You are special.
This is a phrase my therapist has to repeat to me often.
Because the pressure of society for us all to conform to some standard “norm” is immense in this day and age, especially with the rise of social media. However, as a recovering eating disorder patient, I need to stand up against the “norm” because that is what got me into my predicament to begin with. I was trying to fit into the “normal” standards of beauty such as, “the thinner you are the more beautiful you are.” I was trying to fit into the “normal” standards for those passionate about fitness which were, you need to put your exercise routine as your first priority everyday and sacrifice anything you need to in order to get a workout in. I was trying to fit into the “normal” standards for a graduate student: just put your head down and grind out work for 5 years straight working 50+ hours a week and never take a holiday let alone a lunch break.
But all that got me was an incredible amount of stress and anxiety that I internalized, which left me vulnerable to an eating disorder that promised to take my anxiety and stress away if I did what it told me to.
When it all came to a head, and I knew I could no longer continue working the way I was and also seriously seek treatment for my eating disorder, I requested to take some time off from graduate school in order to have more time to recover and get well. Talk about stepping outside the norm!! I felt like such a failure.
No one else in my cohort of incoming students had to take time off for their mental health. “Why was I so weak?” Is the question I kept berating myself with until I realized something… all of that negative self-talk was coming from my eating disorder which was wrapped up with my awful inner critic. Those around me, who knew me, were all saying how brave I was for putting my mental health first and what a strong choice it was to do so.
I realized that just because I was the only one stepping out and saying I needed help and time to heal, didn’t make it wrong and it didn’t make me a failure. Actually I think that my life is going to be so much more fulfilling and successful because I did take time to care for my mental health and learn how to prioritize myself and my self care over everything, including work and people I love. What good am I if I have nothing to give to others or my work?
“You can’t put from an empty cup.” Burnout is real in our culture and it is because people think they are invincible and can push themselves to wit’s end but we are all human and we all have limits, and it’s okay that those limits are different for everyone. We need to learn how to respect one another and our individual mental health needs.
Do you need to call in and take a sick day because you are overwhelmed by anxiety? That’s okay.
Do you need to take a long weekend because you woke up and are overwhelmed with depression? That’s okay.
Mental illness is just as real as any other illness. Just because you can’t see it or quantify it doesn’t mean it isn’t real and you should disregard it.
Mental illness isn’t something you can just “will” yourself out of. It takes time. It takes therapy. It takes changing thought patterns. It takes personal reflection. It sometimes takes medication. And lastly, again, it takes time. Be patient and kind with yourself. Take one step at a time, one day at a time. One day you’ll look back and see all the progress you’ve made through your perseverance.
And when you start negatively comparing yourself to those around you who do not struggle with a mental illness, remind yourself that you are special, and you are worth caring for.
What pressure have you put on yourself to meet the standards of others? How did that effect you? Have you ever had to quit something or change your routine to address these issues?