Monday, April 22, 2013

The Face of Mental Illness

Last week I had a more productive therapy session than usual, so I thought I might talk about it a little. Not that my therapy sessions aren't usually productive, it's just that I was more open about some of the thoughts that I've been having. It led to an interesting realization that I would like to share.


Somehow the conversation shifted to my eating disorder, which is something we usually don't talk about because bipolar and OCD tend to be more pressing. But it's springtime, and springtime tends to get my eating out of whack. Blame it on bathing suits, short shorts, and the aftermath of winter hibernation. 

I explained to my therapist that I'd been feeling a lot of the eating disorder in my head (self-consciousness, obsessive thoughts about food, comparing myself to others and the media), but  I felt like it's wrong because I don't look like I have an eating disorder anymore. I have full thighs and a little Buddha belly. I felt like I wasn't entitled to feel sick anymore. I thought, "I don't deserve relief from this become I've become too much of a pig. I've let my image of the perfect body deteriorate, and so now I have to suffer the consequences. If I feel fat and miserable, I shouldn't have to change my perception of myself, I should lose the weight." Sick thoughts.

My therapist let me talk, and then she asked me what a person with an eating disorder is supposed to look like. I intellectually know that the answer is anyone. But in my head, a person with an eating disorder is an anorexic teenage girl who is so thin that she doesn't get her period anymore. 

I know that boys can get eating disorders, I know that people with bulimia often lose less weight that people with anorexia, and I know that just because your body is healed, your mind can still be in recovery.

I think we all do this. There is this disconnect between what we know to be true, and how we feel.

We think schizophrenia looks like the homeless man in front of the supermarket.
We think that ADHD looks like the badly behaved kid next door.
We think that bipolar looks like our teacher that flips out at students.

We have ideas of what mental illness looks like, and it's often not until it personally affects us that we change. Should it have to take finding out that your mom has depression, that your best friend has ADD, or that your sibling has an eating disorder for you to make the effort? Please humanize these diagnoses. They aren't handed out of a hat on slips of papers. They aren't punishments for past or future failures. They are just illnesses. 

As a society, we still have a long way to go before we truly accept and embrace everyone and their illnesses, mental and physical alike. I'm proud to say that the people in my life have responded so positively to my diagnosis. I have felt so loved by family members, friends, teachers, and my school's guidance department. I wish everyone who is struggling could be in such an environment. If you are lacking support and need someone to talk to, just go to the "Contact" page above.

If you want to try to be more open, the first step is just getting used to the concept that mental illness can affect anyone. Try to think of any ideas already in your head that shape your definition of mental illness. Challenge those idea with counter-examples from your own life or even Hollywood. Then, with your new realization, continue to be your wonderful self. Treat others how you want to be treated and live compassionately.


If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them.