Awareness

So today is the start of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I am not, nor have I been in past years, involved in EDAW in any way. In fact, I have always been a little put off by the whole thing. And here’s why: awareness, in and of itself, is not what we need. In this day and age who isn’t aware of eating disorders? The media loves them. Talk shows and reality tv love them. Everyone thinks they know all about eating disorders. The problem, of course, is that they don’t actually know anything at all and it seems to me that EDAW is, if anything, making it worse. All the “love your body events” (both EDAW events here in Seattle are body image focused, Renfrew’s Barefaced and Beautiful¬†campaign) will only surve to further confuse people while simultaneously trivializing a deadly illness. Even the backlash against the ¬†love your body focus gets it wrong.

EDAW’s slogan in the UK, which took place last week, was “break the silence”. Katie had a fabulous post about that. The first time I asked for help with my eating disorder I was 20 and had been struggling for five years. I looked healthy enough at the time having gained back most of the weight I had lost the year before but was rapidly slipping back into severe restriction. The counselor at the McGill health center told me that since “I wasn’t so skinny it was dangerous” we didn’t have to talk about the ED but that she would be happy to talk with my about my anxiety and depression. I left and never went back and promptly lost all the weight I had regained, went back to overexercising and abusing laxatives, and started binging and purging. Breaking my silence did me no good at all.

EDAW’s slogan here in the states is “everbody knows somebody”. If I thought it would do anything towards combatting the misinformation about eating disorders, I would tell everyone I know that I am a sufferer. But, again, I don’t think that would do any good.

We don’t need increased awareness. We need education. We need facts and science and good information. We need people to be hearing the message that eating disorders are biologically based brain disorders that families do not cause and sufferers do not choose. They are not about bad body image. They are not about family dysfunction or bad parenting. They are not about sexual abuse. They are not about control. They are not ABOUT anything.

And I fail to see how EDAW is helping us accomplish that.

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Looking On the Bright Side

I tend to get really down on myself when I am struggling. I know recovery is difficult and a lengthy process and not a straight line, etc. And I know I’ve made incredible progress over the last two years and that I should be proud of that. I am proud of that. But I get so frustrated that I am not done yet. And of course beating myself up for having a hard time is very probably that most couter-productive thing ever. So I am hereby renewing my efforts to focus on the positive way I am handling things rather than the negative things that are happening.

Case in point: this weekend I had a panic attack. I used to have them multiple times a day but now they are pretty rare. We were watching the Super Bowl with some of my boyfriends friends and although these are people I like I am not totally comfortable with all of them and I’m not sure all of them like me. The bar was loud. We had come directly from another social engagement. I was wearing clothing that made me hyperfocused on my body. And so my anxiety overwhelmed me. I went outside at half time and stood on the street corner and tried to get a grip. And then I started beating myself up for not being able to ‘just be normal’ which didn’t help my anxiety level and pretty soon I was crying and hyperventilating and shivering and my vision was going all funny and I was sure everyone walking by was thinking what a freak I was but I couldn’t think straight enough to walk somewhere more private.

But I was able to text my boyfriend that I needed him to come outside and I was able to let him hug me and model my breathing after his. We walked around the block until I had stopped crying and then we talked about what was going on. I was able to realize that I had not had enough to eat at breakfast or lunch and being hungry definitely lowers my panic threshold. I was able to find a snack at the corner store even though they didn’t have exactly what I was looking for. We walked back to bar and watched the rest of the game.

In the past I was not able to ask for help or accept help when it was offered. I was not able to talk myself through a breathing exercise or self-soothe in any way. I would not have been able to realize that I needed a snack, pick something out, and eat it. I probably would have left the group, gone home, and cut myself. In the past I probably would have been quite drunk because I would have tried to dull my anxiety with alcohol.

So does it suck that I’m not ‘done’ with recovery? Yes it absolutely does. But where I am now is a far cry from where I’ve been and it gives me hope that in another couple of years I will be even farther along.

ps. I don’t think you are ever actually “done” with recovery. Recovery is a verb not a destination. But that’s another post.