This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW), and the theme is “I Had No Idea.” Until I developed an eating disorder at age 13, I didn’t know what an eating disorder was. Between my liposuction-obsessed health teacher and the incessant fat-shaming that occurred in my middle school, I could feel weight stigma and internalization of the thin ideal in my world, but nobody ever talked about it. It was a residue floating in the air, a whisper of something unnamed. Through the years, well-intentioned people (including treatment professionals) have given me a lot of false information. For years, I suffered in silence, ashamed of my struggle and overwhelmed with stigma. I refused to acknowledge my battle.
Today, I carry many battle scars from more than a decade of struggling, but I am still fighting. I have been privileged to receive education in the field of mental health, and in trying to understand my experience and recover, I have gone to countless therapy appointments, read journal articles, conducted research, attended conferences, critically analyzed theories, and asked questions.
In looking at many of the articles circulating this NEDAW, I have observed abundant discussion on statistics and accurately portraying the facts about eating disorders. You can read some of that information here. Learning more about the reality regarding eating disorders is crucial. However, today I don’t want to replicate one of those articles.
Statistics and information are important, but they don’t inherently give a voice to the living hell that 24 million Americans with eating disorders are going through. There are many people in the world who have no idea what an eating disorder actually is. There are many people who are suffering in silence, ashamed to own a struggle that is so stigmatized.
When I was 13, I had no idea about anything and everything involving eating disorders. Almost 13 years later, I have some ideas, and I would like to share some things that have I have learned.
I had no idea…
…that it is okay to own my struggle. It is okay to speak the truth and to name what it is that I am experiencing. Not only is it okay, it is empowering and healing. Owning my struggle combats shame.
…that eating disorders are not moral defects or signs of bad behavior. They are complex disorders that must be treated seriously. They are not “choices.”
…that while some people will hurt me because they lack knowledge or empathy, there are people who exist who will love me and walk me through this. They will understand and love me unconditionally. They will help me heal.
…that I am not alone in my battle. By giving in to silence, I am giving into the misconception that I am all alone in this.
…that life exists after the cessation of certain behaviors. The ED voice whispers the lie that reality will not continue if I don’t do x behavior, that the world will cease to exist, that I will explode, that I can’t handle it. Those are lies.
…that my recovery journey would be harder than I could ever imagine, but it would also be more beautiful than I could ever imagine.
…that eating disorders are more complicated than I could have ever dreamed. There is no “typical” eating disorder patient. There is much diversity, in demographics, in symptom presentation, and in our histories.
…that I am worth saving.
…that it is okay to be myself. I may be battered and broken, but I am also loved beyond imagination, and I am carried by grace. There is a self behind my eating disorder, and it is beautiful.
…that these behaviors could no longer define my life. That I could spontaneously eat a slice of cake without thinking twice about it. That I could savor a piece of meat or cheese or a full-fat latte. That there is life past the anorexia rate race.
…that I could ever address the exhausting lump of pain inside. That might involve a lot of tears, candy, laughing, joy, and therapy, but it can happen. And I could heal.
May you use this information today to give lots of hugs and spread love to those around you. You don’t know who will need it. May you be quick to listen and slow to judge someone who is fighting an eating disorder– regardless of how they “look,” what gender/ socioeconomic status/ sexual orientation/ race is. May you cherish your life and yourself because it is precious. May you hold onto this because you never know when someone in your family or community will develop an eating disorder, and knowledge is power. Understanding is power. Empathy is power.