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Welcome!

There is no magic cure, no making it go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

— Laurie Halse Anderson

As said on the homepage, I am Maria Hromcenco, a 10th-grader and recovering anorexic. Please subscribe to get notifications for my posts! They will cover various topics, including advice for parents and friends, ways I deal with body image, and many other tips I found to have helped (and continue to help) me a lot. 🙂

Mental Health Interview- Dylan Garagozzo

This is part of a series of interviews concerning mental health and its role in today’s society. With these interviews, I hope to shed light on how common mental health conditions really are, as well as to amplify the voices of those in recovery.

NOTE: talk of mental health conditions, self-harm, and certain behaviors (not in-depth). Please be aware of this and do not watch if you think it may be harmful towards your mental health!

You can follow Dylan at @dylangaragozzo on Instagram!

Mental Health Interview- Natalie Hornberger

This is part of a series of interviews concerning mental health and its role in today’s society. With these interviews, I hope to shed light on how common mental health conditions really are, as well as to amplify the voices of those in recovery.

NOTE: content warning for mentions of v//mit, trauma.

Could you introduce yourself? (name, age, etc.)

  • My name is Natalie. I’m a 17 year old female from southern Pennsylvania.

What has your experience with mental health been like? (what diagnoses do you have, when did they start, how do they affect your life?)

  • My battle with mental health started around the age of 7 years old. I was in and out of hospitals at such an age due to the fact that I kept throwing up and my parents had no idea what was wrong. In reality, unbeknownst at the time, there was nothing physically wrong—it was anxiety.
  • After that, I was soon diagnosed with emetephobia (the fear of vomit and nausea) and OCD. As I grew up, it overtook my life. Every activity, interaction, etc. was swallowed up by anxiety and the overwhelming fear of throwing up. I was in and out of therapists for years until I found my current one.
  • As I grew up, I developed what was post anxiety depression that would manifest free I had relapsed in anxiety. Eventually, I noticed that the depression lingered even without relapsing, and I was soon diagnosed with a form of Seasonal Depression.
  • Recently (last year), my family and I experienced a house fire. It was absolutely devastating and left my family and I with lasting imprints of trauma and PTSD. Eventually, these all became too much to handle alone, so I sought help at a psychiatric center in Philadelphia, I have been anxiety-relapse free since then.

What has recovery been like? Who were your main support systems during recovery?

  • Throughout my life, recovery ended up being everything I expected it not to be. I found myself confused every time I relapsed in anxiety or depression, it hurt knowing I sought such intensive and constant treatment over the years and I was still sick. My therapists were wonderful throughout my journey, but I got older and needed to continue moving on. My friends and family had my back and encouraged me along the way, which I am eternally grateful for.
  • Treatment at the psychiatric center was rough. It was all virtual due to Covid and I was exposed to my greatest fear throughout it: vomiting. Videos, pictures, imitations; overall intense exposure therapy that left me infuriated at my parents at the time for signing me up for such torture. After eight weeks, I was discharged and was utterly surprised that it had actually worked. So many years leading up to what felt like a final battle, though the fight is far from over.

What would you tell yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your recovery/mental health journey? What advice might you have for people who are just beginning their journey to recovery?

  • If I could go back all the way to the beginning of my journey, I’d tell my little seven-year-old self that there will be ease for this. There will not be a cure, but there will be help. This road is long, but you are going to grow so much stronger than you imagine. You will continue to walk in and out of this like a champion and you will have God on your side the entire time. The frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, hopelessness, and pain is worth it. Feeling better is worth it. 
  • If you have recently began your mental health recovery journey, I will tell you right now that it is not an overnight process. Everybody’s journey is different; some people heal within a month and some people heal within ten years. It’s different for everybody, including you. There’s a lot involved, healing is far from linear and it does not follow a schedule. Relapsing is part of healing. Frustration, sadness, and setbacks are part of healing. This is all part of the process that will prove how much strength you really hold.

What are some things you wish people realized about mental health conditions? What can others do to support people battling with mental health conditions?

