National Eating Disorder Awareness
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Every year, around 30 million men and women suffer from a silent illness, that is not noticeable simply by looking at someone’s physical self. This is a disease that ends a life every 62 minutes. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Someone who develops an eating disorder may develop short-term and/or long-term consequences such as, osteoporosis, severe dehydration, fainting, just to name a few, according to the National Eating Disorders website. Although treatment is available, many are reluctant to give themselves the help they need for various reasons. I know when I was in the midst of my disorder, the last thing I wanted to do was go to a treatment center. A big reason why I at first refused treatment is because this illness is so misunderstood by so many. It was hard for me to seek help for something I myself didn’t even fully understand. This is why I am sharing my story in hopes that it assures others that they are not alone in their struggles, and most importantly, that there is hope. I am living proof of just that.
Four years ago, at the tender age of 17, I was utterly oblivious that I was fully immersed in a deadly disease. I was living with a full-blown eating disorder that had consumed my entire being. It controlled everything. What I wore, who I decided to spend time with, and of course what I ate. Even though I was slowly killing myself, I felt fine. That’s the thing, eating disorders are so manipulative and so deceptive that they distort your thoughts and mind. I knew I was underweight and malnourished, but I felt fine, at least on the surface. In fact, whenever anyone made a comment about my low weight, that translated to me as a success, even though I was in a very dark place in my life. Nothing anyone would or could say stopped me from losing weight. That is part of the reason why I isolated myself from so many of my friends at the time, I thought that they would interrogate me. I believed that no one understood what I was going through, so why talk about it? Starving myself became the most effective coping mechanism of mine. Living in a malnourished body left no room for those dark thoughts and emotions I had been suppressing for so long. Although this coping mechanism of mine kept the bad feelings away, it also kept away happiness. I knew I wasn’t happy, but to me that was better than dealing with the never ending black hole that was my own mind. At the surface, I seemed like a very happy girl, but underneath it all, I was miserable. I knew that no matter how much weight I lost, I would never be happy.
When I was finally convinced to give the treatment a chance, I really had to take on a ‘one day at a time’ mentality. My recovery process started with a lot of resistance, as many others’ do. What I noticed is that the more emotions I began to unpack, the more I was open to start eating again. I had to always remind myself that it wasn’t about food, it was about feelings. After some time in treatment, I had come to learn just how powerful an eating disorder can be. If I didn’t fully comply with treatment or recovery, the odds of a good or long life were slim to none. I either had to be all in, or again be overcome by my eating disorder. I chose a life of recovery. It took me a while to realize that I would not be able to have a successful career or family in the future if I did not surrender myself to recovery. While the ‘right choice’ may have been obvious from an outside perspective to choose a life of happiness over a life of misery, it wasn’t that simple for me. My eating disorder was developed in order cope with trauma and other emotional stress. Once I really chose to work on my recovery, I had to find another way to cope with my feelings and emotions, which was to actually deal with them. This year, National Eating Disorder Awareness week fell on February 26 through March 4th, but the message remains timeless. Shedding light on to any issue that has been left in the dark starts with spreading awareness and debunking any myths or stigmas that may be believed. Understanding any disease, whether physical or mental, needed in order to start one’s own recovery. At least, that’s how I started mine. Heather Russo, the staff director at Renfrew, a local treatment center, works with eating disorders on a daily basis, encounters daily just how devastating eating disorders can be and how they affect the body. Russo explains how one type of eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, affects the victim, “starvation affects every system in our body, but one of the most I think notable things is that we tend to get more obsessive when our brain is starved and so that’s what sort of makes eating disorders worse. We have a more difficult time thinking rationally and then we are less prone to seeking help and making better decisions with our choices”. Having survived an eating disorder, there are many things about the matter that I can only hope people can become more aware of, as this disease harms the lives of so many. Such as, that any form of an eating disorder is an addiction of its own. What I wish people knew was that I couldn’t “just eat” as many people told me to do. It is not that simple. I was addicted to starving myself and how it made me feel. What I wish people knew was that the food aspect of an eating disorder is only the surface layer above many other underlying issues. And most importantly, that recovery is possible. As Russo explained, “Even if you’re struggling with an eating disorder doesn’t mean you’re always going to have an eating disorder”. To any others who may be suffering from this disorder, you are not alone and there is help. It is possible to live a happy life in recovery.