“Just eat the food. All I am asking you is to try it,” my father badgers me as I stare at my food. I’d consumed my noodles, and there was a bowl of strawberries dangerously close to my plate.
I raise an eyebrow, an internal dialogue going on in my head. Part of me (the part I call Eddie) is telling me I will only get sick and gag if I try to eat the strawberries. I will only get sick the moment that strawberry touches my tongue. The other part of me is saying, “Just taste it, you won’t gag.”
Every single time I’m faced with trying a new food, this internal dialogue runs through my head. I’m hypersensitive to the taste and texture of foods. It is paired with my eating disorder known as selective eating disorder, also known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. The short version is ARFID. Those who have ARFID can’t just “try new food.” A dialogue, similar to the one I described above, might play through their heads. Imagine going to a restaurant with a five-page menu and finding none of your safe foods. Safe foods are foods people with ARFID feel comfortable with eating because they are familiar with them.
The exact cause of ARFID is unknown. Some believe it is born out of a fear of choking or vomiting. For me, I believe it came from my birth circumstances. Before I was adopted out of Russia at a very young age, the baby food given to me wasn’t good. My parents told me that I was pasty and in general not healthy-looking.
ARFID has only officially been recognized as an eating disorder recently (the DSM-5 addition). It’s not simply “being a really picky eater.” I’m well aware of starving children and am not trying to be “selfish” with my eating choices, so please don’t try to guilt or shame me into eating. I’ll sit there at the dinner table for hours just staring at the food. I’m hungry, but my eating disorder has so much control over me that I simply can’t eat. Picky eaters typically outgrow their picky habits by the time they’re in their twenties. For someone with ARFID, this problem might persist beyond that age range.
From my own experience on social media with groups dedicated to selective eating disorder and ARFID, some people report hypnotherapy works wonders. Some psychologists and psychiatrists also treat this more like an extreme phobia to try to help their patients. It’s possible to get help, but it requires a lot of hard work from the person with ARFID.
I hope people understand that selective eating disorder/ARFID is not just someone being picky. It is a legitimate eating disorder that’s only now getting the attention it deserves from both the media and scientific communities. I also hope someone reading this has a light bulb go off in their head and realizes they, too, are not alone in their eating disorder.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, visit NEDA.org.
One woman created a unique way of reminding herself and others of what’s important during life’s dark moments.
Janelle Silver, from Australind, Australia, runs an Esty shop called Heart and Hands. Silver, who lives with depression, found that temporary tattoos were a helpful way to give herself positive reminders when she’s feeling down.
“The idea came to me as I was putting plans in place for my own self-care,” Silver writes on her Etsy page. “I am a visual person. I am always writing things on my mirror or sticking notes on the walls. I’ve found that when I’m in a dark place with depression, having a challenging moment or day, am stressed, etc., a little visual reminder of what’s important can work wonders in bringing me back to centre and helping me to keep going.”
The temporary tattoos are hand-drawn and say things like, “Breathe,” “You are loved,” “Be kind to yourself,” “It will pass” and “No feeling is final.” They’re available for sale on Silver’s Etsy page.
About a year ago, as we were in the throes of begging a Dallas psychiatric hospital to treat our 15-year-old son, a family member made some interesting comments. In a conversation that took place on Facebook, I was accused of spoiling my child, not parenting properly and, in my attempt to obtain treatment, relying on the government to take care of a responsibility that was ultimately my own. The words were harsh, judgmental and they stung. My feelings were deeply hurt.
I engaged in the conversation to defend myself and help my family member understand the entire situation. Unfortunately, I was met with more judgment and even greater hostility. In an attempt to salvage our now deeply fractured relationship, I left the conversation.
A year has passed since that hurtful event took place, and I’ve sincerely tried to move forward in a spirit of love and grace. I believe my family member simply doesn’t understand.
But a whole year later, I woke up to another upsetting comment from my relative. Although this time the words weren’t targeted directly at me, they were just as harsh and judgmental. The hostile nature of the post and the similarities to last year’s dialogue stirred some deep emotions within me.
As I’ve been licking my wounds and processing the situation, a revelation came to me: My relative’s lack of understanding, lack of empathy, lack of compassion and false perception of my family’s situation represents the way most of our nation views mental illness.
I am blessed to be surrounded by a community of people who are supportive, empathetic and who have stepped up and stepped in to walk this horrific journey with my family. As a result, I live in a bubble. I’m protected and therefore sheltered from the harsh critics in our society.
But the harsh critics exist, even in our own families.
Through my tears and in my attempt to understand my relative’s point of view, I found myself filled with a greater desire to bring awareness, provide more education and move our society forward. I’m actually thankful my family member attacked. His words served as a great reminder: People do not understand.
