Michigan part trois

Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure this post doesn't make any sense. Yay for emotionally-written dribble!

Another thing I was really worried about going into Michigan was what my relatives might say about the fact that hi, I'm significantly smaller than I was this time last year.

My extended family doesn't know about my eating disorder, and for a myriad of reasons, I prefer to keep it that way (for now, at least). So I was worried about what to say if they commented on my body, given that (seriously) a person saying "Hallie! You look good!" can send me into an anxiety attack. I prefer to live in the magical world of thinking nobody is looking at my body ever!


I made it through two sets of aunts and one set of grandparents with several "Oh, you look so good!"s. I handled that okay. (Read: I rolled my eyes inside my head and quickly changed the topic. Denial!)

But then another aunt arrived a few days into the trip. And when she saw me, she said, "You look teeny-tiny! You look great! Now just don't go turn anorexic or something stupid like that!"


I'm pretty sure I turned and fled the room. All I could do in the following few minutes was laugh, because seriously, what the fuck? I think what boggled me most was the realization that my aunt (who is a medical doctor) could think anyone could choose to have an eating disorder. And then I read this post from Dooce.com and I realized that this? Is something I need to talk about. (But please keep in mind this is coming from my point of view.)

Here is something of which I am certain: people who have eating disorders do not choose to have them.

Dear aunt: if you can come up to me, look me in the eye and tell me that I'm choosing to destroy my stomach/throat/teeth, endanger my fertility and my heart (and life), hurt my relationships with friends, roommates, and family...that I'm choosing to endure all these awful repercussions of living daily with eating disorder then please, by all means, come stand in my shoes. Bend over the toilet, vomit, and then feel your own vomit come back and splash you in the face. Do that and tell me this is something I'm choosing to do.

Let me just tell you: having your own vomit bounce up and hit you in the face isn't even one of the most demoralizing parts of living with an eating disorder. (And I consider myself "lucky" to have bulimia and not anorexia.)

Here's what I want my aunt to understand. (And one day, I'll have the balls to explain this to her.)

1) Many, many people have disordered eating. Especially in this country. That does NOT mean the same thing as having an eating disorder.

2) People who have eating disorders do not choose to have them. What we struggle with is choosing to try to not have them.

3) Someone who has anorexia has a phobia of food. Of food, of eating, of what eating food can do to their bodies...everything. Someone with anorexia can't just eat, just like someone with an intense phobia of spiders can't just hold a spider. What makes anorexia such a serious phobia is that we require nourishment to stay alive. People with anorexia have to confront their phobia all day, every day. They get no break. It's horrific.

4) Someone who has bulimia or a binge eating disorder suffers from compulsions. It's the same compulsions that are behind OCD. We feel the compulsions to eat. eat. eat. eat. eat. and, if you have bulimia, then purge. We don't eat for fun. When I'm in the middle of compulsively eating (when I literally cannot bring my hand away from my mouth), I cry. It's not fun. But I literally cannot stop. Same with purging — feeling the compulsion to purge is an all-consuming feeling. You can't ignore it the compulsions to eat or purge. They can (and will) take over your mind and make you crazy. People who have bulimia or binge eating disorders can't just not eat.

5) You know how you should never ask a woman if she's pregnant? Well...you should never talk about another person's body. You don't know what they've gone through.

[Here's the awkward part where I realize I have no idea how to wrap this post up but that I'm about near tears.]

I know it's not easy to understand the psychology behind eating disorders. Hell, I hardly claim to understand my own eating disorder. But here's what I know: I didn't choose to have one.


Katie said...

You know, I have no idea how I found your blog. Somehow, I stumbled upon it a long time ago. I can't remember what spurred my commitment to follow via RSS feed. But I know why I keep reading. B/c of posts like this. I am a mental health therapist and I SO appreciate your openness (at least, on the web) and honesty. Mental health treatment has come a long way but we have so far to go in our efforts to remove the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health issues. Thank you for working towards that effort. I wish you well in your journey!

Nico said...

I have certainly had disordered eating (limited myself to 1500 cal / day plus 2-3 hours of exercise) but managed to pull myself out of it. Thank you for explaining the difference between that and full-blown anorexia / bulimia. I really had no idea it was so incredibly consuming. And hard. xox.

Sue said...

Thanks for such a raw post, but I have a question (maybe lots, but I'll start with the most important one). I agree with trying not to talk about others' bodies, especially my own young girls'. I work as a school counselor in a high school. I have a student who has never been big, but this year seems so tiny. She admitted she is around 80 lbs. How do I try to figure out if there is a bigger issue here without talking about what I see?

The Nanny said...

@Katie - thank you, so much. Will you email me? I'd love to talk with you. theonlinenanny @ gmail . com

@Nico - I'm sorry you've struggled too -- disordered eating sucks, plain and simple. :(

@Sue - that's just really tricky. I honestly don't know how to answer that :( I know, for me, I absolutely panic when others mention my body. But I know if someone I trusted came to me and said something like, "I've noticed your body is changing. Are you doing okay?" I'd appreciate the concern and perhaps open up. Saying something like, "I've noticed you've lost a lot of weight" is perceived, to the ED mind, as "You are finally winning! Keep going!" just like telling someone that she looks "healthy" is perceived by the ED mind as "you're fat!" Language choice is important.

I'm not sure if this helps at all -- it's just such a sticky situation to be in. I'd definitely urge you to say something, though. Let her know she's not alone and that you're there (or there are people there to help her).

Feel free to ask any questions you'd like -- I can't promise I'll know how to answer them, but I'll certainly try!

Sue said...

Thanks for the advice. I never thought of how different language is perceived in this situation.