I wasn't okay, but I am now
By: Jessica Wan
Published: March 10 2021
This article contains mention of mental illness, including disordered eating and anxiety. Please read at your own discretion.
In April 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I carried all my belongings with me and hopped on a plane that took me home. I sat in
the dark for 13 hours without drinking or eating, with a great fear of not knowing what was ahead of me. However, I was soon pleasantly surprised that the summer was as fun as it always had been for the past five years, where I spent time with my family after a year of studying abroad. The anxiety started to hit me when the University announced their online teaching plan. I kept asking myself how I was going to study with my parents around, and how much longer my stay at home was going to be extended?
All of my fears turned true the moment school began. It was impossible for me to concentrate at night due to the 12-hour time difference in China, and it was even more impossible for my mother to comprehend why I always had something due every day. The schedule made me extremely sleep-deprived and exhausted; however, I saw a silver lining in eating. Anything extremely sweet or spicy would give me a thrill of excitement, and the fatigue after a food coma would bring me a moment of peace. I did not realize how much my physique has changed until my friend compared me with an inflated balloon, and I did not know this was an illness until I saw “compulsive overeating” on my medical chart. This diagnosis was probably the thing that finally crushed me.
“I have mental illness now” was the thought that was always hovering above my head, then soon enough it became “I am psychotic now”. This was me convincing myself to surrender. Aside from this, my mood swings were so frequent that sometimes I could not tell what my brain wanted. I could be yelling and feeling extremely violent one moment, and crying and repenting another moment, then right after all of this, I could still feel like the happiest person in this world. Nevertheless, I never let this side of me be exposed to anyone but my parents. I still could sound calm and text “lmao” to my friends, I did an excellent job disguising myself. However, this means my parents had to become my emotional outlet. I still remember the look on my mother’s face when I experienced my first panic attack. She looked so helpless and scared when I was hyperventilating, but all she could do was patting my back and say “everything will be fine”.
Things really had taken a positive turn by the time of exams. The course load was lightened; I was determined to finally make some changes as I knew this was not the way I wanted to live. My life seems to be back on track now almost two months after this turning point; however, this does not mean the past four months of struggling should be forgotten, and thus I would like to share the things I have tried and how they have helped me.
1. I took prescribed fluoxetine to treat my overeating disorder. Unfortunately, I had to pause it since I was undergoing disturbing side effects, insomnia and difficulty concentrating. I have to stress that I do not recommend going off medication without any medical directives because it is extremely dangerous, I was lucky to dodge a bullet. My strategy after this was similar to meditation. For instance, if I had a strong desire of eating a dozen donuts, I could allow myself to have two, then I would take the rest out of the house and keep telling myself that they still taste the same no matter how many I consume. Furthermore, three meals a day is a must, skipping breakfast would only make me overcompensate at lunch. Another thing I always reminded myself of was that do not be frustrated even if I fail. The human body works in a mysterious way, our appetite might grow big or small due to unknown reasons.
2. I managed to work out at least 3–4 times a week. Our bodies release endorphins while exercising, which are chemicals that lead to positive feelings. This activity was commonly recommended by everyone around me. Nevertheless, I only felt anxious and furious during the first few times I worked out since I blamed myself for not keeping up, and I hated how clumsy my limbs were. From this I discovered that hardcore workout tutorials were not for me, so I switched to Zumba and jazz dance. Dancing was less repetitive, and I could choose the tutorial based on my song preference; therefore, I decided to stick with it. Some of the Zumba/jazz dance YouTubers I recommend are Sunny Funny Fitness, MYLEE DANCE, and Zumba® France by Alix.
3. I encouraged myself to try something new, but not necessarily out of my comfort zone. For example, I bought a whole manicure kit and painted my whole family’s nails. I also picked up badminton again, even though I had not played it since Grade 5. The badminton court was the perfect place for me to be let out my anger and no one would blame me for being overly competitive.
4. I forced myself to stop living like a recluse and gain some real-person interaction. I was fortunate enough to live in a city where COVID-19 had been effectively controlled, yet I still was reluctant to go out due to body image issues and other concerns. The first time I went to the mall in three months I was flooded with anxiety and fear, and I recall asking myself “where do all these people come from?”. I could not help but cry in panic and ended up going home early. My first attempt at stepping outside was a failure, but I continued to try from time to time and eventually became comfortable with the environment other than my home.
5. I came to terms with my anxiety. The major source of my anxiety was the dilemma between my wish for good grades and my need for a 12-hour social media usage. After realizing that neither of these could be achieved simultaneously, I had to give up my “grind for one day, play for six days” schedule, instead I opted for a 4-3 ratio alternatively. I also made peace with my two 60s on Childsmath, as they might be my “local minima”, but definitely not the “absolute minima”. Learning to accept my failures and giving up unrealistic dreams were crucial parts of combating my anxiety. I have to admit, eventually, that I am just an average person, yet thriving to “stay average” is more challenging than it sounds.
By sharing this fairly personal experience, I hope to encourage anyone that is also living with or healing from mental illnesses. “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”