I am the mother of five children.
I am the survivor of an eating disorder.
Those two statements independently carry a lifetime of worry, but when placed in proximity to one another, they terrify me.
I live in a world where these things don't just happen to other people, to other women, to other daughters, other sons. They happen to me. The mere idea of it happening to my children makes me choose my words carefully every day, and dictates my actions more than anything else at times.
I'm doing the best I can to hold the hand of a friend as she starts on down this road, not as the sufferer, but as the parent. I try the best I can to convey what it was like when I was in that place myself, knowing that the distance, clarity and maturity of my years has allowed me to understand it far more than I did when I was in it. I try my best to help her understand, so that she can do her best to help her little girl.
And yet, I know that it still resides within me, this tendency.
My name is Kelly, and I
I've written about it before, but for a different reason than what moves me to do it this time. I was in a different place then, and the voice was different. Since then, I've struggled with it again. I've fought it back, told it no, urged it away.
When other things in my life spun rapidly out of control, I found myself controlling the one thing I could.
Anorexia, you see, has almost nothing to do with where you fall on a BMI chart, though many falsely believe it only affects people who are already underweight. It has nothing to do with how attractive someone is. The body image portion of it, while huge and oppressive, is simply a way that the underlying problem manifests.
The root is a feeling of helplessness, of loss of control. Anorexia is what some people, usually young women, will do to their bodies to try and regain control of something tangible. It manifests as a body image disease because often one of the only things that anyone can control in life is what we put into our bodies, what we force our bodies to do.
Most people diagnosed with anorexia also suffer from depression, and a significant portion of them also fit the criteria for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
It becomes overwhelming quickly, invading every piece of what you do and who you are.
My struggle began when I was 14, though in reality the groundwork was laid years prior. I was a perfectionist, terrified of failure. A type-A control freak. I was an early bloomer, I was at the mercy of genetics. Practically blind and covered with horrible acne, I felt ugly. My life was full of typical teenage drama, laced with troubled family dynamics, and I felt more than a little bit lost.
I needed knee surgery, and the trip down the slippery slope began. I put on weight after the surgery because I was in a full leg brace for months. I started taking pain pills far more often than I should have just so that I could push myself in rehab.
It became an obsession. I wrote down every single exercise I did. I added more every single day. I got up early and ran every morning. I ran again after I pretended to eat dinner. I was proud of myself when all I'd eaten was some lettuce. The weight started to fall off. I powered through the pain in my knee, ignored the asthma I knew I had, even if it left me in a pile on the sidewalk gasping for air more than once. I refused to let myself stop.
People noticed. Boys paid attention to me. No one seemed to realize how or why I was changing, just that I was. I savored the attention, but it only pushed me more. The thinner I got, the worse I felt. I considered each pound lost a victory, but never enough. It was never good enough. I was never good enough. It didn't matter what anyone else said or did. My image of myself had become completely distorted.
I started fainting, developed horrible migraines. The headaches were so bad that I was evaluated for a brain tumor by a doctor who congratulated me on my weight loss, ignoring what the possible reason could have been.
The day I woke up staring at the spinning ceiling in church, I hit the wall. It had to stop.
I spent 20 years fully able to fight it back, and have spent most of those years carrying too many pounds on my frame, but living with myself. Loving myself. Setting the goal to be happy and healthy, and not tying my worth as a person to a number on a scale.
Until last year, when it reared it's ugly head again.
I realized last night that I hadn't admitted that out loud to anyone. Not even to myself.
This experience with my friend, my trying anything I can to help her, has forced me to be honest with myself again.
Anorexia is not something that ever completely goes away. It cannot be solved or remedied. A new wardrobe won't fix it. A boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife won't fix it. A great education won't fix it. A great job won't fix it. All the other measures of worth in the world can mean nothing if the voice in your head tells you again that you aren't good enough and you start listening.
It can be managed though, with the right support system. With people who understand that it is a mental disorder, not a physical ailment. With people who don't engage in negative self talk about the size of their butts or their latest fad diets. With people who don't objectify and idolize the images of beauty that the media tries to convince us are the only acceptable ones. With people who don't minimize this real and damaging condition.
Women of the world, I beg of you, we need to do better. For ourselves, for our daughters and sons.
We need to reject the idea of the perfectly toned fountain of youth. We need to repress the airbrushed images of perfection that pervade our magazines. We need to pull our children and ourselves away from the fun house mirrors ever present in our society, the ones that tell us we are too short, too tall, too freckled, too wrinkled, too fat.
We need to recognize the warning signs of eating disorders and take them seriously, not pass them off simply as phases or normal teenage behavior.
We need to do the best we can to instill in our children that they are beautiful, that they are worthy. We need to teach them to make healthy choices, to be active, and we need to do those things ourselves. We need to be role models. We need to love ourselves, love our bodies. Forgive our faults, embrace our curves. We need to say these things out loud, when our children can hear us. We need to believe it, we need to teach them.
My stretch marks are not flaws,
they are merely the evidence of a
woman who carried five children.
They don't mean I am broken,
they mean I am strong and capable.
It has taken most of my life to find peace with this body I inhabit. Sometimes the voice in my head wins, but most days I do.
I hope every single day that my children find that peace without ever having to go through this. I try the best I can to build their self confidence, to teach them to embrace their bodies, to make them see their inherent value and beauty. And I know that even with all that, they could still struggle someday.
To my friend, I am here, and I will help you in any way that I can. I wish you, and that beautiful girl of yours, peace.
It is estimated that 1% of American women suffer from anorexia, 3-4% from bulimia. Approximately 10% of those diagnosed with eating disorders are men, the rest are women. These disorders have been documented in children as young as 7, and as old as people in their 70's. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder.