings (I honestly do not think anyone is, but especially someone already eliciting these types of behaviors).
The problem with this cycle is that the purging was a way to make up for eating too much. So, after each lapse, I would try eating less. My logic was, if you don't eat enough then you do not ever feel full and thus do not ever need to purge. The less you eat, the easier it is for you to feel full which turned into a vicious cycle.
At the beginning of my mission, I called the Mission Counselor and told him I was struggling. He did not ask what I meant by that but instead told me to come up with a list of positive affirmations to say over and over again to cure myself. This was not the first time in my life I tried reaching out for help and was shut down by someone that was supposed to be a line of support in the church. Once again, it boiled down to me not having enough faith or loving god enough. I have more to say on this topic, but for another time.
I made a list of about 20 positive affirmations, "I will serve god with my heart, might, mind and strength; I love being a missionary and want to stay here forever; I preach repentance to everyone; I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full; I care only what god thinks ..." and said them constantly to myself over and over again. I remember being told that your mind is a stage and if you fill it with something positive there will be no room for negative thoughts. I would say my positive affirmations every time I had a "carnal" thought (aka wanting to swerve in front of a car to end things, wanting to go home, not liking the heat, feeling pain, being annoyed by my bug bites, being frustrated with the language, not liking a certain type of food, wanting to take a break, being annoyed at my companion, wanting to be skinny, getting stressed by the rain, not liking the smell of an open sewer, etc).
Anyone who knows anything about mental health knows that positive affirmations do not work if you are actually ill. Or work at all. I tried countless other coping mechanisms to keep me on my mission. The main one being to bury all the "carnal emotions" I was feeling deep down inside and pretend they were not there. I rode my bike like an insane woman. I kept both gears on the hardest level and refused to move them down any lower. I spent all extra time studying the language to stop my thoughts from wandering. I wrote the most depressing fucking journal entries you could ever imagine a person writing. I focused on the "positive" in my emails home so everyone would think I was doing great. I continued to eat less and less food until I could hardly pedal on my bike anymore, and then still refused to lower the gears. I would cram our schedule full of as many activities and lessons as possible to keep me busy. Outwardly, I was perfect.
When I had a little over a transfer left of my mission, I remember laying on my bed and fantasizing about my life when I got home. I thought about how amazing it would be to not have to explain to a companion why I was eating so little food. I legit had a plan to go home and not eat, but when I did throw it up. I was going to be the skinniest mother fucker and was beyond excited for it.
Luckily, the church had instilled a deep desire to become a mother. The only thing that got me to somewhat comprehend my unhealthiness was thinking how much it would impact my future daughters to walk in on their mom sticking her finger down her throat to dispose of the dinner she so lovingly cooked for them. At that moment, I took the little courage and self-compassion I had and used it to call my mission president.
When I called my mission president I was hoping he would send me home. I knew I needed to be sent home. Even though I only had a transfer left, I knew serving the rest of my mission would break me past the point of being able to recover fully from. This was a cry for help because I sure as hell needed all the help I could get.
I told him about restricting and purging. That right there should have ended the conversation, but mission presidents have pressure to keep people on missions. This could be the disorder inside me talking, but part of me is convinced that he did not take my confession of restricting seriously because I was not that skinny (read my blog post, "When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny" for more insight on this). I told him I was purging as a way for me to let out my stress, which is partially true. He saw past me trying to deflect the body image aspect of it, but also looked past an important point. I was not purging to stay skinny, I was purging to punish myself for eating. I was purging to punish myself for not talking to enough people, for not ending my lesson on time, for wanting to be home, etc. Yes, it stemmed from wanting to stay skinny but turned into so much more than that. It was and is an addiction. An addiction to hurting myself. An addiction that has opened the door to many other terrible ways of hurting myself.
He empathized with me and told me about how his sister had an eating disorder. My cynical brain feels this was a way of manipulating me to act like he cares while keeping me on my mission, but I am trying to give him more credit than that. Much to my deep disappointment but outward relief, he decided to keep me on my mission since I was so close to finishing. This once again confirmed the narrative that if you look fine on the outside, you should be fine on the inside. He told me to meet with our mission counselor but I told him I did not feel comfortable doing so. Rather than asking why, he assumed it was because I did not want to have to run into him at mission events after disclosing deep information. Instead, I called the counselor over the Hong Kong Mission.
I met with this counselor one time, and it was very evident he did not know how to deal with eating disorders. Once again, he did not listen to me. Once again, he turned it to a faith-building opportunity rather than an opportunity to actually help me. At first, I told him it probably is not that big of a deal because it only happens once a month (aka one time period a month). He said I was downplaying the severity, so I told him about how I feel like this way of thinking is starting to consume my life. To which he responded with I am making this a bigger deal than it is. He told me some bullshit about reading my scriptures, praying so that I only care what god thinks, blah blah blah. I felt so humiliated, once again blaming myself for not being strong or faithful enough. I was too embarrassed to keep struggling so I told him that he fixed me and that I loved myself. When he tried following up with appointments I told him it was all better.
After talking to my mission president and the counselor, I felt so much more shame than I had ever felt around this subject. However, I was still determined to get help for my future children. I emailed the one person in my life who I had ever felt fully saw and loved me, my sister Corinne. I told her about what had been happening for the course of my mission and she actually listened to me. She told me that she cried and cried when I told her and researched the Dietitian at USU to make sure she has credibility with working with girls who have eating disorders. She made an appointment for me for a week after I started school and forced me to go when I chickened out. I leaned on her love for McKayla when I had absolutely none.
Active Mormons always wonder why people who leave the church are so bitter, and I cannot even begin to explain all the reasons why. But in regards to the topic of crying for help, it is because I feel I was taught to not trust myself. I was taught to rely on some outdated book, a person in the heavens, or a middle-aged man businessman rather than myself. In all these instances, those who had the authority to help me were also not taught to listen to themselves. They were given pressure from the church to keep me on my mission. This would not have been a problem if I had ever been given permission to go to myself for advice rather than authority figures. At that time, I could not even think of the concept that maybe, just maybe, I know myself better than they do. It never even crossed my mind that I could still choose to go home even if my president did not think I should. I knew. I knew what I needed. I have always known but was taught to ignore my cries for help. I was taught to look outwardly for what was already within.
For the past year since leaving the church, I have learned to trust myself in a way I never thought possible. I still hate myself quite deeply but also trust that one day I can recover enough to love being McKayla.
School started again this week, and I have been a wreck. I am lapsing all over the place and feeling a deep sense of shame that I have not felt in a long time. The mormon inside tells me that I am fine and to just push through. Tells me that everyone hates school but you just need to do it anyway.
Instead, I have decided to rely on faith in myself. It hit me that my McKayla is crying for help again. She is still too fragile to manage work and school. Maybe she is too fragile to manage school ever again. Regardless of what the outcome is going to be, I have decided to trust McKayla and do what is best for her right now. Because I am the only one who actually knows what I need to continue on my path of healing. I am the only one who can know how to best help me. It is so empowering to know I never have to turn to someone else to make a decision on my mental health ever again.