Hi. It’s Shayne (he/they) again.
In my last piece, I wrote about gender identity issues.
Now I want to share about my eating disorder experience and the stigmas that some of us have faced when seeking help for this pernicious affliction.
I started to struggle with disordered eating in Junior High. I had experienced trauma and abuse during the years prior and all my anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms had come to the forefront during my 8th grade year. I started skipping meals, comparing what I was eating to others, comparing my body to the shape of other bodies.
Throughout my high school days I dipped in and out of disordered eating behaviors. I had two friends who had great influence over me. They too had poor mental health, and they subtly encouraged me to engage in destructive behaviors. Eating in front of others became very triggering. I would purge after meals with my family.
My freshman year of college was the beginning of my full-fledged eating disorder. I moved away to college. I lived in the dorms, and I started slipping into the dark place. I was in my own so there were no other eyes watching and monitoring if or what I was eating. My college meal plan allowed me to engage in binge and purge behaviors. I would go to multiple of the on-campus food areas, get multiple meals, bring them back to my dorm. Eat every last bite before throwing it all up.
If you have had a struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder you know that it becomes all encompassing. Once it starts it feels like a slippery slope or a black hole that sucks you in.
After college, I was hospitalized upwards of 10 times for other mental health problems and received many diagnoses, and I tried many medications. Some of these medications caused me to gain a lot of weight. Because of this none of the “professionals” seemed to notice or care about my struggle with weight, shape, and food.
A few years ago, I went into residential treatment for my eating disorder. That’s where I met Ange!
1. You are not SICK ENOUGH! - the reality of weight stigma. Often I have told myself that I am not small enough, thin enough, or sick enough to warrant or deserve help. I don’t look like the eating disorder patient you might see on social media or in a movie. One article I have read estimates that “less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as underweight”! When I have sought help, explained that I was struggling - many doctors have discounted my health and weight struggles because I’m not in the underweight BMI scale. It’s invalidating, unprofessional, uneducated, and harmful for professionals to treat someone as if their disordered eating is less worthy of help because they aren’t dying - yet.
2. If you aren’t able to strictly follow the guidelines for recovery that “we” have set up then you must not want to be free of this and you’re wasting our time! - the reality of the stigma when you don’t recover fast enough. Everyone recovers at different speeds. Everyone has different symptoms and behaviors. Everyone has different health complications. Everyone has had different experiences in life. Everyone comes with their own identity. Everyone has their own reasons for struggling. It’s not acceptable for professionals to label an individual as “non-compliant” or “a failure” just because they aren’t magically cured by a lesson on nutrition.
There are struggles and stigmas around eating disorder treatment, but whatever modes of treatment you or I have pursued or been forced into - I have learned that it is always our responsibility to own our own recovery.
The individual’s efforts and perspective on recovery matter a great deal! So what struggles may a human who struggles with an eating disorder face when they chose to pursue recovery?
1. Facing Our Demons - As I have attempted to participate in my recovery from my eating disorder I have realized that the issue isn’t just the eating disorder.
To deal with the physicality of my disorder I must first take a hard look at my demons. I have had to face my trauma. I have had to unravel my thought processes. I have had to wade through the deepest, darkest, most hurtful memories, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
No matter how many times I have been told to “just eat” and everything will be solved. The truth is? Recovery isn’t as simple as just picking up a fork.
It’s exhausting work - but it will work.
2. Eating is a requirement for life - in recovery, it’s impossible to just avoid the triggers. Because sometimes the food is the trigger. It’s impossible to recover by just avoiding eating, being around food, or being around others who are talking about or eating food. Alcoholics might be able to remove the alcohol from their homes, but someone with an eating disorder has to get up and face their worst nemesis every day, three-six times a day.
But! I am told that food can become okay. Even more than okay. Food can become delicious. Eating can become a fun, social activity. Cooking can be less stressful.
Our triggers can’t always be avoided, but our perspective can change.
3. Relapse - have you ever heard someone say that “relapse is part of recovery”? Well- I have found this to be true.
We can’t look forward to or consciously fall into a relapse on purpose. However, relapse does happen.
I know this in my own experience. It’s hard when it happens. It feels for me like I have failed. I have let other people down. I should just give up trying. But these things aren’t true no matter how real or intense I feel them.
When relapse happens it isn’t like we start off at the very bottom, back where we once were. We have learned things; we have new skills, new support, new “muscle memory”. It’s hard, difficult, painful, disappointing, depressing, frustrating, …. it’s all the feelings. And that’s valid! We can get back up and try again.
Thanks for listening to a little of my story, walking with me through a few of the stigmas surrounding those who seek treatment, and understanding the hardships in recovery.
I want you to leave this podcast and remember a few things.
Your experience is valid!
However you struggle, however long you’ve been struggling. Try not to compare your story to someone else’s.
Your feelings are real!
If you feel angry about your struggle. If you feel hopeless. If you feel rejected. If you feel unloveable. If you feel happy. If you feel comfortable. However you feel is real to you. But feeling that way doesn’t mean you can or should keep suffering or engaging with your eating disorder.
Preaching to the choir here friends!!
You deserve help and support!
If your loved ones don’t help. Keep trying. If the first, or second, or tenth professional you see isn’t helpful or respectful. Keep trying. If you feel alone- know you aren’t. We who struggle are with you.
I hope that this writing has reminded you that - you are not alone. I hope every piece I write: I hope every struggle of mine I share: I hope every “secret”, “shameful”, “uncomfortable”, “taboo” topic I write about. Encourages you that you are not alone in this world.
Listen to the audio of this on Coffee and Conversation Podcast recording here: https://www.recoveryadvocatenetwork.org/coffeeandconversationpodcast/episode/1f1c4e4d/ep-021-eating-disorders-and-fundraising-sneak-peak-with-recovery-advocate-network-a-between-the-lines-episode