She Looked Like Me

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Megan Gahan -Like Me4I was terrified the day we opened Mercy Canada.

Years of sweat and a very healthy dose of tears had led up to this moment. I had planned events, managed finances, and organized teams of volunteers from a teensy, frigid portable while this home—this perfect home—was renovated from the studs up. I wrote Scripture on those very studs with a fresh black Sharpie. Now all sleek and modern and sparkly, everything was finally ready. Bright wallpaper had been spread over those verse-covered studs long ago, the throw pillows were arranged just so, and the great metal letters spelling H-O-P-E in the living area were illuminated and glowing with anticipation.

In short, I had done everything except my job.

But when the doors opened, I knew I would have to do what I had actually been hired to do. I knew women would walk through those doors, young women looking to this modern and sparkly home to heal from and overcome eating disorders, self-harm and addiction. I knew some of them had experienced terrible things as children, many at the hands of those who were supposed to be the ones keeping them safe. Exercising extreme control over their food or bodies was a way to fight back, a silent scream for help in the midst of the chaos of their home or mind.

I was chosen to walk alongside these women. I can’t say I was hired, because that doesn’t sound weighty enough. I truly felt chosen. This was all I had wanted to do. I felt so lucky. I was so humbled to be asked to walk even a small part of their journey with them.

Well, somewhat humbled but mostly terrified.

I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know anyone who had struggled with these issues. What would these girls be like? Would they be gaunt and underfed, with their hair mussed and tangled? Would they be arriving straight from a hospital or a detox centre? Would they be weak? Angry? Would they hate me? I wondered if they would be able to do much physically, as I was in charge of the fitness portion of the program. I felt so wildly under qualified. These girls would be so different. And I wasn’t prepared.

I sat at my desk as we waited for our first resident to walk through the door. Glass coffee table, swirly abstract art hanging on freshly painted walls, commanding desk—everything looked the part. Except for me. I was sweating.

The glass door swung open, and there she was. Our first, precious girl stepped over the threshold. Navy blue hooded sweatshirt, jeans, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She looked about as scared as I felt. Her eyes were gorgeous. But she didn’t look gaunt or weak or angry. She didn’t appear to be ill or angry.

She looked . . .well . . .she looked like me.

We were the same age. I could have pulled an identical sweatshirt out of my closet. She looked like someone I would be friends with. She looked like every other girl sitting in Starbucks with a thick book, or on the treadmill next to me at the gym, or across the sanctuary at church. I was so embarrassed that I was expecting anything different. I was ashamed for thinking these girls would be the “other”, that they would look a certain way because they were struggling.

But they didn’t look different at all. They looked like me.

Years after that day, I spent a year and a half in the grips of postpartum depression. When I finally confessed what I had been experiencing, many said they would never have guessed I was depressed. Perhaps they thought depressed people spend their days in the fetal position in the corner, crying. Or look like they haven’t had a shower in two weeks. Maybe people expect depressed people to just look . . .different. They don’t. They look like the star athlete on your daughter’s soccer team. They look like the perky barista who gets your coffee. They look like the mom in the parking stall next to you at school pick-up. They especially look like the one you think has it all together. The one you think would never have it.

They look like me.

I had the privilege of walking alongside these brave women for years. We laughed and cried and got angry and got saved and backslid and then did it all over again. They fought and they rose above and they forgave. They were full of courage and tenacity, yes. They are my heroes, yes. But they were also just like every girl you know, wearing a hoodie and a ponytail.

The next time you hear stats on sexual abuse, or anorexia, or mental health, don’t brush them off. There are people in your world, in your very close circle, struggling. Dig deeper, draw nearer. Don’t judge. I made that mistake once. But I won’t again.

They look like me. Because I am one of them.

Which means they also probably look like you.

 

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Megan Gahan
After over a decade in the fitness industry, Megan now spends her days chasing two pint-sized tornadoes disguised as little boys. By night, she is a writer and editor for SheLoves. A proper Canadian, Megan can often be found in the woods or at Tim Hortons. She writes at megangahan.com.
Megan Gahan
Megan Gahan

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