No guys, this is not a game of “Wheres Waldo?” – It’s slightly deeper than that. You can all admit it at this point, “Where’s Kelly” is a question you’ve probably asked yourselves or others around you numerous times over the course of the past year and a half & even more so, over the course of the last six months. Some of you asked it out of pure & sheer concern (Thank you, I love you guys), while others did so in a more derogatory fashion, insinuating selfishness & neglect on my part (Hey, to each their own, right?).
No, but seriously. A lot of you must think I disappeared from the face of the earth and CHOSE to neglect seeing and spending time with my family & friends. So if you are one of those people, let me clarify a few things (& if you aren’t, well, for one, THANK YOU & hopefully this post will give you some general insight into ONE OF THE MANY struggles an eating disorder victim battles with on a daily basis).
EATING DISORDER 101 A.K.A. EATING DISORDERS FOR DUMMIES (Don’t worry guys, it’s better to be a dummy in this field than to know what it entails, a.k.a. you’ve never had to deal with one, a.k.a. YOU ARE VERY FORTUNATE): Eating disorders are, in their nature, isolating illnesses, or rather, illnesses of disconnection. What does this mean & what does it imply?
- SIMPLY PUT (& IN THE MOST RAW TERMS POSSIBLE), individuals suffering from eating disorders & going through the re-feeding process during recovery feel like COMPLETE & UTTER SH*T. You know that feeling you get when you go out for dinner on Saturday night (a.k.a. cheat day), you eat enough for two people, find yourself in a food coma & end up ditching your post-dinner drinks plans because all you want is your BED? Yes, it happens to the best of us. BUT, imagine feeling like that, ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, TWENTY-FOUR-SEVEN. Would you feel like getting up, getting ready & going out? Didn’t think so. Would you feel like putting a fake smile on & pretending you feel A1 when you actually feel like a bloated, walking sumo-wrestler (LITERALLY!) who is about to explode? Didn’t think so either. The recovery process, and particularly, re-feeding (Yes, you read right. Recovering is not ONLY about eating, but is also about regaining control of your mind & being able to face, deal with & overcome the traumatizing experiences at the root of the development of the illness. (YES GUYS, ANOREXIA IS A MENTAL ILLNESS. Accept this & learn to treat those who suffer from this horrible illness as you would treat anybody else living with a disease everyday of their lives)) is LITERALLY A ROLLERCOASTER. You feel great when preparing all the yummy foods that you deprived your body of FOR SO LONG, but then, once you consume enough food for two people (Because that’s what your meal plan imposes & YOU HAVE TO RESPECT IT IF YOU WANT TO SEE PROGRESS), all you want to do is plop onto the couch, unzip your pants (or put on your fat pants) & curl up into a ball in hopes that the bloating will pass, but it doesn’t, AND THEN IT’S TIME FOR YOUR NEXT MEAL. And you need to get up. You need to keep going. And you need to EAT IT, ALL. No matter how hard it is. No matter how full you feel. No matter how bloated you are. No matter how much you dread it. That is how you beat this thing. You have to keep fighting.
- Isolation is a mechanism for the victim to avoid having to face the reality that is their eating disorder. Try going to an event, getting stared at THE ENTIRE TIME & having to literally watch people turn around and whisper about how they are afraid to break you if they give you a hug… How would you feel? Would you go to the next event or would you find ANY, ABSOLUTELY ANY, excuse, not to? Guys, be honest here… Sure, maybe said people were genuinely concerned for my well being and about the severity of my situation, but nobody (& I mean, NOBODY) knows what it feels like be the center of attention IN THE WORST WAY POSSIBLE for the sole reason that they are suffering from one of the worst mental illnesses on the face of this earth (Remember, I did not open the DSM-IV & skim through the list of possible illnesses to develop & pick out anorexia because it “appealed” to me. I MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT). P.S. For those of you who don’t know, the DSM-IV is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association and lists the standard criteria for the classification and diagnosis of mental illnesses.
