There are far too many people out there who are depressed, have eating disorders, anxiety or some kind of mental illness, and not surprisingly, a major of them are teenagers and young adults. These are things that don’t get better just by somebody telling them ‘it’s going to be okay’, ‘there’s no need to be sad’, ‘you’re not fat’. Mental illnesses are serious problems that destroy lives and romanticizing these make everything worse. Bulimia isn’t a long haired pretty girl bending over a toilet with a tragically beautiful expressions, it’s a puffed miserable face with vomit dripping down from its chin and a nosebleed. Anorexia isn’t a slim figure shyly refusing a cupcake. It’s hair growing over a freezing, skeleton of a body. Depression isn’t a model lying in a pool of water with eroded mascara, it’s staring at the ceiling with burning eyes at 4am because you can’t even find the motivation to close them. It’s counting all your flaws from head to toe till you cry and ache and burn with self hate and rage. Self harm isn’t lovely boys kissing your arms telling you you’re still beautiful. It’s nasty puffy scars that never quite fade away and showers that sting. Its people staring at exposed cuts with mollified expressions while you burn with shame. Panic attacks aren’t burying your face into your lover’s chest and them telling you it will all be okay, it’s feeling out of control, like all the oxygen has been taken from you and nothing looks right. Mental illnesses aren’t beautiful, they don’t make people suddenly care about you. They’re monsters that actually destroy lives, and promoting them to impressionable teenagers on the internet is not okay. Telling someone with a mental illness that ‘it’s all in your head’ is the worst thing you can do. Of course it’s all in your head, the brain is an organ like the rest of the body, and it can malfunction just like the rest of the body. Telling someone it’s all in their head is like telling a person with asthma ‘it’s all in your lungs’.
PART ONE: DEALING WITH DEPRESSION/ANXIETY ETC
Nobody understands you better than yourself. Don’t lie to yourself, if you have a problem , it’s okay. The first step to winning the battle is accepting the challenge. I have depression myself, and I do a few things that calm me down so I don’t start crying in front of people, and you can try them. These things work for me because I know myself, I know what makes me happy, or sad, or jealous. These are some generalized points I’ve written because I want to help people, and if you have anything to add, please comment.
If you’re having a panic attack or a depressive episode, try taking into note the things surrounding you so that you feel more in control.
- Take 5 deep breaths, counting twenty seconds each
- Identify 2 white objects around you
- Find 3 things that you can physically touch and compare their textures
- Identify 2 black objects
- Figure out what you’re smelling right now
- Count 4 things that have letters on them
- Pick an object and try to figure out how it was made, in the factory, or by hand, or by nature
- Take 5 more deep breaths, counting twenty seconds each
- Imagine what lies directly underground of wherever you are now
- Identify each of the sounds entering your ears
CONDITIONING YOUR THINKING (if you’re with people)
When you feel that horrible wave of sadness or pain or anxiety, try conditioning what you think. Stop thinking about whatever is causing you trouble and make a list of 5 nice things that make you happy. This is very important. Conditioning your brain to stop focusing on your problem creates a forced positive atmosphere. While it may not be sincere, thinking about happy things forces your brain to dwell on them. Think about why each of these 5 things make you happy. Why did you think of no. 1 first? What was so special about that? These things could be anything, from remembering a nice meal you had, or the last time your crush hugged you, or the high score you made on that video game, or the feeling of holding a cat, or drinking tea, or listening to your favorite song.
Consider why each of the things you thought of are special, why you’re happy about them, and how they could be repeated. Don’t think about happy things that directly relate to your trouble. Like thinking about happy memories of an ex lover when you’re missing them terribly is one of the worst things you can do. Thinking about detached pleasant things, and grounding yourself prevents you from crying in front of people or doing something you would regret. It’s not easy, it takes practice and a lot of times you fail, but you need to put up with that if you want to be able to control your own mind. Eventually you’ll get it, and I promise, it will be worth it.
ACTIVE DISTRACTION (when you’re alone)
If you’re alone, it’s a little easier. You can carry out activities that will physically distract you. If you’re at home, even if it’s a lazy day, change your bed sheets and take a shower, you will feel better immediately. There are many ways people try to combat depression.
What I have learned is that, watching/listening/reading something happy doesn’t always actually work. There are psychological reasons to this. If you’re watching a happy movie, or listening to a nice song, it might actually trigger you even more, i.e. how are they so happy when I’m not? Reading fiction is helpful, but sometimes it’s not enough. Your mind wanders away from the text and constantly plunges you back to your own problems which is what you’re trying to avoid. You’re probably just sitting there, staring blindly at the text as they blur and concave out of focus.
