I tentatively step onto the sidewalk of the National Mall; the Washington Monument commanding attention on my left, the Capitol in the distance on my right, and the NEDA walk registration table about thirty feet straight ahead. “I do not belong here,” I thought, “This walk is for real sick people. I am not sick enough to be a participant in this walk. I have ED-NOS, not a real ED.” About the moment I realized these were ED’s thoughts and not my own, Kate’s ninety-pound yellow lab, Simba, pulled us into the growing congregation of NEDA walkers. He was going to make sure I followed through with this walk—with my promise. Before the walk, I made a promise to my friend Meredith that I would walk for those who cannot walk for themselves, for her, and for her beloved friend Allyson who battled so bravely against her own ED.
Although still hesitant and feeling as if I did not belong, I followed Kate, Simba, and my cousin, Ashley, to the registration table. On our way, we passed families, friends, therapists, children, dogs (in NEDA bandannas), Miss America ’08, moral supports, those who have overcome, and those who are still fearlessly fighting. In total, there were over five hundred walkers in attendance who raised a combined $50,000 for NEDA’s programming and outreach initiatives. Before the walk, many of us chose to engage in the pre-walk yoga stretching, creating posters to carry with us along the walk, and communing with others. After some inspirational speeches, we were on our way around the mall. As tourists watched, with some taking photographs, I felt a sense of fulfillment in the fact that I was doing what I always hide behind my computer screen doing semi-anonymously…raising awareness. I was putting my face, my voice and my beliefs on a national stage to show people that EDs are real diseases, encourage discourse on them and let people know that ED will not keep me in the silence of my disease.
During the walk, my cousin asked Kate (her friend from college) and me questions about our EDs. I felt nervous answering the questions in front of Kate as I had just met her less than twenty-four hours prior, and felt like a fraud as an eating disordered person because I was never as sick as her (eating disorders are often competitive in nature. I can never understand why, but I always find myself comparing my illness to those around me…and feeling, in a warped way, like I am horrible at my ED when I find someone sicker than me…again, one of ED’s favorite thoughts). I always let Kate answer the questions first before giving my own answer because, I felt, that she had more to say than I ever would. It was amazing to find how much our stories had in common despite being so different on the outside. Eventually the nerves subsided, and I became comfortable with both the questioning and with Kate. I feel as thought that is what the NEDA walks are about; educating those unfamiliar with the disease, raising awareness, and addressing misconceptions. While walking, it was easy to see the impact the event had on the participants. Families came together to support loved ones who suffered/are suffering. Strangers offered comfort and understanding to people they had just met. Friends encouraged one another. Everyone had something to offer.
After the walk, we went to Eastern Market for lunch and shopping. I absolutely love that area; it is so reminiscent of my favorite area in Ohio, Yellow Springs. We grabbed some pizza for lunch at an outdoor café, as Simba was not allowed to join us inside. This time, I did not engage in any ED behaviors while eating with Kate (unlike the day and night before). I felt at ease with the idea that we have both had our struggles and are working to kick ED to the curb. At the artisan booth around the corner from the restaurant, I found a great way to commemorate my first NEDA walk; a new ring. I have gotten a ring for myself at two important milestones in my recovery; one when I first decided to enter into outpatient and another after a year of attempted recovery. I purchased a simple silver band to accompany my other two recovery rings. Every time I look at the ring, I am able to remember the wonderful experience I had at the DC NEDA walk, the friendship I shared with Ashley and Kate, and the gratitude I felt at over five hundred people who helped educate/raise awareness on EDs alongside me. Thank you DC, thank you NEDA, and thank you to everyone who has fought, continues to fight or supports those who do. You are all, truly, an inspiration.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.