See that beautiful girl beaming at you from the picture up there? That’s my best friend Brianna.
I met Brianna when I came to CEDC for the first time. They’d brought me there on a stretcher because of regulations, but I convinced them that I was plenty okay to take the elevator on my own two feet. The two EMS workers, along with my mum, a couple staff members, and I all traipsed down the hall to the room I was going to be living in. I’m sure I looked frightened; I was wearing the hospital pants I’d left Beth Israel in just an hour earlier, and I was terrified by the prospect of yet another treatment center. My two roommates at the time were both in the room; after meeting them, I could tell I would get along very well with one of them (hey Jules ;)), which helped calm me down a little.
A few days later, I’d settled in a little, but I still felt very lonely and sad. Not because the other girls weren’t wonderful, but because I had been isolated for so long that I felt incapable of throwing myself wholly into the community. The younger of my two roommates ended up leaving that day, so for a brief while there was an open bed in our room for three.
That’s where Brianna came in; quite literally, I walked into the room later in the evening and there she was. I’m the most supremely awkward human being ever, so I’m sure I quietly mumbled a hello and waved as I introduced myself (either that, or I smiled way too big and practically shouted… I don’t really have a middle ground). People always give me a very strong impression when I originally meet them; I sensed that she was scared just like I had been, and still was to a degree. But I could also recognize a very strong bright spirit.
Treatment was sort of a blur, to be honest. There’s probably a lot of stuff I’ve blocked out or muted because of all the pain associated with combating an eating disorder and other mental illnesses. It requires every ounce of your fortitude, strength, courage, and faith. Certain things stick out, like making little toys to kick when we felt angry or restless out of stress balls and yarn, reading horoscopes at the table, and cracking backs in the common room when the RCs weren’t there to reprimand us for “crossing personal boundaries”.
One thing sticks out more than all of that, and it sticks out with a brilliant shining light: it’s the bright spirit and the amazing girl who holds it within her.
Eating disorders are inherently very lonely things. I’ll spare you the gory details, because I’m sure I’ve delved into them before, and that’s entirely not the point of this. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to connect with and trust others when the voice in your head screams that it wants to be alone with you. Add some other mental nonsense into the mix, and the awkwardness I already constantly have dialed up just skyrockets.
But here was a girl who was just so genuinely kind, joyful, and accepting. Brianna is this tiny little thing with a smile that damn near touches her ears and a laugh that comes from deep within her soul. Her diminutive size might make someone overlook her at first, but if they have any common sense, they’ll quickly realize that she’s a force to be reckoned with.
Not only does Brianna deal with an eating disorder, but she also deals with other mental and physical handicaps. So many people would be discouraged living in a world where people who don’t fit the status quo are shoved to the side. Especially when you simply don’t, and can’t, relate to the world exactly the same way. And I know she’s been through some horribly painful times. I know she still goes through them every day.
If anyone’s thinking that these struggles are somehow a hindrance to Brianna, though, you’d be so incredibly mistaken that I’d only be able to look at you with the most incredulous face. She dove headfirst into treatment and the community. Meals were clearly so hard for her, but she powered through when she could and did what was necessary when she couldn’t. She was an active and cheery participant in groups with a lot of insight and comfort to offer. And she had such a distinctive Boston accent that sometimes when she said funny or offbeat things, you couldn’t help but laugh, because it was just so contagious (the infamous “MA! I fell on my ass in the middle of Hahvahd Squayah!” will never ever be forgotten) She just gave so fully of herself to the process. You simply couldn’t get angry at or upset with her. It was incredibly plain that she was truly a good person, right to the very core. I can’t count the number of times I saw her comforting someone in distress, or complimenting an RC, or trying to make the best of whatever situation treatment stuck her in. We had this silly thing called “You Go Girl” where whoever the previous night’s nominee was would bestow this tacky princess tiara and wand upon with an explanation as to why they were the most deserving that day. She wore that tiara and held that wand so many times, because it was irrefutable how blasted hard she was working and how wonderful she was to everyone. And every time she handed it off, she always had something so sweet and caring to say.
