My Mental Illness Made Me Skinny

3

January 17, 2014 by Emily Pergament

Because:

  • I want the stigma to end, so I should do my part.
  • Hearing women like Jenny Lawson and Lena Dunham discuss their experiences has empowered me to discuss mine.
  • One of my New Year’s resolutions was to speak up about this topic. Or maybe it wasn’t. But I definitely resolved to write more.
  • I would have given my left nut to read an essay like this while I was in the thick of it.
  • Basically, I just wish this topic was talked about, so I’M going to talk about it.

Remember that post about “shitty personal stuff” in October? Yeah…

In September 2013, I lost 13 pounds in two weeks. I’d just turned 25, my husband, Rob, and I had just returned from a tropical Costa Rican getaway, and our one year anniversary was coming up. Was I trying to get in shape to wear a bikini? To enter my second quarter of a century in tip-top shape? To stun my husband on our anniversary night in a hot little number? No. I wasn’t trying to lose weight at all.

I was losing weight because I was not hungry, and the idea of eating sickened me. You know when you’re anxious about something – a test, an interview, a big move, something along those lines – and you feel butterflies in your stomach, and the idea of putting anything in your mouth absolutely repulses you? (No? Does that not happen to everybody? Well just imagine, then.) That is how I felt for about a month in the fall. But it wasn’t because of any thing; I just felt anxious all the time. And I cried pretty much every moment that I wasn’t at work. I cried when I woke up, on my lunch break, and after work until I went to sleep. Ok and sometimes in the bathroom at work. I physically could not stop crying.

So my depression and anxiety fed off each other (which – by the way – my first therapist told me was very astute and self-aware to acknowledge, thank you very much). I would cry uncontrollably for a few hours, and my pulse would race, and my chest would hurt, and I would think I was dying, and I would cry some more because I was too young to die. I would cry because I was crying and I didn’t know why, and I wished I wasn’t crying. This happened from the day after my birthday in mid-September to early-mid October. Oh, and this period of time included my surprise birthday party (hello, I wish I’d had an appetite so I could enjoy my ice cream cake!), a surprise birthday that I threw for Rob (ditto about pizza), and our first anniversary (thank God I had my appetite back for S Prime when we celebrated a few weeks after the actual day).

The entire time, I never thought I would get better. I sat in the therapist’s chair week in and week out, for seven weeks, just sobbing my eyes out, going through tissues like mad, and asking her how “normal” it is to have depression as a 25-year old woman. I had never heard anyone talk about it in any meaningful way, so I was convinced I was extremely unusual. I knew mental illness runs in my family (thanks a lot, family!), and I knew having a disease shouldn’t be shameful, blah blah blah, but oh, it feels so different when you are in the thick of it. You can know something in your head but never feel like it’s true (like pronouncing “Gristedes” – I will always insist on saying it with a Spanish accent).

It is isolating. My second therapist told me that feeling isolated is a symptom of depression. Well isn’t that nice! There is such a stigma around mental illness that few people talk about it AND feeling isolated is a symptom anyway. Cool, brain chem, I really appreciate it.

It is all-consuming. I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than how I was feeling. My second therapist also told me to get out of my own head. I told her that asking me to do that was like asking me to lift a car – it just. wasn’t. possible.

And some days, it is impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I honestly didn’t think I would ever feel better again, even though last fall wasn’t my first go-around with depression. I first felt depressed in September 2011 (what an inconvenient month to feel depressed! Both our birthdays and now our anniversary.). Even though, again, I knew in my mind that this had happened before and that I’d eventually felt better, I just couldn’t picture ever feeling better. I couldn’t picture the future at all, quite frankly, which sounds really dark and disturbing, but that’s the joy of having an illness that sucks all the life out of you. So at the end of the day – during which I called my mom and Rob as many times as I could without driving them crazy – I clung with all I could to the knowledge that I would feel better, even though I didn’t believe it.

