By: Elly Bringaze
In light of recent headlines, I wanted to share my story of survival, but specifically to address the prevalence of suicide among those who suffer from eating disorders. Anorexia is the deadliest mental disease and suicide accounts for one in five anorexic deaths. I wrote this journal entry last weekend in response to the news and hope that it provides anyone suffering – from eating disorders, depression or anxiety – with the comfort of knowing that you are not alone. More importantly, I hope that it inspires you to not be afraid to ask for help.
Just like McCall, I grew up in Baton Rouge, surrounded by a loving family and incredible friends. I was a straight-A student, graduating salutatorian of my high school and went on to the University of Virginia. In college, I continued to excel academically, volunteered in my free time and served as President of my sorority. After graduation, I moved to New York City and took a prestigious job at a big Wall Street bank. That’s when my rapid decline began as a “one-time” graduation diet continued into a downward spiral that I couldn’t escape; and for two years, I suffered in silence from debilitating anorexia. I starved myself and exercised to the point of exhaustion, all while working long days in the office and maintaining a busy social life.
I could sense that something was wrong – I didn’t feel like myself. The ambitious, joyful and loving Elly was replaced with a skeleton who could think of nothing but food and exercise. Yet, I was terrified to talk to anyone about my suffering out of fear of judgment, of disappointing my loved ones, of no longer being perfect. It wasn’t until my closest friends and family reached out in support that I was even willing to admit out loud how much I was suffering. They deserve all the credit in the world for making me feel comfortable enough to enter recovery.
Reaching out for help is petrifying in the moment, but it’s also the best decision you will ever make. I can’t even begin to describe the relief that I felt when I stepped off the plane from NYC straight into the arms of my mom. I was 24 years old but I felt like a child who just needed a hug.
I’ll admit – there were some casualties. I had to put my career on hold, I lost touch with friends and I left an exciting life in the big city. However, I didn’t lose the most important things: my life (luckily) and the love of the people who truly matter. The ones who love you will stand by your side - no questions asked – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the people who will step-up to fight with you. Most importantly, the peace, the joy and the life that you will regain in recovery is priceless.
Unlike so many, I was lucky enough to survive and make a full recovery. My mind is now free from the dark cloud of obsessive thoughts about food, exercise, dieting, calories and body fat. I am able to experience joy and smile and laugh in ways that I never thought would be possible again. I feel comfortable and at peace with myself for the first time in years; and not just in my body, but with who I am as an individual on an emotional and spiritual level. My eating disorder and recovery are not something to be ashamed of, they are a part of my journey and will be forever. The struggle is lifelong and I still experience challenging moments, but I have gained an unprecedented sense of hope and resilience that I’ll never relinquish.
After my time in recovery, I was ready to move back to the East Coast, my favorite part of the country; but I found myself unable to return to New York, a city that I knew would haunt me with painful memories. I ended up landing in Boston to begin an exciting job for on organization that I am incredibly passionate about. Instead of returning to a traditional finance role, I took a position at a non-profit that invests in underrepresented, marginalized communities. I had just become part of a stigmatized group for the first time in my life (we all know how harshly the world can judge those with ED), and I wanted to use my financial skills to help those whom society has abandoned. I also want to share my voice as an advocate for those who are paralyzed by fear and unable to speak for themselves.
I know that God has big plans for my life – that’s what kept me from ending it too soon those nights on the Bridge. I thank Him every day for the incredible individuals – friends, family members, doctors and angels like McCall – who made that possible. I will be eternally grateful to them for sitting with me through the frustration, the tears and the anger of recovery and most importantly, for celebrating the small victories. I owe them my life and it is to them that I dedicate this post. Publishing my journal entry below is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m paying it forward one word at a time...
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Last week, the world was rocked by news of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s suicides. The public was shocked that two individuals so successful, wealthy and optically “happy” could experience such unimaginable suffering. Well frankly, I am not shocked. I am not shocked because I was in the same exact place a little over a year ago.
I too was living a seemingly successful and glamorous life in NYC. I had a prestigious job as an investment analyst at a big Wall Street bank. I was financially successful and lived in a quaint NYC apartment in a fabulous neighborhood. I wore trendy clothes and had a buzzing social life filled with exciting visits to restaurants, bars and parties. I had a wonderful family who visited me often and a boyfriend who was equally as driven and successful as I was. From the outside, my life was perfect. On the inside, I was suffering silently from an illness so painful and severe that it cannot be articulated.
