Does Mental Illness Discriminate?

Woman watching sunset

**This guest blog was written by Andrea Parmar. Andrea is a registered psychiatric nurse and an eating disorder survivor. She has written a well-loved book about her experience with an eating disorder called, “Alone in a Crowd.” She is always striving to create a better understanding of mental health stigmas and eating disorders.

 

Looking back to my adolescent years, I can now recall experiencing instances of anxiety as early as eleven or twelve years old.  At the time, I didn’t know where those anxious feelings were coming from or why I was feeling them, however, the symptoms were undoubtedly the early onset signs of a mental illness that would grow and last a lifetime. My people-pleasing ways and self-doubt continued to grow throughout my teenage years. Although I was clearly struggling with mental health issues, ironically, I clearly saw myself having a future in the counseling field. My body image concerns began at the age of fifteen and dangerously spiraled into a bulimic eating disorder soon afterward.

I completed the psychiatric nursing program in 1994, and despite the exhausting stressors of an eating disorder, I graduated from the program with top marks in my class. I was successfully able to hide my eating disorder from my co-workers, my family, and my friends by pretending everything was “just fine” and portray a bubbly, talkative personality. In my role as a psychiatric nurse, I truly could relate to others struggling with a mental illness and offer them sound advice and comfort them. Yet, despite my professional knowledge and work experience, I could not help myself. My own psychiatric struggles continued to grow and manifest themselves in my life.

Fast forward to the present. I am now a happily married woman with two beautiful boys. I have been bulimic-free for over fifteen years and recently published a book called “Alone in a Crowd” in order share my experiences and road to recovery to help others struggling with mental illnesses, especially eating disorders. Although I no longer practice binging and purging, I continue to care for my mental health on a daily basis through self-reflection, yoga, and prescribed anti-depressants. I have bad days like anyone else does which makes me human. With a shift in mindset that took many years of self-reflective journaling and counseling, I no longer feel Alone in a Crowd:

ALONE IN A CROWD

In a crowd

I’m all alone

A smile I show

To set the tone

 

Words are spoken

Which I don’t hear

 I nod to agree

To avoid the fear

 

I worry about things

I like to hide

To tell the truth

Would disturb the tide

 

This was my way

For many years

And the feelings inside

Have brought many tears

 

But now I am present

When I’m in a crowd

To talk and laugh

I am finally allowed

 

My journey continues

With each waking day

One step at a time

Has become my new way

Just as mental illness does not discriminate I learned that one’s physical health can sometimes be unpredictable and uncertain. Physical ailments can also catch a person by surprise much like my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in February 2016. Presently I am trying to manage my symptoms, which is sometimes difficult as I continue to fulfill my passion of helping others … as a nurse, and now by sharing my story. In some ways, my MS diagnosis was a positive in life. Not at first of course, as I was devastated by the neurologist’s words.  As the months passed, however, I was able to come to peace with my newest physical hurdle. I became more motivated than ever to complete my journaling process that I began a decade ago and eventually gained an overwhelming desire and passion to transform those thoughts in a memoir to help others.

So, what’s my message? My message is no matter what walk of life we come from, we are all candidates for mental illness. People do not choose to be mentally ill, much like nobody chooses to be physically ill. However, society often says, “Why don’t you just suck it up and toughen up” or think that it should be as simple as “mind or matter” to make these choices in life. In my experience, I was not able to make these “better and healthier choices” to improve my physical health, until my mental health improved through self-reflective journaling, meditation, counseling, and in-patient medical care. This may sound strange, but my eating disorder behavior was the last thing to go. It was not until the negative self-talk lessened, that was continually going on in my head, that my disordered-eating behaviors began to decrease. Therefore, breaking the cycle of bulimia requires professional help even if you have the medical knowledge that I possessed. We all have our unique set of challenges in life, so asking for professional help, much like I did, is not only okay but necessary. In retrospect, getting the medical help I needed to overcome my eating disorder has made me a stronger person. So, three steps forward and occasionally one step back has become my new way … and that I no longer beat myself up over the steps back.

Respectfully,

Andrea Parmar

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