Each year, as NEDA (National Eating Disorders Awareness) week rolls around, memories resurface. Memories I’ve put to rest. Memories I’ve brought closure to.
And each year, I am confronted with a decision to be made. Do I let the week go by unacknowledged or do I address it?
In spite of the trepidation I feel, I am choosing to write about it, as I am fully aware of the injustice I would be doing to all who are suffering if I didn’t.
After all, the purpose of this week is to create awareness.
To provide hope…and understanding…and information.
To start conversations. Conversations that may be uncomfortable and scary.
I am fortunate to be in a position to provide hope, because I am proof that there is. I am in a position to provide understanding, because I do.
And I am in a position to start a conversation, even though it is uncomfortable and scary for me to do so.
According to NEDA’s website, “30 million Americans will struggle with a full-blown eating disorder and millions more will battle food and body image issues that have untold negative impacts on their lives.”
In other words, you know someone who is struggling—I believe this is especially true if you are a teacher or a coach or a parent of a teenager. What complicates the matter is that eating disorders are not always detectable by outward appearance and many who suffer do not want to be found out.
My own story is typical in many regards.
I was a perfectionist with a need for routine and organization.
My self worth emanated from my accomplishments.
I wanted to be liked by everyone, so I avoided conflict at all cost.
I desperately needed to feel special.
I was the perfect child.
At the onset of my illness, I was an 8th grader who had the world at her fingertips. I was a regular on the A Honor Roll while taking advanced classes; I was a cheerleader, I played basketball, and ran track. I was a first chair clarinet player, chosen as a soloist and selected for symphony orchestra.
I was not overweight. I don’t remember having a negative body image. I have no idea why I chose to go on a diet the summer before I started my freshman year, but I did.
At some point, I began equating being thin to being perfect, so the thinner I could be, the more perfect I would become.
My life quickly spiraled out of control, as I got caught in a cycle of destructive behaviors that consumed every waking hour of every day for years and years and years.
My secret was well hidden (or so I believed at the time) until the beginning of my junior year of high school, when I fainted during gym class. I was fortunate the teacher in whose class I fainted, made it a point to get involved in my life.
She started the conversation.
She made a difference; in all honesty, she more than likely saved my life.
The road to recovery was arduous—I had three long term hospitalizations under my belt by the time I was 19.
The atypical part of my story is the subsequent relapse decades later.
So here’s what I
want need you to know:
Early detection and intervention are crucial for recovery. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. A life could be saved.
Interested in the the warning signs? Read more here.
Interested in the statistics? Read more here.
Interested in getting help? Read more here.
Interested in reading a poem? Read on.
An Eating Disorder isn’t Such a Big Deal In the style of Lawrence Ferlinghetti
An eating disorder isn’t such a big deal
if you’ve never fallen victim to one.
After all, how could an illness
be anything more than a passing phase,
a choice to be made,
a mere fad,
or a teenage craze?
No, an eating disorder isn’t such a big deal
if you don’t mind
living in a hell
you’ve created by your own doing.
If you don’t mind spending
every waking moment
of every single day
(and more often than not,
consumed by thoughts so inconceivable
you could never share them with anyone.
No, an eating disorder isn’t such a big deal,
if you don’t mind
counting the calories in toothpaste
or on a postage stamp,
restricting food so you are hungry
all the time
and think about food
all the time.
If you don’t mind exercising to punish your body
for its imperfections,
or hiding food in garbage bags
tucked away in the back of your closet,
or swallowing bottles of laxatives
or syrup of ipecac because you were weak
and ate ice cream or a cookie or a piece of cake.
If you don’t mind stepping on the scale several times a day
and letting the number determine you self worth.
If you don’t mind measuring yourself every night
and leaving the window open and covers off
to burn more calories.
If you don’t mind being too weak
to crawl out of bed to get to the bathroom in time.
If you don’t mind systematically
checking for protruding bones,
or embracing the emptiness in your stomach
because the emptiness in your stomach
is easier to acknowledge
than the emptiness you feel in your life.
Nope. Not a big deal at all,
if you don’t mind avoiding social situations
because you are afraid people will see you
for who you are
and who you aren’t,
or if you don’t mind distancing yourself from those who love you
because you feel you are unworthy of being loved,
or if you don’t mind crying yourself to sleep at night
because you feel alone
and so very out of contol
and you have no idea how to
be normal again.
No, it’s really not a big deal
if you don’t mind
striving for perfection in all that you do,
and feeling like a failure in all that you do
because perfection was never meant to be attained.
No, really, an eating disorder is nothing serious at all,
if you don’t mind a life filled with
and the deprecation and abomination
Nope, it’s not a big deal.
doesn’t it make sense
that the best way to be noticed
is to simply disappear?
That the best way to feel in control
is to completely lose it?
Nope. An eating disorder
isn’t a big deal
until you or someone you love
is under its control.