  • I wish people would educate themselves more about mental health issues rather than blowing it aside. It’s one of those situations, I feel like, where ‘if you don’t experience it then it doesn’t exist’, which is quite obviously not the case. People hear about it or see a post about it and tend to blow it off without acknowledging the severity of these cases and how it’s affecting people, which I wish people were more cognizant of.
  • Helping others who struggle with mental illness is so crucial. People dealing with these issues are so beyond grateful knowing that they have your support, even if they may not express it clearly. It depends on their situation. If they talk to you about their mental health condition(s), listen to them and do your research. Find effective methods that would be sufficient in distracting, easing, or helping them in any way. Make sure you do things the correct way and don’t push anything—people with these struggles sometimes don’t have the energy or stability to receive help at the time. If someone is in obvious and immediate danger, consider calling a hotline if they are directly in harm’s way and you’re sure of it. Do not get involved with personal situations unless asked or if someone is directly in harm’s way or danger. That is important.

What are your thoughts on the school education system in terms of mental health awareness and curriculum? Do you think they should do better? If yes, how can they do better?

  • In my opinion, the school education system in terms of mental health awareness/help needs to be better. Back when I was in the fourth grade and still endlessly struggling with my issues, even while seeing a therapist outside of school, my school guidance counselor was a big source of grounding. I’m aware that she’s not a licensed therapist for each individual person, but I believe there should be more meetings with parents AND children. Transparency and consent is very important, so the person dealing with these issues should be included in most plans and dialogue. 

Do you feel like there is a stigma surrounding mental health and treatment? If so, why do you think it exists? What do you think we can do to break down this barrier? 

  • The stigma around mental health has been and remains deafening. A year or two ago, I lied on my ADHD testing because I was scared of not being taken seriously if I were to be diagnosed. So many people refuse to seek help, therapy, or medication because they don’t want to be seen as “special” or “mentally sick” or “mentally unstable”. The majority of people with mental health issues have dealt with these stigmatized thoughts and have made themselves worse by prolonging seeking treatment or help. Reducing the stigma around receiving therapy, medication, or any kind of help is imperative as catching g mental illnesses early is a crucial part to recovering well. Catching it later on still makes it possible to recover, but the earlier the easier, in most cases.

Is there anything else you would like to share or talk about?

  • The last thing I want to note is just not to give up. I know you’ve heard it said a hundred thousand times and it may not mean much anymore, but from the bottom of my heart—it gets better. I survived and so will you. ♡︎

Thank you! You can follow Natalie at @natalie.ann1021 on Instagram!

Mental Health Interview- Austin Maguire

This is part of a series of interviews concerning mental health and its role in today’s society. With these interviews, I hope to shed light on how common mental health conditions really are, as well as to amplify the voices of those in recovery.

NOTE: There are quite a few references of different mental health conditions and certain behaviors (not in-depth). Please be aware of this and do not watch if you think it may be harmful towards your mental health!

You can follow Austin at @austinmags0401 on Instagram!



Mental Health Interview- Cassidy McHugh

This is part of a series of interviews concerning mental health and its role in today’s society. With these interviews, I hope to shed light on how common mental health conditions really are, as well as to amplify the voices of those in recovery.

NOTE: At 8 minutes and 36 seconds, the text should say: Trigger warning: Talk of treatment levels

You can follow Cassidy at @cassidymchugh13 on Instagram!

Mental Health Interview- Izzy DiPietro

This is part of a series of interviews concerning mental health and its role in today’s society. With these interviews, I hope to shed light on how common mental health conditions really are, as well as to amplify the voices of those in recovery.

Could you introduce yourself? (name, age, etc.)

  • Hi! I’m Izzy DiPietro, a 20 year old fashion design student currently doing online school because of the corona virus. 

What has your experience with mental health been like? (what diagnoses do you have, when did they start, how do they affect your life?)

  • My experience with mental health started when I realized school was really hard for me and no matter what I did, my peers could always do it better. I was diagnosed with ADHD and on medication by age 6. I was bullied for being different and after some family issues and trauma, by the age of 12 I had depression, anxiety and anorexia. Some years it’s been better than others. It has affected every aspect in my life, but when it affected my passion and bright future I decided I need to recover. The depression, anxiety and ADHD were bearable but the anorexia was just really grim.

