Worth Living Ambassador Kayla Lacey
My name is Kayla Lacey, I’m a philosophy major at Acadia University, and I have had a lot of experience with mental illness.
When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and anxiety. Having an eating disorder was all about control for me. If I couldn’t control anything else, at least I could control my food. The irony of it all was that I had never been in less control of anything in all my life. Nothing in my life has ever felt as bad as the feeling of not having any control over my own mind and body. Going through therapy felt like an exercise in gaining control back. Looking at it now, I was storming the castle of my mental illness in an attempt to gain back lost territory. This had felt better than thinking about how scary the whole process really was. An anorexic’s worst fear is gaining weight, and yet if I ever wanted any control, to feel healthy again, that was exactly what I had to do.
There is a stigma that persists about the mentally ill, people who suffer from disorders like mine, or any inside the full spectrum that exist. This stigma proposes that if you have a mental illness, or you suffer from one, it makes you weak. But if you suffer from a mental illness you know that is the furthest thing from the truth. Every day we face our fears in ways that make us better for it. Whether it’s finally finding the courage to look at yourself in the mirror after gaining enough weight back to fit into your old clothes, or whether it’s finding the courage to get out of bed in the morning. These actions are no small feat. For me, conquering my fear put me on the path to self-recovery. Sometimes I failed, sometimes my fears knocked me down and I had to start over. Sometimes it took me a while to get back up, but admitting your failures doesn’t mean admitting defeat.
When approaching recovery, for me the best way to find hope when I felt like I had been knocked down was to embrace little goals. Going outside, eating something that my anorexia told me I shouldn’t, showering with the lights on. Ways that I could feel like I was serving myself, even when every ounce of me didn’t want to. Facing my fears, even in small little ways helped me overcome the bigger hurdles. Accepting that small victories were just as important as large ones, not only helped me value myself more, but value the progress I had made more.
Finally, when I found myself in recovery, and ready to get my life back on track, victories over fear that I had experienced throughout gaining back control over my mind and body, shifted into something different. It was important for me to contribute to self-care but I recognized that sometimes self-care for me meant doing things I didn’t really want to do. If every inch of me was screaming to stay in bed and keep the curtains drawn, sometimes the best way to serve my mental illness was to make the effort to get out of bed and to shower, to eat, small victories one step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
I recognized that even though I reveled in self-care that had me bundled up in a sweater watching super hero movies and eating popcorn, I needed to equally value and appreciate the self-care meant getting up out of bed and going to class. Sometimes living with mental illness feels like a battle, the most important thing I learned is to relish the little victories as much as the big ones because they’re just as meaningful. There is no hierarchy for self-care. Whether it’s posting a selfie online that makes me feel good about myself or remembering to shower in the morning, acknowledging the ‘little’ stuff helped reduce the amount of times I felt like a failure for getting knocked down the odd time.
Taking control over my fear by acknowledging the little victories in myself care helped me feel strong again, and helped me understand that moments where I feel weak are not the moments that I believe define me. Being mentally ill, facing my fears, and acknowledging my victories have made me realize that I am worth more than my mental illness wants me to believe.
I am here, I am mentally ill, I am not defined by my illness, I am not defined by my fears or my failures, and I am worth living.