You don’t meet many people like this in the world, especially not in the one we live in right now.
Whenever someone notices the bracelets I have all over my wrists, they usually say something like, “Wow, you have a lot of bracelets!” and then ask me why I wear all of them. The simple explanation is that they’ve all been given to me by significant people at significant times. So I keep them on, always, to remind myself of where I’ve been and who I’ve met, but also where I’m going and who I’ll meet.
Right smack on my left wrist is this gorgeous turquoise sea glass beaded bracelet Brianna gave to me as her time in residential came to a close. I put it on then, and it’s remained on my wrist every day since. There was no reason for the gifts other than that she cared, and cared so wholeheartedly that she made sure you knew.
She cried the day she left. I cried the day she left. So did everyone else, including a few staff members whose lives she had touched while she was there, too. We exchanged phone numbers, and we text each other very often. Whether it be to reassure or support one another, laugh about something silly, or just talk about what we want from our futures, I’m also so happy to see her name show up on my phone.
Residential wasn’t the last time I saw Brianna. I saw her in partial and IOP, too, which are the next respective steps down from residential. But as was the case for resi, she departed partial before I did as well, because she was just in a different place with her treatment. I didn’t get to see her as often, since partial was only six days a week for about six hours each day. But every morning, she would go around and give everyone a hug and ask how their day had gone yesterday. She was still the exact same ridiculously beautiful person, inside and out. She did the same for everyone at night in IOP. And when it came time to say goodbye to her again, we all cried once more.
I haven’t been able to see her in person since then. I’ve been back in treatment a couple of times for several months now, and I know that she’s been facing her own troubles with these things too. There’s work and school, and then there’s the fact that treatment and recovery always come first, so unless we’re both doing well, the focus has to be on ourselves. Of course we wouldn’t go out of our way to purposely upset the other person with something eating disorder-related, but there’s an inevitability that it might cause more harm than good if it’s too soon.
That’s the same reason why, technically, you’re not supposed to stay in contact with anyone after treatment. Which makes sense; you don’t want to form connections that could be detrimental to either of you, and these relationships will often be very difficult to maintain in the first place given the various places and schedules we all come from.
However, like I said, we’ve stayed in contact. And I am so forever grateful that we have. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t meet someone this completely real and good very often. Sometimes, you only encounter them for the blink of an eye. But Brianna is still in my life, and I have no doubt that she will stay there for the rest of it.
Because that’s how best friends work. There might be distance, there might be struggles, there might be time, there might be circumstances in the way, but your friendship doesn’t break. It bends to accommodate these things, forming a new, stronger pathway in the process.
There is no overstating how unbelievable of a person Brianna is. There just isn’t. Anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to get to know her will tell you the exact same thing. Dealing with an eating disorder is a heavy burden. It plagues you all the time, and it says horrible, cruel things. If it had its way, it would kill you. That’s no easy battle to fight. Neither are the other obstacles she’s had to overcome in her life. But here she is, doing the damn thing, and absolutely kicking it in the ass.
She’s going through some hardships right now; some bumps in the road that are making it very hard to keep moving forward. I have no doubt that she will keep persevering, though. Just like I have no doubt that she will forever and always remain a brilliant, precious, unique, powerful, and beautiful, from the very depths of the inside of her soul, to her huge, kind heart, to the dazzling smile and gorgeous girl the rest of the world sees.
I am so fortunate to have gotten to know more than just that amazing face. I have gotten to know the amazing person behind it. And I am just as sure that the handprints she’s left on my heart won’t ever fade away.
I am so, so lucky to have her in my life. And if you ever are so blessed, thank your lucky stars. Because she’s one of them, come down from the sky to light up your life.
I love you so so so much, Bri. You are my best friend and I love you for forever and a day ❤
By the way, Brianna has a blog she’s just begun, and I know it’s going to be just as fantastic as she is. Please give it a visit at littlegirlbigimpact.wordpress.com !