The thing to do is something that compels your attention more. Watch a sad movie. Generally speaking, people tend to get more jealous of happiness, rather than compare somebody’s sadness with them. Watching a sad/depressing movie focuses your mind on the characters’ problems, sympathizing with and drawing you out of your self-absorbance. For example, for me, when I get a depressive episode I watch something about human tragedy, like a film on the Holocaust perhaps. The struggle of the Jews for survival makes me feel like my problems are petty, and I feel grateful I’m not in their situation. I end up crying, but not about myself, about the dead who didn’t deserve it. This is a particular tactic that is probably not very popular with people, but it’s what works for me. You have to find what works for you. You can’t let your sadness overwhelm you and consume you, it doesn’t have that right! Why should you think negatively when you are perfectly capable of controlling your emotions? You are the one who decides what you think, channel that according to your benefit. The sad movie tactic may not work for, if you’d rather watch something happy or read quietly, you do that. The key thing is to clear your brain and get out of the cycle of feeling sorry for yourself.
CONFRONTATION- DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM
If done properly, this is the most satisfying approach. Of course, it’s the hardest approach. You need to discard whatever illusions you have about yourself. You’re not going to see them as illusions, but that’s the hard part. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, both Orsino and Olivia are deluded about themselves, which is what makes them miserable. Viola, an agent of change is what causes them to wake up. Orsino, the petrarchan lover indulges in his misery for unrequited love, and Olivia revels in her mourning for her lost brother. These are things you can’t actually provide solutions to, you have to battle them yourself.
Get a blank sheet of paper and start writing. Write out these questions as headings and answer them yourself, writing exactly what you feel, even if you think it’s insignificant or too personal. Nobody is going to read it but yourself, and pouring your heart out on paper is a very non-toxic way of relieving yourself.
- What is making me sad?
- How important is this to me?
- How long has this been bothering me?
- Will it matter as much in four months?
- Will it matter as much in one year?
- Will it matter as much in five years?
- What will make me feel better about this problem?
- What are immediate solutions to this problem?
- What are long-term solutions to this problem?
Answer all these absolutely honestly, even if it’s painful. It’s an exercise that will relieve you, let you vent and actually address the problem head on. Self-pity is poisonous and nothing brings tears faster. Consider the importance of your problem, your available options, and above all, whether it will really be so bad some time later.
Curing depression doesn’t happen overnight. It takes days of aching and hatred and misery, but working on it is the best thing you can do, just don’t let yourself fall into the pit, you’ll never be able to get up again. I know mental illnesses are the worst thing, nobody treats them like physical illnesses, there are no flowers, cards, wishes or special attention. The only one fighting is you, and yes it’s tough, but don’t underestimate yourself, you can do incredible things with a little discipline.
PART TWO: DEALING WITH EATING DISORDERS
Eating disorders involve much more physical damage than depression, anxiety, etc. But you know what’s the problem? Your mind mindset. You are not happy with your body, and you are causing this damage just because of patriarchal beauty standards. Admitting to having an eating disorder is practically impossible and there’s no way you would do it. What’s wrong with having a skinner body? Everything if you’re not healthy. Eating disorders can take many forms, it’s just general unhappiness about the way your body is. There are people who binge eat to gain weight, but wanting to be skinny seems to be a massive problem. This article deals with people struggling with under-eating, but I might write something on bingeing too later.
Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are especially common in young girls, given society’s idea of how a woman’s body should look like. Let’s face it, you know for a fact what your body is like. Extremely skinny, thin, slim, chubby, etc. The only thing you need to do about your problem is love your body. So what if it’s curvy in the wrong places, or a little chubby at the thighs or the knees poke out too much? Starving yourself or throwing up is NOT the solution. Believe me, being whip thin really isn’t what you want.
What you want is for your body to be accepted.
And you know what? If you accept your body, so will others. If you don’t realize that you’re skinny in an unhealthy way, and you’re still pushing it, you can’t be happy. You think that being ultra thin will make you happy, but it won’t. Most people feel sorry for girls like that, they pity them, they don’t respect them. Women are respected when they respect themselves. When you love your body, everyone does. If you flaunt that double chin, the curving shins, people WILL admire you. You want people to envy how amazing your body is? You just need the confidence.
