I just got back from dinner. I went to this beautiful Vegetarian Indian Restaurant hidden right off the main road. I had two samosa's, and about a quarter of a spinach dish. I went on my own, with a Belle Hooks book and had a fantastic time. Normally, having dinner on my own with Belle Hooks is enough of a cause to celebrate but tonight there was a bit more to celebrate. No, I didn't have any kind of anniversary, and although the 11th is a trigger date, I haven't been triggered by May 11th in nearly five years. The reason I celebrate is because this was the first real meal I've had in the past five days, other than a salad earlier today. I've drank two smoothies, I've had cereal three time, and a slice of toast, and a few slices of gyro in the past five days.
In our patriarchal world I, as a male, am not expected to have any kind of eating disorders. And if you see me some days, you'd think it's the exact opposite, you might remark that I have a healthy appetite, or that I love food and dessert. And I do, sometimes. The truth is I talk up food quite a bit. I am an ice cream enthusiast, and am a lover of food, but it doesn't mean that food always agrees with me. I talk up food because I need to prepare myself for it some days, because otherwise the food will show up and stare back at me for hours before it gets lost in my fridge. Other times I know I won't be able to eat anything so I'll opt for sugar. I don't like sugar. I don't like the way it makes me feel, and affects me, but someone that only eats Ice Cream is far more accepted than someone that eats nothing. And there are days, like the past five, where I have to force cereal or whatever down my throat to stay alive and with enough energy to do my jobs.
(Photo Description: Above a photo of a scoop of light brown ice cream in a green paper cup with "Since 1880 Bedford Farms" and a image of an ice cream cone. A plastic spoon sticks straight up out of the scoop. Blurred background of table, chair, door, fire hydrant.)
Other days, it's the exact opposite. Other days I binge eat, gulping down entire meals meant for families of five with ease. Of course those are the days people see me and they remark on it, never really knowing that I'm making up for lost meals along the way.
Over the last few years we've started talking about Insomnia and its link to Mental Illness, but we're still lacking when we talk about all the other contributors to Mental Health. For me I can not be mentally stable without a strict sleep schedule, diet, and exercise regime. I am often envied for my 8 hours of sleep, or the fact that I can make time for yoga or boxing, but the reality is that I will not function without them, not for long at least. This regime is my form of medication, and without it I can not function, it's really that simple.
When one of those things starts slipping, and I can no longer manage it, within days I will start losing the other two and before long I am losing any form of functionality. My anxiety exponentially increases and my depression rushes in, and my BDD converts my image into that of a monsters, more than normal. Within three days I will start losing touch with reality, time and space and everything in between. I will no longer be able to differentiate between real life and dreams. I will not be able to sleep, and I will not have the motivation to exercise or eat. Or I'll go the other extreme. I will eat everything, and exercise for hours, and pass out as my body tries to recover. But I don't recover, not until I go back to the way things need to be, and then slowly I get back up.
Most people don't know this side of mental illness. And despite my strict schedule my illnesses do not disappear. I live with these illnesses everyday, and have for decades. They are there, but they are manageable to some extent.
But despite all this I am envied for my schedule, and I am asked to justify it every time someone hears of it. Most people see the 8 hours of sleep and exercise as a lifestyle choice, as if it were a choice. It's as much of a choice as medication is. You have a say in it to an extent, but you either take it or you find a replacement. This is my replacement.
If you're wondering I do not have a diagnosable eating disorder. I may have been diagnosed five years ago when I couldn't keep any food down for months and my body started shutting down, but with most eating disorders we focus on the self image related cause, and I've never had a food related problem because of my self image. BDD keeps me occupied enough as it is.
I'm writing this not because I believe it's a problem. This is a part of my life with mental illness, and I have learned to accept and even love those areas of myself. I am writing this to increase awareness about the needs of individuals with mental health illnesses whether visible or invisible. I'm writing this to let you know that no matter how small a thing might seem to you, it might be worth someones life.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder and Director of Mental Health for MCL, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events.
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