The thing is, this blog has evolved a lot. When I first started out blogging, in 2005, I was writing mostly about pithy work stuff. I was so self-conscious. Every post was a name-droppy mess. One week I wrote about interviewing Feist at the Vancouver Folk Festival. Another time, I talked about working a junket for the movie Crash and interviewing Paul Haggis (at the Four Seasons… I believe I made sure to include that oh-so-scintillating fact). This is embarrassing for a lot of reasons. First off, being a name-dropper is inherently gross. (If you’re someone who does it, stop immediately.) Besides that, it just seems … sad. I was sad.
Anyway, after I left that line of work and went back to school to do my MA in Toronto, the blog started to evolve into something more confessional. And okay, that was fine. I like memoir and confessional writing. Always have, despite the fact that the writing scene (literary and less-so) turns a collective nose up at this sort of thing. But my posts were often vague. I can see, looking back, how my posts were a bit like long Facebook status updates where I shared enough to let people know something was going on, but not so much that they would actually know what that something was. I was (and often am) too self-conscious to tell the complete truth about anything. (Again, more on that later.) But on occasion I’d write a post that was truer than others and the response would mushroom. When I wrote that post about high school for example, about how I felt bullied by the girls in my social group … holy crap. People responded. A lot. In fact, though that post went up a full two years ago, I still get comments on it. (I recently had to close the comments section because I didn’t feel like moderating anymore.) In the same vein, I wrote a post about my grandmother’s death about a year ago that, as many regular readers know, caused quite a stir. I took that one down to appease family members who thought it was unfair (and evidently, that I was a horrible, disgusting person for writing it, if you’re to believe the bilious comments they left), but despite that, as with the high school piece, I still get positive feedback. People get in touch to say they loved the piece, and that they wish I’d left it up. Others write to tell me about their own complicated family relationships and the way the older people in their lives have inspired a mix of love and frustration.
Anyway, back to the mainline. Truth-telling, especially about difficult subjects, seems to be what people respond to, at least in my case. Never was this more apparent than in the response to the post I wrote near the end of 2010 called The weight. In that piece, I talked pretty frankly about my body obsession and weight cycling and again, people responded. HUGELY. The post was picked up by several other sites, including at least one from overseas written entirely in a Scandanavian language I don’t know. (So I have no idea what anybody said about it, but they sure seemed to say a lot.) In the States, the blog was found by an organization (HealthyPlace) that focuses on mental health issues and I was invited to speak on one of their podcasts about eating disorders. The comments flooded in, both on the post itself and privately, via email. People wrote to tell me about their own feelings on similar issues. Many people wrote to tell me about their eating disorders. Some just wrote to say hi and to say that the piece made them feel less isolated. (That was nice.)
And ultimately, thanks to the comments and the feedback, I came to see that The weight was probably the most important thing I’d ever written to date, not because of the feedback itself, but because the feedback gave me perspective. And here’s the big thing that came out of that: I finally faced the fact that I myself have an eating disorder.
Yep. I have an Eating Disorder (ED). And there’s more!
I’ve HAD this disorder for about 20 years. And I didn’t even know it.
Now, to be fair, I knew the way I ate and exercised was (sometimes) questionable, but at the same time, my “disordered behaviours” (this is the way we talk in recovery) all felt relatively normal. I was just dieting. I didn’t have Anorexia because hey, I ate (most of the time). And I didn’t have Bulimia because I didn’t really purge (most of the time). As for those periods of crazy exercise, well, that was just being healthy. No pain no gain, right? Sigh.
Basically, like a lot of people, I thought Anorexia and Bulimia were all there was. (I bet many of you think that right now, in fact. Nobody tells us about the dangers of sub-clinical disordered eating in general, not to mention Orthorexia, or Anorexia Athletica, or what I have: Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). It’s a real thing – a clinically recognized eating disorder with defined diagnostic criteria. EDNOS is, I believe, the most commonly diagnosed ED out there. And before 2012, I’d never even heard of it. Just one more thing to write in the “society is totally fucked up” column.
Anyway. The good news is, I’m getting better. Without going into too much detail about that part of things, I can say that I’m officially “in recovery” and have been for a while. It’s going okay. But EDs, from what I’ve leaned, can be a lot like substance abuse issues in that relapse is always a possibility, and of course, I have shitty days where I hate myself and I am really REALLY tempted to do the things I used to do to “fix” my body, but for the most part, I resist. I’m trucking along. I’m lucky. I’m a “middle class” person who often passes as “white” living in a big city with a lot of resources designed for and made available specifically for people like me. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I am. (People can and do die from EDs like mine. Or they lead really sad lives chained to their disorders forever.) I’m getting better.
