I could begin by saying my name is Lauren Parkes, a girl who has suffered from anorexia nervosa and depression, but that is rather a flat and bland way to begin a life story. Such a story is quite short given that I am eighteen, but nevertheless it is a rocky, turbulent tale to find oneself in.
Since birth, I’ve been very well acquainted with the “ abnormal” human condition, having an older brother with a rare intellectual disability called Williams syndrome. While growing up I became accustomed to his various friends’ disabilities: autism, Down syndrome—the list goes on. I also volunteered in dementia wards and for disability social programs during my secondary education. I also never knew my Nana before Alzheimer’s started manipulating her character, and closely witnessed its descent upon her mind, causing her eventual and tragically degenerate demise. Early on in life, I learned that none of these people were “normal” because of how others responded to the atypical behaviours, but I developed a strong passion for promoting respect and understanding for others who are “not quite like the rest of us.” Never did I think that I would end up being expelled from this “us” to become one of the “others,” nor did I intend to be.
Throughout high school, I’d felt incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. I was the girl who’d walk around shopping centres with her arms held stiff at her sides, so aware of their movements and not knowing what to do with them. (“Should I sway them? No, it looks too mechanical. Too overconfident. Draws too much attention. Did that woman look at me striding along like this? Oh no, she probably thought I was a cocky narcissist. Better just go and sit down out of sight from everyone.”) Not really knowing who I was and being so over-conscious about how I appeared to the rest of the world, I developed an obsession with how I looked and what people thought of me. I felt I needed other people to verify that I was valid. Good. Except good was not good enough. I didn’t realise this at the time, but I wanted to be perfect. I thought that would make all my unsureness and unease go away.
Instead of homework, I’d be researching how to get rid of the dark circles underneath my eyes that someone had mentioned that morning (“that person doesn’t think I’m good enough”), or be slathering on makeup for hours only to go outside to put the trash out, or holding an umbrella throughout summer to avoid freckles, or be frowning to stretch-out my face from it’s constant happy expression that I tiredly displayed to make others happy. Years of defining my worth from everything that wasn’t myself, wanting to be in control and as perfect as I could possibly be, believing everything the media told me would cure my self-hate, it all eventually took over my life in the form of anorexia and depression.
Overexercising, under-eating, suicidal preoccupation, self-harm, irritability, social-retraction, panic-attacks. . . . My life became nothing but an island for an obsession that fuelled itself. I look back on videos and photos of me from that time . . . and I just cannot express to you my confusion. I was simply not there. I was someone else. Lauren had disappeared. Something else was moving my lifeless body like a puppet on an electric string, zapping it from time to time whenever a variable it crossed had failed to be controlled to a point of satifaction.
Since then, I have been transferred between various schools, hospitals, psychiatric wards; psychiatrists, nutritionists, psychologists—you name it—to death-in-life and back, and finally found serenity in sanity. In due course I have learnt that mental illness is, just as I know intellectual disability is, a real phenomenon, and a terrifying one. Coming out of it, I learnt a great deal about my own condition and that of others. I’ve learnt what it means to live in the world we do now—how hard it is for such a vast many—and believe that, ultimately, the mind starts in biology and ends in society. Thus, there should be no blaming people for having these problems, and I’ve become that there’s so much that we can do to assist the mentally-vulnerable.
This is why I reflect on my years of depression, anxiety and anorexia in neither pride nor shame, but rather an insightful learning experience. It has given a once-unsure girl in existential crisis a steady point around which her life can pivot; a point of meaning. I wish to devote this life I’ve been blessed with to helping raise awareness of mental illness, reduce its stigma, help sufferers and prevent future victims.
I am hoping to study Preventive Health at university next year.
If you are suffering from anorexia, depression or anxiety, and wish to ask me anything at all; if you are a family member/friend of a sufferer and want to know how to help/understand them; if you’re a professional and want insight into these problems from an experienced teenage perspective; I’d be honored to keep in touch with you. Please feel welcome to contact me.