After sharing my story last week I’ve had a fair few comments from colleagues, friends, family and other bloggers. Everyone had kind words of encouragement and what really amazed me was that those I hadn’t previously told didn’t appear to have inkling prior to reading my story.
You sometimes feel like you are walking around with a big banner on your head saying “I’ve an eating disorder” which is made all the more apparent when you are noticeably underweight. I suppose when people only know you as appearing a certain way and behaving a certain way they should have no reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary.
I think the perception, or at least mine, that other people immediately know about your eating disorder stems from my own sixth sense about others that have suffered or are still suffering. It may seem judgmental and I myself am strongly against people making assumptions about me or typically others that are underweight and the broad use of the term “anorexic”. It has become widely associated and more generally used to describe people who are underweight. It may be news to some people, but not everyone who is underweight has or has had an eating disorder and having an eating disorder doesn’t necessarily mean a person is going to be under or even over weight…appearances can be deceiving.
I suppose again comparing it to those who suffer from alcoholism…there are different levels, types and severities of the condition which people may experience or pass through. In actuality no one case is likely to be the same in every respect.
Having suffered from anorexia for years as well as various other eating disorders I naturally, as do most sufferers, have a great comprehension of them. As a result sometimes you can’t help but pick up on people’s behaviours, habits and mannerisms which lead to the estimation that they too have suffered or are suffering from an eating disorder. It’s not based on appearances; it’s almost like having an intrinsic empathy without them having to have ever told you anything about their illness.
There have been one or two cases where I have met people, made such an estimation, only to find out later that I was actually spot on.
What continues to amaze me is upon sharing your story with other people the amount of others who then divulge the fact that they either know someone who has suffered or is suffering from an eating disorder, be it a friend or a family member, or that they themselves have suffered in the past. Of course sometimes it is the case that it there was no need for them to share their experiences or story up to that point, but largely it seems that there is still a shadow of shame surrounding eating disorders, coupled with a huge lack of understanding as well as outsiders and even sufferers questioning the plausibility of the disorders, results in them ultimately remaining misapprehended.
For disorders and illnesses to be greater understood they need to not only be shared with healthcare professionals but the general public. The general public has the potential to yield a huge influence over eating disorders and the sufferers. Creating awareness and understanding, in my opinion, will help reduce the secrecy that surrounds eating disorders as signs and symptoms become widely recognised; and I mean beyond someone putting on or loosing weight. The sooner someone with an eating disorder or someone that is falling in to the trap of one can be advised to seek help or perhaps can ambush the illness before it takes over their mind the better.
One of the most worrying misconceptions is that you have to be emaciated to have an eating disorder…this not only results in eating disorders developing right under people’s noses and being dismissed as the person that has in actual fact fallen prey to the illness “looks normal”, it also fuels eating disorders in a lot of cases and definitely in mine in terms of anorexia, as at the outset your strive for perfection is all encompassing. I had a strong desire to embrace the illness fully; I sought recognition for my efforts and struggles that hadn’t yet become immediately apparent via my appearance. Until I met a certain set of criteria I couldn’t be diagnosed with anorexia and while the part of me that hadn’t yet been taken over began to cry out for help, the anorexic part of me grew stronger, encouraging me to embrace the unhealthy behaviours further under the premise that it would aid my desire to get help.
I found an absolutely wonderful quote that has put recovery in to words that I can’t better…
“It is not a sudden leap from sick to well. It is a slow, strange meander from sick to mostly well. The misconception that eating disorders are a medical disease in the traditional sense is not helpful here. There is no “cure”. A pill will not fix it, though it may help. Ditto therapy, ditto food, ditto endless support from family and friends. You fix it yourself. It is the hardest thing that I have ever done, and I found myself stronger for doing it. Much stronger.”
“Wasted” by Marya Hornbacher
To be continued!