Bringing Mental Health Out of the Dark: Part 2

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Speaker and CT Crew member Moet Kurakata.

Moet Kurakata: Opening up and being honest is the best thing I have done for myself

A poised, lovely young woman, Moet Kurakata, 24, loves to paint works of art and help create exhibits that promote others’ art. But seven years ago, during the summer before her senior year of high school, she became obsessed with running and counting calories. She had an eating disorder but couldn’t admit it until she was hospitalized.

“My relationship with food and exercise shifted in the summer of 2012,” she says. At the time, she was going through her first breakup and starting her first job at a Japanese restaurant.

“I can’t pinpoint what exactly led to it, but I started cutting back on my food intake, regretting whatever food I did eat.”

She also started lying about food, telling people she was full even if she wasn’t. “The only thing that mattered to me at the time was how thin I looked by the time school started.”

She ran every day, rain or shine, day or night-time.

As she got thinner, her friends, family, teachers, classmates and even friends’ parents responded in a variety of ways:

• “Wow! You lost weight, you look so great!”

• “Why don’t you eat more? You‘re too skinny.”

Meanwhile, Kurakata began experiencing dizzy spells upon standing, her hair was falling out, and her nails were brittle.

Despite the obvious damage to her physical health, she “spent hours exercising as if no one noticed. At home I had the shortest temper and was constantly cranky and snapping at my family. To this day, that is my biggest regret,” she says.

One day, she came across a section on eating disorders in her AP psychology textbook. “Reading about anorexia gave me an odd feeling of familiarity. But it also felt like stepping on the fine line between hope and fear.”

Kurakata finally mustered up the courage to tell her mother about what she read in the textbook. “She told me not to worry too much about it because I must have been stressed with school and college applications.” Her mother also promised she would “feed [her]more over the summer break.“

“Mom, looking back now, I just want to say that we both did not know any better,” Kurakata recently told her mother.

By next spring, Kurakata was “getting thinner, crankier, and colder.” Yet she kept up appearances by continuing her normal activities. She participated in the Cherry Blossom Parade, graduated from Japanese School after 11 years, went to prom, finished AP studio art class, and participated in her school’s annual art show.

Additionally, she says she painted her best artwork during this time, when she was struggling the most.

The CT Crew

A Turning Point

On May 8, 2013, Kurakata went to a medical appointment scheduled by her mother. At that time, Kurakata learned her vitals were extremely low and she was hospitalized immediately due to a condition that dropped her heart rate below 60. That night, her heart rate was just above 30. She spent the next 13 days in the hospital.

That day, Kurakata finally admitted that she was anorexic. “I thank my primary care doctor at the time. She listened to every word I muttered as I truthfully answered her questions about how much I actually ate and exercised that week.

“She had the warmest yet biggest look of concern in her eyes when she asked me if I thought I had an eating disorder. I remember feeling relieved after so many months of hurting myself that there was finally an adult who could help me. I broke into tears as I nodded. She held me in her arms and repeatedly told me, ‘I’m so proud of you for telling me.’”

Now in her seventh year of recovery, Kurakata says, “I see very clearly that recovery is neither a straight line nor easy.

“I have had to make a lot of painful decisions to put my mental health first, including choosing to withdraw from Boston University after a year to move back to California and be closer to my care team; letting go of relationships with people that triggered negative emotions; or choosing to go back to therapy.

“I have learned that opening up and being honest about my experiences is the best thing that I have done for myself.”

Kurakata has also become a leader of the Changing Tides Crew, and is a key force in creating art for and organizing the CT pop-up art gallery events in Los Angeles that draw people in and engage them in conversation and friendship.

STATISTIC: Asian Americans are three times less likely than white counterparts to seek treatment.

Next Up: Moving Ahead by Opening Up

What you can do

Join the CT Crew on Saturday, Sept. 28, for Making Waves: A Changing Tides Mental Health Conference, which will include such topics as navigating relationships, understanding student stress, mental health for the Japanese-speaking community, and so much more. Visit https://give.ltsc.org/MakingWaves for more details.

Photos courtesy Little Tokyo Service Center

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