I find it ironic that as we continue the battle against bullying in schools and amongst the A-list, it is in that very same cultural sphere that people use their cause as their weapon. Although I often disagree with comments made in the media, I more firmly believe that it isn't my place to call someone out for their opinion.
My journey to achieve the perfect body started when I was 14. The objective -- tall, thin, cellulite-free with smooth skin and beautifully toned abs -- you know the look. If 'thigh gaps' and 'bikini bridges' were in at the time, I would have added them to my list of things to obsess over. In some ways I came pretty close to achieving the "dream body" that I obsessed over in magazines but I never expected that I would lose everything important to me along the way.
Mental illnesses are like pack animals. There is never just one without others lurking behind corners waiting to jump on us -- their weight holding us down; their teeth ripping through the flesh of our throat until we are too weak to fight back. As we lay bleeding and broken, available treatment is more difficult to reach.
The absence of visible symptoms is not the most accurate measure of someone's recovery from this disease. Weight is a physical thing, but anorexia also resides firmly in the psyche. Anorexia is like having the person who hates you the most, the most irrational tyrant you can imagine, living in your head rent-free, trying to burn down your physical foundation from the inside out. It's an interminable abusive relationship that's nearly impossible to leave because it transpires in your own mind. Those voices can cause problems before the weight loss starts to show.
The moment I put on my dream wedding dress, I cried tears of disappointment and frustration. It was exactly as I had pictured, with a corseted top that tied like a ballet slipper in the back, shiny white beads on the front, and a flowing, silky train. The dress wasn't the problem. It was how I looked in it. "You look beautiful," my mother said, thinking I was crying tears of joy. In that moment, I knew I still wasn't "better." I thought I had recovered, and I thought this meant I'd love the way I look. I hate that my eating disorder tainted this precious moment that I cannot have back. I use this hate to empower myself. Today, five years later, I think I'm "normal."
As I was reading through Twitter accounts and bios of people advocating for the recognition of eating disorders as real and dangerous, I came across the words "ex-anorexic." I was jealous. I am able to eat a meal with my family, and quietly endure the self-loathing afterwards with no physiological consequences; but the mental battle drags me through such an obstacle course, that by the time I've reached the finish line, I am no longer certain of whether or not I want to get better. Unfortunately, part of me is convinced that there is no such thing as getting better from this
I've spent these past several months adjusting to the diagnoses of my mental illnesses, redefining who I am as compared to who I thought I was. Sadly though, dependent on how news of my illnesses is viewed by others and based on the fact that my healing is partly based on perseverance and strength, never has the company I've kept been subject to more scrutiny.
Although my mental illness was recently diagnosed, I've known since I was a teenager that I had an eating disorder. In the case of the eating disorder known as EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), lack of physically obvious symptoms makes it not only easier for this disorder to persist for years, but it also makes health care providers less willing and/or able to diagnose it.
We are not just expected to put in the same amount of work in the office, and still more at home, we also have to find the time to go to the gym, pull on skin-tight shape wear, prepare gluten-free, carb-free, Paleo, blah, blah, meals, get Botox, gel manicures, and buy expensive serums, lotions, and potions proven to even out our complexion, hide fine lines, and reduce sagging.
The image of what often comes to mind, and what is often publicized for people with eating disorders is a younger female who is skeletal in frame. In my case, I was a young man who was albeit thin, also quite muscular. I worked in health in fitness. I helped people get fit. I was supposed to be the voice of healthy living.
Are we doing enough about an illness that is silently eating away at both a mother and daughter? Twenty years ago, People Magazine headlined one of their covers with, "Princess Di: Struggle with Bulimia Brings a Puzzling Disease Out of the Shadows." Eating disorders still remain a private battle for millions of young women, and the faces of those affected are changing. We'd be downright wrong to frame it as a "rich, white girl's disease." How do you capture the cost of subjecting millions of women to calorie counting or religious scale stepping?
One of these photos is an expertly lit, no doubt digitally enhanced image of a girl in her mid-twenties presented here as the definition of what a woman is allowed to be proud of; "until you are proud" seems to mean "until you have six pack abs, perky, squeezable breasts and the terrible burden of finding size 0 jeans with a 34 inch inseam."
Recently I was asked if I ever worried that I was putting my children at risk for developing eating disorders by being so open and honest about my own. The truth is that they always knew their mom was a bit "different," they just didn't know why. I may have convinced myself that they were oblivious to my disorder, but how could that be true when we'd be walking out the door to go for dinner and one of them would ask, "Are you eating today, Mommy, or just watching?" or they'd shout, "Look, Mommy's a dinosaur!" because the bones of my spine would poke out so sharply from under my skin.
Seventy-five percent of women battle disordered eating in one form or another. We need to reevaluate our relationships with food, each other, and God so that we don't impose negativity on mealtime and body image. There's no secret formula, but if you look at yourself and see that you're in a negative place, you probably need to talk to your children about that. We need to be honest with them--create an open dialogue so that if something arises, they feel comfortable talking about it.