What has recovery been like? Who were your main support systems during recovery?

  • Recovery has been a lot of ups, downs, and stubbornness. My family still doesn’t understand my ED, or maybe it’s just uncomfortable to them, but my main support comes from my wonderful friends. 

What would you tell yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your recovery/mental health journey? What advice might you have for people who are just beginning their journey to recovery?

  • I would tell myself the truth, it’s hard. Like tooth and nail hard sometimes but a necessary evil to live a happy life that I’m fulfilled in. 
  • My advice for others is really just to celebrate every little success you make. When you mess up, don’t yell at yourself and beat yourself up. Use compassion to build yourself up so you can be strong enough to not fall in the same patterns again.

What are some things you wish people realized about mental health conditions? What can others do to support people battling with mental health conditions?

  • I wish people understood that obviously my thinking patterns aren’t logical and don’t make sense. That’s the whole point. Sympathize with me. Don’t tell me that I’m being silly.
  • The number one thing is just to be a good listener and non judgmental. Sometimes advice isn’t what we want. It’s compassion and understanding. 

What are your thoughts on the school education system in terms of mental health awareness and curriculum? Do you think they should do better? If yes, how can they do better?

  • The ways schools discuss mental health is horrible! We would watch movies in health class with graphic depictions of self harm and eating disorders. It was pretty obvious I struggled with these issues myself and kids would stare at me and I would get too much anxiety. Then I would go home triggered and use these behaviors again. Talking about anxiety and how damaging it is and then assigning us long papers about these topics with strict due dates is just ironic at this point.

Do you feel like there is a stigma surrounding mental health and treatment? If so, why do you think it exists? What do you think we can do to break down this barrier? 

  • The stigma is lessening, but at the same time I feel like people are starting to think eating disorders are just missing a meal sometimes and that’s not the case and then they are rude to people actually struggling. The only mental health issues people are coming around to understanding is anxiety and depression. Everything else is still vilified and scary to the public. 

Is there anything else you would like to share or talk about?

  • The one last thing I want to share is that starting recovery is the hardest part. You will never feel sick enough. The people around you might not think you are either and that’s the worst part. Feeling like you’re making everything up in your head is really common. Accepting help is still so difficult for me but I’ve committed healing my mind so I can focus on the people I love, rescuing animals, educating people on the dangers of fast fashion and making art that combats these issues.

You can follow Izzy at @izzydipietro_ on Instagram!

how to help someone with an eating disorder

How to help someone with an eating disorder:

I am not a licensed therapist; these tips are coming from my own experiences as someone in anorexia recovery, and what helped me most when I was in treatment. If you are in recovery from an ED or currently in one, please regard this article with caution- it may have triggering words and phrases.

Also, this is from the experience of someone with anorexia; however, eating disorders are an extremely broad field, and anorexia is just one subcategory. Most of these tips are geared towards helping those with anorexia, simply because that is the ED I had and can speak on more truthfully. Please keep in mind that it is not the sole eating disorder out there, nor the only one that needs full support and help.   

Eating disorders (EDs) are extremely tricky. They can twist reality and truths in ways someone without an ED could never imagine. That’s why, when you are trying to help someone with this disorder, you need to be very careful with what you say and do. 

  1. Don’t talk about food, exercise, or body standards unless you are part of their treatment team or it is phrased cautiously.

If you are not trained in nutrition or therapy, and you don’t have experience with an ED, you can very easily say something about food, exercise, or body standards that a person with an ED can drastically misinterpret. 

If you are talking about body image:

  • All bodies are good bodies. No matter what. You should not say that one type of body is better than another (on either end of the spectrum).
  • Don’t encourage them to change their body in order to match their desires. Unlike those without an ED, most people actively in an ED are never satisfied with their body— no matter what they do. They often have body dysmorphia, which completely changes their perceptions of their body. In fact, when I was at my worst in anorexia, my ED still thought I looked unhealthy and that I should restrict. 
    • Body dysmorphic disorder: a mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one’s own body part or appearance is severely flawed and therefore warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it. 
  • DON’T SAY: “you aren’t even fat!” or “you’re so skinny, what are you worried about?”
    • This is wrong on so many levels. First, it reinforces the idea that skinny = good. That is far from the case. Everyone’s body is subjective and unique; it is far from “one-size fits all”, and that “one-size” should definitely not be “thin”.   
    • Second, people with an ED or in recovery probably don’t see their body as it actually is. They feel unsatisfied with and constantly want to gain control over it. So, saying that they shouldn’t have anything to worry about confuses them and creates terrible cognitive dissonance. Their ED is telling them one thing, you are telling them something else— at this point, they hardly know who or what to believe. 

If you are talking about food:

  • If you are not a licensed nutritionist— then don’t. Eyes on your own plate. If the person in recovery or with an ED is in treatment, they likely have their own meal plan that they are following. Telling them what to eat or when to eat is just a terrible idea; it can be misinterpreted, and if it goes against what their nutritionist has recommended to them, doubt and guilt can seep into their thoughts.   
  • If you notice they are not eating or eating very little, don’t say “you are so skinny, you need to eat!” This is because it creates the notion that once they eat, they won’t be skinny; and once they aren’t skinny, they’ll have to stop eating again.  
    • Instead, offer to share your food or snack with them. If they don’t accept, then try sitting down next to them and eating your food, without bringing attention to them or the fact that you are eating and they are not. Normalize the eating, and talk about something you both like to draw their anxiety away from the food and towards conversation and a peaceful atmosphere. 
  • Don’t label foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. ALL foods are healthy in moderation and balance. Categorizing them as healthy or unhealthy creates a toxic dichotomy of “bad” versus “good” foods; the person can feel that eating “bad” foods makes them a bad person, and vice versa. 

If you are talking about exercise:

  • Again, don’t use it as a method for showing them how they can change their body. They will never be fully satisfied with how they look until they learn to accept themselves, both inwardly and externally.  
  • Rest days are just as healthy as exercise. If they are tired or don’t want to exercise with you, don’t push them. It is likely hard for them to even make the decision to skip exercising, so don’t make that choice even harder. Each person has their own forms of movement that bring them joy and peace.
  • Offer alternate forms of movement, like yoga or walks. This type of exercise not only soothes your mind, but also allows you to connect with each other on a deeper level that other forms of movement cannot permit.  

Part 2 will come soon! I wanted to break it down into separate posts so the information isn’t overwhelming. 

one year

It’s almost my one year anniversary since discharging from Renfrew’s residential center, where I was located for two months. 

A LOT has changed. I look back at myself before the onset of my anorexia and during it, and I cannot recognize that person. I mean, I can; but it is someone extremely different from me now. 

I’m proud of myself. It’s usually really hard for me to be proud of myself for anything, but I can say with confidence that I am SO proud of myself. I almost died that fateful summer of 2019; and though I’ve been through countless hardships this year, I’m still going strong. 

I remember being at Renfrew for 8 weeks, and each week feeling like a different eternity. I remember begging my therapist for extra time in the computer lab to do schoolwork; I remember doing homework for AP Calc AB and literally learning everything on my own, straight from the textbook; I remember doing my first physics exam the same day I had a challenge meal. I am proud of myself for persevering in my rigorous classes despite not having physical teacher guidance and extremely limited time on the computers—  and navigating this while simultaneously going through one of the hardest periods of my life.

I am grateful. So very grateful. I was walking with my mom the other day, and we were talking about how it felt for all of us around this time last year. Oh, it was awful. I was terrified and freezing cold; my parents had to bring me blankets and warm clothing almost immediately after they dropped me off at Renfrew. I was in a wheelchair, my fingers were constantly being pricked to measure glucose levels; I was given huge tablets of literal sugar and boxes of orange juice to bring up the sugar in my blood. 3 AM vitals— every single time was orthostatic, and thus the chugging of gatorade commenced. I was SO cold. 

Maybe week 2 or 3 into my stay, I was talking to my therapist about my measured discharge date. She had said it was estimated to be around December. I remember having a literal meltdown. I was accepted on August 28th or so; if I had left early December, I would’ve been there three whole months (luckily, I was discharged late October).

Now, I feel joy every second I step outside and see the gorgeous nature around me. I am so thankful I feel warm and can go back to wearing dresses when it’s snowing outside; I am so grateful I can have all of those fun Autumn drinks and treats. I’m able to wear fall outfits that I like, without constantly being insecure in my body. I have enough nutrition to have mental-space for pursuing my passions and extracurriculars. I have discovered a huge love for philosophy. 

This whole post is kind of like a congratulations to me. I don’t normally tell myself “I’m proud of you”, but I’m doing it now. When I was in the hospital, I was looking down my journey and it felt like a long tunnel— a musty, cold, dark tunnel, with a tiny little circle of light in the distance. And I DID IT!!! I made it to the light!!!

I’m looking at my past self, and I am hugging her. I am embracing her frail and weak body, and kissing her worried forehead. I am telling her that it will be okay. In fact, it will be more than okay. It will be brilliant.

And this goes out to everyone who is on this journey to recovery, from anything really. You will be okay. I promise you it is worth it. I promise you with all my might that it is going to be beautiful. It won’t be easy— but LIFE isn’t easy. In order to live life, you need to take risks. And the risks associated with fighting simply pale in comparison to all the benefits you reap. 

You can do this.

“Life can be magnificent and overwhelming – that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live.” – Albert Camus

a philosopher’s embrace

I lay in the dark slumbers of night, eyes peeled open, staring unyieldingly at some blind spot in the corner. The perpendicular lines of the walls gently meet with the wooden floorboards; their geometric shapes clashing with the soft fabric of the transparent ivory gauze. The fabric of twilight.

It is pure, smooth coal; I gulp air, and it travels seamlessly down my throat, hesitating slightly at the uvula before brushing past as it tumbles along my spine.

The harsh glare of my phone contrasts with this satiny atmosphere. Its blue light dilates and contracts my pupils in a hypnotic rhythm. Just as I’m about to shut it off, a video catches my eye.

It is a documentary about a philosopher, just turned ninety-seven and facing his encroaching death. I click it. 

… 

As the video ends, I look up at the ceiling of my room. It seems that during the clip, my surroundings had been gradually transforming, culminating into one pinnacle of shock as I strain my eyes into the abyss of cool shadows. There is a pulpating form, undulating in its slimy black grease. I am surrounded by this form, drowning in its movements. Death is grazing me with its fingertips, I think. 

I will be gone one day. Everyone will be gone. What a cliche, depressingly basic thought. Still, I am submerged in fear. My breath is gone, as if a chilling wind has swept it away— yet, the room is still. 

It is no longer a room, but a swamp of murky ink. 

… 

Death is the only certainty of life. The only facet we can be sure will occur. So why am I gasping for air at the very thought of it?

Never had my fresh, young mind considered the thought of being gone. This inexperienced brain of hardly sixteen years can scarcely fathom it. 

But this night, I come under the mossy fingernails of Thanatos; the piercing claws of Poe’s raven; the hollowed sockets of a bleached skull. 

Why can’t I embrace you, as a friend, as a lover? I think silently— for words have disintegrated, proven unnecessary in this dusk of mystery and feelings. They have no purpose when confronted with inexplicable emotions of timeless pursuits. 

I will never be fully accepted, nor embraced, Death replies. You may believe you have come to terms with me, but I will forever slither back into your ears, your lungs, your veins; solidifying your blood, coagulating your thoughts. My movements are not once anticipated. 

… 

Laying in my bed, drenched in sweat and tears, I sigh an exhalation of esse. My eyes droop downwards, struggling to peel and say farewell to the suffocating presence of certainty. But there is no need; eternity is an omniscient being, as close to God as one can ever get. 

innards surmount moirae

As individuals, we are so meager,

Such insignificance, baseness— you see:

We chortle loftily at titan cedars,

Yet they fall, and death by tree.

.

Believing we are magnanimous,

The cardinal, the ace of spears;

But willows whisper, thus unanimous

Are mortals living upon spheres.

.

We have no say, in ebb and flow,

Yielding to depths of holy sea,

Or do we? Curb of tides forgo—

Still, innards and organs are free.

.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy,

But why, not sad or chagrined?

Our lion enfolds the unhappy,

And his innards rejoice with the wind.

.

He is loose, rebelling the fate

That the Gods so callously threw—

By creating meaning, he dares to dictate

That which Creator made new.  

.

How would the stubborn, absurdist hero

Behave upon seeing Moirae?

In chains, he’d laugh from Hades’ window, 

His scorn surmounting moray.

your struggles are valid.

I feel as though I have progressed in my recovery SO much. 

School and real life, though wonderful, seemed to have almost distracted me from myself and my internal problems; quarantine gave me the chance to finally face the greatest challenge of all… me.  

Now, I am exercising in a healthy way— to feel strong and powerful, rather than for the satisfaction of my anorexia. Each time I am able to lift a weight or build muscle, it feels like I am laughing in my ED’s face: “You thought you could get rid of my energy, you thought you could kill me— but guess what! You can’t! I’m stronger than you!” 

I am also facing past fear foods on a daily basis, and they hardly feel scary anymore. There are still traces of the ED voice, telling me lies and negative words, but I simply shut it out. It’s like background noise— unpleasant at times, but generally just a bit of white noise that my mind blocks. 

That being said, I still struggle. I have plenty of bad body image days, at times I compare myself to others (both externally and internally), and I catch myself buying into the exhaustingly hypocritical and false “beauty standard” that celebrities perpetuate. AND THAT IS OKAY! Do not feel bad or disheartened if you find yourself having thoughts or emotional responses to triggers when you thought you were well into recovery. The former’s existence does not dictate the truth of the latter. 

What matters is your response to these thoughts, and the actions you take. 

If someone has accidentally said something triggering, sit down with them and discuss it. They most likely did not mean to hurt you in any way, but if they don’t know what they said wrong, they cannot fix their behavior. It can be very hard to talk about, but it is the only way to help others support you. 

If you are comparing yourself to others on social media or elsewhere, try to visualize a pleasant experience. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a meadow or a peaceful garden, or wherever you feel at peace. Think about all of the details present, and then picture yourself doing something you love. Don’t focus on how you appear; just concentrate on the actions you are taking and how they make you feel inside. This visualization technique often helps me greatly.

Another thing you can do if you are stuck in a comparison loop is to acknowledge the photos’ surface-level content. Realize that the photos a person is posting are just snapshots of a moment, and are not accurate representations of the person themselves. Try to focus on the person’s eyes, smile, or other indications of their inner emotions. Instead of comparing or being jealous, instead you can compliment them! By saying out loud, “wow, I really love their eyes/outfit/etc.”, or commenting on their post, both you and the person receiving the compliment end up feeling really good. The karma will also come back to you in the future! Giving positive energy to the universe increases your chances of receiving positive energy back. 

Finally, what I have been doing is practicing SELF-LOVE!!! I will probably make a whole separate post about this, but a brief overview of what I have been doing is making a daily list of what I love about myself, what makes me confident, and what I was proud of accomplishing for the day. I urge you all to do the same! Stopping to really think and write this down is not vain or narcissistic in any way. In fact, it brings your internal self joy and helps put your position into perspective. 

To end this mini rant about self-love and struggles, I want to thank everyone who has sent me messages about my blog and recovery. To hear that my experience and writing has helped others makes me incredibly happy. When I first had the idea to create this blog in a hospital room at the very beginning of my long road to recovery, I could never have imagined that I would be making tangible differences in someone’s life experience. That is the ultimate goal of this blog! However, I am not perfect either; hence the name imperfect recovery! I am always ready to help or talk if you need the support of someone who has experienced the same things as you.