I am still afraid to admit that I am living with an eating disorder. Even after speaking about mental health for seven years, over 600 times to a combined audience of over one million people, I am still scared to talk about binge-eating disorder.
It is the most common eating disorder facing Canadians, but rarely talked about publicly. People who deal with it, like me, often eat large amounts of food, usually in secret, and have a really hard time communicating our struggles to professionals and family because of the stigma around overeating.
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 and was finding my voice in advocacy. I was getting the positive attention I never thought was possible for someone like me. As I started to head down a road where speaking on stage, hearing people's stories and talking to the media became my norm, my eating also spiralled out of control.
Here is a little insight about me. On an average day, I go on stage at a conference, local school or event and share the hardest parts of my life to educate and support others. I then listen to stories of our mental health system failing those in need, I help some of those people get resources, or share in a general frustration that resources are not available. I then go to my job, where I hear more stories of the mental health system failing and attempt to fight the systematic barriers that exist to build something better. I sometimes do this from the comfort of my home, but often from hotel rooms in many different cities across the world. Sometimes, I will be called to talk about my story and my call for change in the media. While this work is rewarding, it is often very stressful.
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.
So, that's when I turn to food. In a way, I have always turned to food in times of stress, but until recently, there were also people around me. People to watch Netflix with and talk me through my feelings. Since my life has taken this unique path, I am usually dealing with this stress alone or with the sole support of my partner. Part of this is because I am too ashamed of my binge eating to talk to anyone about it.
I started binge eating in 2013 to deal with everything. I would binge eat after a stressful meeting, a bad date or as a release when my depression and anxiety got worse. It's 2017 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.
My life is largely about mental health, video games, and food. People around me have noticed my weight gain, my avoidance of cameras in social gatherings or my avoidance of social gatherings altogether. But no one has asked me why. I have taught my supports that I was not ashamed to ask for help when I need it. When I have dropped hints about emotional eating, people around me, my friends, think it's a normal body-image issue 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 just increased my thyroid medicine or made some half-hearted jokes.
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But the truth is, I was ashamed to ask for help, in part because of the stigma around being fat. Ashamed, even though I realize that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Ashamed to ask for help, even though it helped saved my life the first time.
Even when I am brave enough to ask for help, I am left on waitlists that are three years long, or put in general eating disorder programs that are built for people who restrict food instead of binge eat or encounter medical professionals who do not specialize in binge eating disorder as an illness.
What I want people to understand is that World Mental Health Day, which was Tuesday, Oct. 10, is not restricted to one day of the calendar year for me and many others. It's our daily lives. I hope that we can put a spotlight on binge-eating disorder as a mental illness so that people don't have to suffer in silence; letting people know they are not alone and deserve help. Binge-eating disorder is an individualized illness and we need to be our own mental health advocates to find the support and/or treatment programs that are right for us.
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