When did you realize you had anxiety?
I have always been a very anxious person. Ever since I can remember, I was very shy and didn’t get out much. I worried a lot about being judged or letting my parents down. It didn’t help that I was also very all, (as tall as most the teachers by 4th grade) and overweight. The anxiety was never really addressed directly by my family. I was just encouraged to go out more and get confused looks when I struggle to do so. I was never directly shamed about my anxiety, the quiet nature of being a shy kid played well within my Asian American Community. I was seen as a well-behaved child.
When did you start noticing your relationship with food and your body changing?
I experienced a lot of shame with my body image. I was an overweight child and as I got older, my weight only increased. I would be bombarded by messages that I needed to diet or lose weight. I would be compared to other heavy set family members and ‘educated’ about their health problems. This, of course, did not help with my anxiety nor my self-esteem. At the time I and those around me did not think much about my relationship with food. I believed that I was just lazy and lacked self-control. I took the shame about my body, lack of self-esteem, and overall anxious personality, and internalized it. These thoughts prevented me from socializing much with other children in fear of them seeing how worthless I was. Loneliness and social isolation and continue to grow as I got to dating age and felt undesired by everyone. This was when started to feel more depressed, though I definitely would not have called it that. Again it was just me and how worthless I am.
In the natural fight that my psyche had with my beliefs as I came into young adulthood, I began to think, maybe I’m not worthless, I know I have some good ideas, I know I do right by a lot of people. Trying to reconcile this budding feeling of worth with the worthlessness I feel, I began reasoning that what was keeping me from having friends or getting dates was my weight. The messages that I have received about my body as a child cemented itself in my mind. For a while, this technique worked. I felt better about myself, I felt more a bit to go and make some friends, knowing that if I could just lose the weight, people will see my worth. Of course, this train of thinking can only get a person so far. As I continued to get older and still unable to find a romantic partner, while seeing those around me fall in and out of relationships, getting married, the more my worth became about my body.
When did you notice it becoming a problem?
In my early to mid-twenties, while managing the stresses of grad school and my growing loneliness was when my body image issues evolved into a full-blown eating disorder. I began binge eating to cope with the stress and to symbolically throw in the towel, (you are and always will be fat and worthless, so you might as well find some joy in life). Though that logic only worked for a while, again those deep-rooted messages I got as a child came back to haunt me. I recognized my disordered behavior and swung myself in the completely opposite direction. I began restricting, exercising more, and as the weight went away, an influx of praise, support, and attention came my way. I felt great! I went on my first dates, I wore stylish clothing, all while bathing in the praise and approval of all those around me. I felt on fire! I was doing well in school, I was feeling confident about my career, no more anxiety, no more depression, I felt so in control of my life… That is until I wasn’t.
These new experiences I was having came at a hefty price. I was consumed with losing weight. I wanted to keep getting thinner. I look at the mirror and still could only see this fat piece of shit. Despite having gone from wearing 2XL to a medium and everyone I know telling me I can stop now. Every meal became a challenge, I would start binging again (my body obviously starved for nutrition) then the shame and fear of gaining back weight kicked in. “I’ve come too far to lose all I have built through losing weight, I must get rid of this” and thus began my purging behavior. I had to combat my body’s desire to gain a subsistence by throwing it up so I don’t lose this new life I have. This struggle exacerbated my depression and threw me into a tailspin. Thankfully the healthy part of me recognized that this was messed up. While it wasn’t powerful enough to make me stop, it gave me enough power to bring it up to my therapist who helped get me into an intensive outpatient program to help me treat my eating disorder.
Being in the treatment program is one of the best things in my life. It not only was able to address the eating disorder but also so many of the issues I have struggled with lifelong. But don’t be mistaken, it is a lot of hard work, and the battle still continues to this day in me. I am still an anxious, dark, depressed person who has a very uneasy relationship with food. When I now get no replies on dating apps it’s still hard not to think it is my weight. I still slip into unhealthy eating behaviors. The difference now is, I no long we beat myself up. I know my worth. I know I’m not defined by my body nor the negative emotions that plague me. I am able to recognize and acknowledge these shit feelings when they visit, but I also know that I have the tools to get myself out.
If you have gone through/are going through similar experiences or even just know someone that is, be kind to yourself/them. Hate, shame, and won’t get people very far. As sappy as it sounds, love and self-acceptance in its many forms will get you farther. I would encourage you to seek help and support those around you to do so. There isn’t a deadline, on when you “need” to get better. Relapse, setbacks, tough emotions are all part of this process. The healing process is always working as long as you keep trying.
Do you have advice for a family member, friends, or spouse on supporting people with anxiety or depression?
To those who are trying to support someone struggling with mental health or eating disorders, the best thing you can do is believe them when they ask for help, support the knowledge, plans, and insights they are learning in treatment. Most importantly, take a look at your own relationship with food, body image, and mental health and acknowledge the biases and beliefs you hold and then actually listen to the person working their butts off to get better. Mental work is still hard work even though you might not be able to see it in the physical world.