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Building a strong support network to overcome anxiety and an eating disorder


Struggling with anxiety and an eating disorder, a U of T student interacts with several different services including campus health services, her family doctor, and a social worker/counsellor, as she works on recovery. Her family also play a key role in connecting her with resources.


Resources Mentioned

I was always a shy and reclusive kid, but it never was a problem until I graduated high school. I went U of T’s vast downtown campus, but had difficulty making friends in classes that had hundreds to a thousand students in them. Many of my high school friends left the city, and the ones who stayed in Toronto had disappeared into their own subject matter cliques.

I attended classes, but avoided interactions with people because it would trigger blushing and sweating – which made me feel even more embarrassed, and less inclined to talk to anybody. I felt like a failure most days and knew something was wrong, but this negative feedback loop made it impossible to seek help on my own since I could barely make phone calls or ask strangers for help. One day (October), my mother brought home a book called “Painfully Shy”, a self-help book about social anxiety disorder. I recognized myself in the symptoms and suspected I had it. Yet I didn’t know what to do about getting a diagnosis from a doctor – an “official source”.

Over the next 6 months (April), I borrowed more books from the library and researched the condition, but was no closer to recovery. In those months, I had also begun developing an eating disorder. It started out as a way to “be healthier” and “improve myself”, and I finally felt a sense of accomplishment when I saw the scale move downwards. Already a lightweight, I lost another 10 lbs by limiting myself to 1200 calories per day – but I remained firmly in denial that I had an eating disorder.

Two months later (June), this came to a head when my mother confronted me at home one afternoon, in tears and pleading for me to get help. She presented me a list of symptoms for anorexia nervosa, which she found on the website from Sheena’s Place, a support centre that helps individuals with eating disorders. I could not deny the symptoms and signs – one of which was social withdrawal.

I had reached the bottom, and luckily my mother encouraged me to call our family doctor. Although I had only seen her once before, her encouraging attitude and willingness to explain what I needed to do made me feel more confident about seeking help. She advised me to get a copy of “Mind over Mood” and gave me a referral to the local hospital’s psychiatric department.

The experience of getting a formal diagnosis (August) was unpleasant. I felt the doctor was cold and unfriendly, since I had cried and she barely reacted. I was too ashamed to mention my eating disorder issue, but I later realized it was my coping mechanism for the anxiety. However, I felt empowered with this new label “social anxiety” because in my mind, it legitimized my issues. I felt justified in contacting the U of T’s counselling services to get help.

I did not seek help at U of T’s Counselling and Psychological Services until the summer before my 3rd year at U of T (following August). Although I was slowly recovering my self-esteem with my new part-time job as well as support from family and my new boyfriend, I had a frightening panic attack earlier in the year (February). I needed to dig deeper to recovery fully. I made an appointment with to see an intake doctor in April/May, and began CBT/talk therapy treatment with a social worker/counsellor later that summer – about a dozen sessions.

The best advice this counsellor gave me was to put myself in the opposite person’s shoes. Would I be critical of a friend the way I was critical of myself? No way! This helped me calm down in social situations. I resolved to get out of my comfort-zone and try new things.

Almost three years later, I was back at CAPS as a result of burnout from school. The intake process was about the same, but there were fewer sessions available for treatment this time, since I already used part of my quota during the first time in treatment. It was disheartening to learn this, but the doctor offered to give me referrals for other therapists in the community. This doctor listened to me and offered to give me a prescription for medication, which I declined. She helped me realize I was pushing myself too hard, and gave me strategies to avoid overextending myself in life and social situations.

Overall, I consider my experience to be a positive one because I had a strong support network and resources to overcome my anxiety. My wish is that others can also get the support they need, in order to recover and live their lives as they wish.

 

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