I was 18. My doctor said, “Death is knocking.” I laughed.
When my doctor uttered those words, I wasn’t receiving this news as a Cancer patient that was distraught, yet optimistic. I wasn’t receiving this news as someone that had a history or disease in the family. I was receiving this news because of a disease that had plagued me for eight years. A disease that I had for so long, I personified it as a person. A disease that had gone undiagnosed for so long and had manifested in the ugliest of ways. A disease that seems to a little misunderstood.
Here I will note that I am writing a two part piece about my experience with eating disorders. I am writing this in part because I just passed my 4 Year Anniversary, and also in response to some links that are floating around the interwebs lately. These thoughts are based off MY experience only.The first piece will be background and experience. The second will be my reflection of the process and observations as a “recovered” patient. It should be recognized that every one encounters and experiences something very differently within their own experience, hence the difficulty of the absorbing disease.
Link to post that I was inspired and connecting my thoughts to: http://thoughtcatalog.com/alexa-vecchio/2014/01/8-things-girls-withrecovering-from-eating-disorders-are-sick-of-hearing/
1.”You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
I been in the throws of my eating disorder for 2 years before I heard this, and it wasn’t even directed at me. My friend was gossiping to me about someone else that we both knew. “She doesn’t even look like she throws up. She’s probably lying to get attention” (see #3.) Notably, my eating disordered behaviors worsened after that. I know because I remember it vividly; I don’t remember much of that time because a lack of food oddly impairs your brain functions.
2. “Why don’t you just eat?”
One of my biggest issues that led to my relationship with ED was my trust issues. My therapist gave me an extremely difficulty assignment: Tell my brother why I was home from school. (I was in college at the time of my hospitalization and had to stay at home, rather than college. My ED was a secret from everyone.) After 3 weeks of being hospitalized, I approached my brother and told him I had to tell him something. I said he should probably sit down. He grabbed left over pizza from the fridge, sat down, and looked at me grinning. I have an eating disorder, I said. He stopped grinning. His huge eyebrows furrowed. He looked at his pizza. Eat this, he said.
I held a grudge against him for a few months. It would have been decades had I not been in therapy. People who utter this statement do not understand eating disorders. This is why eating disorder education needs to happen. REAL education, not the bullshit that is occurring presently.
3. “People with eating disorders just want attention”
When I hospitalized myself, my therapist ORDERED me to tell people. I WAS ORDERED in order to continue treatment. So yeah, let’s send this one out to MythBusters.
With a caveat, who doesn’t want attention?! As human beings we NEED attention. Whether that attention is physical, mental, friendly, or romantic attention, we need it to survive. Do ED-lovers choose ED in order to gain attention? NO. We look to ED because we feel a lack of positive attention and believe that ED feeds our need for attention and stability.
4. “Girls with eating disorders can stop whenever they want”
Note:I want to point out that the original writer probably meant “people”, not “girls”.
I have a LOT of pride. Like, way too much. I actually need some volunteers to forever borrow my pride. But, I was a smoker for 8 years. I always said to people, “Don’t worry. I have will-power. I can quit whenever I want.” THEY ALWAYS LAUGHED. I tried quitting more times than I can count. So no, I could not quit whenever I wanted, and people knew it. Yet, somehow. When I knew I could not “quit” my ED, people laughed and said WHY NOT.
These are my thoughts: 1. People understand smoking because it’s something that is talked about, therefore people “understand” because they heard their grandpa, their mom, their best friend talk about how impossible it is to “simply” quit. Whereas an eating disorder is not something talked about. It’s shamed. It’s not even a different ballpark, it’s a different game. We understand things we know. 2. You can quit smoking because you don’t need to smoke. You can’t quit an eating disorder because you still need to eat. I had many meltdowns in the hospital cafeteria because I sincerely thought a juice box and box of beans were sufficient calories. In ED rehab, you relearn food. I was humiliated, mocked, and humbled in the cafeteria.
5. “Ughhh. I feel so fat. I’m just not going to eat for 2 days.”
People should let this phrase be what it is: a hyperbole. People who say this are simply being dramatic, similar to, “I’m so hungry I could eat a cow.” I say this constantly and I have been a vegetarian for 7 years. HOWEVER, if the person that says this shows other signs of disordered eating, please talk to them, otherwise, stop being PETA and laugh a bit.
7.*puts finger down throat* or any crude joke about bulimia
Contrary to #5, this is crude. If anyone does this, I simply say, “Torn esophagus.” That usually stops them.
8. “Yom Kippur is an excuse for Jews to be anorexic for a day!”
I find that people who make these statements have 1. Disordered eating of their own 2. Huge issues of ignorance. I follow these thoughts up with a brief conversation to see if I should nudge towards help or leave the vicinity of their presence.
My relationship with ED has lasted the greater part of my life, slowly with the years it will only be a portion of my life. With each passing year comes clarity because my body and brain are being fed with proper nutrition and exercise. With each passing year comes clarity because I no longer take medication. With each passing year I am recognizing myself- witty, confident, caring, responsible, loving. With each passing year, I love myself, and believe it.
With each passing year, I make memories that revolve less and less around ED.