In my experience with the mental health system, lived experience is only really listened to if patients talk about their struggles in past tense. That admitting your not well right now means that the powers that be will dismiss your thoughts, suggestions and critics are that of an unwell person.
Like unwell people can't have sane thoughts (spoiler alert: they can, and do all the time).
This treatment leads advocates to hide parts of themselves that are not recovered. For me, it led to me becoming addicted to appearing to be recovered. Addicted to the support and attention I get from being recovered.
I was afraid to admit that I am living with an eating disorder. Afraid that it meant the messages I was telling people about recovery being possible wasn't true. That living with an eating disorder, while being highlighted as recovered, meant I was a fraud.
In my world, I am seen as recovered. I am literally put on stage to inspire people to not give up and to keep trying. My job is to let audiences know that recovery is possible and, more importantly, worth it.
When I first started speaking about mental health in 2010, I felt that I had conquered depression, anxiety and suicide. At that time, I was surrounded by friends, succeeding in university (despite nearly failing in first year), and was finding my voice in advocacy and on stage.
I was getting the positive attention I never thought was possible for someone like me. And by someone like me, I mean someone who never had a lot of friends, hadn't accomplished very much of anything and seemed to always walk a different way then everyone else. I began to fall in love with how the people saw me (well, the parts of the world who wanted to listen to me, anyway).
I was being asked to speak at conferences, universities, high schools and more. I was being called "brave," "strong" and "inspirational." As I have written before, I have found myself at standing at the cross roads in people's lives. Not to save them, but to show them through my story that it was worth to try saving themselves.
This lead to occasional "fame" as people sometimes recognized me and people I never met were telling me, through Facebook, email, Twitter and more how my messages impacted their lives.
Ironically the period of time I gave my TEDx Talk and was in the media talking about mental health is the same year that my depression, anxiety and strong suicidal feelings came back. And by came back, I mean it passed that threshold in my life where I need some serious coping skills to handle it.
I was ashamed to ask for help. In part because of the stigma around being fat and in part the stigma of feeling like I had failed all those I inspired.
Let me give some insight on me: on an average day, I deal with super intense feelings that I know how to handle. It's been part of my life since I can remember, to the point of when someone tries to explain normal to me, it's like explaining bacon to someone who has been Kosher his or her entire life. It feels weird that someone insists I need to become normal, that I am missing out on something I have lived a pretty good life without.
This experience with mental illness was different, though. This time I had graduated school, jobless, and had just left my first adult relationship. My friends were all around the world, doing amazing and awesome shit. On the surface I appeared successful -- I was on TV, in the papers and getting meetings with politicians. But on the inside, I felt like I was dying.
Around this time in the mental health story I tell onstage is when the person has a moment that shows them they should probably get help. I should have probably sought this very help I was telling others to get. Despite me knowing the people running the clinics and the best programs, I didn't get help.
So, that's when I turned to food. In a way, I had always turned to food in times of stress. But in those times there were also people around me. People to watch Netflix with and talk me through my feelings. This time because I was too ashamed of my own real feelings, I didn't let anyone truly in.
I started binge eating in 2013 as a way to hide the way I was feeling. I would binge eat after a stressful meeting, a bad date or as a release when depression and anxiety got really bad. It's 2016 now and I have gained nearly 100 pounds and I feel like I can't stop.
When I am stressed, my solution is to stay in my house and eat all day. Sometimes, I don't even notice how much I am eating or that I am eating at all.
The weirdest part of all is that I basically live mental health, video games and food. People around me have noticed my weight gain, my avoidance of cameras in social gathering and my avoidance of social gatherings all together.
But no one has asked about it, because I have held on to the persona of a recovered person. I have taught my supports that I was not ashamed to ask for help when I need it.
To the point that when I have dropped hints about emotional eating, people around me and my friends think its normal body image issues and tell me I should stop it and become vegan, do CrossFit or join some other trend they are into.
When I dropped hints to health care professionals they increased my thyroid medicine and half-heartedly joked that if I threw up after I ate, I would be able to find help.
But the truth is, I was ashamed to ask for help. In part because of the stigma around being fat and in part the stigma of feeling like I had failed all those I inspired. Ashamed, even though I realize that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Ashamed to ask for help, even though asking for help saved my life the first time. And ashamed, after years of being Iron Man (a superhero without a mask), I had gone back into hiding.
Today marks an end to all that.
I am finally seeking the help I need -- and needed since 2013. I am not a fraud, I am like every other person with mental health issues. I struggle sometimes. These struggles lie to me, make me feel like I am not in control of what happens around me.
The truth is, I have beaten worse, and I can do so again. I need to stay honest to who I tell everyone I am. A mental health superhero, whose latest battle will be to defeat binge eating.
I am telling you this story today, to return to what I have always wanted to do. Change minds by sharing stories honestly and openly.
This week is #EDAW2016 and #NEDawareness weeks. To bring attention to eating disorders and how they affect people all around the world. Click here for more information
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