Misguided perception

A story about a girl suffering with an eating disorder. At the discretion of the story teller all names have been changed.

Art piece by Emmanuel Polanco

Two years; her Eating Disorder has been going on for two years. It all started in high school. She originally came from a small school where she couldn’t compare herself to other girls. Then came high school, with hundreds of people walking down the halls. With more people surrounding her came a more brutal comparison of herself to everyone else.

Then came the doubt. The constant comparison would make her feel as though she wasn’t good enough. She would tell her friends she wanted to lose weight and people would doubt her. As a perfectionist she felt the need to prove them wrong.

And so it began.

People would notice how small she got and they would comment positively on her size. Despite what they would say, she never saw what they saw. No matter how small she got, it was never enough.

B was in Grade 10 when the behaviours started. She had never been a “small” girl and never liked how she looked. Her family would comment negatively on her size and body. Eventually the comments piled up in her head.

It was hard to see her body in a positive way because other people didn’t and told her so.

When the behaviours began, she didn’t have a scale to constantly check her weight. She didn’t want to see her weight, no matter how much her body was changing. In the summer after grade 10, her cousin asked her “Don’t you want to see how much you weigh now? Aren’t you interested to see how much weight you lost?”

So B stepped on the scale. She couldn’t believe her eyes. No matter how much she lost, it was never enough. She would keep going, pushing her body to disappear more and more. It was never enough.

Eating Disorders are dangerous mental illnesses. They are extremely serious and life threatening. Not only do they cause many physiological symptoms but they isolate you, creating intense psychological symptoms as well. They take you away from your loved ones and they make you feel numb. Having an Eating Disorder is like having a bully in your head, always telling you that you are not enough and that you were never enough because of how your body is. It gives you reason to physically act on those thoughts. All eating disorders stem from wanting to be smaller. No matter if it is Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder or any other Eating Disorder; though they may present in different ways, they come from the same root and have similar psychological symptoms. Eating Disorders are extremely stigmatized because they are seen as a choice. They are seen as just a fear of gaining weight or being “fat”. This is incorrect. People with Eating Disorders are extremely disconnected from their bodies and aren’t able to process their emotions. Eating Disorders are not a choice; most of the time they are genetic. Many people suffer from disordered eating but not everyone suffers from an Eating Disorder.

B had gone through an Eating Disorder treatment. She went to group therapy and talked to a therapist there. She struggles a lot with trust and had a hard time opening up. She would go into her appointments and talk about her struggles with her family and come out of her appointments feeling sad and overwhelmed. She hated this process because instead of feeling better she would constantly feel worse.

Last summer, she went to her summer camp that she loves. It was a break from the therapy and the overwhelming strain of school and life. It was the break she needed. For a while, she had been extremely unhappy and lonely for a long time. Summer camp was a way for her to reconnect with her friends.

“Isolation is the worst and it gets harder. It’s so hard to shut out these horrible thoughts when you are alone. Now that I’ve been stuck in quarantine I see it a lot. There is nothing to do but fixate on yourself.”

B says that she has loved ones that would help her recover if she wanted to. But she also says that no matter how many people try to help you, you have to be able to help yourself. She says that she has to be the one to choose to get better. But she’s scared of the outcome. She doesn’t know what will happen without her Eating Disorder.

“I don’t remember ever not comparing myself to other girls.”

B told me that the one thing she feels confident in and good about is being a good friend. She also told me that she knows looks come and go, but that she believes that we will always want to be prettier than we are. She told me that she feels that people will always want to be pretty and comfortable in their own skin.

This is a sad reality. I personally believe that this craving to feel beautiful only lives inside of us as long as we let it live inside of us. Society tells us that we always need to strive to look and be better which is extremely damaging to everyone’s mental health. Why is it not okay to just accept who we are at this moment?

The eating disorder gives B a sense of control. She is a perfectionist and her Eating Disorder feeds on her need to be better then she is. In her head, restriction can affect the way you look. In reality this is only a short term solution. If your body is not meant to be so small, it will fight back to get energy. It will destroy you to get the energy it needs. Of course, Eating Disorders are vicious monsters. They will make you think that your natural body weight fluctuation is wrong and that you must use behaviours to fix this flaw. The Eating Disorder will tell you that your natural self is wrong. It will tell you lies and make you think they are true.

As time went on, B never felt tired or hungry. Her grades went up. She thought that she should feel happy because she had everything she wanted. She had the body, the looks, and the grades. But still it wasn’t enough.

The Eating Disorder kept telling her that she was not enough.

B had so many issues with her family because they didn’t understand the meaning of an Eating Disorder. They would make her feel bad for her behaviours when she wasn’t at fault for them. How could she be blamed for something she didn’t choose to have?

At some point, her aunt ,who is a doctor, came to talk to her about the dangers of Eating Disorders. It wasn’t helpful because B knows the dangers and complications that Eating Disorders can have. Hearing about this isn’t a solution because she knows; it’s moving beyond them that is so much more difficult. Unspecialized doctors have a hard time understanding Eating Disorders as well. Unless they are specialized in this field, it’s hard for them to help because Eating Disorders do not have a quick or strictly physiological fix; the mental aspect is an important and often overlooked part of Eating Disorders that makes it that much harder to get better. Rather than only knowing the consequences of the behaviour that results from an Eating Disorder, people suffering from an Eating Disorder need empathy more than anything. The rest of her family would say that she was doing it for attention. If her Eating Disorder behaviours were for attention, then why would she be so afraid to see her family?

