Written by Step Above Stigma's SASIP Coordinator, Ghazal Khademi.
I have little recollection of learning about eating disorders from when I was growing up, which became problematic later on in my life, where I began developing unhealthy habits that I couldn’t recognize as the start of an ED. This would turn into something far more serious in the years to come. Experiencing being picked on about my size at a young age is what brought on various styles of extremely unhealthy habits that no one at any age should have to deal with, but these comments pushed me to a low point where I hated myself and was disgusted by the way I looked, even though the reality of it was that I was at a healthy weight and size for my age at the time.
My experiences with strict calorie-counting, over-exercising, and constantly searching for a quick solution to fit a beauty standard that I was so desperate to meet, only made me more self-conscious about the way I looked, and this only helped kick-start my body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Though I was increasingly active throughout high school, hiding what I was going through started to take a toll on me, where I felt like I was digging myself into a deeper hole with every single decision that I made on a day to day basis. Not only did I struggle to talk to others about what I was experiencing, but I made myself believe that I was okay, and that an ED was nothing to worry about.
At one point in my life, I felt myself deteriorating rapidly and I started to hit my lowest point. I started to notice my symptoms more and more, where I also began experiencing symptoms of other mental illnesses. At that point, I gave myself a wake-up call, and I then decided that I needed to open up about what I had been going through. The biggest obstacle in my experiences has been opening up to those I love, because everyone’s experiences are personal, and no one wants to put themselves in an incredibly vulnerable position, only to end up even more self-conscious should they be judged by others. But as hard as it was to open up, the support that I received from the few close friends whom I spoke to felt so comforting, and having people there for me at what felt like my lowest point was what I needed to prove to myself that I would be okay.
This took a huge weight off my shoulders and pushed me on my journey to recovery. But recovery and progress aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. There are so many ups and downs, and this is completely normal, but this was a tough pill for me to swallow. To me, a relapse or a “bad day” was me being weak and giving up on myself, but that’s not true. Accepting this was one of the most important steps in my recovery, as I forgave myself for my actions, rather than continue to self-deprecate, until the periods between relapses slowly grew more and more.
After high school and going into university (now entering my third year), I’ve significantly grown into a better version of myself – and continuing to grow, while learning many important lessons along the way, that I’d hope to keep with me for the rest of my life. I’ve learnt a lot about who I am, the difference between positive versus deprecating actions or choices, and finally, how to maintain my mental health with some simple steps I can take (that personally cater to me), in order to improve my state of mind. I’ve included a shortened list of some of my personally favourite self-care tips below;
1. Who am I at my best?
Something that’s been helpful to me is writing down descriptions of who I am at my best and looking back on them every once in a while, to remind myself of why I noted these descriptions in the first place. At my best, I’m doing the things I love, surrounded by the people I love, and I am happy. Of course, this can vary from one individual to another, but it always helps to be reminded of what you’re like when you’re at your best, especially if you feel you might be doubting yourself and what you’re capable of.
2. Creating and making use of a personalized self-care toolkit.
An effective way for me to calm down and bounce back from negative emotions or heightened symptoms relating to anxiety has been creating a self-care toolkit, by gathering different things from each of the categories of the five senses; seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting. For instance, some of the things that my own self-care toolkit consists of are a favourite snack, playing some music, smelling something (like basil, plants, candles), looking at a collection of pictures of my friends and family, and feeling a cozy blanket or carpet. This has been a trusty method for me, as it’s helped to ground me at times where I experience negative voices or thoughts in my head.
3. Creating mental health goals for myself.
Another method of self-care for me has been writing down some of my long-term and short-term goals (related to my mental health) in a journal and keeping it up to date. I have goals written for each week, month, the semester, and sometimes even for the year, and each of these goals are written down appropriately to correlate with the expectation of the goals. Some of my short term goals in the past have included going on a walk once a day, and working out most days of the week, while a more long-term goal could be to stay hydrated and eat well (eating intuitively is important, and for me, that doesn’t necessarily have to be eating healthy 24/7).
Ultimately, the journey of progress and getting to recovery is one that will not always be linear, and that’s okay. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to have to start over from square one. That doesn’t make me less worthy, and it doesn’t make me any less of a person. My experiences don’t define me, but they are a part of who I am today, and I have to continue to have compassion for myself, regardless of what anyone else may think. As cheesy as it sounds, there are always bumps in the road, and life comes with lots of ups and downs, but we should appreciate all of it. At the end of the day, we live one life, and we should all love the skin that we’re in, unapologetically, no matter the shape or size.