You see them all the time on social media; the "depression meal" memes. They come in a variety of forms but seem to have largely the same content: a tiny amount of food because you're too depressed to eat. They're cutesy and bright and people laugh knowingly because they've "been there." It's the bright and accepted side of depression; the sad waif, thin and frail because they're so sad and depressed. Not eating because you're depressed is now so accepted that it's become almost cliche. You look at these people and think "That poor person. What can I do to cheer them up?"
But nobody talks about the other side of the coin; the ugly side, the Medusa of depression. The person who eats because they're depressed. Where are the memes showing mountains of food and a person crying because they literally cannot stop eating? Where's the acceptance for the obese depressed person who hates that they eat but doesn't know how to break the dependency upon food? These are the people we glance at and think "My God, that person is HUGE! Don't they have any self control?", or "Dear God, if I ever get that fat just kill me!" Instead of acceptance and sympathy these folks are shunned and made fun of.
How do I know this? Because I am one of them. Since my return from Afghanistan I have struggled with food. It has become something I could turn to in times of stress. Food doesn't judge. Food loves me for who I am. Food makes me feel good. Yet I hate the way I look because of food. I look at myself in the mirror and think "My God, who is that fat slob?" I get depressed and reach for the bag of chips, or cookies, or whatever else is handy. And I continue to hate myself.
There are days when I literally eat all day long. Days that I eat even when I'm not hungry. And I hate myself for it. It is a vicious, never ending cycle and nobody seems to understand. The Army is especially bad at this. Instead of trying to root out why I can't seem to loose weight, I am sent to a doctor to see if there is a physical reason. Well of course there isn't. But the Army doesn't want to hear that it's a psychological reason. No, I'm a soldier. Soldiers must learn to suck it up and be disciplined! There's no room for mental illness in the military!
And they wonder why more than 20 veterans kill themselves EVERY day.
So what is my point here? Is it to decry those who fat shame and demand acceptance for obesity? Well, no. Not exactly. Fat shaming is not cool but neither is accepting obesity. What is needed is education and understanding. WHY is this person unable to lose weight and what can you do to help them? I'll use myself as an example.
Six months ago I stepped on the scale and was utterly ashamed to see the dial spin up to 254 pounds. It didn't help that this was also an official weigh in for my Army Reserve company. The ensuing counseling was decidedly one sided and involved veiled threats of a less than honorable discharge. Do you think this motivated me to lose the weight? Not. One. Bit. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect. Between May and August I actually gained another ten pounds. My uniform was grossly tight and I was ashamed to show up for duty.
I am happy to report that my First Sergeant realized that there was something more to the problem. He brought me into his office and we talked. It wasn't a counseling. He took off his rank and we talked. I told him why I was having trouble losing weight. I told him that any time I am stressed out I reach for something to eat. Being a combat veteran himself, he understood. He also understood that there is no easy solution to this problem but that support and encouragement can work wonders. This man bought me a FitBit and encouraged me to join his fitness team.
Since that meeting in August, I have been able to drop my weight to 240 and my fitness test scores are improving. Now, I'm not saying that this is a cure. God knows this is going to be a long and difficult process. But encouragement and understanding goes such a long way. I realized I am not alone in this and that there are people who genuinely care. That goes a long way.
Encouragement and a sense of belonging goes a long way to helping someone who is depressed. Think about this the next time you want to post something about depression. Does it encourage those who are depressed or does it only continue the stereotype?