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ED Talk - Are Memoirs Helpful or Triggering?

Posted Aug 22 2012 3:56pm

I think in almost any sort of unfortunate situation, there is companionship in misery. We take comfort in knowing we’re not the only ones hit with a particular affliction. Many people chose to write books based on their experiences – whether it be cancer, losing a loved one, anorexia…the list is endless. I think getting the story out gives comfort and a sense of closure to the individual, and allows other people suffering to realize they are not alone in the situation.

Anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS memoirs have developed into their own little niche market. If you go to any bookstore, you will find at least a few memoirs of women (or the occasional man) documenting their experience. Sometimes just focusing on the emotional aspect of the ED, but others delving into behaviours, weights, numbers…essentially, the entire process of having an ED. It becomes almost a “how-to” of sorts – how to eat, how much to exercise,and  how to avoid questions/detections.

Clearly, I think that there is comfort in talking to and listening to others with an ED – or else I wouldn’t have posted my story up on my blog for the world to read. I wanted other people to see how awful anorexia really is and how negatively it affected my life. For a while, I was seriously afraid for my health and the repercussions – I still worry sometimes about the damage I must have caused. I want people in similar situations to see how awful these repercussions are, in hopes they will work that much harder on recovery to avoid them.

I’ve read pretty much every book on Eating Disorders that I’ve found – from Portia De Rossi’s  Unbearable Lightness  and Marya Hornbacher’s  Wasted, to more of the self help style of books (ie Jenny Schaefer’s books). It depended on where I was in my recovery at the time, but I didn’t always find them helpful. When you’re deep in an ED – you’re obsessed with all things related. You pore over books, magazine articles and documentaries – always interested in how others live with the disorder. If you’re not careful, these images can make the ED even stronger in your mind, even when these people are telling you how awful it is and begging you to get help.

I think we need to be careful in how we present these books and when in our recovery we choose to read them.

For example – Marya Hornbacher’s  Wasted.

 

This book is absolutely brilliant. It’s the most insightful glance in to living with an ED that I’ve ever seen ( Unbearable Lightness  is a close second though). Hornbacher is able to put an ED into words much better than I could ever hope to. While reading, I was screaming “YES!” over and over in my mind every time she discussed the mental and emotional aspects of an ED – she just “gets it”.

However, I read this book for the first time when I was in a good place in my recovery. I was able to accept it for what it is was -a documentation of Hornbacher’s ED and how awful it was for her. While I found myself feeling triggered by the imagery she was putting out, I was able to handle it.

If I had read it a few months before, when I was in a bad place with my ED? It wouldn’t have had such a positive outcome for me. The triggering aspects would have been too much – I would have seen it as “how-to” of sorts.

The thing about ED’s (in my experience, both with myself and the girls I met in my support group a few years ago) is that they’re competitive. 

She eats less than you? – you need to start eating less.

She was hospitalized? – clearly she’s “better” at this than you are.

Your ED feels the need to be the sickest one in the room – you have the be the “best” at your eating disorder.

So when you read a story about a girl who had one of the worst experiences with an ED I’ve ever heard of (it’s really a miracle that she’s alive) and you’re deep in your own ED – that little voice in your head will start whispering about how little she eats or how much she exercises compared to you – and encourage you to step it up.

So, while I like reading ED memoirs, I think people need to be careful with them. Make sure you’re at a good point in your recovery, or else the triggers will likely be too much. When you’re deep in an ED and want reading material on the subject, I suggest you go with something that focuses more on the recovery aspect without going into tons of detail about behaviours or measurements – such as  Goodbye Ed, Hello Me  by Jenni Schaefer (no affiliation, I just love the book) or  the Anorexia Workbook

 

While I think ED memoirs have their place in recovery, you just have to be extremely careful in how you use them – they can be a helpful recovery tool, or they can be a slippery slope into a relapse.

 

<– If you have (or had) an ED, do you find memoirs triggering?

<– If you’ve never suffered, would you read an ED memoir?

<– Has anyone read any of the books I mentioned? What did you think?

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