HI! My name is Brooke Lynne Taylor, so yes, my initials are BLT. Hahaha. It is one of my favorite things about myself.
I have struggled with various mental health challenges for a good chunk of my life. One of the earliest experiences I remember having with anxiety was walking home from school one day when I was younger and thinking about scary things and eventually thinking so much that I would have little panic attacks that were so scary for little me to experience. Luckily, I would come home and cry to my mom and feel better after we talked for a little bit. She is an angel in my life.
My younger years, elementary school, and junior high were pretty average and relatively “normal”. Once in high school, I started to become more aware of my body and the changes that were happening to it. But mostly, I was pretty self-conscious and would compare myself to other girls in school daily. I always wanted something about me to look different. I was never satisfied.
This led me to wanting to diet. Because that is what I had heard about growing up, and I thought that was the way that I was going to achieve my “ideal” body type and weight. I came to my mom with this idea when I was a junior in high school, and she supported it fully. To no fault of her own, she had talked about her body and diets quite often growing up, and not always in a positive way.
Throughout high school I was a yo-yo dieter and compulsive exerciser. I felt guilty around almost every type of food, especially when I ate what I deemed to be “too much” of anything. Fast forward to freshman year in college at BYU. I was in a college down with girls way older than me all over campus dressed to the nines. Sheesh, the place felt like a fashion show. I went from my small town of Smithfield Utah to Provo where I was no longer the big fish in a small pond. My friends were on missions or back home, and so was my family. It was a transition to say the least.
I started becoming more and more aware of my body and less and less fond of it. The comparison game was in full swing and all I would really think about was my body and food. This sounds really conceited, and for a long time I was afraid to admit that to people. But I know that I was hurting and later I would come to realize that eating disorders are so much more than a physical disorder.
I was preparing to go on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I weighed the lowest I ever had in my young adult life. I was on a strict diet and I tracked my input and output calories on My Fitness Pal rigorously. One of my “food rules” was that I couldn’t eat past 7 pm.
One night, I was visiting my family back at home and they wanted to eat dinner at 9 pm. This stressed me out so bad that I started to cry and explain to my parents why I couldn’t eat past 7 pm. My parents were so confused and to be honest, so was I. That night, I talked to my mom and she helped me realize that I had a problem, and I needed some help. I couldn’t do this by myself!
I started going to individual therapy at BYU through CAPS and was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder that mainly consisted of binging and restricting. Therapy was a game changer and the biggest eye opener for me. I learned then that eating disorders were SO much more than a physical disorder. I had some deeper issues and fears that were beneath this idea of looking “perfect” and pleasing everyone around me. I wanted to be loved and successful and valued. But I was looking in all the wrong places. I learned in therapy that my body is an instrument to help me live the life I want, not an ornament for others to look at. My pattern of restricting and binging slowly but surely started to turn into mindful, regular, and intuitive eating. It was (and still is) a process. But I became much freer than I had been before when I was listening to and living by my “food rules."
My eating disorder wasn’t super present on my mission in Colorado, but once I got home and went back to school at BYU I was bombarded again with comparison and continuous negative thoughts about my body. These thoughts led to behaviors that were unhealthy for my body and mind. The restricting and binging came back full swing, and I would literally plan every day around what I would be eating and how I could stay “on track”.
I attended individual therapy through CAPS again and met a therapist who changed my life. She taught me about diet culture and how it was a bunch of bull crap. She taught me how to honor, respect, and really listen to my body. I attended group therapy and met the most amazing girls who inspired and uplifted me as we sifted through this world of perfectionism, shame, and comparison. They each gave me so much hope. I also met with a dietician regularly who helped me to reshape the way I view food. The things I learned continue to influence my everyday relationship with food and my body in the best possible way. Again, I want to reiterate that negative thoughts still creep in and I am still working on utilizing the skills I developed every day, but I am healing, and it is amazing and worth every step I took to get here.
Once I started to heal from my eating disorder and other disordered eating patterns, some new fears started to enter my mind. I experienced anxiety and anxious thoughts in the past, but these felt different. The thoughts were more intense. They all felt so real and all around just freaking scary. All of this started to happen when I was at BYU around Feb/March of 2020. Covid was on the rise and there was just tension everywhere. I remember talking to some of my co-workers about a girl at BYU who had committed suicide in the Tanner building when I was on my mission. Normally, I would be able to listen to that story and mourn and move on. But this time, my mind was just stuck on that thought.
I would later learn that I was thinking catastrophically. Questions ran through my mind like, “Am I depressed?”, “If I am depressed, then doesn’t that means I could commit suicide?”, “What would happen to my family?”, “Would I go to hell if I did that?”. Yeah, heavy stuff. And trust me, these were not things that I was wanting to think about. They were intrusive thoughts. But for some reason, everything in me felt like I needed to answer these questions and find certainty in order to feel safe and secure. It was so foreign to me, and that is what made the feelings even scarier.
That night, I laid down to go to sleep and was just wide awake and disturbed with all of the thoughts in my head. It was like a switch flipped in my brain and I was a different person. I was constantly on edge. The best way to describe it was just pure fear. I dealt with this intense and debilitating fear for the next 2 months. All while moving home, failing one of my classes, going to the ER because I was afraid of hurting myself (later found out that was the OCD talking), getting prescribed different medications from our family doctor, going to therapy, etc. It was the hardest 2 months of my life.
One day, I was driving in the car with a friend just scrolling through Instagram on my phone (I would do that often to numb the pain and the thoughts) and I came across a post from @obsessivelyeverafter that said something to the effect of, “If you are having scary thoughts that don’t seem to go away and are the opposite of your values… then you may be experiencing OCD.” I found this post so randomly and at the perfect time. I really believe that it was a tender mercy from God, and I am so grateful for that. And I’m grateful for people who are brave enough to be advocates for mental health on social media (specifically OCD). As soon as I read that post, I just knew I had OCD.
It didn’t make sense to me logically because I had only categorized people with OCD as being overly obsessed with organization or cleanliness. But deep down somewhere I knew that this is what I was dealing with. I knew that the therapist I was going to who diagnosed me with generalized anxiety wasn’t helping me to feel better either. I called a friend from high school who had been open with her experience with OCD in the past on her Instagram account (double yay for advocacy and awareness!!). The conversation that I had with her on the phone was insanely healing because I didn’t feel like I was going crazy anymore. She related to so many things that I was experiencing, and she validated the crap out of me! wahooooo! She told me about the OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center and the amazing work that they do to treat people with OCD.
Fast forward a few days- I was at my scheduled intake appointment with TOATC and was officially diagnosed with OCD, specifically Harm OCD at this point. Wow, what a relieving yet scary feeling! I began the intensive outpatient program with the center for 3 hours a day 5 days a week and I did that for 4 whole months. Exposure and Response Prevention therapy was the focus, and it was so hard and so scary sometimes, but it was the best thing for me, and it is absolutely proven to be the best treatment for OCD. It was such a humbling, tiring, and rewarding experience.
ERP and The OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center helped me to become successful in living the life I want to live, despite having been diagnosed with OCD. I am fully equipped to be my own therapist now. I learned so much and I am so grateful. My intrusive thoughts are still loud and frequent at times, but I have learned the skills that have enabled me to approach those thoughts with compassion and nonjudgement. I know that I am not my thoughts. I am my heart. Medication and ERP therapy have enabled me to listen to the “Brooke voice” and not the “OCD voice”. I believe that everyone deserves to learn how to differentiate between the two. And that, my friends, is why I have chosen to be a mental health advocate.
God has put so many people in my path since that experience that have helped me and that I have had the opportunity to serve as well. He has provided “beauty for ashes”. Ever since I opened up about my struggles with mental health (specifically OCD and eating disorder(s) to those around me and on social media, I have been flooded with opportunities to meet and interact with some of the most amazing souls. I have gained empathy in ways I wouldn’t have ever thought possible. Because of all of this, I started a club here at BYU called “Real OCD BYU” where people who have OCD (and people who want to support those with OCD) can come and learn about the mental illness and seek to understand. We provide inspiration, resources, and most importantly- a community. Our motto is “Creating Understanding and Cultivating Hope”.
All of these things that I have experienced have truly shaped me into the person I am today. I am not perfect, but I don’t want to be, because then I would never be able to relate to anyone! Above all, I am healing, and it is difficult and beautiful and complex. I have come to understand human nature and the fact that we are so multifaceted. Joy and pain can exist at the same time. Healing and fear can too. I have found support in accounts like Jiwon’s (@uncoverdesigns), others on social media, and most of all, in other people: those who deal with mental health challenges, and those who seek to support, uplift, and love. I have finally given myself full permission for a “mental rest” as described on my ‘Uncover Designs’ sweatshirt. For me, mental rest means that things do not ever have to be perfect in my life or in my brain in order for me to rest. I find comfort in the rest that I find from my Savior. It is liberating and exciting to think about creating a life that I love surrounded with people that I love. And, for me, that is possible through taking time to rest physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Mental illnesses thrive in secrecy and shame. I know that because I have been there. It is hard to talk about. But I received help when I was open and vulnerable. Baby steps, taking things one day at a time, and living intentionally in the present are some of the things that have helped me the most in my recovery. I want you to know, whoever reads this, that you are valued and loved and needed in every sense of those words. I hope by reading my story, you can find hope. I am here to be someone that you can talk to. I am not a therapist, but I am an open book when it comes to my mental health struggles. The least I can do is be a friend. :) Love you!
Brooke wants to be your friend and support you on your mental health journey. DM her on instagram @brookie_tay for additional support!