This week, the 20th-26th of February, is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and the theme this year is Breaking the Silence. Over half of all those suffering from eating disorders don't tell anyone, that means there's thousands of people out there who are struggling in silence with an illness that can be beaten with the right help and support.
I was struggling to think of a challenge to set myself for EDAW so this is what I've come up with; each day this week I'm going to write about a topic relating and affecting those suffering with eating disorders, the kind of topics we just don't talk about enough in society, especially in relation to mental illness.
So please read on, comment and share. Prevention is better than cure and that means the sooner someone speaks out about their problems, the sooner they can be helped.
I can't speak for anyone else who has ever become enthralled and then devoured by an eating disorder but I know for a long time I lost my identity.
It is only now, after nearly a year out of hospital and recovering, that I can begin to tell you who I am. For five years I was just "the anorexic girl". Not only to others but to myself. If asked to describe myself I probably would have made something up, but all the time in my mind the word anorexic would reverberate. Because the thing is, an eating disorder consumes you; within just a short period of time the effect of starvation or purging on the brain has already begun. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is a perfect example of the effect of starvation on the brain - taking healthy individuals, it rationed their food consumption and sure enough, even these fit young men with no previous history of eating problems began to show typical symptoms of anorexia and bulimia.
If you're suffering from an eating disorder or have done in the past, then you will know what I mean. Nearly all of your time is spent thinking about food or weight or shape in some context; from how to avoid a meal to controlling the food intake of your family and friends to fretting about the consequences on your weight of the apple you just ate. And I'm asking you to question, is it worth it?
And with the obsession with food comes an increasing guilt. Firstly, I think, from the eating disorder that "you should be better", "you should be thinner", "you should be perfect" but then, there is a guilt that we do not talk about as much, the one that seeps in slowly and catches you only occassionally; what am I doing, what about my family, friends, future, what am I doing to them? Suddenly your identity is being pulled from two angles, perhaps we could even stretch that to three - the ED, your loved ones and sometimes, a tiny part of you that remains.
The main problem is, that to recover from an eating disorder, to regain your identity (or in some cases, to create a new one) you have to face some uncomfortable truths about yourself, your life, your choices.
I know now probably far more than most eighteen year olds do about the way my mind works; I know why I became ill, why I stayed ill, why I decided to get better but more than that, I know who I am now, I know who I've grown and become.
I am quirky and bit weird, I like weak coffee and green tea. I care far too much about others and don't understand the meaning of pacing oneself. I'm obsessively neat but still a little bit scatty, I believe in God and faith and heaven. There's more to me than "the anorexic girl" now.
Each day we have the ability to gain back a little more of ourselves. Through nutrition and talking and sharing our experience we can all begin to see that there is a life, an identity, beyond that which eating disorders bind us in.
Consider who you are this week, what have you become and where and who you want to be. If you put as much effort into finding yourself again as you did your eating disorder then nothing can stop you.
Lots of love,