I AM NOT WHAT I AM

WORDS: RACHEL KALY '17/ IMAGE: ELIJAH STEVENS '15

I started going to therapy when I was six because I wouldn’t stop flipping off my homeroom teacher. I thought it was the funniest thing in the world—my pudgy middle finger flung up defiantly during rug time—but my school’s faculty labeled such hilarity as “disturbing behavior.” I was reluctant to go to therapy because I hated talking to strangers, but once I saw the dollhouse in the school psychologist’s office, I couldn’t stop spending time there. I would play with the dolls—when Shirley (the therapist) wasn’t looking, I would make all the dolls kiss each other (needless to say I went through puberty at age 9, and my libido peaked in the Bar Mitzvah years, which meant I always wanted to grind)—and she would somehow coax information out of me. I was oblivious to this. I considered our talks to be pointless, though I always felt good after leaving her office. It was as if some big burden had been lifted off of my chest. And I got to make dolls kiss! I named the one who got kissed the most “Rachel.” Therapy was better than recess[BR1] .

After a few weeks, the school psychologist diagnosed me with “severe anxiety.” She referred me to a psychologist affiliated with NYU. The second therapist’s office was bigger and beiger, and there were no dolls. I asked if I could color to pass the time. I was given paper and markers. I drew pictures of my family, my father disfigured in the background; I drew pictures of me burning in a fire; I drew pictures of the F train blowing up. I thought I was practicing my knowledge of complementary colors, but I was a living symbol of every psychologist’s dream: a fucked up little kid. 

I kept going to therapy. After a few years, I was diagnosed with OCD. Then I started seeing a psychiatrist, and she gave me pills. And then depression. More pills. And then I developed an eating disorder in middle school. More pills. And then in high school I was diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder. More pills.

I came to college with things seemingly under control. I had my routine, my therapist, my pills. I posted in WesAdmits 2017 non-stop (ironically because I’m not a LOSER :p :D). and I met some awesome people and classes were great and the Butts really weren’t that far away from Usdan, when I thought about it.

And then I don’t know what happened. I fell apart. And people do that—people fall apart. Transitioning to college is hard. My eating disorder came back in full force, and I started experiencing severe mood swings like I never had before: extreme euphoria that left me sleepless and major depression that made me restless. I started leaving campus most weekends and I left school early at the end of second semester to go back home. I planned to transfer that summer.

As soon as I got off campus and back to New York, I went to see my psychiatrist. She told me I needed to get treatment for my eating disorder. I agreed. I had been battling it for almost seven years and I was losing.

Getting treatment meant I had to sacrifice all my summer plans. It was an every day commitment for three months—six hours a day of individual therapy, group therapy, meal therapy. I only told my closest friends, and I lied to everyone else—when people asked what I did during the summer I said I was taking “summer classes about nutrition,” which I guess wasn’t entirely a lie, except my teachers were mental health professionals and my grades were numbers on a scale and my tuition was my insurance co-pay. 

Three months of treatment helped, but I was discharged before I was ready because school was starting up again. I thought about taking a semester off, but I thought that would be giving up too easily. Instead, I brought my tools with me: I found a therapist near campus; I got my prescription re-fills ready at the CVS on Main Street; and I brought all my eating logs from my treatment. I had to write down everything I ate and measure portions and take notes on how I felt before, during, and after the meal.

I came back feeling strong, but after a few days, I felt like it was second semester freshman year again. All of my eating disorder symptoms were back and people were expecting me to give 110% like I did last year—no one knew I was in recovery so they didn’t understand why I backed out of all my commitments. Recovery means you’re only commitment is to yourself.

I decided to tell some people about why I was flaking all of a sudden—I felt that they deserved an explanation. I sat my friends down and explained the situation—all were supportive, but no one really knew what to say, which is what I expected. And that was fine.

But soon it wasn’t fine. Soon I was distracted while writing papers because I was thinking about how stressed out I was about eating dinner. I started slacking on my commitments even more, and people asked me why I didn’t have my shit together. People asked me how much longer I was going to let this control my life—when was I going to put my foot down and get back to normal? I said I was in recovery. Someone told me I didn’t look malnourished. Nothing was wrong, they said—they had watched me eat in Usdan and everything looked fine! How can I argue with that?

I can’t. I can’t argue with that because what that means is that people don’t understand. It means that people nod their heads and say, “yes that must be so difficult yes recovery wow sounds hard.”  And it is, yes! It is hard! But understanding doesn’t end there. Understanding means being conscious of the fact that so many people on this campus suffer with mental disorders, and CAPS has a waiting list and sometimes people need help that day, and CAPS isn’t even that helpful, and some people don’t even know they have these problems and they suffer in silence. It means that telling me I’ve “been looking good and thin” lately isn’t a compliment. It means that telling me I’m “overreacting—just relax” isn’t helpful. It means telling me that I’m “acting crazy” genuinely makes me feel crazy. Understanding means being careful with your words and offering support based on how your friend needs support—let them tell you what they need. If I say I don’t want a dessert in Usdan that night, don’t tell me I “deserve it.” Don’t ask me why I’m depressed because the answer is that I’m in a depressive episode right now and actually, no, there’s nothing you can do to help except for maybe not telling me to just “get over it.”

Wesleyan is not the most supportive when it comes to mental disorders. I’m on two medications that affect my brain chemistry, so I can’t smoke and drink a lot. People tell me I’m a buzz kill. If I pulled out my eating logs in Usdan, everyone would ask me what it was and people would offer their own comments—I pulled it out once and someone lamented about how they had eaten two brownies at lunch, so they were just going to eat a salad for dinner that night, and they understood what I was going through. People want to keep Wes weird but when shit actually gets weird—when brain chemistry and emotions start getting involved—no one actually knows what to do.

I’m not going to list statistics on how many people suffer mental disorders in college and eating disorders and et cetera. This is a personal appeal. The way my brain works makes me feel like I’m taking a fifth class because I have to put so much effort into taking care of myself on this campus, and we all know that the fifth class is always the first one to go when things get busy. I’m asking you to be aware of the fact that everyone on this campus has shit going on: some of it diagnosed, some of it undiagnosed, some of it circumstantial, some of it medical—and no one should be invalidated. Everyone has the right to feel what they’re feeling without being judged, and everyone deserves to be supported how they want to be supported. Ask how your friends want to be supported—don’t assume. Don’t give your opinion unless you’re asked. Don’t try to relate and understand when you can’t—admit that you can’t do either of those things and await further instructions. Get help when you need it, because you deserve it. Don’t assume that just because a mental illness isn’t necessarily physically manifested (i.e. in the form of a broken leg, a sore throat, a fever) that it isn’t just as draining and legitimate. Don’t let these illnesses define you—you are not your depression. You may have it, but your identity is not reliant on it. And remember first and foremost that your priority on this campus should be yourself. Because I forgot.