Sara Mehle SpeaksUp
My name is Sara; I am a survivor. I kept living.
July 4th, 2016. That was, and always will be, the absolute darkest day of my 29 years here on this planet. That was the day that my battle with depression, anorexia, anxiety, complex PTSD, and a dependence on anxiety/ADHD prescriptions almost ended my story after an intentional overdose. I, Sara, am a suicide attempt survivor. Thanks to a friend who made multiple lifesaving phone calls to the Richmond Police Department, I was found unconscious and rescued by EMTs. Against all odds, my weak and malnourished body pulled through after three days in a coma at MCV. I know that I am one of the lucky ones who is able to share my story in hopes of helping at least one soul that is silently suffering from anything that makes them feel less than enough. You are enough. You are worthy.
I was a 28 year old VCU grad with an impressive professional career in the financial world, my own house, an awesome black cat, a loving family and supportive circle of friends and sorority sisters. How could someone like me be struggling? And depressed?! From the outside, I had it all.
But over the past year, I felt like I had nothing – I was an empty shell of my former, bubbly self. I’ve struggled with depression off and on for the majority of my life but this was different. Each day, I woke up praying that I wouldn’t cry. It got more intense and unbearable and I became numb. I was secretly battling some of the darkest demons I’ve ever faced. I was living with severe depression and anorexia. It absolutely consumed me. As my anxiety and depression got worse, I coped by restricting my food intake, which in turn further fueled my depression and anxiety. To make matters worse, I was prescribed a cocktail of anti-anxiety medications and Adderall, which allowed me to fall deeper into my eating disorder while still being able to function “normally”. As my weight started to drop, I was first met with compliments. “You look awesome!” These compliments quickly turned into concern. Coworkers, Barre instructors, and family members began asking me what was going on. I was in complete denial that I had any sort of problem. Who wants to admit they struggle with multiple invisible illnesses? I felt that no one could, or ever would, understand me. I was terrified of admitting I had a problem because that meant I would need to face reality and make changes, which I was not willing to do at the time. I did not want to let go of my eating disorder or my prescriptions - I had convinced myself that I needed those things in my life to be a good, functional person. I needed them to be enough. I denied myself of all help that was offered. I was determined to fight it all alone.
But denying myself of help meant denying myself of a fulfilled life and of a future. On July 4, 2016, I could no longer handle it all on my own anymore. I don’t have a lot of memories from that day – just that I was in a tortured, dark, sad, isolated state. I did something I never thought I would ever, ever do. I attempted to take my own life. I even left a note for my family. I woke up at MCV three days later surrounded by my devastated, yet elated, family and friends. Those next few days were no doubt the most confusing, emotional days for both myself and for my family. After a week on the psych floor at MCV, I was released from the hospital – officially diagnosed with anorexia and depression. I remember lying in my hospital bed right before walking out and finally accepting the fact that I needed professional help to live.
I took a short term leave of absence from work and immediately was admitted to the Center for Discovery in Alexandria, Virginia. Center for Discovery is a residential treatment center for eating disorders. Stepping away from my life was one of the scariest, most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to do. I had all of my freedom taken away – no phone, no TV, a strict bed time, a wake up time, six scheduled meals a day, and a LOT of house rules. However, even with all of the rules, I made the best of it. I formed great bonds with other women in the house and finally started to feel myself again - I could smile, I could laugh. I finally felt understood. After five weeks of full-time, live-in treatment, I returned to Richmond and was admitted to Veritas Collaborative for their Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for another five weeks. This treatment was nine hours a day, including Saturdays. Treatment was my life. In September, I returned to work full-time and continued my treatment at Veritas Collaborative – this time at night in their Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). I attended IOP for about five weeks and was recently discharged to my (amazing) outpatient team. I am so thankful for every professional I’ve encountered over the past five months in each phase of my treatment. You all saved my life.
Although I will never be able to pinpoint what exactly triggered my anorexia, severe depression and anxiety, I have an awareness of things that have had a negative impact on my life and factored into my overall state. I was overprescribed Adderall, Klonopin, and Ativan for the past two years for anxiety and ADHD. On top of that, I had a string of extremely toxic and detrimental relationships that progressively got worse over the past few years. I’ve also had my fair share of tragic and traumatic events throughout my lifetime, including the deaths of my two best friends from high school. I spent the majority of my life taking care of everyone else around me and not taking care of myself.
I am happy to report that today, just five months since my near-fatal overdose, I am back on my own two feet. I am weight restored, I am back at work full time, and I laugh a lot. I have learned so many new coping skills and have a new appreciation for life. I am on appropriate medications. I surround myself with new and old friends who continue to build me up and support me through the good and the bad. I have learned that self-care is the best thing in the world. I have a new awesome psychiatrist who actually gets me. Although I still struggle with my eating disorder on a daily basis, the good moments now outweigh the bad and I am determined to push through. I am no longer empty. I have learned that recovery is possible. I have learned that emotional abuse is abuse and should never, ever be tolerated. I have learned that people need people. I have learned that it is okay to put yourself first and it is okay to take the necessary time to heal. I have learned that not everyone will be able to support you, but those who do will continue to surprise you. I have learned that recovery is NOT linear, nor does it happen overnight. I have learned that life is worth living. I have learned that food is not the enemy and, most importantly, I have learned that I am, and always will be, enough.
I wouldn’t have come this far without professional help. I’ve learned that it is okay to ask for help. I can say without a doubt in my mind that I would not be here today if I did not work with professionals. I have learned that connection heals and that more people experience mental illness in one shape or form than we think – we just need to talk about it openly without shame or judgment.
It is my hope that by sharing my story of survival, recovery and determination, I can do my part to break the stigma against suicide, anorexia, emotional trauma, depression, and anxiety. I hope that can I inspire others to reach out for help before they hit rock bottom. I hope that if you’re reading this and you have hit rock bottom, you know that you are never alone and that your life is FAR from over – it is just beginning! Surviving a suicide attempt is a very raw, scary, isolating event that should be taken very seriously. I learned the hard way that there are not enough resources available for survivors and their families which is why I have such an admiration for the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation and the work that they do. I wish I could have met Cameron - she was so wise beyond her years and I am still in awe of her strength. I wear my “I will hold on” necklace often and think of her story regularly. I am thankful for this opportunity to speak out and share my story. Never, ever forget that you are enough.