I come across this post about things I wish people about Eating disorders in my drafts section all hidden away, I never realised that I didn’t publish it. I tried to think of the reasons why, I guess back in December 2014, I was quite ill mentally and also psychically from my eating disorder (only I couple of months later, I started daycare). So now nearly two/three years, I thought I might share it. So here goes…
I could write so much about things I wish people knew about eating disorders from they’re not choices or that we’re doing it for attention to how every waking (and sleeping) moment is filled with thoughts about food even down to that we are hungry but can’t face that will to eat something for fear of gaining or being judged by others and ourselves.
So I’m going to talk about five things that I wish people knew about eating disorders.
- Eating Disorders are not a choice
One of most upsetting things someone have said to me when I was very unwell was that I was choosing to be that way. It can be so hard to express to somebody that you are not able to control your own thoughts and that voice in your head is constantly telling you all sort of things and causing you to deny yourself one of the most basic human rights… the right to eat. Although at times it was possible to make that choice to eat, it was not possible at that time to choose to avoid the feelings of intense guilt and self-hatred that follows after eating. These sort of feelings where you just want to hide somewhere and cry, like that little space in the bedroom or that space at the bottom of the garden.
2. It’s okay to talk to me about my eating disorder and to ask questions
Although when I say this, I don’t mean by asking how much I weigh or how much I’ve eaten today or what I’ve eaten. Things like this will make me defensive, embarrassed or even ashamed of myself. It is okay to ask me how I am or if I’m finding anything challenging or if there’s anything that you can do to help but sometimes if I’m not comfortable answering I will say so but chances are it will make me feel like you care and want to support me although I may not show it. People with eating disorders can often feel very ashamed, and it is by talking and encouraging openness and honesty that we will break down the stigma surrounding them and promote recovery. However, don’t comment on my appearance. You might see me making progress, and that’s great. Whilst I might speak positively about recovery, I may still be battling my distorted body image constantly. If you have noticed I seem happier, please say so. If you think I have been more relaxed, please say so. But please don’t tell me I ‘look well’, or that I am looking ‘much healthier’. My rational brain understands that you mean well and are trying to be complimentary and supportive. My eating disordered brain will translate those comments into ‘you look fat’ or ‘you have gained weight’. This can cause both parties to feel guilty and upset. Eating disorders are about so much more than appearance, and it is by talking about the thoughts and feelings that go alongside them that we will really begin to understand them.
3. Please try to be patient.
Chances are, I will lie to you. I will be deceptive. I will tell you things are fine when they aren’t. I will start doing well, and then I won’t again. But none of these things mean I’m not trying and that I don’t care about you. Often I am hiding things because I don’t want to hurt you, and because I feel guilty for putting you through this. Please don’t give up on those who are suffering. Continue to encourage them to talk to you, and remind them that you are there no matter what stage of recovery they are at.
4. Eating Disorders are a mental illness.
There is nothing vain about having an eating disorder whether its anorexia, Bulimia or ED NOS and wanting to lose or control weight is a side effect of deep-rooted and complicated emotional difficulties. It is not about wanting to look like a celebrity or to gain attention, and I’ve found personally that I had a great deep sense of shame and did not want to draw attention to my illness which can be influenced by the fear that this stigma of vanity and narcissism will reflect badly. I have been so scared at times that people would think I was behaving in these ways to ‘gain attention’, when I had actually spent so long trying to cover them up and hide them from others. Eating disorders are incredibly dangerous, and more physically painful than is imaginable. Even after recovery, the physical side effects can last for months, years, and even be permanent. It is time that we broke through the discrimination that eating disorder sufferers experience and understand what they are really about.
5. Men get eating disorders too.
Eating disorders are so commonly thought of as a female illness. This can cause men to feel ashamed about accessing treatment, so the true figures of how many men are actually suffering from eating disorders is generally unknown. However people must learn that eating disorders do not discriminate. They can, do and always will affect people of any age, gender and race.
6. Recovery is possible, and it is worth it.
I had an eating disorder in one form or another for 12 years. I have been treated under CAMHS and adult services, and as both an inpatient and in the community. October 2015 marked the end of what I hope to be my last episode of treatment. Now this February in 2017 has marked the longest time I have been ‘in recovery’ without relapse, and I am currently the furthest into recovery that I have ever been. It is hard to fully appreciate how all-consuming, debilitating and painful eating disorders can be, and it can seem like it is impossible to get better. But it is possible, and it is worth it. There were countless times when I felt like giving up, but my life is so much fuller and richer now than it has ever been. I am immeasurably happier, and it is by far the hardest but most worthwhile thing I have ever done in my life.
I would encourage everybody to talk about eating disorders, whether you know someone who is suffering, have done so yourself, or want to spread awareness to others. I wouldn’t be where I am today without learning to talk.