Shame and Mental Health

It is like quicksand around your feet; it is set there and holds you back, down and constricted. It is the heavy weight in your shoulders, the hollow icy feeling in your chest, the butterflies in your throat. It is the Shame.

At first, I didn’t feel this way about my eating disorder itself, but about myself. Then while in the early years of recovery I felt this shameful way about my eating disorder. The tables had turned and the hardest thing in recovery was not to feel this shame. My eating disorder had been something that existed as a secret that I liked; it enabled me to feel the way I wanted and it was helping me fulfill what I wanted. I had safety, security and a sense of self and belonging. I never saw my eating disorder as shameful, while it ruled my roost.

To begin a new part of my life when my eating disorder was no longer active and had such a controlling say in my life, I needed to flip the shame game. With the foresight of the peace and freedom I so desperately craved I would have to come to terms with it.

While in recovery I wasn’t mindful of doing so, but I was feeling the same aspects of shame. The difference in recovery and rebuilding was that I was able to channel the shame towards my eating disorder, not internally onto myself. It also helped me see a way forward so I could lead a recovered life. Feeling the shame made it possible for me to see that what I once felt as an instinctual existence of shame, I now saw for what it was.

There is a true sense of peace and clarity in listening to yourself and looking within. That was my greatest asset to recovery. Recovery is also getting to know and understand yourself which helps in the process. When you get a glimpse of understanding yourself, it brings acceptance, acceptance brings pride, pride brings love, which brings “you”!

Socially shame is an unseen character that guides and governs so many things people do and say. While having an active eating disorder I really did not concern myself with the shame other people may have felt towards me because I felt it so strongly about myself. I thought they were right, so it did not generate any further shameful self-feelings – it was already deeply ingrained in me.

When I was embarking on my eating disorder recovery (23 years ago) it was not so freely spoken about and was quite a taboo topic. Luckily for me my parents, sister, our extended family, work colleagues and even some close family friends never shied away from talking about it and acknowledging that I had a problem. With them I was never made to feel shame; however, outside this family unit I did feel the burn of shame in society, whether intentional or not.

Even today, talking about my eating disorder could bring an element of shame if I let it; but I choose not to. This empowers me to believe that the shame is not mine but a universal existence out of my control.

A voice is important in finding peace in mental health. Be it inner or vocal, it generates the listening and the connection to “self.” The questions and the answers are all being sought at once; shame is the pinching feeling keeping the awareness there.

Somewhere on the path to recovery, there inevitably needs to be the quicksand feeling. This is when you discover that from this stuck, low, bottom point there becomes the vision of the horizon. The higher self rises from within and from the lowest point, clear love and a sense of clarity emerge.

In talking about my experience, owning it and sharing to help others, little by little it creates the beauty of a safe zone. We can extinguish the shame and the impact it has on mental health. Those with mental difficulties are challenged, and as a society we can lessen the burden by stopping the raised eyebrow, silence, whispers, turning away and finger pointing. Be it an eating disorder or any mental health issue, the self-imposed impact is enough – feeling pressure from others is not helpful. While in recovery, or even while living with active mental illness, the encouragement of not feeling “different” is the light on the path that helps guide the way to wellness.

Heidi Fabian Lee
Heidi Fabian-Lee is a mental health advocate, helping people understand, recognize and walk their mind's map with worthiness, peace and purpose. She has a true personal understanding of what it means to be kind to yourself with mental well-being. After overcoming her own eating disorder 23 years ago, she knows first hand what it's like to work through a mental disorder. From her own experience and recovery, Heidi is passionate to assist and shed her light on eating disorders and mental illness. She is hearing a calling to work with people on a holistic level of connecting with oneself to understand and navigate the mind through relatable connections of self-worth, kindness and self-understanding. As an artist, Heidi has always believed art can help show us our way and guide, even enlighten our path. She can often be found cooking, creating teas in her apothecary, feeding the birds, tinkering in her garden, rescuing plants, laughing with her cat and enjoying life with her 3 beautiful children.

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