Neda Awareness Week:
I sat or stood behind a display I had prepared for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It was a vulnerable, humbling and frustrating experience. I was shocked (although I shouldn’t have been) by the ignorance, lack of knowledge, and misconceptions people have about eating disorders. I was even more shocked by the lack of compassion and empathy people have for those with the deadliest of all mental illnesses. I could write for you a great list of statistics about the illness but chose instead to include this infographic from Eating Recovery Center. There is something about a graphic that draws one’s attention! So here it is. (Thank you Eating Recovery Center).
I invite you to look at it carefully before I go on to share some of the comments I heard from those that stopped by to glance at my display.
You see, behind each statistic you read is a human face. It is my face. The face of a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, daughter, child of God. It is also the face of men, women, children, and people of all races, economic levels, and those living as gay, straight, transgender, queer, all children of God.
You cannot tell if someone is sick with an eating disorder simply by looking at them. Yes, there are some that wear their illness for all to see, but for many it is an “invisible” illness that people live with every day. We don’t have stitches to see, crutches assisting us to move from one place to another, or a scarf or hat keeping our heads warm because we have lost our hair from chemotherapy; no slings, no casts, no braces.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
It is words, due to ignorance or lack of fore thought, that often slice open the unseen wounds of those with eating disorders (or any invisible illness). I would venture to say that all who have or have had an eating disorder have wounds that run the continuum form hemorrhaging, in dire need of care, to those that have wounds that are in the process of healing. I would love to insert here, and wounds that are healed, but most of us carry, if not battle wounds, at the very least painful scars that are delicate. Delicate scars that leave us sensitive and aware of the pain they conceal. Since people don’t see our wounds and scars, they are not careful with their words. They are not careful with us.
They are not careful with me as a woman stops by, glances at my table, and states, “Gee, I wish I could have an eating disorder! I could stand to lose a few pounds.” I stood speechless while I gathered my thoughts and picked my chin up off the floor and my guarded my words carefully.
I handed her some information and explained to her that Anorexia is not just a diet that has gone too far, nor is it the only deadly eating disorder. Since she was with the American Heart Association, I wanted to share with here that cardiac episodes, heart failure, bradycardia and death are the common complications of eating disorders that, of course she should be aware of, but she walked away too soon.
I wish I could say that this type of statement was something I had never heard before, but I cannot. I also did not say to her the first thought that honestly came to my mind, but here it goes. “REALLY! Did you just really say this to me?? Do you not realize your comment is as insensitive and insulting as saying to a breast cancer survivor, "gee, I wish I could have breast cancer, a double mastectomy, and a perky no set of boobs?” Who wishes for any illness, let alone a disfiguring and potentially deadly one?
I wonder if recovery, advocacy, and awareness at the cost of my vulnerability is worth it. Is my skin thick enough to handle the onslaught of carelessness, will I be able to “guard my words?” I wonder if I can adhere to the challenge of Ephesians 4:29? Can I use my words to build people up with knowledge and compassion as they are tearing me down, and piercing my thin skin with their words?
I was given the following poem by a client. She gave me permission to share this with you, and this is why I will be vulnerable, attempt to educate and advocate. Oh, and I will try to guard my words, but if you say to me "Gee! I wish I had and Eating Disorder." I make no guarantees.
Hunger is moving in.
Now the starving begins-
going endless hours without food,
sticking with the "all or nothing" attitude.
Saying, "no thank you" to generous offers to eat,
the dinner table now holds an empty seat.
Stomach begging for just one bite-
to resist, your mind constantly fights.
The concerned looks coming your way,
but you reassure them that you are okay-
"Lost weight??? No. i'm the same weight i've always been."
(Yeah right, you know the truth, because to you, eating is a sin.)
Lying and saying you already ate
(this tends to cause you many debates.)
Clutching the wall because you are too dizzy to stand,
trying to warm your freezing hands.
You are white and as pale as a ghost,
yet for breakfast you refuse to eat anything but a piece of toast.
You purge the little bit of food you ate before,
constant vomiting is making your throat raw and sore.
Your hair falls out, your period stops.
Obsessive rituals control your thoughts.
You hate looking in the mirror at what you see,
hoping how one day, the thinnest you will be!!!
Doctors have now put you in the hospital,
for fear of your life.
You're so disgusted, you just want to cut all
the fat off with a butcher sharp knife.
Machines are hooked up to every part
of your withering body,
"i'm fat, i'm fat!!!" you yell.
"Can't you see???!!!"
Everyone cries when they come to visit you,
but you don't understand why they do.
You are angry with everyone who wants you to gain weight,
your heart trying so hard to defeat the self hate.
In the middle of the night, you awake,
unable to breathe.
"Help me!!! Help me!!! i can't breathe!!!" -
you beg and plead,
reaching for something,
anything to get air.
WHY is this happening???
This is not fair!!!
Your mother, stricken and terrified, runs to help you,
but the doctors make her leave (to help, she is not able to.)
You whisper to your mom through sobs and tears,
"I'm sorry mom... I love you." Then it happens-
To the woman at standing at my information table...be careful what you wish for.
Check out one of my first blogs to get a feel for what living with an eating disorder really felt like for me.