Monday, February 24, 2014

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Hello Blogging World! I know I’ve been MIA for a while. The main reason for this is because Blogger was in a poopy mood through all of my winter break and wouldn’t let me post anything and then when I got back to Aberdeen I had exams to worry about (I passed both, one with flying colours thank you for asking). But, I also wanted my first post back to be big. You know, something that you all could really sink your teeth into. So, here we go:

Today starts Eating Disorder Awareness week here in the UK.

It’s a subject that is close to my very being. And it’s a topic that I don’t think is discussed enough. There is still this shroud of mystery around eating disorders and a lot of people have skewed ideas of what they actually are. I don’t know if this romantic idea of eating disorder is because those who are survivors of eating disorders (yes, survivors) are embarrassed to speak out and share their stories or if it’s something else entirely. But, I don’t think that there is enough information out there on this particular subject. My theory is this; the more people talk about it and “come out” (so to speak) about their eating disorders the more people will come to accept and, hopefully, understand them. And, as it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’d like to do my part to spread awareness.

So, here’s my story.

I started cutting my meals when I was just 10 years old. I don’t quite remember why. I guess I matured a
little quicker than the other 5th graders and someone said something about it and I must have taken it to heart. Anyway, by the time I was going through middle school I was taking in an average of 500-900 calories a day (trust me…I counted). I was (and still am) an active child which meant that I was burning more than taking in. And yet, I still felt ugly. By the time I left middle school I was basically starving myself because the thinner I was the more perfect I was.  

I kept up this pattern for starvation for years. I went into high school only eating one meal a day which generally wasn’t over 100 calories. Those pangs of hunger became just as much a part of me as my smile or personality. They were actually more a part of me for a time. They were a constant reminder of what I was doing. And what I was doing was good. After the first couple of months I was good at ignoring them. Giving in would mean I was weak.

Of course, eventually, starving myself wasn’t enough. I couldn’t see myself getting thinner anymore (not that I would ever be thin enough mind you). So, I started spending my allowance on diet pills. You’re supposed to be 18 to buy diet pills, but it was surprisingly easy to get past that little barrier. I would bike to the grocery store, get my little basket, and fill it with cheap useless stuff though would hide my secret stash of diet pills. Then I went to self check out. I don’t know if the early self check outs weren’t all that advanced or if my local grocery store just didn’t care, but I was never stopped and asked my age. I tried to stop plenty of times, but I was always so close to my goal weight (which lowered every time I reached it). The only thing that stopped me was the fact that the grocery store got rid of self check outs. But, by that time I was taking laxatives which my father bought since I was “constipated”.

At my lowest weight I was just under 100 pounds.

Eventually, I had some stomach problems. I had horrible cramps that I couldn’t ignore which was weird since I had gotten so good at ignoring those pesky hunger pains. But these were different. It felt like someone had taken knife and plunged it into my lower abdomen and was constantly twisting it. I think I may have fainted as well. I don’t really remember. I know that occasionally I would wake up in my room in random positions not really remembering ever deciding to take a nap, but I ignored that for a while. Until these pains started. So, I went to the doctors. He poked and prodded and squeezed and squished my stomach. He looked at me with concern when my weight was taken. Took some x-rays. Really, it was kind of a blur. The short story is that my bowels weren’t working. They were essentially shutting down.

It was scary.

It was about that time that I decided that there was something wrong. That it wasn’t normal to look in the mirror and see yourself as fat when you were under 100lbs. That it wasn’t normal to take your weight every hour. That it wasn’t normal to feel hungry all the time. That I wasn’t normal.

I started speaking to my psychologist. I was shy and reserved and had a lot of trouble adjusting when my parents got divorced so I had been seeing her for a while. I think she knew before I said anything. Either way, she referred me to a child psychiatrist since I was still a minor. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (AN) which my psychiatrist believed was due to an underlying anxiety disorder which may have been caused by obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). We talked about my options and for a while, I tried to just deal with it. When that didn’t go so well I made the decision to go onto anti-anxiety medication and really start getting better.

So, here I am today. 6 years after diagnosis, 4 years in…remission I guess, 3 years off of medication, 1 relapse last year. I’m finally at a healthy weight. After 6 years, my body is more or less healthy again. 6 years is a long time...

There are a couple of things that I want to highlight about my story before I finish with this post.

I read a commit somewhere online a while ago. I don’t really remember where or by whom, but I remember it going something like this:

I don’t get anorexics. Why don’t they grow up and just eat a fucking cheeseburger?

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, this upset me for two reasons. First, how insensitive is that comment? I mean seriously? But that brings me to reason the second. Look at how ignorant he/she was. I’m here to tell everyone that eating disorders are NOT about the food. There is always an underlying reason for it. For me, it was control and perfectionism. I could talk a lot about my dysfunctional household growing up or the image of women today’s society is blasting from all directions, but instead I’ll say that not eating made me feel like I had some sort of control over my life. Not eating made me feel like I could be perfect. I couldn’t just “grow up and eat a fucking cheeseburger.” Because food wasn’t the problem. My brain was. Eating Disorders are, at their core, mental disorders. To me, that comment is the same as telling someone with Schizophrenia to grow up and stop having manic episodes.

Keeping in mind that Eating Disorders are mental problems, those of us who experience them don’t have any more control over their onset than a cancer patient. Every time I hear someone even imply that I actively chose to starve myself all I can think is, “Oh, you mean I should have eaten the food?! Now why didn’t I fucking think of that!? That’s a brilliant idea!” Seriously people, we know that we should “eat” the food, or not eat the food depending on the eating disorder, but it’s like someone or something else had taken over your body. I have often referred to myself as a slave to my eating disorder. I did what it told me to do while the logical, smart Erin was locked up in a cage somewhere in my mind shouting, “Eat!” over and over.

Sorry, I got a little angry there.

Anyway, as I must quickly dress and rush out of the house for a poster presentation which I am freaking out over I’ll tell you all what you can expect from me during EDA Week 2014. For the next week I’ll be participating in “Sock It” to Eating Disorders started be beat. Basically I’ll be wearing silly socks all week to bring awareness to eating disorders.   Hopefully people will notice and ask and I’ll be able to talk a little about it. Which means that every day I’ll be posting a picture of my awesome socks and explain why I chose them. So, you all have that to look forward to! Hopefully I’ll give some more information about eating disorders as well. 

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