I’m not quite sure in which direction this post is going to go, so please just bear with me here.
As many of you know, it’s NEDA week. NEDA is the National Eating Disorders Association, and they mean a lot to me as someone who knows the terrifying, hopeless, death of a “life” that is experienced when one has an eating disorder. I cannot speak for someone struggling with bulimia, but I know that it is a tough thing to just “snap out of.” I do know firsthand how excruciatingly tough, painful, scary, uncomfortable, and seemingly (but not) impossible it is to recover from anorexia. (Specifically, anorexia athletica.)
The past two years my school has hosted a NEDA walk during NEDA week. Because I was not in recovery from my eating disorder and no one knew about it, I clearly did not participate. This year I would have LOVED to do the walk, but unfortunately there is not one in my area. Bummer!
NEDA has a lot of great programs such as the walks, speakers, conferences, help & support centers, a blog, a place to donate, webinars, and film screenings all surrounding the topic of eating disorders…which is great! It really is. The problem is that typically the only visitors to the NEDA website and the only people that know it exists are those who are desperately searching the internet for help, or worse–not for help. I remember reading through recovery forums while in the depths of my disorder and just thinking “well this is all great, but I’m never going to recover.” I’m certainly glad things have changed for me, but there are a world of other people who are still in the “I can never recover/I don’t want to recover” mindset.
I just kind of jumped all over the place, but I wanted to go off what I was saying earlier about how the only people aware of NEDA are those struggling. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because hopefully it can help them–the problem is that most of the world is either clueless or horribly misinformed about eating disorders.
A small example: as usual, there are writings in chalk outside of my school student union talking about NEDA week and probably mentioning some sort of statistics on eating disorders. There is a “life-size Barbie” replica (it’s pretty funny..she has huge boobs and size 2 feet and a 17 inch waist) in our library alongside a mirror that has “You are beautiful” written on it, and a chalkboard posing the question “What makes you beautiful?” for students to write on.
But wait, thats great, right? Well, it sounds great. I was happy to see it as I walked through the library to get to my second class of the day.
Once I was in class, things changed. I overheard a male student saying, “Did you see all those chalk writings outside The Joe [my student union] about anorexia? So f***ing stupid. Tell those b*****s just to STFU and eat a hamburger, God.” to which his friend replied, “I had an ex that was anorexic and she was crazy. She told me it was my fault because I used to make fun of her chubby thighs and her dangly arm fat. *laughs* She was pretty fat though so it was pretty chill that she just stopped eating.”
I’m not exaggerating that at all. I literally wrote that down word for word after I heard it so that I could remember it. It made me so mad. Every time I think we’re getting somewhere as a society, my hope is ultimately shattered right in front of me.
You know what I realized? I lived in secret for so long–not even telling my friends about my disease–because I was SO scared what they would think of me. Anorexia is thought of as something you just wake up and choose to have. A lifestyle–one that’s even glamorized by so many people. THINGS COULD NOT BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. I did NOT choose this disease. I literally had no issues with my body and never even wanted to lose weight. If anything, I needed to gain weight. My doctors and parents and friends all told me I should gain some weight and I even wanted to–I just literally could not. I accepted I was just naturally very skinny and I moved on. If I “chose” anorexia, don’t you think I would have chosen it to lose weight? Um, no. So far off.
Like I said, I was scared. I felt like I could never explain the disease to people because I firmly believe you can’t really understand it unless you experience it. I didn’t even want to try, though. It seemed like such a large task to change the opinion of the mass of people who thought I was crazy because I wanted to be this way.
At dinner freshman year, a friend I was eating with said, “how could someone be anorexic? I love food too much, I couldn’t do it.” I remember feeling so much anger toward her for a long time after that statement. Anorexia is not willpower; it is not being strong. It is a mental disease. My freshman year, I was not even “that bad.” (Of course, it was the beginning of my downward spiral.) I mean, I ate probably 2,000 calories a day! More than most people eat, but for someone like me it wasn’t enough. I knowingly restricted my intake, so I knew I had a problem; therefore, her statement killed me inside. Willpower? Not even. Hey, I love food, too! It’s a sickness. It’s not a choice.
But I didn’t SAY anything. I just held a grudge against her for months and didn’t try to explain to her the truth. That’s the problem, you guys. WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT. We cannot get mad about the public’s misinformed attitudes and opinions on eating disorders when we are doing NOTHING to change those opinions. Of course, as with anything there is no way to change everyone’s mind, but holy crap it would sure make a difference if every time you overheard someone say something wrong and misinformed about eating disorders you turned around and told them how it really is.
Anyway, I guess the point of this was that I have mixed emotions about NEDA week and eating disorder awareness. You can’t truly understand an eating disorder unless you have or have had one, but you can realize that it’s not a lifestyle choice, and that it is a disease that can spiral out of control in little to no time. If you’ve never had an eating disorder, please, please don’t be ignorant. That’s so offensive to me, and to so many out there. If you have had or you do have one, please please try your best to talk about it and spread the truth.
**Another point is that you can’t necessarily tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them. Sure, I’m sure that every sane human who saw me instantly knew I had a problem because I literally was a skeleton. I look at pictures from 2 months ago and want to throw up. I weighed as much as someone that is 4’1 should weigh. In other words, a third grader.
But you can’t always tell, so you MUST MUST MUST watch what you say. Don’t even TALK about your body out loud. Unless you’re saying how much you love it. You could be complaining of “feeling fat” when a few feet away, a girl who may be larger than you (or not larger but think she is) is hating herself because if you’re fat, certainly she is. Don’t you dare comment on how or what someone is eating, or talk about your stupid crash diet out in public. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to continue to recover when I heard girls on campus talking about their 500-calories-a-day-until-spring-break plan. I mean, it’s getting easier..it really is. Instead of my ED saying, “oh, she’s so much stronger than you and you’re going to get FAT because you’re eating 3000 calories a day, you lazy piece of crap,” it’s now my own voice saying, “Haha, that sucks for you. Enjoy your cayenne pepper juice cleanse and I’ll be over here with my pizza and pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Sucka.”
It’s a big job to change the stigma on eating disorders, but at least I can do small things to work at it. I try to spread awareness with my blog, my vlogs, and even just in person. I’ve found I’ve become a lot more bold since accepting that I’ve had an eating disorder in that if I hear someone talking about them in a way that is incorrect I will usually get up and challenge them.
That said, back to my story of those two boys today. You bet your nuggets I talked to them after class.
Long story short, they apologized to me and genuinely seemed enlightened when I told them that anorexia isn’t a choice. Maybe they walked away and kept talking crap and called me crazy, but at least I tried.
So so sorry that this post was not organized. I had a lot of thoughts that I needed to spew and as usual, they came out like word vomit. I hope you followed along.
In other news, I’m getting better every day and I cannot deny how much my life is falling into place these past two months. I’m just so excited about life.