Supportive or not, fat-positive or not, kind or not, other people are “triggers” for me. (There’s that recovery language again.) And this might mean that in the last year, I’ve started seeing less of you. Or maybe I deleted you from Facebook or something. This brings us to the second big mental health revelation in this post:
In addition to my super fun ED, I also have pretty pronounced Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Hooray!
As with my ED, I’ve had it for a long time, but my diagnosis is pretty recent. I spent most of my 20s fighting this because when combined with my naturally introverted nature I was seen as “anti-social” and “no fun.” I was embarrassed by my desire to be alone or to spend time with friends one-on-one instead of at parties, so I worked hard to hide that. (Note here that being introverted is not the same as being shy. And neither of those things is the same as Social Anxiety Disorder. There’s lots of literature if you want to read up to better understand the differences.) Anyway, like I said, I worked hard to hide both my natural introversion (which is really no big deal, not an illness or even a problem, and which I’ve learned to accept) and my anxiety (which IS a big deal and can be debilitating ) and I got really good at it. People comment all the time on how gregarious I seem, how good I am at talking to strangers, how confident I am (especially on 5+ drinks). What can I say? When I seem gregarious, I’m really wishing I was dead! Ha ha! Fooled you!
I'm just out. I am out of patience for most of what constitutes “normal” conversation, particularly between women, but really just in general. Your “juice fast,” your New Year’s resolution to “get in shape,” your “jiggle wiggle,” your “cleanse,” your “awesome workouts,” your “Paleo-Atkins-MediFast-WeightWatchers-BiggestLoser-Homeopathic-GlutenFree-Whateverthefuck” – I can’t talk to you about any of that anymore. I can’t hear about it. I can’t take you moralizing about how “bad” you’re being for having that brownie, or how “good” you are for eating that salad. Personally, I can’t because I’m sick and I’m trying to get better and those kinds of conversations contribute to making me worse. Politically, I can’t because I’m just over it. I’m over women being expected to conversationally bond over shared self-hatred. I’m over hearing people congratulate each other for weight loss, even when the weight loss is a result of an illness, like a severe flu, Cancer or an ED. (When I was at my sickest and most engaged with my ED, people were ALWAYS congratulating me, telling me how good I looked, etc. “Good for you,” they’d say. Sometimes, I’d even tell people about my “diets” – I’d confess about how few calories I ate, or how I used to squirt dish soap on food I didn’t want to be tempted to eat (a little trick I learned from a weight-loss guide I ordered from the back of Seventeen magazine when I was 14. I remember the same trick shown on Sex and the City, by the way). People would just keep congratulating. The sentiment was this: Hmm… 500 calories a day? That sounds weird, but stick with it! It’s working! You may be killing yourself, but you look “good” and that’s all that matters!)
So I’m over it. I’m over the whole insane, sexist, scientifically unsound dialogue about health, weight and appearance.
There are so many ways in which we all (or okay, maybe not all, but many of us) contribute to a completely fucked up culture of disordered eating and distorted body image and we’ve gotta quit it. Even things that seem on the surface to be “normal” and “nice” are really damaging. Even all that “Ooh, you look so great, I hate you” cutesy nonsense is a problem. All that talk talk talk about your gym schedule, etc. is a problem. **** And it’s a problem I’ve been part of. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not accusing you of anything terrible. I’m guilty too. But as I get better I understand more clearly than ever before that this whole conversation – the one that is about the way people look instead of about anything meaningful or important – needs to end. Period. We’re all trained to be judgmental about our bodies and the bodies of other people. I’m not saying that’s going to magically cease if we stop talking about it, but not talking about it is a nice first step. Keep that shit in your head and talk about anything else. There are so many other things that are more worthwhile.
It isn’t always easy, of course, to hold to all these new ideals as I start to get better and try to stay that way. And I make it harder for myself. Just recently, I appeared on a new show on MTV (hey, remember when I used to be on TV all the time?). Someone I used to know from my days on The After Show invited me to be on this new series called Losing It. It’s simple, really. You sit on a stool and tell the story of how you lost your virginity. Now why, WHY would a person like me agree to do this? Hello, I have an ANXIETY disorder. I am introverted. Doing a show that would be super exposing, both physically (me as a close-up talking head and torso) and emotionally (sex stories are pretty loaded for most people)? It sounded like a TERRIBLE idea. And still, I agreed. I agreed because on some level, I believe that my anxiety disorder and my body image issues, etc., all of those things pale in comparison to the importance of telling the truth about things. I knew I would feel self-conscious and embarrassed and awkward telling my story and I knew waiting for it to air would generate a lot of unnecessary anxiety, but on a more rational level, I also know that I don’t really have anything to be embarrassed about. Not about my story, not about the way I look, not about how smart or articulate I am. There’s NOTHING wrong me with. So I did the show. And then I waited for it to air. Sweating.
