Tag Archives: treatment

So Give Us Something Better

14 Jul

The Singer - cropped

Slate journalist Amanda Hess released an article today entitled “Let Them Blog” discussing why “the panic over pro-anorexia websites and social media isn’t healthy.” Her article talks about the function behind the form, and how vilifying a very grey area of self-expression ultimately nets more harm than good. She does an excellent job analyzing the nuance that “pro-ana” has evolved into over the past decade or so, and I highly recommend reading the entire piece for yourself.

Especially since, as someone who struggled with anorexia for about a decade and had to fight pretty fucking hard for her current three years of solid recovery, I agree.

The panic over the proliferation of pro-ana and pro-mia sites isn’t healthy. Mass cultural freak-out over the existence of twelve-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds and twenty-four-year-olds launching a wordpress page or even entire forums to give vent to the mind-chewing of their internal delusional demons is some seriously misdirected fear. Terrified of these internet shrines to life with the disease? How about we shift that feeling to being terrified of the disease itself.

Shutting down these sites won’t shut down the eating disorder, after all. And these testaments to life as a slow death from fucked caloric addition only exist because generally, culturally, their hosts and their visitors in their search for relief have found nothing better.

Once upon a time, I was very, very eating disordered. And once upon a time, I visited these sites, too.

I was not the most religious of visitors, and it was a fairly long road that finally got me peeking at that corner of the internet. I’d known about pro-ana sites for years before I ever visited one. It was a marker, for me, of my decline into the disorder. I’d gone from restricting for reasons my brain had generated all on its own while I really had no clue what I was doing, or that I even was doing any sort of something, to eventually having the label for it all tossed at me – by my mother or a health professional or some after-school special, I don’t really remember – to embracing the label as yes, the proper term for the beast of internal mis-wiring that I was fighting.

Or riding. Depended on the year.

I was already an adult, in college, by the time I first visited a pro-ana site. I was slowly, quietly slipping back from the “surviving” end of the health spectrum towards the “dying at an alarmingly faster rate than usual” side of things. I’d been drowning in the disease long enough that I wasn’t out looking for all those “tips and tricks” of the trade. I’d gotten them down quite well by then, thank you very much. No, my brain was out looking not for self-carving fuel but for the ever-so-slight-sense of thickening that is validation.

A very strange, warped sort of validation, sure.

But the sentiment was at least more self-affirming than eating disorders usually allow for.

I was struggling. And I wanted to embrace that struggle. Confirm it, I guess. I couldn’t go throwing my dysfunction at my friends – worrying other people was not what I was out for – but I wanted something that would strike some resonance in me, instead of just hollowing out further my ever-growing emptiness.

So I wandered my way through the pro-ana selection. Clicked through a few narratives. Poured over stories of other people’s decline into our shared brand of madness. Read about other people’s fasts and weight loss and body-whittling and mind-mangling.

And at the end of it, having glutted myself with proof of the vast existence of the disease, I felt… better.

Did I want to lose weight? Yes. Did I want thinner thighs? Sharpened collar bones? Yes. Did I want to feel the slow cloak of a self-destructing existence tighten even more around my suffocating life? You betcha.

But surprise, surprise – it’s because I’d already felt that way before.

I felt the same way, before and after perusing those pro-ana sites. But afterwards, those feelings, they felt less imminent. Less pressing. Less I-need-to-do-something-about-them-right-now.

Because while I still felt all those terrible, terrible things, I also felt less alone. Less strange. Less crazy. Less like something that had gone horribly, horribly wrong and was now an abomination compared to the rest of humanity.

I had been shown, in thousands and thousands of Google search results, that I was not the only one who felt this way.

“This way” was a complicated thing, too. Eating disorders are very much like abusive partners – you love them, you hate them, they do things for you in one area of your life while cutting you off from so many others. And somewhere along the line of the nauseating emotional flip-flop, you convince yourself that you can’t tell anyone else about it.

There, in those pro-eating disorder corners of the internet, you tell people about it.

And these people, they understand. Because they’ve got that abusive partner, too. They understand that you can’t “just leave.” They understand the good and the bad of it. They understand the hook. They understand the fear. They understand how to leave you, this broken thing making horrible decisions, feeling slightly less like someone who’s already dead. Validation. Empathy. And eye contact that doesn’t hold judgment or fear or condescension in it, because to them you are not some strange, sick, alien thing. You are them.

I’ve seen quite a few treatment professionals in my time. Therapists. Psychiatrists. Dietitians. Without them, I’d probably be dead now. I needed them, these people on the outside, in order to break out of the secluded, inwardly-collapsing world of my disorder. I needed them to call me out on my shit. I needed them to help show me what “better” was.