I considered suicide many times during my years in New York. There is no way to describe the inescapable despondency that accompanies a severe eating disorder. You feel so helplessly trapped by your own mind: by the eating and exercise “rules”, the irrational thoughts and the self-hate. You convince yourself that you’ll be happier if you lose five more pounds, but you cannot escape the hopeless feeling that the painful cycle will never end. For some, unfortunately, it never does. Anorexia is the deadliest mental disorder and one in five of anorexic deaths are from suicide.
I was right there, ready to take my own life just to put myself out of my misery. On a regular basis, I was tormented all night by anxious thoughts about food and exercising, ultimately succumbing to a feeling of pure despondency. On more than one occasion in the dead of New York winter, I took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night. I would walk to the center of the bridge, shivering from the wind and peer over the edge into the water. I would imagine step-by-step how I would climb the barricade and jump. Thankfully, my paralyzing fear of heights made me chicken out every time and return to my apartment to shiver all night from the cold and the fear.
Yet, I would wake up at the crack of the dawn the next morning, undergo my daily brutal exercise routine and head to work as if nothing happened. I would smile and chat with my co-workers, sit in meetings all day and construct perfect presentations and excel spreadsheets. On the outside, I was doing everything exactly as I was supposed to, constantly masking the unbearable suffering that I was experiencing. I was an expert in “putting on the face” and pretending that everything was ok at work, to my friends, to my family. The memory of the Bridge would fade into the background until another sleepless night of anxiety and sadness would force me out of my bed into the frigid air once again to peer over the edge.
This excruciating cycle went on for months. I came very close to jumping many times. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my loved ones at home in Baton Rouge. I would picture my family – my loving parents, my lively sister and my goofy brother – all sitting around our house on Christmas morning. I had just been home for the holidays so their images were powerful. I couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning them or the inevitable guilt that they would feel for not being able to help me. As I stood there shivering, I was often reminded of something that my mother had said me to when she sensed I was struggling: “God gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers. He wouldn’t give you a cross that you cannot bear.” I guess it was their love and His that held me back every single time.
People claim that suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. I hope my story helps to shed some light on the fact that it is not selfish – it is an act of pure desperation, a symptom of an illness that is crippling beyond all comprehension. All capacity for rational thought disappears and the dark, despondent feelings create the ultimate tunnel vision. Your mind is consumed with desperate attempts to find relief from the anxiety that prevents you from experiencing any joy and torments every moment of your existence. The only temporary reprieve comes with sleep but even that is short-lived when the sun rises and you are forced to face the reality of your existence. In the mind of those who truly suffer, there is no way out but to jump.
I resent the way that society judges the mentally ill. It is a disease, a chemical imbalance just like cancer or diabetes. Not to mention, eating disorders are genetic, a fact that most people seem to be oblivious to. Mental health issues can happen to anyone – they do not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or age. I was doing everything right – perfect grades, prestigious college, great job, fabulous city and social life – but I was hit by an unexpected tidal wave. To the world I was perfect yet I was drowning on the inside.
I’ll carry those memories of shivering on the Brooklyn Bridge with me forever. To me, it is not an iconic landmark but symbol of the torture that I underwent. To this day, when I see the Bridge in movies and TV shows, a shiver runs down my spine and I often have to look away. Even sometimes when I walk or drive over other bridges, the memories reverberate and I feel sick to my stomach.
Looking back one year later, I am so lucky to be alive. My survival is entirely due to the unconditional love and dedication of my closest friends and family. They pulled me out of unimaginable darkness and brought me back to life. Never again will I take for granted this amazing life that I have. I am one of the lucky ones – many are not so fortunate. Now it’s time to go out and bask in the Boston sunshine and thank God for every moment that I am alive.
Elly Bringaze is 25 years old, an anorexia survivor, Southern Smash Ambassador and recovery warrior. She grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attended the University of Virginia where she majored in Finance and Economics. She now lives and works in Boston at an impact investment non-profit that serves underrepresented and marginalized communities. She is a voracious reader and enjoys traveling, scuba diving, skiing and spending time with friends and family. She is in the process of becoming certified as a facilitator for NEDA's Body Project and an advocate for ED recovery and mental health.