I’m a shy person. Let’s just get that out of the way straight off. I always have been and, more than likely, always will be. And, I’m ok with that—I’ve embraced it as something about myself that cannot change, so I better learn to accept it. I’ve always had someone in my life to speak on my behalf, to be my voice or to be my advocate. I hate drawing attention to myself, and thought standing up for myself would just create a scene; and I most likely wouldn’t get what I wanted anyway. I guess you could say it was a pattern of learned helplessness (to use the terminology one of my favorite psychologists, Martin Seligman). Now, as I inch towards 25, I am learning to become my own advocate—to break the cycle of learned helplessness…and here are the three areas in which I plan to do so: Health, Recovery and the Destigmatization of EDs.
After being brushed aside by my general practitioner after telling him I have an eating disorder (despite diagnoses from both the Lindner Center of HOPE and my current therapist), having him ignore my insistence that my knee was out of place (which progressed undiagnosed for so long that I now have arthritis and almost no cartilage) and, the latest, his refusal to believe that my heart palpitations are anything more than me not recognizing my anxiety…it makes me wonder why I am letting myself be controlled by a man who obviously does not care about my medical concerns. Why am I not speaking up for myself when I obviously know that something is wrong? Why are we, as a collective, not speaking up for our own bodies? We know our bodies better than anyone else. Defend your right to treatment and proper medical care. Voice your concerns, and demand that they be taken seriously. You have the right to make your own decisions regarding the health and care of your body, not your doctor. Your health depends on you, your actions, and your reactions to what health care professionals say. Many people, even people in the health care field, do not understand the medical repercussions or the seriousness of ED behaviors on overall health. This is exactly why you must stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to disagree with doctors; they’re not always right. This is why, next Monday, I will stand up to my doctor. I will have an itemized list of symptoms, what I’ve done to try to alleviate the symptoms and various other notes I feel will be necessary to the appointment. I am going to advocate for my health; as health is a privilege denied to many.
All too often I find myself compromising my recovery goals to adapt to those around me. If no one else around me is eating, I will often skip the snack I’m supposed to be having…or if no one around me is ready for dinner, I will hold off of my regular scheduled meal time to accommodate their timetable; and so on and so forth until I’ve completely let ED behaviors back in my life. And for what? To be seen as “normal”, to fit in with those around me, to not cause a row by demanding we eat on my schedule? Is being accepted that important to me that I am willing to sacrifice recovery? Hell no! The select few friends that I have disclosed my ED to are the only ones with whom I will hang out for an extended period of time. Why? Because they understand my recovery goals. I feel open to speaking up about my needs when I am with them. If I say we need to eat, we eat. If I say we need to eat at a specific restaurant, that’s where we go. If they see me getting uncomfortable after we eat, they make me leave the restaurant to prevent purging. By speaking up for myself and being my own advocate for my recovery, I have been able to put it first; in EVERY situation. Recovery is a wonderfully courageous and beautiful thing, don’t attach any negative emotions to it. Recovery shows your strength to survive and be the best you that you can be. Your health (both mental and physical) should be a priority over other people’s perceptions of you or their schedules. You matter. You are important. Your recovery is worth it. Own your recovery and don’t let anyone sway you away from it.
As anyone can plainly see, I am advocate for not only my recovery, but the recovery of others. That being said, I feel as though society does not share my view. To society, EDs are a joke, a choice, a political statement, a big f you to the world, vanity, and whatever else runs through their minds. When, in reality, EDs are a DISEASE; a life-long medical and psychological condition that impedes in almost every aspect of daily living. EDs remain in your mind even when behaviors are not present; much in the same way an alcoholic is still medically and psychologically considered an alcoholic even when not drinking. They don’t see the everyday struggle that goes into recovery; they see a girl or guy pushing a plate away from them at dinner, or that same person visiting the bathroom repeatedly after lunch. What they don’t see are the thoughts running through our minds, the recovery brain duking it out with the ED brain while eating, the therapy, the medical issues, anything. What they see is a stubborn person who won’t recover…and that’s simply not the case. I may not be an advocate about destigmatization on the lobbying congress level or protesting on the streets of the national mall, but I hope this blog can serve as an informative tool to provide people with the knowledge and resources to better understand EDs and those that suffer from them.