It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Most who have experience with an eating disorder don’t talk about it because of the stigma and shame attached. I fell into that camp! But this is an illness that affects over 30 million Americans. 70 million worldwide. ED’s massive and complicated. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It’s time to talk about it. More importantly, it’s time to do something about it.
Eating disorders thrive on secrecy and fear; they paralyze you from reaching your full potential. So for me, #neda week means, doing something BOLD. Pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Sharing this, ED post, on Facebook. Holy. Moly.
I had an eating disorder for seven years. SEVEN. It was the most draining time of my life. Lack of sleep from caring for two tiny humans, like I do now, doesn’t hold a flame to the exhaustion I felt during that period. Recovering from an ED is a beast. No question – it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the thing I’m most proud of. But it’s unlike any other measurable “success”.
When I got my MBA from Harvard, there were 900 classmates celebrating alongside me. Friends and family sent cards and their congratulatory messages. When I got my first job, Aunts and Uncles called to celebrate my victory and offer advice. Even today, others acknowledge their ‘successes’ in the form of deals closing, awards received, games won or profits accumulated. Friends and fans cheer from the sidelines. Family is more proud than any and knows just what to say when you win the prize.
So why is destroying an eating disorder – a MAJOR feat – any less celebrated than other achievements? No high fives. No cards. People don’t talk about recovery because it’s uncharted territory. It’s scary.
First, there is no magic pill to take to get better. (But can someone please get going on that?) There’s no roadmap. No blueprint. No game day. Some struggle their entire lives, some nearly die and some do die. I had so many complications from ED including hospital visits, rehab stays, broken ribs, osteopenia and fainting that I thank God, today, and everyday for my life, my body and my family. There’s no ONE day for recovery. You DO fully recover, but you don’t know it until you’re there. Since others don’t know you’ve reached that place, then it’s hard to celebrate. But, can we change that and scream from the mountain tops that we destroyed ED and we deserve a party – with FOOD, BOOZE, whatever floats your ice cream?
Second, people, including professionals, don’t know how to support someone with an eating disorder. Unless you too have been diagnosed, then you can’t relate. So it’s hard to celebrate when a friend shares that she ate breakfast today or didn’t weigh herself. But, that is HIGH FIVE worthy. When people don’t know what to say, they say nothing. And when something is said, it is often unintentionally triggering. So those struggling, stop talking. Commence vicious cycle. Did I mention ED thrives on secrecy? Leads me to the last one…
Finally, stigma and shame. Eating disorders are taboo. If you have an ED, you most be broken. This stigma and type of thinking, prevents so many from ever seeking help. Even after I did recover, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I struggled at all. Embarrassed it took me seven years. I had never felt so much shame during those years. WHY would I want to revisit that now?
For me, getting help meant admitting I wasn’t perfect and didn’t have all the answers. I know…imagine. I was an overachiever. I was crushing my external world. I didn’t need “help.” I could tackle this on my own, just like all my other wins. BUT, here’s a little secret: I didn’t “DO” any of my other accomplishments myself. None. Not my first job, school, or winning games. It is and always was a team effort.
SO. What am I going to do? I’m diving head first into helping others with their recovery. Why? I want to empower those struggling to discover their purpose for recovery. Then offer the tools. Too many focus on HOW. HOW do I recover. First, the WHY. Then, the HOW. When you know your WHY, your HOW has meaning and strength behind it.
Your WHY pulls you through. Then, recovery is not only possible, but inevitable.