GROWING UP, ALL TESA REALLY WANTED WAS TO FIT IN. She has memories of being in middle school, for example, and desperately wanting to be like the other girls in her class.
But every time she saw herself in a mirror or tried talking to one of those girls, she’d be overcome by an intense feeling of inadequacy. It felt like if a voice in her head were telling her that she wasn’t good enough to be like them.
“I was really insecure at the time, and constantly beat myself up about it,” says Tesa, who is now 23. “I thought of myself as being too chubby and nerdy to hang out with the cool kids, and felt like no one really liked me because of that.”
Even toward the end of middle school, after she had made a couple of close friends, Tesa remembers looking up at the more popular girls at her school during recess or PE class, and getting mad at herself for not being as pretty or skinny as them.
These insecurities plagued her for years, until a chance genetic occurrence changed the way Tesa saw herself.
I’m sharing my story to let people know that there’s a life outside of their eating disorder.
“In Grade 9 I hit this incredible growth spurt and grew three inches in six months. As I got taller, I lost some weight and in turn, felt better about myself,” she says.
Riding her newfound confidence, Tesa decided to try out for the cheerleading squad that year – something she never would have imagined doing before – and actually got in. She was given a position as a flyer, and overnight, her life seemed to have gotten on track: not only did she now look like the girls she had always admired; she had become friends with them too.
Anyone looking from the outside would have said that Tesa’s dreams were finally becoming a reality, but deep within her, something was still very off.
“Even though I was on the cheerleading squad and had started making friends with more popular people, I wasn’t really enjoying it,” she says. “I started telling myself that all of the good things that were happening in my life were a result of getting skinny, and convinced myself that I’d lose them all if I gained any weight.”
Over the next couple of years, this fear would become an obsession. With time, it would push Tesa towards developing an eating disorder, which would completely transform her life.
“I loved fitting in so much that I decided I would do anything to make sure people liked me, even if it really hurt me,” she says.
TO SAY THAT SOCIAL PRESSURES were the only thing that pushed Tesa down the path of eating disorders is a bit of an oversimplification. Like all mental health challenges, eating disorders develop for multiple reasons and over an extended period of time, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact reason or moment when they start.
In Tesa’s case, a number of things could have also pushed her down the path of eating disorders. For example, when she was 11 the death of a cousin – someone she saw as an older brother – shocked her to the core, and left her scrambling to find some degree of control over her life.
“After his death, it seemed like everything was spiraling out of control, and being meticulous about what went into my body became a way to regain some of that control,” she says.
By the time Tesa was in Grade 11, this need to regain control merged with her need to fit in, creating a dangerous combination. That year, Tesa began developing the early signs of an eating disorder.
“In those early days it was all about limiting my options,” Tesa says. “I wasn’t doing it on purpose, but as I look back I think I was limiting my options so I could get away with eating less food.”
While her original goal was to maintain her weight in order to keep her friends and regain control of her life, by the time she was in Grade 12, the exact opposite was happening. Tesa was barely eating and had developed anorexia, an eating disorder that affects thousands of Canadians every year. She also felt more lonely than ever, and had completely lost the control she had set out to gain.
“Rather than giving me control over my life, my eating disorder had come to completely control me. I literally couldn’t stop it, even if somebody gave me a million dollars. It was as if there was a voice in my head other than my own, which said mean things to me, things I would never dream of saying to anyone else, and I could never shut those voices off.”
OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS, Tesa continued falling deeper and deeper into her eating disorder. As time passed, the anorexia gave way to bulimia, and Tesa fell into a deep depression. Although people around her reached out to give her a helping hand, she wasn’t ready to accept it.
In January of 2016, when Tesa was 20, things hit an all time low. By then, Tesa’s life completely revolved around her eating disorder, and she had begun wondering whether or not a life like that was worth living.
“I ended up at the hospital for a week, and for the first time I took a good look at my life and said: I have depression, I have an eating disorder, I am miserable and I want help,” she says. “Just saying that out loud was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and my family, who was always there to help, immediately jumped in and began looking at options to get my recovery going.”
With financial help from her grandparents, Tesa ended up flying to Brandon, Manitoba, where she spent a month at a treatment centre. There she got help changing her habits and learning how to deal with her disorder. She also met a group of incredible people who were going through the exact same challenges she was, and gained new tools to help her deal with the disorder.
“Going to that program gave me my life back. Before going, I thought there was no future for me. That’s why I tell my grandparents all the time that they literally saved my life by helping me go there,” she says. “I don’t know where I’d be, if I hadn’t ended up there.”
TWO YEARS AFTER GOING INTO RECOVERY, Tesa is a changed woman. Although she still needs to actively work to stop negative thoughts from creeping into her mind, she’s in a much better place now: for the first time in years, she’s actually happy, and is devoted to making the most of the second chance that life has given her.
That’s why she’s pursuing the dreams she had put on the back burner for so many years, like working as a flight attendant for her dream airline and studying to be a journalist. On top of that, she also runs Recovery Is A Rollercoaster, an award-winning blog that documents her journey through recovery and inspires young people to overcome eating disorders and deal with mental health challenges.
“I’m sharing my story to let people know that there’s a life outside of their eating disorder. When I was in my eating disorder I never thought that was possible. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever be able to eat a proper meal again or be happy. But it’s possible! Things do get better, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.
The reception she’s been getting to her blog has been great. Almost every day she’ll receive a message asking for help or thanking her for sharing her story. That’s why Tesa highlights that even if she could, she wouldn’t take her experience back, saying that it has made her stronger and has allowed her to see what is truly important in life: happiness, family and self-love.
“I can’t change anything that has happened to me, so instead I focus on seeing all the positive things that have come from it,” she says. “That’s why I’m using this second chance that life has given me to try to help myself and help others be healthier and happier.”
This story is part of a series aimed at sharing the experiences of young people across BC. As part of Foundry’s goal to work alongside young people, create connections and promote mental health and wellness, we are creating a platform for young people’s stories to be heard.
Article by Peter Mothe. Photography by Connor McCracken.
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