Coming Out of Hiding: The Truth about My Mental Health Disorders
By: Felicity E.
It’s a strange thing to consider the ten year anniversary of when you first developed a mental illness. Should you feel sad? Ashamed? Lost? Desperate? Alone? These are the emotions I used to think would always define my world. When I was a teenager, the discussion and acknowledgement around me of mental health and diseases was fairly taboo. Where I lived, whispered words such as “depression” and “anxiety” and “disorder” were met with uncomfortable expressions and awkward silences. When my eating disorder began to fully manifest, along with heightened anxiety, I very rarely thought that I should seek help over what I was going through. After having spent years with fluctuating weight, moods, and mental health, I wanted to examine why I chose to suffer silently.
When I've tried to rationalise why eating disorders remain so scarcely spoken about, I always come back to two reasons creating this vacuum of silence: ignorance and shame. Ignorance blankets most of the public's perception and understanding of mental health issues, which perpetuates shame of those suffering from these disorders. Sufferers are far too ashamed to speak about the utter havoc that one of these disorders constantly wreaks on our lives, therefore it’s difficult for the public’s ignorance to dissipate. Someone suffering from anorexia is just a skinny wannabe model who eats nothing and looks like a skeleton. Someone with bulimia carelessly wastes food and throws up in their effort to achieve that “dream body.” Binge eaters are just greedy and stuff themselves. I’ve heard that people think that eating disorder sufferers just want attention. A formerly anorexic friend of mine was once told that people with eating disorders are simply bored with their lives. This 'so-called disorder' is just attention seeking to try making their lives more interesting. These viewpoints are dangerous and clearly show a lack of comprehension about the real psychological elements at play in the minds of those with these issues. Not to mention, it’s hurtful and damaging to hear. Despite the prevalence of eating disorders over the years and its emergence as a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition, the resources and facilities put in place to help people deal with these illnesses are still few and far between.
Part of this ignorance is because of how often we’re told that a thin body is desirable. In modern society, women are constantly pressured to adhere to a standard that’s widely impossible. We’re bombarded across all forms of mass media with the ‘ideal’ image of skinny women, who look flawless. This toxic propaganda is used to make profit by exploiting women’s insecurities and encouraging them to continue down this path of thinking. Because of how acclimated we are to seeing thin women as the standard norm which all women should aspire to, the widespread ignorance surrounding the severity of eating disorders is quite staggering. The disorders become simplified and disregarded, or even worse glamorised or mocked, because people simply cannot grasp that it’s a psychological illness.
I would predict that over half the women I've met in the past year, and even one man (who happened to be a doctor), admitted that they suffered from an eating disorder or had behaviour symptomatic of an eating disorder. This shocked me. These people only admitted to their struggles after I confided in them that I myself had an eating disorder, which calls back to the shame that sufferers feel. It was interesting to catalogue their different responses to my admittance. Some were very surprised at my willingness and candidness to admit something that’s incredibly personal and which they found shameful in themselves. Unfortunately, for many, discussing their own mental illness isn’t easy. It ought to be shelved, buried, hidden, kept as much away as possible from how you live your normal life. Ironically, though, this often has the opposite effect. The illness gets all the larger and more powerful, the longer it goes unchecked. The longer the silence continues on the outside, the louder we’re all screaming inside.
I’ve suffered with my own disorder for over a decade and it remains to this day a real part of my life. An eating disorder is not simply characterised as the act of not eating or throwing up or stuffing yourself. They manifest into complex and layered behavioural mindsets. Sometimes the effect is subtle and sometimes it’s obvious, but it’s still there. It’s important to recognize that as much as eating disorders are about having control in life, those who are suffering from them often have no control over how their minds process and live out the disorder.
After all this time, I’ve decided to say fuck it. Fuck the shame and secrecy. I’m going to stop trying to fight this battle alone. I have so much to say about these topics. At times, it feels overwhelming and all-encompassing. But I’m choosing now to start writing and being vocal about my experiences in the hopes that maybe it’ll offer some comfort and solidarity to other sufferers, to assure them that they’re not alone, as well as hopefully helping my own internal process. As I’ve become increasingly aware of the enduring shame, stigma, and ignorance surrounding these disorders, I now ardently want to challenge this and show the truth of these mental diseases.The world needs to know about the raw reality of what it means to live with one. We need to create a world where sufferers can feel okay about coming forward, to stop struggling with these destructive disorders in silence, to see more support groups and recovery programmes implemented. There’s a long way to go but the future can be brighter by breaking the chains and shattering our silence.