In December 2013, I was gearing up to go to treatment in Florida after 8 years of living in the eating disorder cycle.
In my mind, I had this notion that rehab was gonna be this all-knowing descent into radical self realization.
More or less, I expected to come out of it being Basic B*tch Gandhi… or at the very least, Mother Teresa’s sinful pseudo-daughter. Meditating on the reg – zen-like in feeling, and – of course – still thin because in my jacked up head I thought the weight I felt was “extra” was only there because I binge ate about as much as I starved.
This morning, a lil mini-documentary about my eating disorder, and recovery aired on Barcroft TV, and what a unique moment in life.
There’s always something to note (like LOLZ on all the “looking into the distance” shots or HEY check out some of the laughable YouTube comments), but I’ll keep it simple.
A reminder today that:
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. My story is common because I am a white, small, cisgender female who grew up engulfed by “diet and beauty” culture, and the insecurity and expectation that it breeds. That is not to be ignored, but there are millions out there who do not have the same background. Men, women, ethnicities, nationalities, class. I am not the sole representation of what an eating disorder looks like, and will never pretend that I could be or am.
You will never be “sick enough.” You deserve help, no matter your circumstances, religion, shame, or weight.
I had a strong support system when I went to treatment. Most don’t (or they do) and it still means that sometimes they go back to rehab a few times before they get their shit straight. I am still working on what that means in my own life.
Recovery is ever-changing, ever-evolving. That’s why it’s flexible.
It is okay to live with an eating disorder. Recovery is accepting its presence in your life, not ignoring it as “fixed.”
Thank you to my best friend Kim Dyer for being in this, and Kristina Doelling for watching it from her apt in Brooklyn. Thank you to my parents Joanna Byers Hall for putting themselves out there, and being vulnerable to millions as parents of someone with an eating disorder. Thank you to The Renfrew Center for inclusion in the documentary, and taking time out of their lives to participate. Thank you to the camera crew and the producer for not making this salacious. Thank you Bradley’s parents for raising a beautiful child. His life has been the inspiration for so much of my recovery. Shout out to my partner for helping me get through that day, and waking up at 6am.
I am feeling many things, as one does when they see their sniffling face on film. Mostly, I am grateful for the life I have led – in all its ups and downs and side doors and mirrors.
Here’s the truth about eating disorders: we are often uneducated as to their risks.
Sure, we “know” they are detrimental, but when I struggled for 8 years I had no real awareness as to what type of bodily harm I inflected on my organs.
I noticed the physical effects: thinning hair, sallow eyes, and stress fractures from running. I observed the light-headedness and fainting spells, but I never took time to explore what that meant internally, especially for my heart.
Now in recovery from my eating disorder, I spent time speaking with cardiologists and medical professionals around the country to learn more about the harmful effects that eating disorders can have on your organs – specifically, your heart.
This is the girl your counselors warn you about; the one who has been there for so long that she has her own room.
This is the patient who wears the same outfit for 3 days in a row, and when sitting on the couch, puts her head in your lap as you run your fingers through her mated hair.
This is the patient whose clothes are streaked with paint because when she’s healthy- she’s a brilliant artist- and she often spends her free time in the art room when she can convince a counselor to accompany her.
This patient is the type to give herself a tattoo from a safety pin and ink while you’re at snack one day.
Is that the word DIRT, you say- eyeballs bugging out of your head- when she shows you her fingers. Dirt, you say again- running your hand over each of them. You’ve got to be kidding.
It’s a song, she says- her hair hanging in pieces near her face. It’s a good song.
You hold back when you see that she’s serious.
This is the girl who is delicately beautiful- you find yourself eerily drawn to- but know to remain cognizant and weary of her mood when she’s near.
You will spend hours with on her good days only to forget that she’ll turn the next and set fire to her bedsheets.
Did you take your meds, the nurses will ask her every morning.
Sure did, she’ll say- smiling at you as she drops the pills in the secret pocket of her skirt.
Take it, you hiss at her.
They’re trying to change me, she’ll say- on the days where everything is a conspiracy.
This is the patient who greets her parents with a “Fuck You” as they walk in for visiting hours- but minutes later is on the ground sobbing as she holds her mother’s skirt in the fists of her hands.
She is completely predictable in her unpredictability and often you wonder if it’s on purpose.
She is dangerous, uneasy, and charming.
There will always be one of these- though you’ll lose track of her the moment she’s gone.
2.) The Debbie + Penelope
Okay, so I combined them… but who doesn’t love a good SNL reference?
This type of patient is your Debbie Downer; the one who has no intention of getting better. Who sits in the corner with her hood over her head and when called upon to talk- gives the finger.