All that being said, you still have awful eating habits. Don’t worry, that’s why it’s an eating disorder. You want to be healthy. First you have to believe you want to be healthy. Go check your weight right now. I mean it.
…If you have an eating disorder, you probably know your weight already. Many therapists encourage people to stop checking weight, but that’s not a healthy approach. I’m not a therapist, I’m a teenage girl who knows how other teenage girls think. You need to set yourself goals and do this systematically. This is MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR WORK, FAMILY, ANYTHING. Remember the golden rule, priority list: health, family, work.
You can calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index) and identify which category you fall under. You have to divide your height (in meters) by your weight (in kilograms). You’re probably going to fall as grossly underweight.
That’s not healthy, and you have to convince yourself that. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE UNDERWEIGHT. Did people make fun of you for being fat? Well let me tell you something that stings, they make fun of you now, because your drastically changed body weight. You draw even more attention, come out as desperate and it’s all horrible.
What doctors say about withdrawal symptoms are nightmarishly true. If you throw up after every meal, or skip food regularly, forcing your body to suddenly eat is going to make things worse. You’re going to bulge up immediately in all sorts of unwanted places and it will be even worse than it is now. You have to take things slowly.
- Figure out how much food you actually, truthfully eat every day. Just an apple, or some green tea, or something?
- Set yourself a goal. Your actual BMI is this much, the healthy BMI is this much, which is what you’ve set out to achieve.
- Being too thin sucks. Not only does sticking out ribcages and hips look frightening, you’re wasting away. Your immunity to diseases decreases immensely and you are in actual danger every time you get some minor sickness. Claw out this mentality of the zero figure, it’s not realistic, and it’s not idealistic.
- Start with breakfast. Breakfast is your free card. You can have whatever you want. Just not something drastic like chips or soda or something. Find out what you like, and eat that. Even if it’s only a spoonful of cereal.
Week One: half a bowl of cereal
Week Two: half a bowl of cereal
Week Three: half and quarter bowl, etc.
Be more disciplined about the other meals. If you only eat twice a day, or maybe even less, change that. Slowly. Convince yourself that mealtimes are good, are healthy. They’re going to fill that starving stomach that is clawing you, and being full is really good feeling, and you need to appreciate that.
- Check your weight. Yes, you have to see for yourself your improvement. You have to watch yourself go into that healthy BMI range, even if it’s a really low number, as long as it’s in the right area of the table, that’s enough. Don’t overeat, and feel happy about the gaining pounds. They’ll round up your ankles, fill your elbows and make you pleasant.
- Body positivity. There’s no use doing any of this if you don’t feel like it. Probably nobody will enforce you to, you only have you. You need to take care of yourself, and LIKE having that extra weight. If you measure your worth by your weight, you’re never going to be happy with your body. Never.
- Don’t force yourself. You don’t like eating in front of people? Don’t do it. You don’t want to eat at school, talk to your parents rather than waste money. Not only is throwing up your food horrendously bad for you, it’s a terrible waste and pretty much a crime. Be thankful that you get to eat that much every day, millions out there don’t.
- Value food. If you force feed yourself, you’re not getting anywhere. You have to like what you eat, you have to be happy about mealtimes and be cheerful. Embrace your body. You’re a human being, not some stick figure created by society. You bend to your own will. So what if you didn’t eat that salad the other day, and went for a cookie instead? Cut yourself some slack.
All this sounds very nice written down in points like this, but there’s no getting around it, getting over eating disorders is absolute hell. I admit it. The food will burn in your throat and stomach, and you’re going to hate and hate yourself for every added pound. Some days you’re going to lapse, but you have to be strong. You have to be disciplined, you might want to give up, but just remember the only person you are hurting is you. I know I have talked a lot about how being thin is bad, but remember I meant about being too thin. Just keep the BMI chart in mind, it’s been developed by scientists and there’s a lot of research behind it. If you’re outside the healthy range, it’s not good, and there are good reasons why. Of course there are exceptions, but you should talk to experts about something like that. I just want you to take care of yourself and be healthy. A healthy attitude makes a healthy body.
And I want you to remember that I’m proud of you. I’m so sorry you have to deal with something like this, mental disorders aren’t something you can just discuss with people, I know. But you keep fighting little flower, because you’re worth it.
[I’m so sorry that this article was so freakishly preachy and boring, but please please listen to it. I stand by what I have written here, it has helped me, and it’ll help you too if you need it. If you want somebody to talk to, there are plenty of forums on the internet (including this blog) where you can vent, find sympathetic people and help.