• Courtney Phillips

My story of healing – Mariah Harris

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

Since she was a child, Mariah Harris has struggled with mental health conditions and disordered eating stemming from an unhealthy childhood. Since she’s been in recovery for her eating disorder, she stays healthy through working with a therapist, dietician and a doctor. Mariah finds healing with a strong support system with her husband and her fur babies and her advocacy community on her Facebook group Purveyors of Funny, mental health advocacy group that incorporates humor because life is too short and we all need a good laugh.

Learn more about her story of healing below:

Tell me about yourself:

I’m a wife, mom to three fur babies, registered nurse, artist, and eating disorder survivor. I choose to be a mental health advocate, so people can learn from my struggles. Since I was six years old, I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. As I got older my disordered eating became an eating disorder with me finally seeking treatment and am now in recovery. As a nurse, I also struggle with PTSD and have fibromyalgia.

My story:

Frito chili pie, cinnamon roll, and corn was my favorite meal in the cafeteria as a six-year-old. I decided to get seconds, but when I went home was told not to do that again because I shouldn’t eat that much. From then on, I was paranoid about how much I ate. I already was a cheerleader and beginning to compare my body to others to see what I “needed” to look like. As years passed, I ended up with an eating disorder. Being called “fat” by my mom, bullied by a group of boys, and ridiculed by fellow pom-pom girls my anxiety and depression sunk me into a dark hole. But I never stopped trying to overcome my struggles.

After graduating from nursing school, I became an intensive care nurse. Lunches often were missed from crazy days with no breaks. Then I was planning my wedding and feeling as though I had to look “perfect” on my wedding day. My eating disorder became my life. Shortly after I got married, I sought treatment. Since then, I have remained in recovery but have had many ups and downs. I am still a nurse and specialize in home health. I re-prioritized my health and work on myself, so that I don’t go backwards.

What happened to cause your anguish?

Since those conversations about food happened when I was six, I have struggled with food. That combined with being bullied, sexually assaulted and feeling abandoned by a parent as a child have exacerbated my problems.

Growing up, I always yearned for my mother’s love. But she wasn’t capable of giving me what I needed. She struggled with her own addiction battle with pain killers. Even after she was able to get clean, she dedicated her energy to my sister. Trying to be her manager and help her get acting and singing gigs. I was on the back-burner child.

This led to me seeking attention from boys and controlling my life through food and diets. I had multiple boyfriends in high school but no self-esteem. On top of this, I was bullied severely by both boys and girls. My parents tried to step in were not able to help much, and it continued.

Then, I was sexually assaulted at the age of sixteen. I tried to cope on my own and with a therapist but didn’t have the support necessary at home to really handle these situations.

What was the moment that caused you to realize that you needed to seek care? Before I got married my husband sat me down and shared his concerns with me. For him to do this was a big deal, because he had been deployed for four months and unable to really see how I’d been struggling while he was gone. He expressed his worry with why I barely ate, took so many supplements, freaked out about losing weight, looking perfect and changed diets so frequently. Eating disorders run in my family, and he expressed his concern that I had one. I couldn’t be in denial anymore and really listened to him. After we got married, I found treatment and am now in recovery.

What does your recovery look like? Recovery from an eating disorder sucks. It’s not like you can go cold turkey. Finding a level of moderation and eating intuitively is the ultimate goal. Some days are good and some are bad.

I still follow a generic meal plan, but when things get rough I may use an exchange-based program for my food. I see a therapist, dietitian and doctor regularly to make sure I am not going backwards. Denial is very common in eating disorders, and I want to stay on top of everything. Since treatment, I have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Fibromyalgia. Correlations with the eating disorder are unknown, but I believe there are, as many of my friends have the same issues since treatment. Due to these new health issues, I make sure to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, work on my caffeine intake and do light exercise a few times a week.

I have found solace in meditation and try to practice a few times a week and am working towards doing it daily. As a nurse, it is easy to overwork myself. I switched specialties, so I can focus on recovery and finding balance between work and life.

Where are you now?

Overall, I am doing well. Recovery is a path with many bumps. Thankfully, I have many friends and family who keep me grounded and have only had small setbacks with many major steps forward. When I have a setback, I get my family together including my mom who I am repairing my relationship with my dad and my husband. We come up with a treatment plan and then I see my therapist, dietitian and doctor to make sure everyone is on the same page. During these times I take extra care of myself and monitor my food more closely to make sure I am eating the appropriate amount for my body. Exercising is hard for me, but I do try to get some physical activity which helps with my depression. I love extra hard on my dogs and husband and rely on them more now than before. They keep me grounded and get me where I’m headed.

One piece of advice you would give someone in a situation like yours trying to decide whether or not to seek care:

What do you have to lose but your life? If you are debating on seeking help make a pros and cons list. I was terrified seeking treatment but ultimately decided I had to if I want to start a new life with my husband. Decide what you have to live for and keep that your main focus and goal. I’m not saying this is easy, it isn’t but it is worth it.

Mental Health Resources If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, don’t suffer in silence! There are free and affordable resources to help you get through these times. Here are just few options for you below:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255): Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential, toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. 

  • National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) offers peer-to-peer support groups in most locations. This in-person group experience provides the opportunity for mutual support and positive impact. You can experience compassion and reinforcement from people who relate to your experiences.

  • Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying practitioners and assistance in finding low cost health services. These include:

  • Health Resources and Services Administration works to improve access to health care. The website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.

  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for its programs and how to enroll.

  • The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website also has lists of directories and organizations that can help in identifying a health practitioner.

  • Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to help answer questions about insurance coverage for mental health care.

  • Service members and Veterans have unique needs. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans provides for their specific needs.

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