To protect our interviewee’s privacy, we are not using her real name.
Let’ s call her Erika. Erika was born and raised in Germany. She came to Florida in 2005, right out of college.
It was supposed to be a temporary adventure for her, but 11 years have passed and she is still here.
Erika was extremely lucky: After her temporary visa had expired, she won her permanent US residency in a lottery.
I was curious how and why she came to the USA. She has also had and has some obstacles in life that are hard to deal with anyone.
Let Erika tell us in her own words why.
“People wonder why I live here by myself, when all my family is in Germany. The truth is, I kind of ran away; not from my country, not from the climate, not from the people, but from my past. I had a good childhood. I grew up in a conservative middle-class family, in a small quiet town. My childhood was very strict and performance-driven. My parents wanted me and my brothers to be successful. They meant well. I still consider them great parents that I am fortunate to have in my life. I was raised to be ambitious and competitive. I was the best at everything: school, gymnastics, tennis, playing music, you name it. I was the perfect child, growing up in a seemingly perfect family. I wanted to make my parents proud and I wanted to feel loved, and it seemed the only way to achieve that, was to excel!”
At this point I am wondering wow – why did she ever leave if life was this wonderful. Well, let’s find out.
Erika says “Things took a turn when I became a teenager. I became very shy to a point where I would freeze up in social settings. I became the outcast, known as ‘the quiet one’. I felt like people were not even noticing me.”
“At age 14 I decided that I was overweight (which I wasn’t even close to!), so I started dieting and exercising. I isolated myself, and my main focus was weight loss and food. Food was on my mind 24/7. I was caught in a vicious cycle called Anorexia Nervosa, or as I call it, the slow suicide. As the weight loss progressed, my euphoria about my weight loss soon turned into a major depression. I lost all my energy and stopped being active. I started losing my hair. My menstrual cycle stopped. I was exhausted, yet restless. I slept an average of 2 hours per night. I was constantly freezing. Sometimes my fingertips would turn blue.”
I guesses what happened next – and I am sure you do too.
Erika was sent to a psychologist. The psychologist accused her of being a rebel and ruining the family. So did her parents.
Erika lost even more weight, got more depressed. She was put on hormone medication to keep her reproductive organs from shrinking, and then her gynecologist referred her to a different psychologist.
Erika told me “I was in therapy with him for 8 years. He saved my life! He helped me find my own identity. He taught me that I am lovable for who I am, and not for the things I accomplish, tournaments I win, or grades I achieve.”
However, what happened when she was 18 and finally recovering, I would never ever have guessed. Erika found out that her dad had been cheating on her mom…. for 18 years! He started having affairs when Erika’s mom was pregnant with her. He didn’t want that third child. Erika. Erika says “My world fell apart. All this time I had been made the culprit for our family dysfunction. And now it turns out that my dad, my superhero, is living a double life. We kicked him out of the house but he moved back in after a week. This was when my restless journey began; I moved out of my parents’ house. First to the next village, then to the next city, then to the neighboring country, and finally to the US… where I found my home.”
Many people don’t realize how serious an eating disorder can be. Anorexia is not just an obsession with weight loss. It is a serious, complex mental illness that, in some cases, ends in death. Therapy is the only way out.
Erika says ” I am extremely lucky that I received the help I needed in order to survive. If you know someone with an eating disorder or other mental illness, please do not judge them. Becoming anorexic is not a choice or a lifestyle. Mental illness is not something you can ‘snap out of’. I never had a relapse into the anorexia, and am probably happier with my body than many ‘normal’ women.”
Things are not perfect though. Erika still carries a feeling of emptiness inside of her and still has not figured out a way to fill this void. Loving herself is still a challenge and though she has made progress, she still tends to depend on external validation. She has problems controlling her emotions, and she admits losing some friends due to her inability to hold back her feelings. During the anorexia years, she had no emotions, Erika was numb to everything.
She told me “Once I learned to allow emotions, I kind of fell into the other extreme, where they sometimes completely overwhelm me. This year, after a few challenging situations, I sought some help from a psychologist, and I was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. After everything I thought I had accomplished, it felt like a slap in the face to be diagnosed with yet another mental disorder. But I have accepted it and am determined to fix myself.”
I was relieved when Erika said she is happy with her life in Key Largo (Florida).
She likes visiting Germany, but she is always excited to come back to Florida. It has become her happy place, far away from the memories of her teenage years…
I wanted to share her story.
Why? There are so many people who have issues with their mental health or issues that are thought to be mental issues but in fact are related to physical health. It is so much more common that people think.
Thanks for sharing your story with us. We hope you remain in the “happy place” and find a good support network.