It was a Monday in early January when I decided I'd had enough. I'd had enough of how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin and the constant stress over my weight. I'd had enough of my five-year struggle with anorexia, depression and the scars on my skin from cutting myself since I was 12. I didn't want to spend another day trapped in an eating disorder, and suicide seemed like my escape. As uncontrollable tears ran down my cheeks, I swallowed as many pills as I could. I remember thinking to myself, if I wake up after this, I'll take more. I was 17 when I attempted to take my own life.
I always had a loving family, went to a great school with awesome friends and amazing teachers. I was never bullied or abused. However, I developed a fierce perfectionism as a child, which I channeled inwards. I didn't stand a chance of living up to my own expectations and nothing I did could shake the lingering feeling of failure.
It seems strange to think this began at eight-years-old -- that a child that young could be stressed over how they look and what they eat. In my messy child-like handwriting I wrote down that I hated wearing mini skirts because they showed off my fat legs. By the time I was 14 I wrote my weight down every day, with grueling comments next to each number. One day I wrote, "Maybe I should become anorexic." I wrote it as a joke; little did I know it would end up consuming me.
Slowly, anorexia took hold of me, I lost my period for two or three months. I was cold and shaking constantly, my fingernails turned purple, even my hair began to fall out. But it didn't feel like enough. I was 12-years-old the first time I self-harmed. Most 12-year-olds are enjoying their innocence, worrying more about when they'll be finished with their homework so they can text their friends. I on the other hand was trying to cope with the overwhelming stress I felt about my image.
Back to that day in January. It was 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday when I woke up. I threw up immediately and continued to do so every half hour into the afternoon. After a trip to the hospital, I was referred to a local clinic as an emergency patient. Nurses came to my house every day from then on and I underwent intense treatment.
The coming weeks and months were hard. It was physically and emotionally draining for my entire family. I felt hopeless, pathetic, weak, and so irreparably broken -- but, I was finally getting the help I so desperately needed. During my treatment, my mum stayed home from work and was able to help me every step of the way, my Dad stepping in whenever he could. They would sit and eat with me six times a day, with doctors and nurses checking in to give her a break.
I finally realized I was given another chance at life. I had a reason to live, and I was so grateful.
After I had attempted suicide, my Dad wrote me a letter, he was completely torn up about it and it was the easiest way for him to communicate. He wrote that maybe one day some good could come of my inner struggle, and I could help others going through something similar. That's why, two and a half years later, I found myself sitting in front of a camera, preparing to tell the world my story as part of MTV's "Life Continued: Defeating Depression." I want some good to come from my pain, and I want other young people who are going through this to know that they're not alone. To know that things can get better.
I don't think my story is unique to anyone else's, but that's exactly why it needs to be heard. Even my parents struggled trying to understand what I was going through, and though I am not completely free -- I have made unbelievable progress. I've worked really hard to release the constricting clench my illness had on my mind, body and soul, and I will continue on this path of recovery.
I will never know what goes on in the minds of others battling a mental illness, but one thing is for certain: we are battling it together. And, you don't have to hit rock bottom before you get help -- don't be afraid to fight for the help you need. We all need to tell our stories so that we can be louder than the pain of mental illness. Too many people struggle in silence out of fear of the social stigma surrounding mental health, and every story we tell helps break this down a little more.
Sarah Virginia Sparkes is a 20-year-old Salem College student who is sharing her story in MTV's "Life Continued: Defeating Depression" airing today, October 10 at 7 p.m. ET.