It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week . Check it out! Also, the National Organization of Women, of which I am a member, has launched this new project: Let's Talk About It . There, you can view videos by a few women talking about their struggles with eating disorders and body image problems. You can also upload your own video, which I would encourage you to do if you have a story to tell about this issue. More people need to hear the truth about life with a poor body image or an eating disorder. It may also be helpful to you to view the videos, as I just did.
I don't often write about my history with Anorexia Nervosa, but I nearly died of it when I was young. I had an eating disorder from around the age of 13 until around the age of 24, though for the last few years of it I thought I was recovered since it was not as bad then as it was in the earlier years. I hate a miserable existence with that eating disorder. It took over my entire life, and it made me think constantly about calories, fat grams, pounds, exercise, and what a horrible person I supposedly was. I thought I was such a rotten individual I deserved to starve. And starve I did. It's not fun to starve. It's not something that makes you happy either. It doesn't fulfill any real purpose, though, at the time when you're caught up in an eating disorder you think it does. You think you're going to get to that perfect weight where you will be happy. And for me, as for everyone else with an eating disorder, that never happened.
I realized as I got older that this disorder was a screwed up coping mechanism I was using because I had a horrible problem with depression that was looming underneath. I realized that it had a lot to do with self-esteem, and that I had to learn to live with myself somehow. I realized that the misery of that existence was not worthwhile, and decided I'd rather die than have to live that way for the rest of my life.
There was this woman who lived in our neighbhorhood, when I was around 19 years old, and she was severely sick to the point of looking as if she were in a concentration camp. I would see her when I went walking to burn calories, she would be walking. And I would see how her bones were all there was to her form; there was little flesh, nothing to get rid of. Yet she speed-walked every day, and God only knows for how long. I am sure she died eventually of her eating disorder. I wanted to help her, and I thought about writing her a note recommending therapy and telling her it was not necessary to live in that hell. But that would have been a bit difficult to do, considering I still lived in that hell myself. And it was then, after crying many times when I would see this woman, as I drove by her or walked by her, that I decided, "No more". I decided to consciously fight the eating disorder and that I would overcome it. I didn't immediately overcome it after making that decision. It took a few years, but I gradually got completely over Anorexia.
I'm not going to pretend like it was totally my will power that got me over the eating disorder, however. I think will power had something to do with it. Another major reason I got over it was that I got so physically sick, diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, that I had no energy to exercise anymore and no ability to starve myself. I was already in severe, chronic pain with all sorts of infections and bizarre ailments. When you're so sick you can barely get out of bed, it really doesn't seem possible to make yourself sicker on purpose. So I began to fight for my health, out of necessity, rather than actively working towards destroying my health.
I'm not healthy now, but I'm not a starvation victim anymore. I live with chronic illnesses, but I manage them better than before. I now have Schizoaffective Disorder to add to the list of illnesses, of course, which I didn't have back then, so I guess that sort of adds to my list of problems, but I am so very grateful to be over anorexia.
When I was 24 and finally recovered, I was in a college class with a professor who read one of my papers where I discussed body image and my own eating disorder, and she told me she had a niece who she was afraid was anorexic and on the verge of getting very sick. I asked her if I could send her niece a letter, and then I began corresponding with this wonderful young woman, who actually gained something from my words. I felt like I had done something meaningful to help a person when her aunt, my professor, told me that her entire family was grateful for my health and that I helped save her niece's life. Her niece is now a grown woman, and I caught up with her online a couple years ago. She said that I was the woman who changed her life. I think she changed it herself, but I'm really glad if anything I have to say helps anyone, so her words were very meaningful to me.
Today, I'm overweight and have a different challenge with that, but that has nothing to do with being Anorexic when I was younger. I'm overweight mostly because of the medication I have to take, and partly because of poor eating habits. I got this way pretty quickly a few years ago after starting to take antipsychotics, and I haven't been able to get rid of the weight. So, today, people look at me and see a fat person. I look at myself and don't recognize myself sometimes, because it still shocks me that I'm actually overweight, after so many years of seeing myself as overweight when I really wasn't. It's hard to live with this situation, because I still have a hard time with body image. It didn't help matters that my longest relationship was with a man who told me he was no longer attracted to me because of my weight gain, and then he left me.
So, the struggle continues in a way. But I know I'm a happier person than I was when I was anorexic. I know I am a more free, alive person than I was then. My heart goes out to girls with eating disorders. Too often, I see people online talking about their eating disorders in a way that glorifies them as if dragging on the endless pain was some kind of goal, and that bothers me. I think one has to really make an effort to get over an eating disorder, and I know it's very hard for many women and girls to do that (and guys, too). For me, feminism was a great tool to learning to care about myself and value myself as a human being, as well as learning to realize that it is society that makes women think they belong in a size 0, and that they should despise their bodies if they don't look airbrushed. I blame society for this problem, and I am very angered by advertisers and the sick cultural obsession with an unrealistic standard of so-called beauty. For this reason, I helped organize a "Love Your Body Day" event for my local NOW chapter in 2009, and I will do that again if possible.
What I want you to know, if you have an eating disorder, is that you deserve a better life, and it's possible to get one. It's really hard to get better, but it is possible. And for all those who struggle with body image problems, you don't have to be dying of Anorexia to have a problem with your body image. It is a problem that we get when we look at the media that surrounds us and we see failure in ourselves for not meeting up to that ridiculous standard. But learning to love yourself, and learning to realize that the image of women you seen in movies, on television, and in all those magazines is not only not healthy, it's not even possible for the vast majority of the human race to ever look anything like that. So it's really not worth suffering to try to reach that standard of so-called beauty. Real beauty, of course, comes from within. That's not just a cliche; it's true.