Hailing all the way from Argentina, this strong woman shares her story of confronting an eating disorder and the anxiety that came along with it.
With the attitude of always having something to learn in her mental health, meet Victoria and read her journey below.
Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?
I have been suffering from an eating disorder (Bulimia) for many years now and last year, due to the many pressures of habitual life, I started to suffer from panic attacks and social anxiety. You might wonder how one thing relates to the other but in fact, they are extremely related. It started when I was in secondary school. Since then, it has all been about prioritizing and pleasing the rest. It was all about feeling uncomfortable when on the eyesight of others. It was all about questioning the many things that were “wrong” with me. It was all about creating unconscious parameters on how I “should be” in order to be accepted and not to fear contact with others anymore.
It affected and shaped my daily relationships and my inner state as well. Imagine one of your most valuable tools in life, your capacity of thought, being permeated with these illusions of judgement. Imagine trying to fit each thought and action in the “regular/normal” parameter (which I eventually did against my own will!). A downright struggle. But I really do believe there’s power in this struggle. It has taken me several months of learning how to ask for help and support, of reading information about my mental health issue to prompt awareness, of practicing mindfulness meditation, of questioning my own thoughts…
Even though I am still on my way to recovery, i.e I am still a work in progress, I have reached a point in my life in which I can stop and realize the harming effect that such behaviors have on me and on the people that love me. Life is about daily choices and I believe struggles are in our nature for a reason: to choose to nurture from them.
What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?
Sometimes, we have the illusion that we are in control, that we can keep our anxiety or our condition at bay. But with the passing of time, you realize that is not the case. Asking for help is a priority when talking about mental health. We are social beings, and by this I mean that we have a biological need to share our experiences and rely on others. We need to be able to rely on people who love us and care for us.
I decided to get help when I realized that my “control” over the situation was fictional, temporary, and it made it even harder, even impossible, to progress. When you think you are in control, it is perhaps when you are more prone to lose it completely. Something that also triggered my need for help (especially, professional help) was when I spotted in myself a feeling of shame because of my mental health condition. Stigma, I suppose.
When I thought I had found the exact and reliable recipient to pour down my feelings about my mental health issue, I realized that I had not chosen wisely. From this, I learned that you cannot be certain someone will understand what you are going through, and choosing who to share your experience with is one of the most difficult parts of the journey. Once you have found the right people in which to place your trust and rely on them, you will see that the process of healing is much easier to undergo and you will, by no means, feel out of place or exposed. You will feel your authenticity taking over and nourishing from the support of others.
How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?
I believe that mental health affects each and every one of us. The problem is that we don’t speak about it. We are afraid of it. I was and still am afraid of it. And that’s why it still affects me nowadays. Awareness is a tool because if you’re not aware of your condition, you won’t be able to cure it. However, it is still a challenge to know that you are suffering from one and that you have lots of work ahead of you.
Is it bad to have a mental health issue? Why does this happen to me? Other people seem to walk through life carelessly while I sit and struggle with my own mind. If you ever had these thoughts in mind, you might understand what I felt: basically, shame and fear.
Having to give your condition a label, knowing that there are symptoms and signs you have to beware about, but especially knowing how stigma might prevent people from understanding your pain. There’s this quote that always resonates in my mind and helps me go through these predicaments:
“We live in a world where, if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast. But if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way.” – Kevin Breel
I am learning to cope with my negative, self-deprecating thoughts which are the result of years of letting the world make me believe I was not worth it. I am learning to question my own stream of thought, knowing that my mind is hardwired to think high of others and low of myself… I have learned to understand that “it’s okay not to be okay”, that my mood does not have to fit in any parameters, that there are shades of meaning to every single event and action and that my mind needs patience and practice to take the extra step.
How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?
To tell you the truth, undergoing this mental health issue has made me become a more curious, self-conscious person. I am in a constant search for answers and solutions, living in an increasing sense of awareness of my mind and body. I have learned to look on the bright side, to sit and reflect about what I want for myself, for my life, for the people that surround me. Again, I believe that there is so much more than suffering when you go through any kind of journey and that it undoubtedly will lead you to several instances of personal growth.
It has also given me the capacity to be more sympathetic, understanding and positive towards others. Knowing that anyone might be undergoing what you are suffering or any other similar situation, opens your mind to a completely different approach towards life. Life itself becomes a different experience and, regardless of all the negative breakdowns you might have, there’s always something to learn. I am not proud of having a mental health issue; I am proud of having found the strength to walk through it and the resilience to get back on track whenever I trip or fall. As I already said, it can become a learnable experience if you choose to fight for it.
What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?
When I am struggling the most is when everything I do and even myself becomes useless. Let’s be honest – giving up is an option. Hiding and isolating is an option. Hating yourself is an option. Yet, I remind myself every single day that there is always two sides to every coin. I remind myself that I will win nothing by sticking to the self-damaging options. Go further. Do NOT stay in that position.
You can find ways to make the most of your current condition and even benefit others along the way. Another piece of advice which I usually tell myself is that when I am at my worst, I cannot and will not think clearly. So, I remind myself of the need to ask for help, to resort to my source of support, to give the situation a second thought and wonder if what I was thinking is the case.
Seek inside of you, among your wishes and your hopelessness, your joy and your pain, your strengths and your weaknesses. I believe that there is a way to overcome all these and it is through effort, through making concessions with one’s own mind and heart… There is power in the struggle and better things lie ahead.