- Despite what you may think, individuals suffering from an eating disorder do not believe they are beautiful, thin, or even presentable. They have no desire to jump out of bed, pamper themselves & show up to an event where they know they will become the center of attention, YET AGAIN. And quite frankly, not only do they not feel good about themselves physically, mentally & emotionally, but they also, simply put, lack the energy & motivation to be around people. They are simply not in the mood. (Another thing I learned from my therapist is that starvation actually has a huge effect on serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, two chemicals, which are responsible for stabilizing mood, regulating emotional responses & controlling the brain’s reward & pleasure centers, ERGO, when you are suffering from anorexia & your body is LITERALLY starved, your serotonin & dopamine levels are VERY LOW, and are essentially, OUT OF WHACK).
- People suffering from eating disorders have an intense painful feeling of believing that they are flawed & unworthy of love and belonging. As I mentioned in a previous post, WE DO NOT WANT THE ILLNESS. WE DO NOT WANT SOMETHING SO SURREAL TO HAVE CONTROL OVER US. But it’s there. It’s ever-so-present & we can’t make it go away. For this reason, we feel inadequate, weak, helpless, useless and unworthy & we just WANT TO BE ALONE. Isolation maintains the privacy & shame around our lack of self-worth and our inability to beat the illness and take control of our minds.
- Isolation also helps the victim cope with the fear, anxiety & loneliness. Given the central role that food plays in our day-to-day lives (Let’s admit it, FOOD IS EVERYTHING, LITERALLY), socializing is likely to be a source of MASSIVE ANXIETY & STRESS for individuals who struggle with an ED. For me, social events actually represented a challenge to my rigid rules & routines surrounding food because if I went to a family dinner & ate different food than everybody else, a comment was (almost) ALWAYS thrown my way (Said comment would sound a little something like this: “Kelly, that’s all you’re going to eat?”, “Kelly brought her own food“, “Kelly, you’re getting so thin. It’s enough. You can eat this salad, there’s no oil in it“. If I went to the restaurant for a friend’s birthday or for a simple social gathering & chose not to eat because “I had already eaten at home“, I got stared at left, right & center and had to watch everybody else eat & enjoy plates of food that I so badly wanted to devour, all while convincing myself that it wasn’t worth it & that tomorrow, the numbers on the scale would be lower & validate the unworthiness of that…OMG-YOU-LOOK-SO-GOOD-BURGER-I-WANT-YOU-NOW (Fast forward to today & I’d devour that burger, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. OKAY, FINE, MAYBE IT IS. A LITTLE BIT).
- AND LASTLY, individuals suffering from eating disorders & stepping into the recovery process are so often told that they need to, FOR ONCE IN THEIR LIVES, prioritize themselves in order to beat this thing. It takes UTMOST commitment, motivation, self-dedication, recognition of one’s self-worth & mind work EVERY SINGLE SECOND, OF EVERY SINGLE DAY (Not to mention, you spend the day in the kitchen preparing balanced & HUGE plates of food that meet your meal plan requirements to a T because all you want is to see the scale go up in the morning, even if it’s by 0.1. I SWEAR. It’s the most rewarding feeling. I legit do a happy dance). This self-prioritization has often been viewed by my family & friends as selfishness or neglect, BUT WHAT PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND IS IT IS WHAT WE HAVE TO DO IN ORDER TO RECOVER. And, sadly, I reached such a low point in my life, LITERALLY ROCK BOTTOM, that I realized that if I do not have my health, I have NOTHING. For once in my life, it feels good to make EVERYDAY about MY HEALTH. So yes, I will continue to make recovery & MYSELF a priority because I have learned that recovery would literally be IMPOSSIBLE if I had not stepped out of that horrible routine of self-neglect and now that the light is shining so bright & I am not about to let it burn.
All this to say, next time you insinuate that I (specifically) or that anybody suffering from the same or a similar mental illness, is selfish or is neglecting their family & friends by prioritizing themselves or simply by not being present as often as you would like. Think twice. (No, I did not miss your event because I don’t love you or care about you. I did not miss it because I’m selfish or because I’m neglecting you. I missed it because I have a mental illness & said illness controls every single walking minute of my life). So, for a split-second, try to put yourself in my shoes & ask yourself what you would do if you felt the way I did (Please refer to THIS POST to know HOW I FEEL). Sometimes, it takes walking in somebody else’s shoes to realize that we’d do THE EXACT SAME THING & then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, all the backstabbing & criticism becomes farfetched and unfounded. The worst part is? The damage is already done. And let me tell you, it HURTS LIKE HELL.