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By Ashley Doonan
I will never, not even for a fraction of a second, glorify mental illness. I will, however, unashamedly speak up—because I have been silenced and shamed for too many years. My relentless fear of not living up to some unattainable means of perfection turned me into a passive, ghost of a person. In a world of superlatives, women are constantly told that less is more. I thought that if I couldn’t be the smartest, prettiest, or wittiest, I could strive to be the thinnest. That flawed logic led me to five years immersed not in life, but in anorexia nervosa. I deeply regret the time that I surrendered to numbers, to complacency, to fear, to intellectual and social deprivation, to losing not just my body, but also my mind. As much as it “hurts to heal”—truthfully, I am also not glorifying “recovery” or re-emergence into a world that is ridden with highs and lows—becoming the source of your own light is the only way out of the darkness. It’s difficult to accept that life is difficult, that some days will inevitably be better than others, but it’s important to recognize that is real. Life, vitality, uncertainty—that’s the terrain you tread on when you rid yourself of comforts that your sickness afforded you.
I look back at recent years and see that I spent so much precious time desiring nothing more than to disappear. Too many nights spent restlessly awake, too many sedatives and medical bills, too many consequences that still impact my health to this day. I see a GPA that could have been higher, countless discussions that I missed out on, an abundance of experiences I chose to run from instead of welcome. I am twenty-two years old and I am filled with regret.
But today, I am also filled with energy. I have enough energy not just to walk across campus without fainting, but also enough energy to engage in the world; I love the mess of colors and emotions that come along with living. I am fortunate to have spent the past twelve months (as well as my senior year of college) fully recovered from my illness. I chase sunsets, laugh at my own jokes, and consume books in the way that I used to—with full concentration and attention to detail. Most importantly, I have a voice. Perhaps I speak too much—if only in an attempt to make up for the silent years. I have curves and softness in places that were once starved angles. I shamelessly caress every molecule of my being without apology, even when society tells me that I shouldn’t. I finally have restored my biological monthly reminder that my body is capable of sheltering another human life. Self-acceptance, I think, should not be deemed “radical.” When you think about it, it’s the least that you can do. Today, I am filled to the brim with passions and imperfections—both of which I choose to embrace.
Ashley Doonan is a 22-year-old recent college graduate with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Developmental Psychology. She has been fully recovered from anorexia nervosa for a year, and could not be more fortunate to be where she is both physically and mentally. She is interested in implementing the study of literature as a force for social change. She is also interested in autobiographical studies, feminism, and trauma studies. She will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Literature at the University of New Hampshire this fall. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading, baking, getting lost in new cities, and discovering new music. To learn more, contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.