Recently, my friend Hannah and I went to the Cincinnati Zoo so she could teach me how to use my camera. As we stopped in the manatee exhibit, I stared in awestruck wonder at the grace and beauty at the two rescued manatees, Betsy and Abigail, as they floated through the water. The Cincinnati Zoo partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program to house and care for the manatees until they are ready to be re-released into the wild. Some of the manatees were rescued as an adult; Betsy was rescued at age 18, and is now 22. While some were rescued as calves; Abigail was found orphaned in Florida and is only a year-and-a-half old. So, why, you may ask, am I writing about rescuing manatees on a blog about mental health and recovery? Excellent question my dear reader. The more I thought about the Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release program, the more it reminded me of eating disorder recovery.
Both Betsy and Abigail were living in Florida when, for one reason or another, their lives were deemed in danger and they were transported to a location in which they could receive proper care. It is at this second location that the manatees receive the rehabilitation, medical attention, and care necessary to, ideally, return to the wild. Some manatees, like Betsy, remember their life outside of the rehabilitation center. While some manatees, like Abigail, have lived their entire lives within the glass windows of the rehabilitation center. To me, the lives of these manatees have a direct parallel to ED recovery.
For those of us with eating disorders, our lives ARE in danger; anywhere between 3% and 5% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder will die from the disease (Walter Kaye, MD). While the types of danger in our lives are not the exact same as the manatees—as I believe our risk of getting hit by a boat while walking down the street is very unlikely—our lives are in jeopardy nonetheless. From heart failure and electrolyte imbalances to kidney failure and gastric rupture, eating disorders destroy our bodies and lives. Once it has been determined that our lives are endangered, we must move to a second location. Be it outpatient, inpatient, partial, group therapy, or something else entirely, we must move into some form of treatment plan in order to regain our lives from this deadly disease; no one recovers from an eating disorder alone. No matter the level or location of treatment, we receive the care, education and medical attention necessary to fully recover. It is through treatment that we learn skills necessary to defeat Ed, stand up for our health and are able to return to the “wild” without turning to Ed to cope. Similar to the manatees, there are some of us who remember our lives before Ed and some of us who have lived our entire lives in Ed’s aquarium. Regardless of whether or not you can remember a life before Ed, through treatment (and ultimately recovery), you can have a life without Ed.
In essence, these manatees reminded me that recovery is possible. And not only is it possible, it is real! It will take work—hard work—patience and grace with ourselves, but recovery, real and sustained recovery, is possible. Never forget that.
Photography has always been an immensely valuable tool in my recovery, so here are some of my photos from my day at the zoo…
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.