I thought I was done with the dating game when I met my husband Matt in 2010. I was wrong! Make no mistake, we’re happily married. What I’m talking about is finding a therapist. When my primary care physician diagnosed my anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and an unspecified eating disorder, I figured he would provide me with several resources. At this point, I thought I had already taken the biggest step forward by admitting I needed help. I didn’t know what that help would look like and apparently neither did my doctor. He advised me to just “look online” for resources.
Having never looked for a therapist before I told myself it couldn’t be that hard. I’ll just do what I always do, turn to Google. However, when you type in “male therapist for eating disorders, OCD and anxiety,” you don’t really find what you need. There were several local eating disorder clinics for in-patient care, their websites were painted with images of women, who spoke about their battles with anorexia and bulimia but none of this was relatable to me.
I was a 34-year-old male with an eating disorder that didn’t even have a label. I often questioned whether or not I actually had an eating disorder since I was still eating food and not purging. I didn’t see the need for in-patient care but what other options were there? Nothing matched my needs, plus I had no idea exactly what I even needed at that point.
Talk about feeling lost! I was frustrated, angry and alone. I felt invisible to our country’s mental health care system, especially as a guy who has some weird relationship with food. Already at my lowest point mentally, physically and emotionally, I gave up my search for a couple of days. I couldn’t handle it. Finding a therapist felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe I would just have to face the facts that I’m just not fixable. Perhaps, I’m sentenced to this hell I’ve been living in for so long. And who knows, this unspecified eating disorder thing sounds made up so maybe I’m not really that sick.
I didn’t want to waste mental health resources on my situation when there are other people out there a lot worse off than me. Man, talk about being unable to see the gravity of my own situation. This disillusionment was the result of two major factors: being a male with one of the “other” eating disorders and the simple lack of available mental health resources.
I resumed my search after a couple days. My results revealed I was only going to be able to address some of my issues with a therapist. So I focused on my anxiety and OCD first. I’ve later learned this was the right decision for my specific situation but I stumbled across that revelation on my own, not with any medical guidance. I sent out over twenty messages to prospective therapists, but the majority resulted in the following responses:
“We’re currently not accepting new patients.”
“We can schedule you for a consultation in 3 months.”
“We’re unable to help you with regards to your specific conditions.”
At least they responded because some of these therapists never even returned my message. Then one day, a counselor named Sean replied. We connected over video chat for a 15-minute consultation. His approach felt like the perfect fit for my anxiety and OCD issues, which ultimately stemmed from unresolved pain during my adolescence. Sean admitted he hadn’t dealt with many eating disorder cases but was still willing to work with me. I am forever grateful for his willingness to grow with me.
We reconnected the following week for my first appointment. Match.com could not have made a better connection. A few sessions into therapy with Sean, my anxious and obsessive thoughts were starting to subside. My mind cleared just enough for me to tackle the next obstacle in my way, that unspecified eating disorder.
I started looking for nutritionists in my area. The eating disorder recovery clinics just were not a fit for me. Again, I felt like I wasn’t sick enough to go plus I felt I didn’t meet their demographic. I was a guy with an “other” eating disorder, whatever that is. I knew I was sick. I was at my lowest weight ever, always cold with a low pulse and constant body pain. Yet, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was wrong with me, which escalated when it seemed professionals couldn't either.
The first nutritionist I spoke with seemed well-versed in sports nutrition. She could develop a nutrition plan to build muscle but she was clueless when it came to my eating disorder. Her focus was macronutrients and lots of protein, not the disordered mind. Yes, I needed someone who was going to help repair my body but I also needed someone who held the basic human compassion to understand my mental turmoil around food.
I thanked her for the consultation and resumed my search. I repeatedly told Matt how tired I was of this. Maybe I’ll just work with my therapist on the other issues and hope the eating disorder fixed itself. Then one day I stumbled across my RDN’s website. I liked her approach to intuitive eating and set up a consultation. She seemed like the perfect match for me. She knew her nutrition but she was alway willing to work through me and my orthorexic thoughts. Kassandra is not a therapist, but she is a human. I knew her and Sean were my dynamic duo.
One catch, though, the nutrition program cost thousands out of pocket. Insurance wouldn’t cover it. Don’t even get me started on that! I instantly flung myself on the bed in a fit of tears. I didn’t want to put that financial strain on us for some stupid nondescript eating disorder. Matt, like he always does, reassured me that I was worth it. He said, “The most important thing is helping you get better.” The next day I enrolled in my nutrition program with Kassandra who has been by my side each step of the way. She has helped to restore me physically while Sean has helped repair my mind and soul.
Admitting I needed help was hell. I initially felt like a failure to myself and those around me. Finding help was even harder. This time I felt invisible or unimportant to the system. I’ve seen several friends struggle with finding help but I constantly reassure them that they can’t give up hope. They’re worth it, just like I am.
Our mental health professionals are overwhelmed and I worry the situation will worsen. We must change the narrative and make sure everyone’s voice is heard and understood so nobody has to feel invisible or like their problems don’t matter. Mental illness does not discriminate. We are always told to embrace our uniqueness. My hope is that we can fully live up to that expectation so that one day we can live in a world where everyone feels worthy of help and most importantly, can find it!