What is “Sick”?

I don’t have many complaints about my host campus in Canada. It’s been great so far. People open doors for each other, classes are straightforward lectures. I really enjoy it.

Besides the fact that I don’t like their policy when it comes to excused absences for “sickness.” While I completely understand that it’s something that can easily be misused when students feign being sick to skip some class, in other cases, it’s not practical.

Attendance is up to the professors, which they are usually very kind about observing, especially in regards to scary weather conditions. But the only way to TRULY count yourself as “sick” is if you have a doctor’s note.

First off, I avoid the doctor at all costs. That mentality probably stems from my hometown’s measly operation that credited my anorexia as an “electrolyte imbalance.” Yeah, still bitter about that. I have even written in the past about some medical professionals’ lack of acknowledgement of mental illness and all that it entails. The mind has extraordinary effects on us. Our mindset directly effects everything else going on in our bodies. Symptoms like digestive problems, trouble sleeping, headaches/migraines, chronic aches and pains, really anything, can come back to mental illness if you’re prone to it. But that isn’t the first prognosis a doctor would give you if you came in with physical symptoms. They’d be looking for a physical illness as the root cause.

I am a very healthy person. So when I don’t feel well, it’s often as a result of mental illness. In where again lies a problem with healthcare and mental illness. Never have I heard or seen a doctor write a note in the midst of mental illness, not unless it involves extreme physical repercussions like anorexia maybe. Besides that, it’s difficult for doctors to give someone slack for just being depressed or anxious. If you can’t see it, then you can just “toughen up and get through.”

I’ve come to the realization that I can no longer pretend to be okay when I’m not, at least not to the extent that I used to. My entire high school career was a blur of absentminded pain whilst playing it off as nothing. Putting on a mask to disguise the hamster wheel inside my head whirling around worries and paranoia. It was easy to ignore the hunger vibrating in my gut when I had piles of schoolwork to focus on.

The school system both cultivates and ignores mental illness. My life has always seemed to be ruled by arbitrary letters and numbers as an indication of my achievements. Perfectionism thrives off of scales, whether they measure weight or test scores. Even as my semester is mainly consisted of lectures, the fact that only two or so major tests will determine my performance freak me out. They’re sitting in a dark corner, just waiting to strike. I still have a few weeks before I even tackle those, and I’m already nervous.

In classrooms and doctors’ offices, we are equipped with the tools and knowledge to keep us healthy…physically. Only a fraction of our health relies on our physical well-being, and even that is heavily dependent on our other areas of wellness. When one is not synchronized, the others suffer. But that isn’t a situation you’d think of going to a doctor to write you a note saying you just need a break.

I cannot even imagine a teacher saying that somebody was absent because they were depressed that day, or too anxious to move or think. We’re expected to just keep going on with life as if nothing is wrong. But brushing off the severity of mental illness only makes it worse. That mentality teaches us to suppress our problems. The symptoms aren’t contagious, so teachers don’t warn us to stay home or else other students will inhale the germs.

In this situation, changing things is a collective effort required from all parties involved. At the doctor’s office, in school, we make mental health transparent. We foster environments that do not shame us for the days we struggle with normal functioning, as many as 20% of the population struggling, a fraction of people we cannot ignore. We ensure teachers are understanding if a student isn’t about to get out of bed to sit in a doctor’s office to write a note to send to the teacher, a process which when writing it out is overly complicated, in my opinion.

Last week, my campus had a table set up each day to discuss mental health, a great step in the right direction. But we spend so much time talking and little time taking action, implementing our words into everyday life, only dedicating a week or day to remembering its importance, when we should be making the effort every chance we get to fighting the stigma. This might mean examining everything we see as normal protocol and suggesting change, certainly not an easy task, but one that is necessary.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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What is Enough?

NOTE: I wrote this in a very low, dark mood. But I believe it’s crucial to share mental illness, in its mildest forms and when it is just plain ugly. I’m in a better mindset now, but this is a place I can easily fall back into. Please, everyone, take care of yourselves.

This, of course, is a lot of mental illness talking. Which is why I think it’s important to share. We keep our doubts and insecurities internal to the point that they make even less sense than they already do. That, however, does not make them any less valid.

I think too much. My mind constantly wanders to the bigger mysteries of life, things so abstract and unknown that my head can go in circles for hours. That might play a big role in why I cling to spirituality so often because it at least tries to give me answers. I can usually control myself to where I don’t become too overwhelmed. Other times, I can’t, as is today.

I do not recommend thinking about the meaning of time in a public area. If you are mentally ill like me, you are prone to a panic attack accompanied by holding back tears. The weather conditions, a dangerous mix of snow and freezing rain, does not help my mentality right now.

The root of a lot of my distress directly comes from comparison. I am fantastic at it, to say the least. I unconsciously am always looking at others, whether it’s their physique or lives or achievements, and I dwell on it. Although fully knowing that we are each doing the same things with others, envying and longing for what we don’t have, I still observe, I feel the energy around me, and it’s overwhelming, to a point I slightly lose myself in the process.

Heck, who am I even? What is my significance here in the retrospect of things? Have I done all I can? What am I doing right now?

In darker places, you wonder if you’re just here taking up space. You see the achievements people have earned, the number of people who love and remember them, the impact they’re having in the world, the way they spend their time. Things I see as living a full life. That for most days, you’re somehow making a difference, you’re regularly getting out of your comfort zone, you’re doing things that matter, and people take notice.

Or you’re here, just going through the motions. Having simple daily functions like getting out of bed or taking a shower as the most you do  all day. You don’t do anything productive in your spare moments. You have people who you sometimes interact with who are talking to others more often. You have really no idea what to do with your future.

