Throughout the course of this past week, each time I went to open up a newsfeed, I didn’t know if I was going to see something heartbreaking, wonderful, or troubling. What I did know was that something would appear that would inevitably stir up some intense emotional reaction. This doesn’t always happen to me. Usually I browse social media platforms so robotically that I can’t even remember what I looked at seconds later. But this week, I saw tweets about the tragic loss of one of my favorite comedians to addiction scattered amongst clips from the finale of the amazing television show that he wrote for (Farewell, Pawnee). The juxtaposition between sadness and happiness and between loss and celebration was almost too much for me, a mere fan, to take in in such spurts.
Also filling up my newsfeeds were posts about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which has been going on since Sunday. Articles and facts have been published. Inspirational quotes and blog entries have been written, everything with the intention of raising awareness and understanding. Part of me really wanted to participate, but another, more skeptical and hesitant part, has been doing nothing but staring at a blank computer screen. This is because the emotional reactions that have been triggered by this campaign have not all been positive for me. That has stopped me from writing all week, but tonight I’m realizing that I can write exactly what I feel. Really, I’m taking a note from that favorite comedian of mine, whose genuineness and sincerity in speaking about his own life meant a lot to me, a mere fan.
I agree with everyone that has been tweeting and writing about #NEDAwareness. Eating disorders, like all mental illness, are misunderstood and terrifying. The more that we can make them digestible (no pun intended?) to someone with or without experience, the better. If I had never had one myself, I would probably be fascinated by the new information and appreciative that it was being provided to me. But I can’t help but bring my own personal memories into the picture.
Every year on campus, my college would have a week dedicated to “Body Image Awareness.” The focus would always be embracing and loving your body. I remember these little red pins that student representatives would pass out that stated simply, “I love my body,” as if it’s that easy. I think there would be some panel discussions and screenings of films, maybe an article or two in the school paper. I’m honestly not sure, because in the height of my eating disorder, when I was so hopeless and needed so much help, I wouldn’t have been caught dead at any of those events. Instead of feeling embraced and accepted during this week of activities, I felt isolated and frankly, somewhat ashamed. In my mind, I didn’t deserve to participate and I didn’t belong, because I didn’t know the first thing about loving my body.
So, I sat alone in my room. I cried. I counted calories. I googled, “do I have an eating disorder?” as if that were even a question anymore. I was exhausted with myself. I pretended like my problems weren’t there and I didn’t reach out for help. I left school, a place I used to love, because I felt so lost there.
So I guess now, as I see those quotes and articles flood my computer screen, I think about the women and men that cannot even connect with that information, the people that are convinced that they are in so deep that there’s no way out. That’s how I felt. That information wasn’t for me. It was for people who had a chance. It was for people who were willing to take those first steps, people who actually felt that they deserved it.
So, where does that leave us? The answer is different every time, but for me, it always has something to do with connection. When I started treatment for my eating disorder and met people dealing with their own mental health issues and working towards real recovery, something slowly shifted for me (and I mean really slowly). These people made me feel like it was okay to be struggling. Around them, I had nothing to be ashamed of. I could talk about the real stuff, something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for years. And this inspired me to open up to my family, my friends from home, and even some friends from school. I was able to connect with them, and through that connection they could support me in a real way. They understood, even if it was just in their own small manner.
Articles and facts are great. They can teach us new information and demystify so many confusing concepts. That’s why awareness weeks around mental illness are wonderful. They provide a comprehensive starting point to those that are in the dark. But the people who need our help aren’t always reading those articles. So we should read and learn, but then we should connect with those who are struggling. We should reach out and let them know they deserve to be heard, let them know that we understand.
And no one has to have an eating disorder or have even experienced mental illness to connect to someone dealing with those things, because everyone goes through heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, and fear, and that’s the real stuff. Everyone goes through shit, and everyone has ways of dealing with it. And in my mind that’s what one needs to establish those connections.
Peace and Love,