An acquaintance of mine on Facebook has an eating disorder. She's in her late 30s, and writes openly about her struggle to love herself as she is. Her disorder is such an integral part of her life that, as she would her own child, she has named it Ed. She details a good day when Ed hasn't sabotaged her lunch plans with friends, and she's been able to order more than lettuce and not vomit it back up in the washroom afterwards.
Usually though, Ed hangs onto her pant leg, his tantrum involving screams and obscenities. His wretched running commentary lasts for days and weeks as he mercilessly rips away what little self-worth she was able to gather in the few short hours when Ed was napping or on a playdate with some other poor unsuspecting victim. Ed's a little asshole.
In my 40s, I can relate to this woman and Ed. I haven't given my eating disorder a name because mine is more like an appendage. In order to get rid of it, it would require amputation, and at this stage of my life, I suspect I would feel rather lost without my extra appendage, and the phantom limb pain might be more painful than the twisting of my intestines after I swallow a handful of laxatives.
I have written openly about my battle with this mental illness, and despite so many emailing me with stories of how they overcame their own eating disorders, I'm still skeptical. When I read a "I totally get it!" or "Hang in there, I got over mine when I was 20!" I blink in amazement and wonder. Because this is not like the flu. There is not enough cough medicine, decongestants, or tissue boxes to outlast this flu.
Fighting an eating disorder is lifelong. And I realize this every time I think my mind is finally free. The eating disorder tricks me into believing that I, too, like the lovely people who have reached out to me, am better. For days and months I eat. I eat. At first ever so carefully, testing the waters of the eating disorder to see if it will allow me to sit with my family, and listen to the dinner conversation rather than spend that time wondering how I will counteract the calories entering my body.
But then, just when I think I've accepted that my pants are now one size bigger than the last I was wearing, I stumble upon an ad, a picture, an actress...Someone who is better than I am, because I'm no good. If I was any good at all, I would have had the drive to run the stairwell in the hospital where I work during my lunch break. If I wasn't so lazy and so useless, I could do back to back yoga sessions. If I had more control, I would not have thoughtlessly put that handful of jelly beans in my mouth. I suck.
See, it's easier said than done when you have an eating disorder. I would like to get over mine. And sometimes I think I have. For brief flickers in time, I suck in my stomach, and accept that this is enough. But then I'll see some stupid ad on social media, and I succumb to the eating disordered thinking again.
This week when I was navigating Twitter, I came across a tweet claiming a product which guaranteed weight loss of 20 lbs in 24 days. As someone who has valiantly tried to accomplish this, I finally realized that an eating disorder, although a mental illness, is aggravated by the bacteria in the environment disguised in the shape of advertising. "Lose 20 lbs in 24 days!" I tweeted back, "Starvation." The next ad I noticed proclaimed, "Take this pill and watch the pounds melt away!" I tweeted back, "Purging." Another one stated, "Be skinnier than you've ever been!" I tweeted back, "Anorexic." Of course I realize nobody even sees these replies, but the power and the realization that society is marketing anorexia was powerful.
I won't say that I'm all better now, and my fists are up, ready to beat the shit out of the eating disorder. It's still there. I honestly don't know how to get rid of it. But the knowledge that society is using a mental illness as a marketing strategy fueled me with an anger I had not felt before in this particular context. Of course I've always known that our society values esthetics in the form of ridiculously unnaturally small sizes rather than health. And eating disorders are not about avoiding the extra muffin on the kitchen counter.
Eating disorders speak words of hatred to those of us who will listen and believe that, unlike the rest of society, we don't measure up. We are weak. We don't deserve to live. But tweeting to some anonymous computer generated advertising company that they're peddling propaganda which has for its purpose to degrade, devalue, and essentially destroy innocent people who otherwise may not have thought that losing 20 lbs in 24 days was not only possible, but also unnecessary -- tweeting my reply was a step towards amputating that cumbersome appendage.