By Haley Eltherington
As a young girl, around the age of 10 years old, I imagined becoming a young woman to be an empowering, compelling, enlightening, as well as a self-defining period of my life. This hope began to fade as the years passed and I became more aware of my body and how much space it took up in the world. This sounds like a heavy contemplation for a young girl, however for me it was a routine assessment of my personal discomfort. As I now venture into my early twenties, I realize that there has not been a day in my life since the youthful age of 10 in which I have not restricted or felt guilty about every piece of food that passes my lips. Aside from the constant voices in my head wounding my mind with lies about my body, I also have depression and anxiety working against me.
Reflecting on my childhood, I am able to see clearly that I was robbed of some the innocence every child is entitled to. Through sexual abuse and harassment, I was taught from a young age that my body was not a safe place for me. What I thought were normal childhood experiences, have turned out to be dismal anecdotes I now relay to a psychotherapist in the form of fragmented images through a young girl’s eyes.
Although these experiences were unfair and disheartening, they have blended together to make me the young woman I am today. I am now a 23-year-old almost college graduate who is taking daily steps towards mending her bruised mental health. The past year has brought forward the worst of my eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. Together they work tirelessly to try to keep me from moving forward toward the successful future I unquestionably deserve. Medication, psychotherapy, and meditation have become some of my close friends, however sometimes even the powerful combination cannot keep the devious illnesses cloaked.
Over the last few months I have learned that I am part of The Gap. There is currently a gap in the healthcare system that leaves people, like me, feeling lost and invalidated. My first visit to the emergency room of a hospital just outside of my town was disparaging instead of encouraging. What prompted the visit was a psychologist telling me a story of a former patient of hers who had died due to laxative abuse. Not wanting my life to simply amount to a cautionary tale, I decided I had to get more serious help. After going through a number of tests to ensure that my physical self was “healthy”, I waited 5 hours telling myself I was going to see a crisis nurse and I would be alright. I was wrong. When I finally saw the doctor again, she told me to try “eating a snack” and sent me on my way.
Most recently, I went to the emergency room of the local (yet undersized) hospital in my small town. As I sat across from the triage nurse picking at my nails and avoiding eye contact, she looked me up and down and asked if my eating disorder was “over-eating.” As if that wasn’t enough insult, as I sat across from a doctor later in the night, she looked me up and down and told me “you’re not fat!” The reason I took myself to the hospital this time was because I had been trying to avoid physically hurting myself. The doctor told me there was nothing they could do for me because I was not sick enough, and to come back if I was going to hurt myself. Confusing, right?
As my mother and I sat there scratching our heads and talking through watery eyes, we didn’t understand how this could possibly be happening. The doctor informed us that there is currently a gap in our healthcare system and because I’m not on the precipice of death, there is nothing they can do for me.
Becoming outspoken about my eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has been one of the toughest yet empowering steps I have ever taken. Every chance I get, I try my hardest to ensure that my friends are equipped with a strong, non-judgmental, and communicative support system. The most help I’ve received has been from my best friends, the worst has been from health care professionals in what I consider to be emergency situations. I am continuously advocating for myself and those in situations like me. For those who have been told they aren’t “sick enough” or aren’t being heard in a valuable way, do not give up. We, The Gap, will not be silent.