Being intellectually invested in one's own mental illness can be disappointingly unhelpful in terms of recovery - and as my favourite podcaster Paul Gilmartin has said: "You can't think your way out of a thinking problem", or as my mum pointed out the other day: "You don't have to analyse every single thing you feel". For us analytical, reflective, intellectual people this is terribly frustrating because surely there must be a logical, linear way out of the problem. And so, we keep on intellectualising and rationalising anyway.
A central issue with mental illness is that it affects the mind - obviously - therefore making solitary introspection a rather faulty treatment method. If your mind is infected, then how are you going to heal it without outside help? No amount of self-help material and logical thinking is going to set you free. It can take you further along, and it can help but it will never be enough. Of course, I have had to learn this the hard way, as I'm sure many others; and to be frank, the hard way is most of the time the only way.
For a very long while I genuinely thought that studying, labelling and categorising my mental disorders was helping. It gave me clarity and helped me to separate myself from my demons. It made it all less scary - and more real. For me, being able to learn about depression, anxiety and eating disorders from books and articles, and comparing that information to personal experience is invaluable. This scientific knowledge keeps me grounded. It's like a solid wall to lean on to when my mind is clouded with invisible, paralysing terror. I find medical labels validating, as if without them I wouldn't be deserving of help. I know this isn't true but I have always felt that I'm not sick enough to be entitled to treatment. This continues to be the main reason why I resist finding further support to go alongside with medication. I'm still afraid of rejection.
Being aware of all this makes no difference to how I feel when I'm depressed or anxious. It does absolutely nothing to makes those feelings subside. I can't knock my depression out with a book - sadly, but I do feel more able to fight it the more I learn about it. Listening to people talk about their experiences with varying mental illnesses and traumas in Paul's podcast has had a huge impact on how I perceive mine. Hearing someone put into words something that you, yourself have been feeling is unlike anything else. It's an easily digestible and tasty dish of insight served on a silver plate with a cherry on top.
Something that comes along with an analytical and perfectionist mind is getting stuck in the details. If I don't fulfil every single characteristic of such and such disorder, then it must mean that I am perfectly healthy and the reason that I'm feeling terrible is simply the fact that I have failed at being perfect. This way of thinking is applicable to all of my problems, but especially to my tendency to disordered eating. An obsession over my body and food was the first major way in which my perfectionism started manifesting itself, but because I was never really anorexic or bulimic or orthorexic, and never lost weight to a noticeable extent, the obsession has stuck with me, unnoticed by others, since puberty. I would restrict my eating, I would binge, I would avoid certain foods because I saw them as unhealthy but I never fit into one neat box with my behaviours. I tried several times to force myself to throw up but never succeeded, and I was never able to completely control my eating either, and as a consequence I saw myself as a failure. To this day, I can't give weight to the eating disorder that still sits on my shoulder every now and then. The worst of it does seem to be behind me but I am ever hateful towards my own body, and I do try to fill a hole inside me with food. I still congratulate myself for eating healthily and exercising rigorously. And by no means, am I past the issue.
Something interesting that I just learned, is that actually exercising as a means of subtracting, is considered purging alongside with vomiting and using laxatives. Whatever action you take to deserve to eat, or to remove the calories previously ingested is purging, and as such, a sign of an eating disorder.
Another really significant insight to eating disorders (and I'm now conscious of leaving out binge-eating on its own, without the obsession of weight-loss), and suicidal depression and anything connected to physical harm, is that it's not important whether you act on the thought, but the thought itself. For example, the way I saw myself as a loser because I couldn't push my fingers deep enough into my throat was no less harmful than if I'd actually managed to make myself sick. Breaking into a bank with a gun and the intent to rob it is still a crime even if you get caught before taking the money, not unlike the crime committed against the body when you have the intent of violently removing something from it.
Going back to the intellect, it is enlightening to know that the form in which my eating disorder manifested/manifests itself is recognised by the medical world, and that it has always been an illness, or a sign of one. However, and here we arrive at the disappointing conclusion, I still use food as an emotional filler and a way to comfort myself; I still can't see my body as a whole but rather a collection of disgusting faults; and I still view exercise as a way of subtracting calories from my food intake. Compared to depression and anxiety, this is not a prominent issue at the moment, and in fact, I think that mostly they're all just different sides of one whole, and I have no idea what dictates the strength with which each of them affects me at different times.
At the moment, I feel like I've taken another step in recovery by acknowledging that while intellectual approach to my mind is fascinating an gratifying, it alone isn't enough. Medication, and the knowledge of my illness enable me to remain functional in daily life, but I will need to get into therapy to move forward. This is nothing new to me or anyone else, but it's one of those things that require an amount of energy and determination and courage that I haven't bee able to muster yet.
And now I've hit the writing wall. Bye.