Hi, I’m Laura Susanne Yochelson. I grew up in the Washington, DC metro area and San Diego, California. I’m 30 now. In the spring of 2019, I completed my master’s degree in health promotion management through American University.
I’m here to share about some mental health challenges that I’ve had and discuss a difficult topic people often keep quiet about. I personally think everyone would be better off if they were brave enough to talk about these difficult topics. In the past, I didn’t want people to know about my diagnosed mental illness.
At around 13 years old, I became obsessed with food and with my body. I didn’t know how to communicate that I needed help. I didn’t feel safe talking about my problems, so I kept to myself. I was scared of my emotions and didn’t understand them.
It felt like the end of the world when I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. (As a reminder, anorexia nervosa or anorexia, is when you restrict what you eat, over-exercise, and get to a dangerously low weight.) I worried a lot about what my friends, coaches, and teachers thought about me. I initially couldn’t accept my diagnosis because I was ashamed. I didn’t like being labeled and felt like just another number.
Anorexia didn’t prevent me from doing well in school but it kept me very isolated. During high school I stayed alone at lunch. I went to college yet never really succeeded in making friends or supporting myself. By my mid-20s things got worse instead of better, and I was diagnosed with psychosis.
For a long time, I couldn’t accept my problem. My family sent me to different doctors and therapists but nothing worked. After college, I wrote a book blaming my family and friends for my eating disorder. In my mid-20s, I lost touch with reality and had several unsuccessful hospitalizations. My family endured a lot but kept trying. Through a series of e-mails and phone calls to the police, I lashed out at many of the people I knew and blamed important people in my life.
It was life-changing when we found a treatment plan that worked in my late 20s, which brought me to South Florida. I resented the treatment at first but learned coping skills and gained self-awareness that I was sick. I didn’t want things to stay that way and began appreciating my family. Unlike prior experiences, this plan didn’t focus on micromanaging food or exercise. (I was able to make my own choices.) Rather, it focused on freeing me of my insecurities and helping me think clearly. I was lucky because my family visited me in South Florida from Bethesda, Maryland. They always talked to me and never gave up hope. Part of my recovery was about making amends with old friends. We write to each other today and keep in touch through social media. Some I see in person.
I was an advocate in my recovery through writing my story and studying health. I never gave up on believing in myself or my ability to be well. That was conveyed through my positive attitude in working with the treatment team.
Today, it’s important to follow my wellness plan. I meet with a therapist, and check-in with my psychiatrist. I’m always talking things through with my parents to prepare. I’m on medication, something I resisted for many years. I’ve learned to trust my doctor and let go of needing all the control. Sharing my story, such as in words and through speaking, is an important coping skill that I’ve developed. My dad coaches me and my family is very supportive.
For me, having courage means actively drawing on my own recovery experience with eating and mental health issues to help others. I’ve been featured in the blog for National Alliance on Mental Illness and other recognized outlets like the American University Eagle (my college newspaper) and Active Minds. I find balance between working independently (like writing) and making connections (like speaking) on a daily basis. My hope and dream for myself is to continue on the path of teaching and supporting others. I would like to be a leader in the field of recovery and help others feel less alone in their struggles.
About Laura Susanne Yochelson: Laura is a summa cum laude graduate of American University and recently received a Master of Science in health promotion management. She has written about her recovery experience in the blogs of Active Minds, NAMI and The AU Eagle. She is an ambassador for the BEE Daring Foundation.