“… and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)
Fresh Hope has taught me that recovery is work, something that in the 25+ years I have been battling my mental health diagnosis I had not done. In the past, wellness was reduced to a period without depressive symptoms, and even, those periods of hypomania where I acted uninhibited and thought everything would be fine, periods that I tried to enjoy as much as possible because they were few and far between compared to the dark times of depression.
I must confess that during all this time there was a victim mentality in me, focused on what I was losing because of my illness, friendships, relationships, money, university courses and I was looking for guilty parties for what had happened to me.
My first diagnosis was depression, later, dysthymia, and when they came together “double depression”, and I lived believing the lies I was told about these diagnoses: “you will never recover, because there isn’t a treatment that is truly effective”, “if you can’t overcome depression, it’s because you are weak”, “suicide attempts are just attention seeking”; and since I developed a drug resistant depression in my youth, I even thought it was a divine punishment or some sort of demon that was chasing me.
Having no real hopeful answer for myself, I began to look for ways to fill my emotional voids and alleviate the “pain” that filled me to the soul. A relief for me was food, a false way to escape the pain, a broken cistern that never held water (Jeremiah 2.13).
In my 20’s and 30’s, eating mindlessly for a few weeks, gaining weight, but losing it quickly was not a problem. Now, in my 40’s the situation has changed, along with hormonal changes and my reluctance to do any exercise has caused me to gain almost 25 kg of weight. That undermines my self-esteem. Frustrated at not being able to control what I eat, I refuse to look at myself in the mirror and my self-confidence has diminished, which, in turn, affects my relationships with others and especially my relationship with my husband.
What does food mean to me? An escape. A mask. A disguise. Underneath those extra pounds I exist, but for some reason I hide deep inside myself. I run away from my pain, my denial of diagnosis, my anguish, and my fear of life. I look in the mirror and it’s not really me. It’s a kind of surrealism, because I don’t accept myself, I don’t accept my body and my inability to do anything to change it.
But now I know that I CAN do things to recover my well-being, something that before was reduced to not feeling depressive symptoms, nothing more. Just waiting for the next episode. As one of the diagnoses that has accompanied me most of my life was Dysthymia, a mild but chronic depression, I had sentenced myself to live depressed all the time. Feeling good was short-lived because my own thinking reminded me to live according to my diagnosis.
Recovering my well-being implies a participation on my part, recognizing those behaviors that are not healthy, but that I repeat constantly because they have helped me to “hide” my pain. One of these behaviors has to do with my eating and I must accept it: I have an addictive relationship with food. If I am feeling sad, disappointed, tired, anxious, or facing a difficulty that I am struggling to overcome, I usually turn to food: soda, chips, snacks, desserts, and other things that contain a high degree of sugars or saturated fats.
In the past, I used to tell myself that I was happy with a soda and a bag of snacks (sweet and salty) with me, in front of the TV watching my favorite series. There was no such thing, it was the best way to hide my frustration or pain. This contributed to my already weakened self-confidence being an even bigger problem. I have already blamed the meds, the pandemic, anything but holding myself accountable for this behavior. “Diet” has been a bad word, because in the face of it I feel more anxious, I would start the diet Monday and break it the same Monday, because I felt anxious and would immediately go back to eating.
However, if I explore deeper, I know that the problem is not only the food, but the negative feelings of pain and frustration that I still struggle with inside me.
In the face of this, and thanks to Fresh Hope, I have delved into my irrational thoughts that come from my past, my emotions, and the wounds I carry. If I want a life of wellness, I must let go of those self-defeating patterns and be intentional about making changes in my life. My decision now is to eat healthier and start exercise routines. Also, exercise is scientifically proven to help improve depressive symptoms and give us more energy.
It may take time to get back to my ideal weight, but if I decide to “push through” my indiscipline and busy schedule, I know that I will, with the help of God’s grace, reach the goal I have set for my physical and emotional health.