What are some of the things you wish people knew about your mental illness?
Often we suffer from mental illness in private, too scared to show or tell the world what we’re really going through. For me, the eating disorder and accompanying mental illnesses are sometimes so complex that I can’t put it into words. I often talk about anorexia with my therapist and even I have to stop myself and think;
‘Wow, that’s just crazy! Why would I even think like that?’
I’ve no doubt that most people have had the same thought about their own mental illness. It tricks us into believing that what it is telling us is correct, and we are all the bad things we think and more.
If we can’t understand it, then how can anyone else?
This post aims to inform you of 10 things I wish people knew about my mental illness, and hopefully will provide some insight into the mind of an anorexic.
10 Things I wish People Knew About My Mental Illness.
1. It’s not a choice.
The development of anorexia was not a choice, nor was my relapse back into it. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide ‘Today is a great day to start ruining my life’. Who does that?!
The relapse didn’t happen overnight but over a long period of time, one which I don’t necessarily remember. Other people saw it happening before I did, my best friend in particular, but I was in denial.
I didn’t want to relapse, I didn’t want to fall back into fighting my own responses to hunger, but anorexia and the security it gave me had other ideas.
2. Recovery from Anorexia is not as simple as eat and put on weight.
Putting on weight won’t magically cure me. It didn’t the first two times, and there is no way it will now 10+ years into this disorder. I was never ‘recovered’ before, I was just in a state of quasi-recovery where I could barely stand to look at myself on my worst days. For years I was still hiding behind the mask of counting calories, over exercising and purging. I would have still went out for dinner and picked the ‘lightest‘ sounding thing on the menu.
The only thing that will help me is working through recovery at a steady pace with support at all angles. It’s working through my stunted emotions, my ideals of weight and body image, and learning about myself in the process.
It’s a long road but it’s one I am trying to walk along on a daily basis.
3. The guilt eats me alive.
I feel guilty about everything from not being fit to return to work quick enough, to what my cat is going through. Yes, you read that right, I feel guilty about the fact that my cat could be picking up on my low moods, therefore throwing her into depression! It’s weird, right? That I feel guilty about things outside my control (least of all my cat’s mood)?
That’s the nature of the beast. You’re wracked with guilt about not being able to just function like a normal human being. Why can’t I just work 8-5 without a meltdown? Is there a reason why I can’t eat food without wanting to rip my skin off?
Why can’t I just be like everyone else?!
On the other end of things, you are also wracked with guilt when you do eat. It’s so conflicting; You hate yourself if you do and you hate yourself if you don’t.
4. It paralyses me with fear most days.
Sometimes it’s easier to be asleep rather than facing another day of forcing myself to eat. It causes me to spend longer than necessary when buying food or when eating out. I have to read the nutritional information for calories, sugars, and fats. If a menu doesn’t have nutritional information I have to guess or Google, much to my partner’s annoyance.
The fear of eating something that I consider a ‘fear food’ is so consuming.
What if I gain too much? What if I can’t stop eating?
It’s so incredibly stupid but it’s a reality that so many of us with eating disorders go through.
I’ve cried about rice, I’ve screamed about mayo, I’ve starved for days over 500 grams of extra weight on the scale; I’ve done so many out of character things just because the disorder tells me I have to.
5. It’s 100% a mental and emotional disorder.
Like I mentioned, you can’t just feed a person up, have them put on the desired amount of weight, and that’s it. There is so much more going on beneath the surface in regards to our emotional regulation, depression and possible trauma.
It can take about 3 months (give or take) to become weight restored. The mental side of things takes a lot longer to catch up. Sometimes years.
Not to mention the other mental illnesses that often accompany the eating disorder such as depression, anxiety and, sometimes, OCD.
6. It’s exhausting to constantly be at war with your own head.
I’m tired all the time from fighting this. When you’re anorexic, that’s one thing, but to have anxiety and depression, and all the other life stressors that come along for the ride, it gets all kinds of hard.
I’m so tired and yet I can’t sleep without being dosed up on medication that knocks me out for hours. Without I’m awake thinking about every little thing if I don’t keep it in check.
At the beginning of all of this, I was barely sleeping, then when I went on sick leave from work I started to nap throughout the day. Everything took far too much energy and effort. It’s not as bad now because I am keeping my strength up but I still find myself exhausted after social situations and long outings.
It’s almost as if I need to recharge myself after giving too much time and energy listening to other people.
7. It’s about compulsion and addiction, not about discipline.
It’s almost like I need to restrict. I can’t choose it, I just have to do it. If I don’t bad things (weight gain, failure, spiraling self-hatred) will happen.
It’s often the way movies and TV shows depict OCD;
‘Turn the light on and off 3 times of your mother will die”
Except we’ll gain weight, suddenly turn into 4foot tall trolls, grow hair in awkward places and our teeth will fall out.
It makes about as much sense as Halloween in July (although I’m game for that).
8. The eating disorder has convinced me that I am a failure in every area of my life.
I’m a failure not just in the eyes of weight loss but everywhere else. Everything I get involved in or touch rots. I’m bad at my job, I’m bad at being a partner, I’m bad at being a blogger, I’m bad at driving; I am bad at everything.
Or at least that is what anorexia has told me.
But the problem is you begin to believe it, and that infects you. It knocks your confidence, it knocks your self-esteem and it renders you completely self-deprecating.
9. The eating disorder has convinced me that I shouldn’t drink anything or eat anything before weigh in’s so I get the ‘true’ reading.
This often means I go without food/drink for 4-5 hours after I wake up just so I can step on the scales and find out what my weight is. If it’s up I know it’s up and not water weight or food, if it’s down I know by how much!
This sets me up for the day. Depending on what the scales in the therapist’s office say I could leave, go for a coffee and have breakfast, or I could just skip it altogether.
I’ve tried to get out of this way of thinking but I can’t. It’s so damn hard and I honestly don’t know what gave me the strength to get out of this before. This time it seems so final, like once I get better there is no way I can lose weight again because it’ll throw me back into this.
10. Eating disorders are about shame, not vanity.
You feel shame about yourself and your ability, and the only thing you can do is starve because it’s all that you’re good at. It’s hard to describe but the shame runs so deep that it forces you to harm yourself, because what else can you do? You feel like the dirt on someone’s shoe.
It’s not about vanity. There is nothing beautiful or romantic about an eating disorder.
- Your hair is thin and comes out in handfuls.
- You suffer from terrible stomach issues.
- You’re constantly cold.
- You’re pale.
- Your teeth are ruined.
- Light hair grows on your body to keep you warm.
- Your eyesight can suffer.
And so much more.
These are just some of the things I wish people knew about my mental illness. It’s impossible to pinpoint everything, and people’s opinions of anorexia never fail to surprise me. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, one more person has a distinct opinion.
In fact, writing this I realised that if I had written everything I wanted people to know about my eating disorder, I would have been writing a novel. Or at least twenty more points.
What about you? Is there anything you wish people knew about your disorder or chronic illness?
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