Walking the Vulnerable Way: Rising from the Stigma of Mental Illness

by Jaja Chen

“You’re not good enough, pretty enough, beautiful enough, never enough.”

Those were the words that replayed in my mind throughout my early years at Baylor as I struggled with an eating disorder that began in middle school.

At the time, I had no idea that the thoughts in my mind could be attributed to a mental health concern.

I thought I wasn’t exercising, dieting, or eating healthy enough. I was flawed and something was wrong with me. Perhaps one day I would finally achieve what I was striving for.

It wasn’t until I met with a psychologist for a counseling intake that I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder.

I was desperate for answers and knew that I could no longer do it on my own.

It was that day that everything finally made sense.

The years of self-hatred towards my body image, avoidance of community settings in which food and intimate conversations were involved, and obsession towards nutrition– to the point of pursuing a Nutrition Science major.*

I had to let go of years of denial, and ultimately my college major, to move towards freedom.

Constance Rhodes, author of Life in the Thin Cage wrote:

“Let me tell you about my life inside the thin cage. It is a dark place with little food, little social interaction, and little freedom. Everything is off limits. Everything is based on performance. If I don’t perform well or look good, then I am not good. I am not allowed to enjoy a piece of cake or a slice of pizza because if I do, tomorrow I will wake up fat. I don’t get much social interaction because I scare off any would-be friends out of my fear of letting them get too close to me….More than anything, I’m alone.”

Looking back, it’s crazy to think that it has been over five years since that initial diagnosis.

I’m reminded of when I first got glasses in middle school. The world was a blur and that was how it always would be. Wearing glasses for the first time brought complete clarity into my vision—a vision I never knew I could have.

Similarly, the five years that have passed since I went through personal counseling led to clarity and freedom—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Freedom from having to categorize food, freedom from excessive dieting, freedom from negative beliefs, freedom from fear of never being good enough.

My journey of healing has since led me to become a therapist to the greater Waco community, specializing in working with helping professionals and individuals whom have experienced trauma, shame, and/or mental health concerns of their own.

I wouldn’t have believed it was possible if you would have asked me five years ago where I would be today.

And now, as a helping professional and therapist, it is easy to still want my life put together and to choose not to talk about my past mental health history, out of fear of judgment or stigma towards mental illness.

However, walking the vulnerable way of healing has helped me find joy in helping others walk out in authenticity. A deeper empathy resounds in my soul for those who pursue counseling and those that seek to remove stigma in the field of mental illness.

After all, we can only give others what we ourselves have.

“After all, we can only give others what we ourselves have.”

Brené Brown states in her book Daring Greatly:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

I am still walking on the vulnerable path to this day.
With my vulnerability lens on,
I walk in compassion for myself and those around me.
I have not looked back and can now say:
I am enough.
Truly, truly enough.

*Disclaimer: Please note that this reference is not to mark a conclusion that Nutrition Science majors struggle with eating disorders. Instead, it is to note my personal experience.


Jaja headshot.jpg
Jaja Chen, LMSW, CDWF-Candidate is a private practice therapist in Waco at Enrichment Training & Counseling Solutions. Jaja is passionate about seeing fellow helping professionals thrive in the work that they do for the Waco community. Jaja’s areas of specialization include trauma, secondary trauma and burnout, maternal mental health concerns, and OCD. Jaja is currently in the certification process for EMDR therapy and enjoys helping individuals work through shame in sessions through the use of Brené Brown’s shame resilience research in The Daring Way™. In her free time, Jaja loves to do yoga, make kombucha, blog, and read. To contact Jaja, check out her website page at http://enrichmenttcs.com/meet-jaja-chen/ and/or e-mail her at Jaja@enrichmenttcs.com.

3 thoughts on “Walking the Vulnerable Way: Rising from the Stigma of Mental Illness

    1. Thank you for your encouragements! My story is no longer my own as I hope it inspires many others towards full recovery and healing.

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