This is your patient who talks in group and everyone sighs because they know it’s about to be a rambling vile of negativity.
This patient makes it known when they don’t receive mail, consistently reminds everyone that she’s been in rehab more times than she can count, says ”shit” when asked how her day is going- and often chooses to sit alone in the community room.
This person is exhausting. Tiring to the point that you start to keep a daily tally of the negativity for no other reason than to drive yourself mad.
This is the person that all new patients make their mission to “fix” while you watch- smirking- from the other side of the room.
Sure, go ahead- you think- you were once innocent to Debbie’s ways too, but eventually you lost hope.
Sulky betch, you think when she slinks by in the hallway.
But then one-upper Penelope rounds the corner and you are suddenly stuck – frozen in place- deciding which is worse.
You see, rehab is a club all in its own. A sorority hierarchy of sorts where one is- at times- competing with another.
One-upper Penelope is just shit at playing into the blanketed social subtlety.
This is the girl who lets you know that her anorexia is more severe than yours. Her physical health in worse repair, and her bulimia more efficient.
This is the patient that walks down the hall while you’re waiting- wrapped in your medical gown- for your 6am morning vitals. Shivering in the hallway as the dew rests on the grass- you’re rubbing crusty sleep out of your eye as she tells you animatedly- borderline excitedly- that her heart rate is worse today than yesterday.
This is the girl you nod at and say ”oh shit” when she tells you- but are secretly signaling to your friend across from you to add this to the list of annoying crap this girl has said.
This is the girl you grow weary of quickly, but then feel bad later because you realize that eating disorders, in fact, make you bat shit cray.
This is the girl who revels in being sick, and in the end, you feel sorry for her.
Every now and then, I have a moment that I think to myself “my God- that must be what recovery is.”
Today, walking with my coworker- complaining about our long meetings, our torrid love lives, our mid-20s crisis-ing – she stopped mid-sentence- 5:45pm- and said “Yo I need a hot dog.”
“Huh?” I said, making a face.
“I need a hot dog,” she said, crossing toward the vendor. “We’ve passed like 5 stands and I want one.”
Standing there in Central Park, I watched her order a hot dog- mustard included- nonchalance on her face- and I had a moment that I thought to myself- “Shit, this must be what it’s like to grab food when you want it.”
For 8 years, I’ve passed fro-yo shops, 1$ pizza slices, croissants, muffins, falafel vendors- and thought “you want- but you can’t.”
1 year later- I still have moments that I want sometimes and think “Nah- it’s not time, you can’t eat till this time or that.”
It resonated today- such a simple act- because I think, mostly, that being free is allowing yourself the spontaneity of a hot dog. And I’d love to do that some day.
I can eat a handful of chips- a Dunkin Donut hole- a granola bar- even some Welch fruit snacks
But the awareness of it never leaves me- even now.
They teach you in rehab to listen to yourself.
To listen to your hunger cues- your stomach. Your intuition.
But what they can’t teach you is self-respect.
And that’s what lends you your ability to trust your intuitions- whatever they may be.
To trust your cues
And maybe I realize some days, that I am still working on that.
Spontaneous hot dogs people- it’s the small things in life.
Since it’s the beginning of NEDA’s 2015 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (2-22 – 2-28), I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and provide some stats that I’ve received via my work with Project Heal.
Often, I feel as though people still don’t know where to place eating disorders on the spectrum of mental health issues- so I think it’s beneficial to take it back to the facts on occasion and put the disease in perspective.
Take a look:
– 10 Million: The number of men struggling with an eating disorder
–30,000 (!): The average cost per month for eating disorder treatment
-81: The percentage of 10-year olds who are afraid of being fat
-30: The percentage of 18-24 year olds who cut food calories to replace with alcohol (Drunkorexia)
-10: The percentage of of women and men who actually ever receive treatment for eating disorders*
-1: Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder.
50% of women in America use unhealthy weight control mechanisms such as fasting, skipping meals, and purging.
Think about it. Think about the people in your life.
Treatment was a blessing, but there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the women I shared those hospital gowns with– and how many of them could not afford to stay longer because their insurance crapped out and they simply didn’t have that kind of money.
The insurance system for eating disorder coverage is bullshit. Google “eating disorder treatment costs” and you’ll find a slew of negative articles about the “loopholes” of the mental health coverage in this country.
I watched countless times as women packed their bags sobbing in the hallway of our facility.
I do NOT forget those tears.
They were deemed “healthy” by an insurance system of people who had NEVER seen- never spoken- never given a second glance- but merely ”stats”- and turned back out to keep fighting a battle they weren’t equipped to win. This, in turn, perpetuates a system of relapse. It perpetuates a whopping 85% chance of relapse for eating disorder patients.