Hello! My name is Connor, I’m a 21 year old guy and I want to help change how we talk about mental health. As somebody who has suffered from Bulimia, I have realised that our culture around how we deal with mental illnesses is fundamentally flawed. For the most part we are not educated on mental illnesses. Rather, when we experience problems we are told to try and move on, grow up, get over it etc. We aren’t educated on the fact that we may experience issues that we cannot overcome alone, so we instead keep it silent due to avoid feeling weird or even broken for reaching out to others. I want to help try and drive this education through sharing my story and emphasise the message that it is ok to speak about these issues.
So what is my story?
Before I went to University, I was very obese. I was this way for most of my life. It never really bothered me per se, however I do remember feeling different and would sometimes be subject to jokes because of my weight. Overall, I was a happy kid despite my obesity. Around a year before I went to University, I decided that I wanted to make a change. Over the course of a year, I slowly adopted new habits and attitudes around food and exercise that led me to losing a lot of weight over the year. This wasn’t a bad weight loss by any means, it was controlled, sustainable and healthy to my wellbeing. I could do things I was never able due to my weight; it was amazing. I would constantly receive compliments from friends and family about how good and healthy I now looked.
I appreciated these comments, however I never knew the true effect it would later have on me. When I left to go to University, these compliments quickly stopped. The people I had started to meet (obviously) didn’t know my past, particularly my weight. I was just your average guy. I didn’t realise at the time but the comments I previously got around my weight were sorely missed. In a sense, it gave me a feeling of value. Flashforward into my second year of University, I joined the University Boxing Club. I was having great fun as I was incredibly proud of the things, I could do that I knew I couldn’t have done if I didn’t lose the weight.
Around 6 months in, I was offered the chance of having my first competition. A fight. I was overwhelmed by this opportunity at first, but I grabbed it both hands. Little did I know that this would be the catalyst to one of the darkest periods of my life. After agreeing to the fight, I had to lose another significant amount of weight in a short span of time. This meant I changed from my regular routine of training 3 times a week and eating consciously to a regiment of training 5 times a week, twice a day whilst meticulously each calorie that entered my body. This was also supported with weighing myself every single day. To tell the truth, I was exhausted every day, but I pushed on.
As I began to lose the weight and get physically stronger due to the increased training, many would start to comment again. “Connor you’re looking lean!” Or “Hey, Connor you’re looking strong!”. The comments started to come back! I didn’t realise at the time, but I began to associate my self-value with losing weight. Reading this as I write, this can only go one way.
After finishing my first fight, I also had my first binge around 20 minutes after. Before my fight I had done more reading on uber eats than I had done for my University lectures. I was obsessed. I was constantly thinking about food but I could not have it due to this weight restriction. When you restrict for so long, the urge to have whatever is restricted is overpowering. However, I now had a new problem – I am obsessed with eating; however I am only valuable if I lose weight. What do I do?
At first, I doubled down on the restriction. I would lower my measured calorie intake, try and drink more coffee to stop feeling hungry, anything to keep the calories down. To make sure I would keep losing weight, I also started to up my exercise. However, as I was exercising to ridiculous amounts, my body needed the energy. Like I said earlier, when you restrict so hard and so long, the urge to eat becomes overpowering. Each night, I would lose to this urge and eat to the point of being painfully full.
This was both bliss and a nightmare. It was bliss as I was finally eating and it felt so good, however it was a nightmare as I couldn’t bare the fact of gaining weight. I was constantly stuck in this cycle of restriction, bingeing and purging through excessive exercise. However, throughout all of this, I did not open up about my problems. I simply believed that the pain I felt was just the way my life was meant to be and I couldn’t escape that fact. Although crippling, it was somewhat ‘normal’.
My habits started to become more dangerous and is something I’d want to expand on in the future, however I eventually realised that I needed help. I couldn’t figure out what exactly I was going through and I was constantly in denial of what I may be going through. I tried to make sense of my issues by looking online for other’s experiences of these issues. However, this only further reinforced my mistaken my idea that I did not need help.
When I reached out, I saw very few men discussing mental illnesses. Furthermore, I couldn’t find any who discussed their experience with eating disorders. This made it clear to me that men rarely suffer with mental illnesses, let alone eating disorders. I was so wrong. I could try and give you statistics to highlight this problem, however I don’t necessarily believe that it is the best way to more awareness on these topics. Yes I know 1 in 4 who suffer from eating disorders are men, but where are they? Why aren’t they speaking out? Obviously, there are many reasons for this, however I think a huge reason is shame. We are scared of opening up about these things due to the associated stigma with doing so. By opening up we may be viewed as ‘weak’ or ‘broken’. However, I want to open up and share my story to show that it is not any of these things, rather it is an indicator of strength. It takes a level of bravery to know yourself and what is going wrong so you can open up when they need to. Although it can make us feel vulnerable by sharing these messages, they are invaluable in the help they not only provide ourselves but also to others who also struggle.
For a long time, I refused to seek help as I didn’t believe I was experiencing anything worth getting help with. However, this simply led to needless suffering. Instead, by opening up about these things we can change the current narrative that says it isn’t ok to open up about these things. Rather, it is more than ok and we need to accept that we are deserving of help when in need. It is all good saying this, but by trying to share my message I want others to join me in trying to change this narrative. We deserve better for ourselves and those around us, reach out and share your powerful story.