But kind and diligent and sympathetic as most of them were, those with only a clinical understanding of what I was going through could never really reach me when I crawled into the darkest of my brain’s corners. They had never been there, themselves. They didn’t know. Their attempts to pry me out often boiled down to essentially trying to shame me out of my darkened corner. Shame and guilt, as it turns out, are less than the best of incentives to use when fighting a disease of shame and guilt.

And yet I know that even still, I was one of the lucky ones. I had to fight my insurance tooth and nail for it, but I at least got treatment, and at the appropriate level of care for most of the time. I managed to find the centers with staff that actually knew what they were doing. I had enough of a support network around me that I could manage the luxury of garnering a team to help me fight my battle.

Not everyone has that ability. Not everyone has those friends. Or that money. Or the insurance. Or the time. Or the community resources. And even then, treatment – whether it’s due to the center or the staff or the structure of the health care system – fails a lot of people.

And so there is the internet.

The internet will not tell you that you are not recovering fast enough, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that you are recovering too quickly, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that there is no money, so you cannot enter treatment. The internet will not tell you that there are no treatment providers in your area, and so you cannot get help. The internet will not tell you that it is your mother, or your father, and you should just suck it up and stop disappointing them. The internet will not tell you that your pain makes no sense. The internet will not tell you that your pain is too much for it to hear, so you should just suck it up and pretend like nothing is wrong. The internet will not tell you that it does not understand.

The internet will tell you that it does understand, all too well.

And while yes, pro-ana and pro-mia websites will drive some people further into their disorder, if the websites didn’t exist, those people would still have found fuel for their decline elsewhere. Eating disorders will get what they need. It’s the people underneath them that don’t.

If pro-ana and pro-mia websites, these hosts of people’s shared pain, are so damn popular, it’s because they are better than those people’s current alternatives.

That is what we should be panicking about.

Don’t want so many pro-eating disorder sites? Until there are enough other accessible, effective resources to help people deal with what’s eating them alive, they’re going to stick around.

So give us something better.

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How Ke$ha Did Rehab Right

28 Jun

I don’t really do celebrity junk magazines. But I do invest a fair amount of my glancing power in eating disorder recovery-related Facebook feeds. And recently, Ke$ha’s been showing up a lot.

I adore Ke$ha as an artist. Her songs are bold and crazy and unapologetic, just like Ke$ha herself. The singer has always put out a very “be yourself and take no prisoners” vibe – which is why I was rather surprised when it went public earlier this year that she was going to rehab for an eating disorder.

Now, like I said, I don’t really keep up with celebrity gossip. I’m more interested in keeping up on the latest book chatter or marine biology news flashes, thank you very much. But maybe if I did stalk the stars like so many others, I would have known more about Ke$ha’s lapse and anticipated her entering treatment more. Maybe I would have seen the signs. Maybe I would have noticed the gossip columns abuzz with slurs about how the pop queen was looking “scary skinny.”

But honestly, I don’t think I would have. After having come across the first article mentioning Ke$ha’s entry to rehab (and holding that up as a model for others who might still be suffering silently), I did some research. By which I mean Googling.

Hey, I’m only human. We are creatures of curiosity.

But that Googling – well, it didn’t really turn up much. No descriptions of paparazzi’s having glimpsed Ke$ha’s rib cage or clavicle or whatever. No star-spirals-downward slurring. Just more of the same sort of bare posts, saying nothing more than that Ke$ha was going into treatment for an eating disorder. They didn’t even say which one.

And that, I think, is incredibly important.

Since leaving treatment, Ke$ha’s put out a few comments on her pre-rehab self and what motivated her entering treatment, but none of the comments that I’ve come across have talked at all about the physical specifics. Unlike so many other stars – and regular ol’ non-famous ED victims – Ke$ha doesn’t indulge in some sort of victorious litany of what her symptoms were, how skinny she got, how much she purged, or anything like that. All she says is that she wasn’t loving herself properly and wasn’t really confident in herself.

Thank – well, thank the stars. Finally, one of them who talks about what eating disorder are really about. They are not a disease of skinniness. They are not a disease of food. They are a disease of self-hatred. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, that is what goes on, in every single patient, underneath the physical symptoms.

I laud Ke$ha on focusing on what eating disorder recovery is really about: learning to take care of yourself and value doing so. Learning to love fighting for yourself, instead of fighting yourself. Finding contentment in being a whole person, instead of in stripping away your very existence.

Ke$ha could have talked specifics. She could have talked diagnosis, labels, numbers, gritty details that would have gone viral on gossip sites. But instead, she clamps down on the triggers and talks about what’s really important. It’s her recovery she promotes, not her eating disorder.