For all of history, society has done everything in its power to sweep the issue of mental illness under the rug. No one wants to be associated with mental illness. No one wants to admit mental illness exists. Certainly no one wants to have a mental illness in their family. No one wants to be mentally ill. Nobody wants to be “crazy.”
But I refuse to walk in shame.
Before you judge my son and our journey of treatment, know this:
My son has a physical illness that affects his brain. He has severe bipolar disorder, which can be extremely difficult to treat. This illness is as real as another person’s heart disease, diabetes or cancer. This illness is not a result of bad parenting, too many video games, being spoiled or lack of faith. This illness is biological. It requires medication and intensive treatment. If left untreated, Cody will get sicker, will likely end up in jail or on the street and his life expectancy could decrease by up to 20 years.
We’re receiving treatment through our school district. Yes, the school district. Not from insurance and not from any other medical coverage. This is the way our current system is set up. It’s our only means to receive quality care. We have fought for this treatment. The cost for intensive residential treatment that our son’s illness requires is in excess of $8,000 per month. That does not include medications. I don’t know of any family who can afford these kinds of medical expenses out of pocket. It’s not our desire to receive financial assistance, but under our current system of care, we are left with no other options. We are thankful to be receiving help. There are many families who are not so fortunate.
It’s my deepest desire to bring mental illness out of the darkness and into the light. We’ve got to change the way our society views mental illness. We must eliminate the myths and focus on the facts. I long for the day when people who have mental illnesses will be added to church prayer lists instead of being criticized and condemned. I long for the day we will be less critical of one another and more understanding, empathetic and compassionate.
Wouldn’t we be better off trying on the other person’s shoes before offering judgment? Wouldn’t it be smarter to learn the facts before we offer criticism?
I do hope you will not post anything harsh or unkind about my relative. I didn’t write this to invite any more hostility. Instead, I invite you to share anything new you have learned from this information.
How has this helped you be more empathetic and understanding of mental illness?
What can you do to bring change?
If you’re in a family that’s affected by mental illness, how can this help you educate others? Can you find the courage to share your story?
Please post your positive comments. I would love to hear from you!
PTSD means a trauma happened, and even though it happened in the past, the footprint it leaves in your mind is so severe when something reminds you of it, usually described as “trigger,” your brain undergoes extreme stress, expressed by both physical and mental reactions. Sometimes even recalling the events unexpectedly is all the trigger you need.
The mind is a beautiful, crazy thing.
If you still don’t get it, think of this: Have you ever mentioned something attached to a strong emotion, and then felt that emotion as if it happened? Can you remember tasting a wedge of lemon? Or, men: How about watching another guy get kicked in the groin?
If any of these evoked physical reactions from you as you read about them — your mouth watering at the thought of lemon, wincing at the thought of a groin injury (Sorry, fellas.) — then you can begin to see how PTSD works. Your brain, in all its splendor, has stored a physical memory of that thing. Most everything in life we do has a physical and/or emotional memory attached to it. Even if we haven’t done that particular thing before, we’re reminded of a time we did something similar. When these memories occur, we can often feel very physical reactions.
What PTSD means to me is if I’m minding my own business in my house and the phone rings, my heart races. I get sweaty palms and feel immediately scared and on edge. Of what? Well, there have been times I’ve picked up the phone only to have abuse hurled at me. I would block numbers and people would call from private numbers. I’d pick up the phone and get a nasty surprise. The verbal abuse and associated behaviors of the people who used to do this was so bad, and lasted for so long, I now hate phones. Especially when they’re ringing.
If I hear someone closing their car door outside, I look around to see what kind of car it was. I peer through my curtains, trying to be invisible, to see if it’s the car of someone I don’t want at my door. Every time. It’s because I’ve told people in the past not to come to my house, and they still have. I’ve been stalked before by people who have caused a lot of harm in my life, and I live in constant fear they’ll find my new address and show up at the door. And if they ever do, I’ll probably have to move.
If I see a car that looks like the car of someone I used to know but don’t want around me ever again, I panic. I could be driving and suddenly be paranoid the car I’ve spotted might be following me. I continue to panic until I see the driver is a stranger and not someone I should worry about. For these reasons I memorize license plates.
If my doorbell rings, or someone knocks, I hush the children and try to pretend no one is home until I can peek through the little peek-hole and see who it is. If it’s a friend who has shown up unannounced, I will still only reluctantly open the door. And even then, I’m a bundle of nerves for a few minutes until I can calm myself down and tell myself it’s OK.
When I’m unexpectedly asked to explain why I have PTSD, I’m filled with sorrow. I end up crying in public. Having to recall events can suddenly put me in a funk, and I will stay in that funk for days. Which brings me to perhaps the most important point:
The reason(s) why anyone has PTSD is none of your business. Don’t suddenly ask them about it. You would not serve your vegetarian friend a rare steak.So don’t ask someone with PTSD to tell you why they’ve got it.
When you ask someone with PTSD to explain why they’ve got it, you’re asking them to recall the incident that caused it. That is most certainly a trigger. Like serving a vegetarian a bleeding piece of meat and forcing them to eat it, this is cruelty for someone with PTSD.
This stuff is no joke. Panic attacks are not fun. Feeling out of control of your reactions is not fun.
If I have a friend with PTSD, I ask, “What do I need to know about this?” and let them tell me what to avoid when interacting with them.
PTSD means, because a trigger could happen anywhere, at any time, I don’t go out much. I don’t socialize much, and if I do, I have to force myself to go and put on a brave face. Because people in everyday life don’t understand, and can easily label sufferers of PTSD “crazy,” the best option for many seems to be to shut themselves away. The lack of understanding of this condition, the same as with most mental health issues, is ultimately like delivering a death sentence to those of us who have them.
Although these conditions could happen to anyone, we’re being forced into cages because of luck of the draw, because of ignorance and because of the stigmatization. In these cages we cope, day by day. Is that really living?
PTSD is like a mental scar from an occurrence that caused a mental wound. In order to not open up someone’s scars, it would be wonderful if everyone took some time to educate themselves on this condition.
Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!
1. “It isn’t just war veterans who suffer from it. It’s caused by being in any traumatic situation, such as mental, physical or sexual abuse. Car accidents or watching a traumatic incident can also cause it.” — Julianne Parker Jeppesen
2. “Some days are worse than others, but those good days don’t mean we’re ‘better’ or ‘over it.’ It’s really not a thing you can just ‘get over.’ Moving past it takes time and a lot of effort.” — Madison Dakota Chamberlain
3. “We don’t do it to irritate, frustrate or otherwise incur your wrath. If we were able to turn it off or not react the ways we do, we would. Believe that.” — Julie Anderson
4. “Telling me my greatest fears aren’t real or going to happen doesn’t help me. I understand they can seem outrageous at times, but prior to my traumatic experience, had I told you something like that was going to happen, you would have said ‘no way.’” — Monika Schneider
5. “I need all the support I can get at my lowest points because that’s when I feel [the PTSD] is winning.” — Tricia Hill
8. “Even though it may be hard to live with my moods and my strange ways of dealing with things, it’s even harder to be me and have to live with my moods and the strange ways I do things.” — Robyn Wright
23. “It’s exhausting to fight a war inside your head every single day.” — Mickie Ann
24. “I fear everything — what happened and what could happen. I live my life with a constant slideshow of events in my head, and I still don’t know all of my triggers.” — Melissa Cote
25. “You don’t need to be afraid of me. PTSD doesn’t cause me to turn into a monster. When I’m triggered I relive my traumatic experience, but I’m still in control of myself.” — Crystal Malta
26. “It’s a never-ending battle. Sometimes you think you have it beat but then something else comes along to trigger it and you feel like you’re at square one again.” — Kristen Abbas
27. “Simple little things like a song or smell can be a trigger.” — Selina Bonser
28. “I wish society would stop using it as slang. No, you don’t have PTSD because you saw a spider and it bugged you because you saw ‘Arachnophobia’ too young. It’s not something to be trivialized, and by using it in that way you’re diminishing the struggle so many of us face in getting actual treatment and support for this disorder.” — Tia Maria
29. “I wish [others] would understand it’s not their fault and they can’t fix me. And it makes me worse when they get upset or angry about what caused my PTSD.” — Courtney Jade
30. “I hate being touched, but sometimes I’m beyond desperate for a hug.” — Nikki Vee
31. “When I pushed people away it was actually when I needed people the most.” — Cindie Anne
32. “I have scars you can’t see. I have feelings you can’t feel. I have thoughts you could never understand. When you look at me you see the same person as before, but when I look at me I see a completely different person.” — Pam Berry
33. “I’m not being overly sensitive, looking for attention or making it up. I can’t control how certain things affect me. If I could control it, believe me when I tell you that I would.” — Melissa Goodman
34. “I already hate myself, so putting me down for not being normal and judging and criticizing me because I can’t do certain things or can’t control myself does not help not even one bit.” — Jessica Turner
35. “I’m not lazy. I’m just exhausted from fighting my way through every single day.” — MiMi Love
36. “It’s hard to stay here on Earth, but I do for my daughter.” — Nicki Chapman
37. “I’m not angry all the time; I just like to be left alone. I wish there was a magic pill that gave me my patience back.” — Vikki Ob
39. “I wish people would be more sensitive. If they cringe at the thought of my experiences, imagine how I feel, having survived it and reliving it whenever my brain deems fit… I wish people would understand how terrifying it is to attempt to find help. The thought of telling your story is instant panic.” — Sandy Burkey
40. “It’s a daily battle that seems you can never win. But you have to keep fighting.” — Chris Dayy