Trigger warning: Eating disorders, anxiety, depression.
Sometimes it is difficult to express what it is like to feel like the world is burning, that you feel as though everyone around you hates you and is only tolerating your presence to be polite, that you cannot stop eating or that you do not deserve to eat because you need to punish yourself. The voice in your head has nothing to say but words filled with negativity, telling you to hate yourself, that you do not deserve for anything good to happen to you. No matter how hard you seem to try, you will never be a good enough person. Dealing with these feelings every day is hard and it becomes even harder when the people around you do not seem to understand, when they do not care, worse still when they try to gaslight you into believing that what you are experiencing is not real.
One day I decided to watch an episode of the controversial and yet highly popular Netflix show ‘Insatiable’. In the episode the protagonist Patty Bladell said something that really stuck with me. She said: “You want to eat something that you know you shouldn’t, so you don’t. Then all you can think about is that thing, and it is so loud. So, you just break down and you eat it, and then you eat everything else until you hate yourself to finally stop”. The moment that she said this, it sounded so familiar to me. I knew exactly how she felt. This is not a normal experience. It took me a very long time to realise that treating myself this way was not acceptable. Seeking help for mental health problems has been so stigmatised for such a long time that there was a fear of letting other people know that I was not doing well.
There are many forms of mental health disorders, a few examples are depression, anxiety post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and eating disorders. Now, you must note that I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but I will speak from personal experience. My relationship with food has been complicated for a very long time. I have been body shamed and bullied for as long as I can remember. I have always been told that I needed to lose weight by family members, peers and even strangers. It got to the point where I equated having value with being slender and I eventually went on a very strict starvation diet for a year, which led to many other diets until I became my ‘ideal weight’. The ideal weight was still never enough, I had to be smaller, and smaller and smaller. I ended up needing to throw up any food that I ate outside my meal plan, I became bulimic. About 70 million people globally suffer with an eating disorder and yet when I was vomiting, I felt so alone, so empty, so dizzy, so disgusting and yet so relieved. There was a false sense of relief of the anxiety I had towards gaining weight. On one incident I remember trying to talk but my speech was slurred, the world was spinning, and my body just wanted to collapse. Then it hit me, I was not helping myself, I was harming myself. No amount of gratification is worth the pain that I was experiencing.
It took me some time after that day to go out and seek help, but eventually I did. Too many of us think that therapy is only for people who have had to endure tragic and very traumatic experiences, but therapy, counselling or talking to someone you trust is not just for emergencies. These tools are meant for us to have a secure space to release all that we have been going through. It can be costly to see a therapist, not to mention difficult these days considering that we are living through a pandemic, but there are other ways to get help as well. There are online platforms that provide access to help for a lower price, Maastricht University offers a psychological support system and now there is the option of having a therapy session via video-chat. It must be said that the first therapist that you go to may not be right for you and your situation. It can be a process to find the right help for you but when you do, it is worth it.
There is no amount of advice, emails and public service announcements on mental health that can make you reach out and get help. That choice is entirely up to you. From my own experiences, and not to be dramatic but, the day that I chose to go to therapy was the day that saved my life. It may for you too. Give it a try.
Below are a few online platforms that provide that safe space:
Therapy for Black Girls