I share these things because in a normal situation, I would push these aside and not really share them. I honestly wouldn’t know how to enunciate them out loud. But it’s powerful and reassuring to know you aren’t the only one with the same doubts. So many others have the same thoughts swirling around. There’s always people better or worse off than you are. And yet we still think of ourselves as mere specks on the fabric of time and life. We are human, unable to go against nature. We all succumb to the same fate, no matter what we did in life. It doesn’t matter whether you found a cure for cancer or never worked a day in your life. How morbid.

We all have different definitions for “time well spent.” The only person truly judging our worth is us. We set standards from some justification and critique every move we make. How productive our day was. How many people talked to us. What grades we earned or how much money we made. And for what? Why must we be so harsh to the point we cannot appreciate time or our numbered days because we spend so much of them wanting, but not doing, more.

When you are prone to more self-destructive thoughts, you think about time differently. It’s often a weapon against ourselves to continue the inner battle. To inflict more wounds, physical and mental. It’s a form of justification for our actions to say, if I’m not doing anything valuable, if I’m just taking up space, someone else deserves it. We often think of things like suicide, depression, and self-harm as very selfish, but they are quite the opposite. These negative mindsets come from low self-worth, that the world deserves better.

It’s an endless, vicious cycle. I certainly don’t have the answers. I’m like anybody else, just trying to make it through, one day at a time. In this case, I’m always better at speaking to others rather than following my own advice, and today is no exception.

Take this post up until now as a means of how NOT to think about yourself. Your existence matters. You are here, on this world and in this life, for a reason. You are loved and appreciated. You are worthy of every minute, no matter how you spend it. Others are living their own lives, which are by no means a guideline for ourselves. You are you, a child of the universe no less valuable than the trees, the stars.

And if I could do anything with my time to make it well spent, I will use every breath I have to remind others of this message.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Plant-based Recovery

I talk often about my past and everyday struggles with food. I talk often about my passion for the plant-based lifestyle I chose to lead about nine months ago. But I haven’t talked about the two topics together, and why they seem to coincide so well.

In both my disordered mind and rejuvenated one, I have been drawn to the social media communities of vegans who have a similar past as I do. Many of the people I see online had suffered from an eating disorder to then transition to veganism. In fact, it’s rare to find someone online who hasn’t admitted to such a struggle. I’m in that boat, and that was one of many determining factors when deciding to become vegan.

But why are the two so interconnected? What appeals eating disorder survivors to become plant-based? Of course, many will say that veganism is just another form of restriction, that it’s a clever mask to hide the underlying problem, that these vegans are lying to themselves saying they “recovered” through veganism.

I, however, see a much different correlation, one I’d like to share, especially for those in the similar boat I was in, wanting to begin a new lifestyle when others know of your destructive tendencies, making any sort of change to diet very suspicious. Because yes, veganism can easily become another way of restricting. When you aren’t educated in how to successfully maintain the lifestyle and don’t have adequate resources in your environment, you’re doomed to some sort of failure.

This is where I stop with the negativity because the positivity and benefits resulting from the change are as abundant as the amount of food you can enjoy as a vegan. People come into the lifestyle for many various reasons, my point exactly. When in a disordered mindset, your relationship toward food becomes very hateful and fearful. But having a specific reason beyond yourself for eating really changes your perspective.

You’re not just eating to potentially gain weight or get your hunger cues back, which are still important, but they are topics that can feel very uncomfortable. Instead, you are eating because it’s saving animals’ lives. You are eating to reduce your carbon footprint. It is a form of advocacy that makes eating into something more meaningful to others. The misconception about eating disorders is that they are very shallow or vain in their intentions, but they mental illnesses they embody themselves in a coping mechanism, just like OCD or addiction, except the substance involved is unavoidable. In that case, why not make the substance one that results in a positive impact?

Also, the food itself is nutrition that our bodies crave. You can feel good about what you put into your body because it’s automatically healthier for you than animal products. It’s food that will heal you from the inside out. It’s food that will actually make you feel good, not sluggish or bloated like meat and dairy can. It’s food you can enjoy in abundance without feeling guilty. From experience, at a certain point in the cycle of restricting, feeling hungry almost turns into a high, your body randomly finding a burst of energy, a negative reassurance that “hey, maybe this isn’t so bad after all,” even when you know in your gut that it is. But plant-based foods result in an even better feeling than that.

And hey, it’s food that is fresh, vibrant, and really delicious. Because yes, there’s plenty of people out there suffering from an eating disorder curious about the different diets out there, obsessing over food in any way possible, but eating plant-based means that you don’t have to worry about portioning everything and worrying about every little calorie. As long as it’s vegan, it’s good. That mindset might seem constrictive, but it’s actually one of the most liberating.

Last semester I wrote an entire research paper arguing the benefits of eating vegan to support a healthy mindset when it comes to any mental illness. While it’s a topic that has yet to receive the attention it deserves, the major factor in any discrepancies in data comes from ignorance, not knowing what nutrients to look for and amount of food to eat every day. We need to stop seeing veganism as a fad diet and start recognizing it as a sustainable lifestyle, probably the healthiest one on the planet. When I was in therapy for my eating disorder, I had to constantly defend myself for being vegan, as if I was “recovering wrong,” a major reason why I felt uncomfortable was so glad to lessen my number of appointments. I was eating again; that’s what truly mattered.

Everyday people and health professions alike need to expose themselves to research and information surrounding veganism, especially in eating disorder recovery. It IS possible, as so many have shown, and it’s becomingly an increasingly popular choice. Rather than stuffing yourself with junk food until you reach a certain weight, people can start eating plant-based foods and shift their lifestyle to one they can continue for the rest of their life, truly adopting a positive outlook toward food. Plant-based foods contain all of the nutrition you need to thrive. Not only does veganism teach struggling individuals how to eat well, it teaches them how to truly live.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie