Thoughts on NEDAwareness Week 2018

It’s NEDAwareness Week, which means I’ve been thinking about eating disorders, and reflecting on my own experience with an eating disorder and recovery. I’ve also been thinking about the women I met in treatment, as well as how much life has changed since then. I have been in recovery from Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) since 2005, which is 13 years of recovery. It’s been 14 years since I spent 88 days in residential treatment for my eating disorder.

This feels like a lifetime ago, and when I reflect on my life now, it is completely different than it was then. Sometimes I wonder if the people who have entered my life since I’ve entered recovery would recognize the old me. It’s like I’ve led two different lives, and sometimes I don’t know how to reconcile my past self with my present self. Writing this blog post, I’m having a pang of anxiety, knowing that people who entered my life post-eating disorder might read this, although I know there is no shame in my experience. Part of why I write is to dispel myths about eating disorders, as well as to break the silence. I’ve been doing this since 2005, and I will continue to do this as long as I can.

I was lucky when I sought treatment, I had excellent insurance coverage when I was a grad student in the University of Minnesota MFA creative writing program. My insurance covered the majority of that residential treatment stay, and also covered outpatient therapy, numerous eating disorder-related doctor visits, and antidepressants. It has been 9 years since I published my book, Purge: Rehab Diaries (Seal Press/Hachette, 2009).

These are not my feet, in case you were wondering.

The theme of this year’s awareness week is Let’s Get Real. I’ve been thinking about the realities of dealing with an eating disorder. Here are some of mine:

  • When I was actively engaged in my eating disorder, unless you knew me well, you wouldn’t know that I was struggling.
  • It took multiple tries at recovery and abstinence from eating disorder behaviors before I was successful.
  • I was never underweight, yet I still deserved help.
  • There was no magic bullet, medication, or therapy that launched me into recovery. It was a lot of hard work, being willing to be uncomfortable, and trust that an eating disorder free future was worth the pain.
  • Recovering from my eating disorder was one of the hardest, most worthwhile things I’ve ever done.

Everyone’s reality and experience with an eating disorder is different, and I can only speak to mine. However, people who have read my book, or know about my past will often ask me how they can support someone with an eating disorder. Here are some things I found helpful:

  • Ask the person what they need. This can change moment to moment. Asking someone what they need shows that you are supportive, thinking about them, and want to help with their direction.
  • Do not be the food police! Someone once tried to bully me into eating cookies at a potluck shortly after I left treatment and it was embarrassing, demeaning, and not helpful. Eating disorders are about more than just food, and it’s not as simple as just eating some cookies.
  • Be willing to listen, and not judge. Try withholding unsolicited advice.
  • Try to engage in fun, non-eating activities.

While there are days I forget I ever had an eating disorder, our past informs our present. I often think about the women I met in treatment, many of whom I’m still in touch with. I dedicated my book, in part to them.

For those who haven’t found their way out yet; and for those of us who have, and will always remember.

While my eating disorder is in the past, I will always remember. And, I will support and advocate for those who are struggling. The best thing to come from writing my book is having the opportunity to advocate for people dealing with eating disorders, getting to raise awareness and educate people about eating disorders, and showing people that there is indeed hope.

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