A Women’s LEAD Community Contribution
“Life is a journey filled with ups and downs, easier days and more challenging days. With an ever-changing and evolving world filled with heightened stress, social media, trauma, and comparison, many people become desperate to find something to mute or numb the pain. For me, I numbed these feelings with an eating disorder. My healing journey has been messy and challenging; however, finding my way and my self—my true authentic self—has been worth it.
While the struggle of finding yourself can feel deeply personal and confusing, self-discovery is something we all go through. Life can be challenging and messy for all of us; sometimes, it can feel like change is nearly impossible. However, whenever things feel like they are too much or too overwhelming, I remind myself that while much of life and its circumstances are outside my control, I have control over my decision to keep trying.
Many of the obstacles I faced in my life could have stopped me, and at times they almost did. My life was a revolving door for ten years — in and out of hospitals living with a life-threatening eating disorder. My physical body, mental state, career opportunities, relationships, and finances were all impacted or put on the back burner because of my health.
I’ll never forget the drive home with my dad, returning from my last admission to the hospital, seeing fear, doubt, and fatigue in his eyes. Seeing how much my struggles were hurting him impacted me this time – the emotions I saw on his face and body fueled my desire to make a significant and uncomfortable change and re-create a life worth living on my terms. I knew I was at a crossroads and needed to decide: Would I go back to what I knew? Or would I go forward and fight for a life I truly wanted? Here is where the first shift happened. From now on, every choice I made would be one that I made for myself, not for others; I would figure out what it was in life that I wanted and what it was that I needed to get there.
It’s likely that you know someone who has struggled with mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, substance use, and eating disorders are all struggles that many deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s also likely that you or someone close to you has experienced some of these challenges.
Being a human in today’s society is hard; being a woman or young girl in today’s world comes with a lot more pressure than before. Research published by the American Psychiatric Association found that women are more likely to have a major depressive episode in their lifetime. In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that three times the number of women will suffer from anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives compared to men.
There is no “one reason or cause” that leads to an eating disorder. Genetic predisposition, diet-culture pervasiveness, trauma, and the rise of social media and body-altering apps make women feel pressured, less confident, and more insecure. There are also certain environmental factors. One of which is the pressure of being young and a woman, trying to find your place in a world that’s traditionally dominated by men.
As a woman, I was raised and coached to be polite, smile, cooperate, nod my head, and always say yes. As a result, it was easy to internalize my stubbornness as negative rather than as something that could be a strength.
By learning to embrace my stubbornness and strength, I began to shift the way I saw myself and showed up with more confidence. I made small changes that worked for me, even if others were noticeably frustrated with my slow pace to change. I re-evaluated friendships and chose people to surround myself with that filled me up, cheered me on, and would be patient with me as I navigated through the messy journey of healing.
On my healing journey, a thought arose: “Does what I am doing or what I am studying bring me joy? Who am I doing this for? For me or someone else?” I started exploring my values and asking myself more challenging questions about why I was doing what I was doing. This process was emotional and painful; it was also incredibly liberating.
After some time dedicated to focusing on my health, I began exploring what was next for me. I soon after discovered an organization called Foundry BC. The more I learned about their work, the more I knew I wanted to get involved.
Foundry offers free counselling, physical and sexual healthcare, substance use services, peer support, employment services, and Indigenous wellness services in one integrated services location or virtual space. This allows young people ages 12-24 across BC to receive wrap-around low-barrier care, wherever they are on their individual wellness journey.
Foundry’s mission resonated with me and ultimately helped me better myself by furthering my education and pursuing volunteerism. I studied Organizational Leadership and Coaching at UBC and earned my Mental Health First Aid Certification and International Coaching Federation badge. I also spend time volunteering as a council member for the Patient and Family Advisory at the Provincial Adult Tertiary Eating Disorders Program and the Looking Glass Foundation. This non-profit organization provides a variety of accessible programs and services to community members struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating.
Taking control of my life, and my finances
There were times that I felt hopeless about my financial situation and never saw a way out. I would read stories about people who went from “nothing to everything” or the CEOs that never finished high school. It took me a while to foster trust in myself, but when I did, doors started opening. Finally, I believed that I could and would find my way forward — a journey I’m still on and one that will be an ongoing process.
I believe that many women struggle to talk about finances due to shame, lack of understanding, or past/present personal money issues. I firmly believe that women can change their lives for the better by thinking big, while also achieving financial security that is meaningful to them, whether through exploring new skills, finding their voice, obtaining further schooling, or finding a job in another field. It is essential that we know that change is always possible, regardless of how challenging or uncomfortable it feels.
Thinking back on what I wish I knew…
Women need financial education to manage their money better and make decisions that are in their best interests. Here are some questions and prompts that I often ask myself and can help you begin taking control of your finances:
- What do you have beyond money? Focus on what else you have. What are your strengths? What are you curious about? What lights you up and brings you joy? What are you passionate about? What would success look like to you?
- What small goals can you set? Start to follow those paths, set small goals, ask as many questions as possible, and talk to people.
- How can money be a tool? Don’t set money as a goal on your list; think of it as one to help you open doors.
- What are your long-term goals? Saving is great, but investing can help you realize your long-term potential.
- It’s never too late to start. Whether you are in your teens, 30s, 50s or older, it’s never too late.
Remember, if you feel like you have lost hope, think about all the challenging experiences you have gone through or are going through. You’re still here, surviving them. It might not feel like ‘success,’ but the reality is each day you are still here is a success; each day you wake up is a sign that you fought through another day. So let that be the starting fuel for your next step, chapter, and future. There is so much out there that you have no idea you can accomplish.
Over the last three years, I have had multiple slips, immense frustration, dark days of hopelessness, and tears — oh goodness, I cried a lot. And sometimes I still have those days. But each time they happen, my steadfastness reminds me of my why: choosing life and being the leader of the life I imagined.
I am in the happiest and healthiest place I’ve been in years. I’m living, not just surviving. And while I’m still on this journey, I finally feel like I’m in a space where I feel proud. I stand here in a place that many people in my life thought I’d never make it to, or even one that I at times thought might not be possible. Seeing where my life is now, I can only imagine what will come.
If 25-year-old me looked at where I am now, she wouldn’t believe the progress I’ve made. I believed in myself enough to find my way back into the workforce, advocate for my lived experience as a strength, and continue to move forward in my career. Twenty-five-year-old me had little conviction and self-worth. Three years later, I finally feel more confident in all aspects of my life, knowing my skills, contributions, and offerings benefit not only me but also those I surround myself with.
If you would like to contribute to the Women’s LEAD community, please reach out to Nicole Thompson at [email protected]