I had no idea...
Fair warning - this post will be personal, and probably not at all funny.
This week is national eating disorders awareness week. Each year, a theme is selected to bring awareness and start conversations about disordered eating. This year, the theme is "I had no idea."
When I was in my pre-teens, I remember hearing about anorexic behaviors. The next day I tried to make it through a day without eating. Around three in the afternoon, my will broke and I ate. I felt ashamed. When I heard about bulimia, I tried as hard as I could to make myself throw up and cried my eyes out when I couldn't do it. How could I fail?
To me, being thin meant being happy and being loved. Nothing else in the whole world mattered - it meant that you would have friends, attention and affection. It meant being desired and worthy of love. Sometimes I wish that I could go back and warn my younger self - let myself know of all the horrible baggage that comes with an eating disorder. Going back isn't possible - I know that. But I hope in sharing some of the darker parts of these disorders, maybe someone else can be helped.
Here's my list of things that I had no idea about:
I had no idea that eating disorders are more deadly than any other mental illness.
I had no idea that once I was successful at making myself vomit that I wouldn't be able to just stop when I got to my "ideal size."
I had no idea that getting thin would do nothing for my self confidence. On the contrary, the thinner I got, the more obsessed I became about getting even smaller.
I had no idea the toll my choices would take on my friends, family and loved ones.
I had no idea that there is nothing more humiliating in this world than cleaning up your own vomit.
I had no idea that I would alienate people. That I would spend my days in my room with the door locked throwing up into a bowl I hid under my bed. That I would cry as I ate and hate myself as I purged yet again.
I had no idea that I would live in a fog for months at a time. Processing anything that required mental attention would be extremely challenging. Emotions would be nearly uncontrollable.
I had no idea that depression goes hand in hand with ED. It is a downward spiral that is extremely challenging to get out of. The behavior brings on depression. Depression begs more disordered behaviors, and so it continues on and on and on.
I had no idea that I would end up in a costly rehab program, putting my life on hold while I fought like hell to get better.
I had no idea that I would relapse the day I got out of that program, or that it would take me several more attempts to let myself enter recovery.
I had no idea that this disease would stay with me for the rest of my life. I didn't know that I would struggle to win the battle from the moment I woke up until I laid my head down to sleep.
I had no idea that my choices would lead those closest to me to try to follow me.
I had no idea that I would have awful sore throats, gastroparesis, and other medical issues that would cost thousands of dollars to test and treat.
I had no idea of the long term price that I would pay socially, physically, mentally, or spiritually.
If this list sounds dramatic to you, good. It absolutely should be. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental health disorder by far for women and men. This is not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. It is not something that is easily overcome and it is certainly not a "rich white girl problem." Rehab showed me that this disease doesn't discriminate against race, age, sexual orientation, gender or any other characteristic. It lulls its victims slowly down a dark, dirty path that some don't ever come back from.
If you or someone you love is struggling with ANY form of disordered eating (anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, binge eating, compulsive overexercising, or ED-NOS) have a conversation.There are excellent informative resources available here and here. Be kind. Have fewer conversations about people's bodies and more about their souls. Stop reinforcing the idea that being overweight is the worst thing a person can be. Let food nourish your body. Love yourself, love each other.
Help is available. Reach out. Have courage. Ask.