Mental Health is a buzzword that has been cycling in and out of conversations over the last few years. The topic can be controversial but there is no doubt that the awareness is spreading; the question is, what comes next? The answer is recognition.
Recognizing the signs of mental illness is a skill a lot of people do not want to acquire and reasons can vary; but the importance behind it being that mental illness can be fatal is motive enough for people to want to be courageous enough to learn what they should know. You can easily google the symptoms of recognizing Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Emotional Disturbances, Schizophrenia, Eating Abnormalities, Suicidal Ideation, etc.
So, instead of hitting you with facts, I am going to unfold my journey with mental illness slowly over the next twenty-five days. My hope is that as my story unfolds you recognize the courage it took for people to “call me out,” in my seasons of struggle. My second hope is that you acquire some of the courage that pours from the people who saved my life and are the reason I am here to share with you today. My third hope is that you can make a difference in someone else’s life because of the nugget of vulnerability I will share with you.
The first story I am going to dive into you with takes us back to my eighth grade year of junior high. Imagine this, red lockers, beige tile hallways, pressure of fitting into a new school, shame for moving from a split level home into a single-wide trailer, and the only thing I wanted was control. Was it too much to ask for? I couldn’t control our home, I couldn’t control my parents, I couldn’t control where I went to school or who I went to school with, I could hardly grasp the amount of emotion I had while processing all of this so, while seeking and feeling a complete loss of control — I decided my weight could be a target that I could actually aim at. Not only that, but I had a friend who had a tangible supplement that I could use to hit my target with. Diet pills.
That is where it started. Simple diet pills.
The same supplements that flood the “health,” aisles at any convenience store are what aided my fixation on my body image and became a dangerous weapon for me to use as I began my journey of self destruction. The diet pills lead to obsession of losing weight and seeing the number go down on the scale. I plateaued at a weight and I became infuriated so that led to anorexia. Six months later, peers were noticing and complimenting my weight loss (at least I received it as a compliment). This continued until I couldn’t keep up as an athlete. Unfortunately, I went from one extreme to another.
Diet pills led to anorexia, anorexia lead to binge eating & purging behaviors, binging led to wanting to feel sick, and the urge to feel sick led to a use of laxatives. These progressions have absorbed a larger half of my life; and now, it is time for me to take the control back.
The reality is that taking the control back is easier said than done. So, if your journey resonates with mine at all I would tell you to put these three actions into practice; If it doesn’t resonate, don’t quit reading because you might know somebody and you could be the person on the other side of my story. The one who supports me holds me accountable, loves me through my illness, and ultimately saves me from a dark plunge.
- Find a friend to hold you accountable without guilting you. I have two friends I talk to openly about my eating disorder. When the shame of my body hits its peak(s), these friends are the ones I tell immediately. I carry shame when I divulge my urges to them but the freedom I feel when they ask, “would you like me to eat with you?” is overwhelming. Not only that, but they ask if I would like to go shopping with them because they know that I may or may not buy a dietary supplement if I go alone. I don’t feel cornered, I don’t feel judged, I feel supported, and you deserve to as well.
- Eat foods that make you feel healthy. If you are struggling with your body image and you are tempted to starve yourself, eat smaller portions but be sure you are taking in calories. It could be fruit, vegetables, rice, almond milk. Whatever it is. You can eliminate bad calories without eliminating food altogether.
- Prepare a game plan for the days where you will see a lot of food. Holidays are a trickier time, but so are gatherings, staff suppers, etc. That being said, recognize and acknowledge the amount of food that will be present. Prepare yourself for what you may or may not want to eat. Release the shame. Control your portions while still enjoying the company. There have been moments where I eat and then I go for a walk, or I spend time outside, or I start a conversation with my grandparents. These all give me an escape from wanting to eat more and feeling guilty for wanting it. That, or I help begin putting things away. Every holiday and environment is different and I am sure it could be similar for you. So every gathering has a different plan and it keeps me from falling back into unhealthy patterns.
Mental Illness is not a one-man project to overcome, so don’t fool yourself. Allow yourself to be healthy. Take your own Mental Health serious and ask for help when you need it. It’s not weak, it’s courageous. I promise.