So what else – besides a stalker-level number of phone calls to my family everyday – helped me along the way? This post by The Bloggess about September being an awful month. My second therapist telling me something along the lines of “Of course you get depressed in September! What do you think the animals do around this time? They hide away and sleep for a few months,” which is exactly what I felt like doing. My psychiatrist telling me that practically her whole practice is girls my age: “It’s the age, and it’s this city.” My first therapist telling me about celebrities who have spoken about their depression. My sister agreeing with me that it is so chic and so New York to have a psychiatrist. And my medicine! Hooray for modern medicine.

Another thing that was super helpful was telling all my co-workers about it, which I didn’t really mean to do, but it ended up being for the best. It started out because everyone was complimenting me on how great I looked, and did I lose weight? My face looks so much skinnier! My pants are so loose! What diet am I on? “Umm,” I said, and then mumbled something about intestinal distress that would hopefully cut off any further line of questioning. When the same person asked me two days in a row if I was ok because she was now concerned about my stomach issues, I just came clean. Why not? I wanted to tell someone about it and by then I was feeling somewhat better. And then eventually I ended up telling more and more people, and there are so few people in my office that I ended up telling everyone. So when I opened up about my struggles, I was shocked that they a) didn’t think I was a freak of nature and b) shared their stories about people they knew who went through something similar. When I told one of my high school friends about my depression, she told me that she had been feeling depressed lately as well! I felt so relieved that I wanted to slap her and tell me she should have told me sooner. (Side note – it seems really perverse to be happy that you aren’t the only one who has depression. It’s not really happiness, but it is a relief not to feel so alone and weird).

Hello! Can we all be sharing these stories all the time?! I didn’t even believe depression was real when I was a teenager. I distinctly remember hearing about depression and saying, “Why can’t you just make yourself happy? Think about something happy. Tell yourself a joke.” Rude, 13-year old self! How could you be such an ignorant girl? Depression is REAL! Everyone should know this, but how would anyone know that it’s real unless people open up about their experiences?

(Disclaimer – I also said recently that I don’t believe in allergies – I just thought people didn’t like certain animals or food – and then woke up one day with my face looking like a tomato/balloon, and had to be put on a strong anti-histamine for a week, so I’m not going to say I don’t believe in diseases anymore.)

So what is the takeaway? What is my unsolicited advice? If you start feeling depressed, know it’s REAL, and it’s not the most unusual thing in the world. It happens to lots of people. It may be the hardest thing you ever have to do, but try to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. Get to a therapist and/or psychiatrist ASAP. There are lots of resources online, but there are also lots of shitty people who are anti-this-and-that, and you should just stay away from that nonsense. And, importantly, know that it WILL get better, even though it feels like it won’t. I am so lucky that I had the wherewithal to address it as soon as it kicked in this second time around. I’m not looking forward to my depression coming back, but if it does, I feel comfortable knowing that I have the resources to handle it again. And I’m not glad that I had depression, but boy does coming through the other side of it give you a fresh appreciation of life!

Oh and I gained all the weight back.

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3 thoughts on “My Mental Illness Made Me Skinny

  1. Randi says:

    Wildly proud to know you. You are brave, you are wise and you are strong. You are not your mental illness.

  2. Jennifer Turek says:

    Your courage is inspiring. And you didn’t drive me crazy, I was happy you wanted to talk to me about it. Many, many people love and care about your well being. More than you know.

  3. Becky says:

    You are such a brave girl. I think Claire is the one who said “You are amazing!” I could not agree more. You are amazing! Life is tough enough without having added burdens. However, many of us do have added burdens, and that’s just part of life. I am sorry you have this additional burden, but you also have some pretty wonderful things going for you. Just don’t hide when you feel yourself getting depressed. Call someone, go somewhere, do something positive for yourself. Responding to it quickly is key. I, personally, love hearing about your life with your husband, your family, your friends, your job, your adventures to foreign countries, your cooking experiments, your thoughts on acquiring a pet, etc. Please, know you have a wonderful support system. You will need them at times, and, sometimes, they will need you. That’s what having people who care about you is all about.

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