I'm at a point in my recovery where I feel no shame saying that I have an eating disorder. I feel like I can talk about it until I'm blue in the face--especially because so much of the last 3 months for me have been eating disorder focused while I've been in treatment. It's harder for me to talk about my other diagnoses.
I have persistent depressive disorder, as well as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
And I feel so much shame in admitting that. I have been much more comfortable talking about my eating disorder and my anxiety, because to me they feel "safer" to talk about. In reality, I have a clinical team of 5 professionals who not only help take care of me, they know if I was ever "unsafe" I would have help right away. They're good at what they do, and I feel totally supported and protected by them.
Depression is common. Over 100 million people worldwide and 6 million people in the U.S. have had at least one depressive episode in their lifetimes. Eating disorders and depression go hand-in-hand, and research has revealed that eating disorders are diagnosed with other mood disorders in up to 80% of individuals with EDs. These are most commonly depression and anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. So it makes a lot of sense that I have a nice trifecta with my eating disorder, anxiety, and depression.
I truly believe that a major part of my relapse came from my attempts to avoid dealing with my depression. I had never even spoken the words with regard to myself until I moved to New York City in August. I had been to therapy and ED treatment for over two years and I never once spoke about it. And yet, as I found myself in a brand new city, trying to adapt to grad school and the post-college life, it was all I could think about. I was doing "alright" in my recovery at this point, and found myself with a new therapist who was wonderful and I felt comfortable enough to really open up to. When I began speaking about my experiences, it felt more natural and comfortable in a couple of weeks than I did in 2 years with my college therapist.
And so, eventually, I opened up about my depression. I had never put any words behind it before and the reason I was comfortable to even say it out loud was because I had creeped on my medical records over the summer after I found that I had access to them online. Of course, I was curious and was scrolling when I found the diagnoses "positive depression screening" and "depressed mood". It was the first time I had thought I could identify with this label, and the name began to fit the facts of how I had been struggling beneath the surface leading up to this past summer.
Not so spoiler alert: using my eating disorder behaviors in order to avoid feeling and expressing my depression did not work. The less I nourished myself, the more the symptoms of depression increased in severity. I got to a place where I was extremely depressed, relapsing, and at the same time trying to avoid the feelings and the stigma of having depression. My eating disorder behaviors were so out of control that my sessions began to shift from doing the hard work I wanted to avoid to getting me to eat again and to admit to a higher level of care. My avoidance only made things worse.
The problem is, we have all these pre-conceived notions about what depression is supposed to look like. Society depicts someone struggling as being stuck in their beds all day, unable to function or take care of themselves or their responsibilities. And in some cases, that's true. My therapist calls my depression more "high functioning" or that I come off as being "apparently competent". And I was still really struggling anyway and not taking care of myself by engaging in ED behaviors. We need to break the stigma of what a depressed person "looks" or "acts" like and recognize that many more of us are struggling than we may want to believe.
In October, I got the semicolon tattooed onto my wrist. This is part of the semicolon project, which represents the semicolon in writing; the author has the chance to continue the sentence when they could have ended it. It’s a reminder that you are the author of your story, and you have the choice to keep going, even when it feels too hard.
I look at this every day as a reminder that my thoughts and my depression are not in control of me. I don't have to be ashamed of having depression, or of any of my mental illnesses. And I will be here.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.