Ever since B was a little kid she had one dream, which was to work hard, go to school, and have a stable job. Her mother is a single mother and most of her life they have struggled financially. A motivator for her to chase her dreams of having a job in the medical field is wanting to repay her mom for her hard work. I asked B if she thinks that she can still get good grades and be successful without her Eating Disorder. She told me she does. Her Eating Disorder distracts her from being optimistic which affects her life negatively.

B’s Eating Disorder tells her that she will never be happy unless she loses more weight, no matter how much she has already lost. But the more time that passes and the more focus on her weight, the less happy she is. Her Eating Disorder makes her go from feeling nothing to feeling everything all at once. Meaning that she could be feeling a low intensity emotion and something small could trigger her, making her emotions go out of control. She says that her Eating Disorder stops her from having control over her emotions. It tells her that everyone is out to get her. The Eating Disorder tells her that when people are trying to help they are trying to change who she is for them and not for her.

People always think she has the wrong intentions when it comes to her Eating Disorder, but really it is a way to distract her from her reality. This illness tells her it is trying to make her happy, when in reality, it’s making everything far more difficult.

“My Eating Disorder is a separate entity from myself that makes promises that can’t be fulfilled,” B says. “It is so convincing and manipulating.”

Despite the comparison and low self esteem, B says that she was different without her Eating Disorder. She says that she was a lot happier and that she would say whatever is on her mind. She wouldn’t isolate herself and shut people out.

Now she is a closed off person. She gets highly emotional and embarrassed. She feels that people around her are judgemental. No one understands her. Why would she tell others her issues if they misjudge her?

B can challenge her Eating Disorder the most when she is surrounded by supportive people. She can challenge it if she’s willing to separate herself from her Eating Disorder. B has gotten so used to her Eating Disorder that she can’t herself apart from her eating disorder.

When you want everyone to think you are perfect it is hard to ask for help. It is hard to show vulnerability and emotions. She doesn’t want anyone to think she has issues so she puts up a front and doesn’t see therapists. She wants people to see her at her best.

It is hard for her to open up because when she does, she is filled with uncomfortable feelings. She opens wounds and can’t close them any more. To open wounds from past trauma doesn’t feel good exactly. For B to open her wounds would mean for her to relive her trauma. She says that when she went to therapy and opened up it hurt too much. She can’t see herself getting better if she has to feel these tough emotions because feeling nothing is better than feeling everything.

When B was younger, her step-father and her mom would fight constantly. She couldn’t sleep from the constant fighting. One night he punched a window and woke her up. She thought he was going to kill her mom.

Thinking about her horrible experience is hard for her and it makes her feel like she is there.
Her Eating Disorder enables her to push down these emotions. She couldn’t think about her past experiences, she could only think about food and the constant drive to be skinnier, to be smaller, to be what she thought she had to be.

Being surrounded by others helps B challenge the Eating Disorder. But if the people she is surrounded with have bad intentions or trigger her Eating Disorder, they don’t help at all. People who fish for compliments about their body or body shame bring the most pain to B. “Body shaming is terrible. No one is ever in the position to put others down about their body,” B says. No matter how much hatred B has for herself, she would never body shame another person.

If there was one thing B wishes she could tell others struggling with Eating Disorders it would be this: “Remember that even though you feel alone there are many other people dealing with the same issues. Even if your family and friends think that you are doing all of this for attention, there are people out there who understand. Even though it is hard, it is possible to make it through this mental illness. You have to be hopeful and take it one day at a time. Patience is key. You have to be patient with yourself. If you can overcome this, you can overcome anything. And you can overcome this.”

B also says that it is important for people to remember that when they were younger it was hard or nearly impossible to understand mental health. “People don’t understand their own issues because others always say that there are people who have it worse.” B didn’t understand her own mental illness until she began dealing with it herself. The people around her have a hard time understanding because they can’t see what is physically wrong and only think about a physical illness rather than a mental one.

“I would never wish for people to feel the way I feel.”

When it comes to any mental illness, it is important to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It’s hard to understand what another person is feeling even if you are suffering with the same mental illness. All of our brains are so different and complex. Our brains have the ability to think things that aren’t true and to make you feel unworthy. When you struggle with an Eating Disorder it’s as though you have an internal bully. If you know someone suffering from an Eating Disorder, think before you speak. Be empathetic. Your words have an impact, no matter how harmless you think they are.

A note from Daph: I wanted to say a couple things while on the topic of eating disorders. B’s story is an excellent represnetation of what it is like to live with an eating disorder. The eating disorder consumes you, and isolates you. It numbs all of your emotions. Many people with eating disorders believe that they must recover on their own, and that it has to come from a place of wanting to recover, acording to research this doesn’t always work. According to evidence from research done on how to best intervene in the case of an eating disorder, support from family and loved ones increases the likelihood of recovery. Also, the person with the eating disorder doesn’t have to want to recover. Obviously when they are an adult it is a lot harder to intervene, but it can be done. The recovery rate is much higher if parents are there to support the child. Another thing that I want to mention that is also evidence based, is that recovery can only be achieved with nourishment. The brain and body must be completely nourished, for recovery to be able to happen. The reason I am saying this, is for all of the people out there with eating disorders that believe that they can only recover alone. I am saying this for all of the parents who’s children are suffering from eating disorders. For this siblings watching their sister or brother suffer. There is always something you can do to help a person suffering from an eating disorder. There is hope. Every ones recovery journey is different, and there are many people who have recovered alone. But every single one of them would tell you to find the support you need and not do it alone. It is so hard to trust yourself when you have an eating disorder. So please remeber that there are people out there who love you and want to help you. Let them help you.

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