“Why would you talk to a complete stranger when you can talk to your own mother?”
That’s what my mother told me when I opened up to her for the first time about me going frequently to therapy without her own knowledge/validation. This is a bit of a personal encounter when it comes to mental health awareness and seeking therapy. As a teenager living in Egypt, I never tried to know more about my psychological status, as my attention was always focused on my physical health.
I had difficulty accepting my own body, being frequently exposed to comments and concerns about the essential need of keeping my body “skinny” and “feminine”. As a professional athlete for almost 10 years, my family was always concerned about me gaining a masculine look, which led me to gradually leaving behind my passion for sports. I tried to approach different encounters to keep my body “healthy”, in the sense of “skinny” and “feminine”; I tried different diets, starting from a strict balanced meal, to keto diet, and finally a plant-based diet. I could not find my own comfort in any of those due to my love of food and sweets; which led me to skip meals for the sake of eating “one good juicy meal”. As time passed by, I found myself minimizing my food intake, to the extent of eating an apple per day for a week so I can reward myself with a meal from my favourite restaurant in a weekend outing. If I ever caught myself cheating on my pattern, I had to punish myself by throwing up. None of this ever really mattered as long as I looked skinny whenever I checked myself out in a mirror.
My social and academic life had started degrading, as my attention was slowly shifted onto the cycle of starving, binge eating, and throwing up. I could not realize that my life was turning into a total mess, and I started justifying and normalizing my behaviours back then. However, I felt that it was starting to obsessively affect my psychological state, but I just could not accept nor realize it. One time, an article popped up in my Facebook home page, with a title about a celebrity who went to rehab for having an eating disorder; the imagery triggered me, she looked skinny, pale, and depressed; she looked just like me. I checked the article, which led me to read about a mental disease called “eating disorder” and its variations. I was shocked, and in denial. “It’s impossible, that can’t be what I’m currently facing”, I told myself.
I stayed in my room for days, researching the matter and over thinking it. I tried to talk to my mum about it, but her response was defensive, telling me that I just need to adjust my habits and I shall be fine. I tried and tried to communicate my concerns to people around me, my family, my friends, but no one really understood. I could not blame them, I personally could not understand myself, what should I be expecting from them?
I’ve read blogs by people who are diagnosed with eating disorder, saying that it stayed with them for many years, and that it ruined their lives. I could not expect a better end for myself, a 17 years old girl who lives in Egypt; I decided to give up the matter and just continue whatever I’m doing. Till one day, I was blessed with a YouTube channel made by a girl who suffered an eating disorder for 6 years, but managed to seek help and heal herself. Her encounters were untraditional, she could not as well seek professional help due to the lack of exposure and awareness in her own continent. I followed her tutorials, watching and re-watching her videos for months. I finally did it, taking slow steps out of my own disease, however I was constantly relapsing every now and then. It was difficult and exhausting, but I just could not take it anymore. She mentioned a very important note, and that is for a person to completely heal, they need to publicly announce their issue, and normalize it for the surrounding people no matter what their responses are. I decided to do that, but I just needed the right environment and opportunity to do so.
One day, I was hanging out with my work colleagues in Kelmetna magazine, and each one was required to share a dark secret of their own. I was dazzled by their courageous confessions, so I was triggered to share my own as well. I did, and I was met with an amazing support. It helped; that day I was officially healed, as for the first time, I accepted my own vulnerability. Since that day, I hardly relapsed, and whenever it happened, I was able to accept the fact that it’s okay; it does not mean I’m getting back to that hole again; it only means I’m moving forward. Two years later, I finally sought professional help, just to reassure myself that mental health is an essential aspect of me. However, I did not tell my parents back then, because I did not want to be met with responses such as “you just need to adjust your habits and you shall be fine”. When I did tell my mother, she was frustrated by the fact that I’m preferring the validation of a complete stranger. I was not shocked by her response, it only made me accept the fact that it’s okay to seek professional help, even when it is stigmatized and alienated as a practice.
Because mum, I’m only seeking therapy due to its complexity that is non-existent in me, nor you. I’m only seeking it on my own because you could not understand, neither did I at the beginning, because if you did, you would have encouraged me yourself to go to a therapist.
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