Your Mental Illness Severity is Valid

Trigger warning for eating disorders, depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

 

When I was in high school and severely depressed, I didn’t think it could really be that bad. After all, I’d barely self-harmed. I hadn’t tried to kill myself. So I wasn’t that bad. Not bad enough to worry about. It was only when my doctor finally threatened me with hospitalization that I was able to confront my eating disorder and how bad it had become.  

But you know what? I got better. I didn’t need to be hospitalized. So I guess I wasn’t that bad.

Looking back on it, I definitely should have been hospitalized. Treatment of eating disorders as mainly getting to an acceptable weight is problematic, but that’s a topic outside the scope of this article. Regardless, at a certain point when one’s weight becomes low enough, you have to at least treat the manifesting symptom of incredibly low weight. And like, I think a BMI of 14.4 should probably have gotten some sort of hospitalization (FYI, the healthy range is 18.5 to 24.9; a BMI of less than 15 puts someone in the most severe category of anorexia).

It's not that I wanted to be hospitalized. I didn’t want that then and I'm kind of glad I wasn’t, because I don’t actually know how much that would have helped me. But the fact remains that I wasn’t. So I wasn’t that bad.

It's such a bizarre concept. Of course, we shouldn’t rank how bad people have an illness. But it happens anyway, especially amongst those who have the illness. I know this logically, but it’s something that I struggle with to this day. My eating disorder is still present in my life, but it’s very different now. It's under control, for the most part. It's not bad anymore. I'm not in the weight category or restricting enough to be classified as anorexic anymore. For all intents and purposes, I'm fine.  

And I hate it so much. It's not that I want to be anorexic again, because that was hell. But at the same time, I feel like I'm just not bad enough to be any kind of concern. Because I’m not in the weight category to fit into anorexia anymore. Nor am I restricting enough or doing any of the other behaviors to warrant a diagnosis. Obviously, I still have the diagnosis on my record – and unfortunately, anorexia is one of those mental illness that doesn’t really ever go away. But since I'm not actively doing harmful things, because it’s just problematic thought patterns, it must not be that bad.  

The ranking of eating disorders is complicated and a large portion of my senior research, and it's far too complex to delve into here. Suffice to say, the ranking of anorexia above bulimia above eating disorder not otherwise specified above those with subclinical disordered eating symptoms is a phenomenon seen in communities of people with eating disorders.

But ranking other people’s mental illnesses above yours is not purely an eating disorder thing. Since becoming sick in my early teenage years, I've had two sort-of suicide attempts. And that’s another problem. Because they’re just “sort-of” attempts. I was too scared to fully commit both times. So I guess I'm not that bad.  

How bad does one have to be to be considered worthy of attention? I think this dilemma is in part due to the low self-esteem that comes from many mental illnesses – you assume others deserve more because you don’t feel as though you yourself are worth anything.  

So, as immensely hypocritical it is of me to say this, your mental illness severity is valid. It doesn’t matter how “bad” you are. There’s no criteria to gain some sort of validity in your struggles. If you’re in pain, that’s enough. The consistent diagnostic criteria across all mental illnesses is that one is experiencing distress in their day-to-day life. That’s what makes something a mental illness. It doesn’t matter how “bad” you think you are. You’re still fucking valid.

And me? I’m fucking valid too.