For the millions of adoring boys and girls hanging on her every word, that is so important. For the casual magazine browser at the grocery store check out, that is so important. For the eating disorder victims who are honestly really damn done having celebrity nonsense about our disorder thrown in our faces, that is so important.

For Ke$ha, who will still be fighting to keep her hold on recovery for a while, that is so important. She clearly invested herself in rehab; it’s good to see she’s doing recovery right, too.

I Do Not Want Excitement

25 Nov

excitement post image

I am probably not your typical twenty-something. I do not want excitement. I do not long for the rush of the big city, the adrenaline of packed boxes and a newly signed lease for a shared apartment seven cities away. I do not yearn for the clunking whir of train tracks rushing beneath me or an airplane engine revving to life under the wings. I do not seek the fast-paced, the tight-scheduled, the not-enough-time-but-hey-it-was-worth it.

No, I do not want excitement. I want to be fulfilled.

Now, I don’t mean – oh god, no way in hell do I mean the little-house-on-the-prairie kind of life. I do not want monotony. I do not want the same plodding expectable, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. Dear lord, I would go bat shit crazy.

I think, more correctly, perhaps, I should say that I want roots. I want ties that are stable but are not limiting, that support without restricting. You see, I’ve done the whole tear-yourself-away-from-everything-and-throw-yourself-upon-the-world thing. And it sucked.

Perhaps I was just forced upon it with the wrong footing. You see, every time I’ve been forced into an unexpected journey, a total life reorganization, it’s because I was sick. I had to pluck myself out of where I was and ship myself off to treatment, often without parental support or any idea where I was going. I just had to leave. That was all.

And then, when I returned, chose to come back to where I had left rather than stay in treatment longer because I felt that I learned what the journey had to teach me and my heart was aching for the friends I left behind, I realized, finally, that it is not a what or a where, a something doing or somewhere being that really define my happiness. Because, you see, I grow my roots in people.

And then they all graduated. Or went away, for some reason and for some time or other. My roots were torn up, leaving me gasping for air and starving for the water that had been holding me up. It’s hard to enjoy adventure, when you can feel yourself withering through the whole thing.

Excitement becomes mere pain, new becomes a strangeness that rubs and chafes the heart. Adventure is no high, wild dream but a slowly executed torture.

I do not mind exploring. I just want a home base to come back to. I want to know that there is still a place – even if that place is not so much somewhere tangible – where I can still know that I belong. I would not mind the packed boxes, the newly signed lease, the road trip, the excitement, the strangeness – as long as through it all, there’s a hand holding mine.

Because then, home becomes a place that can be carried with you.

Because then, home is the place where you are not empty, but fulfilled.

Because then, home is the place where you are not alone.

What Happens When You Have Facebook Friends from Treatment

12 Nov

There’s something about having facebook friends from treatment. It’s an odd sort of dynamic, because I don’t think other people have it, those people that haven’t sat in a room full of twelve other girls and shared their deepest secrets and cried their eyes out in front of all of them, and then moved on and discharged and never talked to a single one of those twelve other girls ever again.

Sure, maybe we’ll do the occasional photo “like” when it randomly shows up in our feed. But if that photo contains any portion of the body of that girl from treatment, that’s when the scrutiny begins.

Are they fatter? Do they look like they’ve lost weight? Can you still see the little pudge of skin between their breasts and their arms? Are their cheek bones showing more than when you last saw them? How about the collar bones? And the color in their face? Are their arms still carrying the appropriate amount of flab, or do they look like they’ve gotten a little bloated from purging again? Were they brave enough to instagram a pic of their meal? Are they still calling attention the fact that oh man, they ordered fries? Or have they gone a little food-crazy on their wall, posting pictures of ever-increasing portion sizes you worry they haven’t even noticed?

Where are they in this love affair with starvation and stuffing?

You haven’t seen or talked to them in six months. But because their new profile picture popped up as you scrolled through the detritus of other people’s lives, you stop and wonder all that, in a matter of mere microseconds.

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you hurriedly flick your mouse pad or your down arrow key, because for all that work you did learning to deal with feelings, this picture of someone you cried your eyes out to and then never talked to again – and who, identically, never talked to you – this picture makes you just a little too uncomfortable.

But still, even if you ignore it, there is something to being facebook friends with girls from treatment. Because even if you ignore it, even if you shove that image that flashed across your retina and branded you once again with feelings you thought you could choose to ignore, the question will still be there. It will still nag, day in and day out, at that part of your brain that remembers sitting that room crying your eyes out in front of those twelve other girls.

How are they doing?