My point is that it’s hard. It’s hard to maintain my recovery in the world, the world being what it is. It’s hard enough for me to attend social events because of my anxiety to begin with, but pile on the fact that 99% of events include some form of weight, appearance, faux-health, diet and/or exercising conversation and it’s even harder. It makes me want to stay home 24/7. And stop reading books, watching TV and looking out the window too, because this body-lunacy, it’s everywhere. But of course, total isolation probably isn’t a good solution. Truth might be. Or it might help a bit, which is, I guess, why I’m writing this.
Sadly, telling the truth about any sort of mental health issue means living with stigma, which is definitely difficult. That’s the idea I struggled with when deciding whether or not to post this epic truth-spew. Sharing any of this opens the door to a huge amount of judgment and advice from the often-well-meaning, but totally-ignorant public. (And as a result, comments will probably be on moderation, FYI.) And I’m sure some of my more pleasant acquaintances are rubbing their hands with glee at my revelations. (Nice folks, those.) But still, I did it. I’m anxious, but I’m trying not to be ashamed.
Shame is the worst, guys. It’s awful and toxic and it contributed to me being sick for a really long time. I was ashamed of so much about myself, especially my repeated “failure” to “fix” my body. (A lot of people think body “fixing” is possible, by the way. It’s just diet and exercise, they shout. Calories in, calories out. ****** Bleh. It's not. Not for everyone. Not all of the time. And besides that, please please please BE QUIET and MIND YOUR BEESWAX.)
Shame made me a liar, too. ******* Before I was married, I lived with a past boyfriend for years and he had no idea that I was sick at all, let alone how sick I was. (To be fair, we had issues. I probably could have died in that apartment and it would have taken days for him to find me. We weren’t exactly caring toward one another.) But also, he didn’t know because I didn’t tell him. I was ashamed, so I lied. I even managed to lie to myself. That’s the power of shame for you.
I’m told, however, that truthfulness detoxifies shame in real, tangible ways. That’s something I’ve heard in recovery. Telling the truth is one of the things that works when you’re trying to get better. I guess that’s one of the reasons support groups are popular. Telling the truth reduces shame.
So here we are. ********
This week (February 3rd to 9th) is Eating Disorder Awareness Week here in Canada, by the way. So this is all pretty timely, wouldn’t you say? (I’m patting myself on the back right now, in fact.)
* There’s a whole movement to reclaim the word “fat” going on, though you might not have heard about it. So before you start up with the “oh, you’re not fat” comments, that I’m sure you mean to be kind, consider this sort of thing. I’m okay with the way I look. Or at least, I’m trying to be. Saying, “Oh, you’re not fat! Don’t be hard on yourself!” isn’t as helpful as you think it is. It would be more helpful to get your head around the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being fat in the first place. Don’t be afraid of fat OR of the word fat, if you can possibly help it. I know it's hard. It's hard for me too. We're trying to undo a lifetime worth of teaching here, people.
** You might think you aren't participating in this idea that fat people are gross, stupid, lazy, smelly, greedy, etc., but the next time you see a fat character on television or in the movies, pay attention. Is that character smart? Kind? Friendly? Or is that character drawn as evil, dumb, mean, etc.? This kind of repeated stereotyping is rarely challenged, but it's bigoted, plain and simple.
*** Want to learn about fat-activism, size-acceptance, fighting bigotry and/or HAES (Health at Every Size)? I suggest blogs/websites like The Fat Nutritionist and Dances With Fat. Or just get Googling. You have internet access, I know you do.
**** It’s totally cool if you love the gym. More power to you, gym-rat! Love boot-camp? That’s cool too. Talking about these interests and pleasures to like minded individuals who’ve agreed to participate in such conversations is fine. Constantly sharing (and thereby upsetting and even inadvertently shaming) other people for living differently, in real life, on social media, etc. is way. less. fine. Your experience is yours. Hooray! Applying your experience to anyone else, foisting it on anyone else? It's not nice. (I know you didn't mean to hurt anyone, but hey, now you know.)
***** A fun-sponge is someone who sucks all the fun out of social interactions. Do you have a fun-sponge in your social circle? Most of us do.
****** Hey, that rhymed!
******* Eating Disorders are incredibly easy to hide. Lots of mental health issues are. I can promise you, most of the time you CANNOT tell who is sick based on the way they look. Now that I'm in recovery, I know people with eating disorders who run the gamut: women, men, transgendered people, fat people, thin people, racially diverse people, sexually diverse people, socioeconomically diverse people, etc. You have no idea. It surprised me a lot when I started treatment, but it’s a fact. You can't tell. Don't want to hurt people by accident? Don't talk about bodies. Easy peasy!
******** FYI, I’m probably not going to be blogging about this sort of thing often. I don’t think this is going to become some sort of mental health/eating disorder blog. It’s probably just going to keep being what is was: rambling, sporadic and emo. And occasionally, true. Or as true as I can make it on any given day. Make of that whatever you will.
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