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How My Mental Health Crisis Impacted My Health

Posted on: 2/24/21
Posted by: Vivian

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 22-28, 2021) we have a guest blogger, Vivian, who will talk about her experiences with disordered eating and a serious mental health episode during an especially difficult period in her life. The purpose of #NEDAwareness week is to put a spotlight on eating disorders through education, spreading hope, and sharing resources. Learn more on NEDA’s website.

During most of my life I’ve been on the chubby side. I’ve also lived with depression and anxiety since an early age. I think my first experience with depression was at 11 years old. Anxiety and fear of germs joined the party when I was in college. I mostly functioned though. Food has almost always been a source of pleasure to me.

This changed when I turned 25. I had been physically sick for 6 months, recently got married and then laid off from my first post college job. After being laid off in January, I was scared about finding another job. My anxiety levels started to increase. I’d often feel my heart racing and a huge lump in my stomach. One of my anxiety triggers is germs. I shared food with an adolescent cousin was ill and I just went into a spiral wondering if I will get sick. I would search the web for information on when to expect symptoms, what to look for, how easy it is to get sick from sharing food. I was super freaked out. Sleep was hard to come by. 

I managed to find a job in early summer, but I didn’t like it at all. I was answering phone calls from angry people asking for money back. The calls were very confrontational and stressful. No one was nice. This job was not helping with my anxiety. I needed to get out of it, and I did.

In the following October, I thought I found the best job ever. I was at a large campus that had tons of amenities including a cafeteria, gym, and free fancy coffee and snacks. I was ecstatic. But it didn’t last. I really don’t know if the job just wasn’t right for me or if my ever-increasing anxiety was the cause, but this was one of the worst four months of my life. I was barely sleeping or eating. I started exercising to escape my spinning thoughts. I’d wake up at 2am and drive to work because I was terrified I’d made a mistake. Once at work I’d check and recheck things. 

I’d go into conference rooms at work to hide and cry. I really started restricting what I ate. My appetite was not great, but I’d still restrict my food intake. I also increased the amount of time I spent exercising. I’d listen to music and just watch the time on the machine countdown. It was an escape from my thoughts and fears.

Things get fuzzy for a while. I know my husband was really concerned, but he didn’t know what to do. We were very far away from our families and he had just lost his older brother unexpectedly. He was grieving and dealing with a wife who was in great distress.

Shortly before Christmas, I realized I couldn’t continue this way and contacted a mental health professional to get help. I saw her once or twice before traveling home for Christmas. I remember being so excited to show people how much weight I’d lost since they saw me about a year ago. Everyone who saw me talked about my weight loss and I got compliments from so many people. It felt great.

The thought of going back to work after the holidays filled me with dread. I was so very unhappy and unhealthy. Shortly after getting back, my job decided that I wasn’t a great fit, so they decided to let me go. This, in retrospect, was a good thing, but at the time I was destroyed. I had never failed at anything and now I was told I wasn’t working out. Strangely, they let me continue to have access to the gym for 3 months after I didn’t have to go to work. This ended up being a very bad thing. With no job, I had nothing to do and my anxiety and fear increased. I ended up spending even more time at the gym. I just watched the time on the machines go down and how many calories I burned. I honestly don’t know how I did it. I was not in a good place. Luckily, my husband and I decided to make a change.

Since I was out of work and he was working from home full-time, we decided to move closer to our families. Planning the move helped me to focus my energy on something other than restricting my food intake and exercise. This helped to calm me a bit. I was also on medication for my anxiety that finally seemed to be working.

Moving home increased my support system and really helped me to get back to a healthier place emotionally. I spent time with my sisters and was seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. My husband was super supportive of whatever I needed. My over-exercising ceased, and I started eating more normally. 

I was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, but looking back, I’m pretty sure I had one. I think it developed in response to the severe anxiety I was experiencing. I don’t even know why my focus became food and exercise. Years later I talked to my sisters about this time in my life and they told me how worried they were about me. One of my sisters said she could tell I was sick after seeing me that first time. Unfortunately, my distortions still prevent me from seeing that I looked sick. They could tell I wasn’t well but didn’t know what to do other than try to be there. I think that is one of the best things people could have done for me. My sisters and husband were there for me and treated me normally. It helped me get back to a healthier place. 

If you have questions about eating disorders or are looking for resources, please visit these websites to learn more.