While mental illness takes many shapes and forms, and some do become dangerous to themselves or others, the majority of us struggling with mental health are the people sitting opposite you in class, your bus driver, your boss, your friend, or your brother. And there is a fairly good chance you had no idea.
These are their stories.
“A Living Hell”
For people recovering from or currently suffering from an eating disorder, the following story may be triggering.
I was 14 and my family was obsessed with being “healthy”. My father would jokingly pinch my tummy if I asked for a second helping at dinner. My mother seemed to hiss a never-ending sigh when she tried on clothes and exclaimed, “I’m so fat”. My friends would all talk about new diets and soon nobody joined me for candy trips to the corner store. Television told me how to be beautiful by introducing weight-loss pills and the latest beauty products. Magazines only showed flawless, thin women on the covers and featured beauty tips on how to get men to lust over you. Naturally, I grew into my teenage years with the mindset that I had to alter my appearance in order to be beautiful, accepted and respected.
I was 16 and I stopped wearing clothing that hugged my figure because I was too self-conscious. I was malnourished; I didn’t eat lunch at school and I would eat very little dinner at home. At night when my family was asleep, I would sneak into the kitchen and binge on whatever I could find. I also started collecting my own junk food in my bedroom to sneak when I was hungry. My metabolism was messed up from the constant starving and over-eating, but more importantly my mind was traveling down a dark path that a lot of people never come back from. My grades were harder to keep up because I couldn’t think clearly. My mind was now consumed by counting calories and figuring out how much exercise I would need to do to burn it all off. I was obsessed and I couldn’t run away from my thoughts. I wanted to eat, but the voice in my mind wouldn’t let me. It told me that I didn’t deserve food and that I should starve myself to take up less space and not burden my family, essentially disappearing into nothing at all. When I did allow myself to eat I would feel so guilty and find myself in an uncontrollable binge, not being able to stop. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I would stare at my reflection, screaming on the inside, wanting to rip my own skin off. What started off as a desperate act to be beautiful spiraled into a living hell. I was empty inside.
I was 17 and I finally reached out to my best friend. She looked at me and said, “You don’t have an eating disorder; you’re not skinny enough”. The voice in my head translated that to her calling me fat. That was the first night that I forced myself to vomit. Eventually my hair started falling out, my nails grew unevenly and my skin looked sick and grayish all the time. I was never a religious person but there were nights that I prayed I would just die so I wouldn’t have to face another day of enduring the tormenting thoughts in my head.
I was 20 and I started my journey to recovery. I discovered people on internet forums who were just like me. Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) was the silent killer that took my teenage years. It’s a type of eating disorder classified by severe restricting habits prevalent in anorexia nervosa, as well as binging and/or bulimic tendencies. Because of this combination, people with EDNOS are usually normal weight. I was self-diagnosed because doctors only looked at my “healthy BMI” and not at the destructive state that my mental health was in. I’m one of the many men and women who desperately needed help but were not taken seriously. I made a really close friend online: a girl from California who also had EDNOS. She was admitted to an inpatient treatment facility and I called her every night. I had no one to turn to but her, and she helped me recover. She told me that my feelings and experiences were valid; she gave me permission to eat and told me I was deserving of food. She told me I was beautiful and so was my body and that I didn’t have to change or lose weight. She never judged me for my anxious or delusional thoughts. For the first time, I felt worthy enough to take proper care of myself.
I’m now 22 and I’m the happiest I have ever been. I’ve stopped watching television to avoid the shaming advertisements, I look away from magazines when I buy groceries, I don’t own a scale, I’m not afraid of looking in the mirror, I ignore the nagging from peers, I eat food in front of people without feeling anxious (and I eat whatever I please without feeling guilty), but most importantly I love myself and I take care of both my body and mind. My mental illness – even though it likes to creep up on me once in a while – no longer holds me back from living my life; I’ve traveled the world, I’ve graduated university, and I’ve fallen in love. I try my best every day to tell the people around me that they are loved, they are beautiful, and they deserve happiness because I wouldn’t wish that kind of hell on even my worst enemies. Unfortunately, I am still ashamed of my past struggle with EDNOS and the way that eating disorders are stigmatized, and because of that I have chosen to remain anonymous. Eating disorders are not a “fad” or a lifestyle choice; they are serious mental illnesses that require help. Being aware and understanding is the first step in changing the way eating disorders are perceived and treated.
For information and resources on mental illness, please visit the follow:
- Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Here to Help BC
- BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services
- Kelty Mental Health for Child and Youth information