Does “fat” and “crazy” go hand in hand?

By Joanna (JuJuBe)

Obesity — defined as a body mass index, of 30 or higher — was associated with a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of major depression, bipolar disorder and panic disorder.

Although the risk of depression over a lifetime is about 20 percent, the study indicated that it is 28 percent among people who are obese, a statistically significant difference.

The link between obesity and mental illness was most pronounced among those who were more educated and had higher incomes. The association may be as high as 44 percent among individuals who had attended some college, according to the research. No significant differences between the sexes were found.

The study sparked debate over the chicken-and-egg question of which comes first — obesity or mental illness. One expert suggested that the two conditions perpetuate one another.”Source

I remember riding in a cab one day and discussing my experiences with mental illness with the driver. He told me “Just lose weight and all of your mental health issues will go away.” I was offended. 

But then I really sat and thought about what he said. I had to question whether there was kernel of truth to what he was saying. All my life I had told myself that if I was just thin, I would be happy. Then, these doctors had come along and told me that I was “mentally ill”- that I had a biological condition not related to my weight that caused me to suffer from depression, mood swings, and an inability to participate in health, mutually beneficial relationships.

It was so easy to accept the word of the doctors. After all, most people believe that an individual is fat because of their own laziness and lack of moral integrity. So, I had walked around believing that since my weight caused me misery, I had brought it all on myself. So, I quickly latched on to the “mental illness” theory because it meant that my issues were NOT MY FAULT.

Over time though, I have come to believe that the intersection of mental health and obesity is far more complex.

I have a condition called “borderline personality disorder” which presents as a severe problem establishing appropriate boundaries, obsessiveness, and fear of abandonment. A chemical component has NOT been established as a causative factor for BPD. It does not respond to medication. Most doctors believe that environmental factors (or “nurture”) have a larger role in the development of BPD than genetic or biological factors (or “nature”). Looking back over my life, I believe that I was so severely traumatized by the bullying I received as a child due to my weight issues that I developed maladaptive ways of coping which resulted in BPD.

So, I really hate my BPD diagnoses. Instead of blaming the people who constantly bullied me and the ones who failed to stand up and protect me, I blame myself. I feel like it was “my fault” that I was fat, and that the people who terrorized me were only responding to a situation I brought upon myself and could have prevented. Maybe if the societal messages that fat people are ugly, stupid, and worthless were not so strong, I would not have developed this disorder. Maybe BPD is not even real. Maybe it is just an excuse for my failure to thrive. I have even gone so far as to tell my doctor that BPD is not a “real” mental illness, and that the real problem is that I am a just a fucked up person (part of me has bought into the idea that most of society perpetuates- that mental illness is not a “real” disability and mentally ill people deserve derision, not support).

I wonder how many children will develop this disorder because they suffered at the hands of bullies? If our society was not so filled with hatred, if discrimination was not so acceptable, could the next generation have better mental health? Why do we consider it OK to mock people, especially children, for being different, and expect that there will not be serious consequences down the line?

I have also been diagnosed as being bipolar, and having generalized anxiety and panic disorder. These I can deal with. In fact, I sometimes ENJOY these diagnoses, since they give me an excuse for my bad behavior and actions. If I hurt someone I love, I can tell them it was the mania talking. When I am too lazy to go shopping, go to work, or even shower, I can say it is because of my depression. And maybe I am telling the truth.

Depression causes changes in appetite. Some people eat exorbitant amounts of food when they are depressed, simply because it provides them comfort. I know when I become extremely down or very anxious, eating helps to relieve some of the tension. So, for many people, depression can lead to weight gain. I believe that depression from childhood contributed to my weight gain when I was younger.

So, did my mental illness cause me to become fat or did the fact that I was fat cause me to become mentally ill? I do not know, but I suspect that the answer is not so cut and dried. I think that I became fat for a variety of reasons, including depression, genetics, and laziness. I believe that the torment I faced at the hands of my peers as a child triggered my predisposition towards depression, and that my depression caused my weight gain to spiral out of control. And from there is was a vicious cycle. The more I ate, the fatter I got.The fatter I got, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I ate. And the fatter I got, the more I was tormented. The more I was tormented, the more my coping mechanisms became maladaptive.

I think that if someone had recognized that I was suffering as a child and had interceded on my behalf I would be healthier today. If so much stigma was not attached to being overweight, I would not have gotten to the point where food was my only friend. If I had been treated with kindness instead of ridiculed as a child, I would be a different person than I am today.

Would I be fat? I do not know. Would I have been mentally ill? Again, I cannot answer that question. But, it is what it is. I AM fat. I AM mentally ill. And, if I work really hard, I KNOW I can be a happy, successful person despite both of those facts.