Hi there! My name is Sophie. I was an intern at Project helping this past summer. As an intern, I got a front row seat to the impact that Project Helping makes on the community. I knew from the start that I would be helping others improve their mental wellness through kyndfulness and volunteering. I never expected that this experience would have such a profound impact on my own mental wellness.
A Little About Me
I have struggled with mental health challenges for most of my life. I first started experiencing symptoms of depression in high school, but it went unnoticed because my grades remained good. Even while I felt like I was drowning, I was able to stay on top of work, school, and extracurriculars. Sometime around the middle of my freshman year, I started engaging in self-harm behaviors and restrictive eating habits. This spiraled into full-blown anorexia, which I’m still managing to this day. Because I was able to function normally, no one would have guessed that I was cutting and starving myself. Fearing that people would think I was crazy or that I would be locked up, I never reached out for help.
Recovery: The Road is Long
Things began to improve when I went to college. I joined the rowing team and gradually became more comfortable with my body. I stopped cutting and began to develop more healthy eating habits. But the thing about eating disorders is that they are nasty, little beasts. Just when you think that you’ll be okay, that gnawing little voice in the back of your head returns.
I continued to struggle with maintaining healthy eating habits through my sophomore year of college. This became a challenge when I transitioned to being a coxswain on the team. For those who don’t know much about rowing, the coxswain is a small person who steers the boat and gives the rowers instructions through a microphone. The ideal weight for coxswains is 110 lbs; while this isn’t an enforced weight limit, it became a fixture in my mind. I believed that if I was to be a successful coxswain, I had to be under 110 lbs.
The Project Helping Effect
When I started my internship at Project Helping, I was still struggling to manage my depression and eating behaviors. For the most part, I was okay but the desire to self-harm and purge still lingered in my mind. As an intern, I wrote for this blog and led events. As I started to delve into different mental health topics for this blog, I became more comfortable with my own mental health challenges. Suddenly, I wasn’t ashamed of what I was dealing with. Through researching and writing posts, I began to develop some good coping mechanisms for myself. For example, when I feel like hurting myself, I would draw on my leg instead. When I felt my depression starting to get bad—something I referred to as “my brain doing backflips”—I would go on a hike and practice more self care.
Volunesia: The moment you forget you’re volunteering to change lives because it’s changing yours
The challenges I faced as someone in recovery from an eating disorder remained. The problem with EDs is that there is a body type associated with it; I don’t look skeletal thin, which makes people doubt that I really have a eating disorder. I have no problem talking openly about my depression and self harm, but my ED remained a dark secret.
One of the volunteer events that I led multiple times was The Gathering Place, where we cooked breakfast for women and transwomen at the shelter. I often found myself on pancake flipping duty. Something about making lots of food for others made the idea of food seem less stressful. It’s hard to explain to someone else how food could be a source of stress, but it was for me. At the end of one volunteer event at The Gathering Place, I was washing dishes with another volunteer. It just came tumbling out of my mouth: “you know, this is the least stressed that I’ve ever been around food.” Instead of thinking I was crazy, he turned to me, agreed, and told me that he was also in recovery from an eating disorder. I’d never hear anyone else say that out load before. We quickly bonded over what did and did not work for us; we agreed that food journals are absolutely useless and just cause more stress.
Do Good, Feel Good
Leading Project Helping events quickly became a great way for me to manage my depression. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone in managing mental health challenges. At events like Treasure House of Hope, me and the other volunteers talked extensively about our own mental health. That was the second time that I ever said out loud that I was in recover from an eating disorder. This admission was greeted with a big hug and assurances that they would pray for me to get the strength I need. When I left that event, I felt like I could handle this for the first time in a long time.
Recovery is never done. I’m going back to college for my junior year with the same mental health challenges, but also with new ways to handle them. Interning at Project Helping has really helped me accept my mental health challenges. I come out of it with new coping mechanisms and a much healthier attitude towards it. The road is long, but I feel more equipped to handle it than I ever have before.
Huge thank you to everyone at Project Helping and all the amazing volunteers I was lucky enough to meet along the way. If you want to improve your mental health and feel awesome, click Here to find your next volunteer event. Keep an eye out for my next post, My Top 5 Places to Volunteer.