Here’s a Friday afternoon challenge for you, to get you revved up for the Sunday crossword. Can you guess which of these is a conversation with a medical professional and which isn’t?
Me: So, I was wondering if you could help me. I’ve been recovering from an eating disorder for the past five years, and while I’m now at a healthy place I’m gaining more weight than I might like. I don’t think my current diet really explains how quickly it’s coming on.
X: Hmm. Well, if you’re eating what you say you’re eating, that doesn’t really add up. Do you have thyroid problems?
X: Do you think you might have a problem with night eating and you don’t know about it?
Me: You mean, do I eat in my sleep?
Me: Uh, no.
X: Are you pregnant?
Me: *double-take* Am I pregnant?
X: Is there a possibility that you’re pregnant?
Me: Uh, no.
X: I’m not sure, then. Maybe try eating some brown rice with your vegetables, to shake up your metabolism. And work out less.
Me: That’s all?
X: Sorry I don’t have better answers. But you’re crying now? You look really upset. Have you considered how big of a problem this is in your life? It’s taking up more of your emotional energy than it should. I don’t understand why you’re so emotional right now.
Me: I’m really upset that I’ve become weight-restored after dealing with all of this, but I can’t seem to slow down the weight gain. I’m so frustrated that there’s nothing I can do.
Y: I know you’re frustrated. Objectively, you look fine, but I know that you want to be able to slow down your weight gain and maintain the healthy place you’re in now. We’ll see what we can figure out.
Me: So you have no idea what’s causing this? Because it doesn’t make any sense.
Y: No, I’ve got to admit I don’t. But I’ll make sure you get an appointment with a doctor who knows your history and can give you the answers that you’re looking for. You’re doing everything right, and you need to hang in there until we can get this all sorted out.
Did you guess?
Conversation One was the condensed version of my most recent appointment with a nutritionist, who I consulted in the hopes of forging a weight-maintenance diet and exercise plan. Conversation Two was my father, who has no experience in medicine or body image issues other than talking with me.
And then I get asked why I’m not interested in therapy.
I’m not against the idea of getting a treatment team behind you in the recovery process. Actually, I’ve wished I had a treatment team consistently over the past five years. A group of professionals who could answer all the pressing questions I had about what was going on with my body, who would be there to help me overcome and understand my feelings, who I would know constantly were on my side. I tried five different therapists, two nutritionists, a slew of medication from my GP… I even signed up for group therapy (the group leader rejected my application, but that’s a different story.)
And yet, here I am at the end of the day, on the phone with my dad.
What is it about eating disorders that sends the medical field fleeing to the hills? Maybe I’m biased because I’m experiencing it from the inside, but it seems like it shouldn’t be that difficult to know what one should simply not say to someone with problems with weight and food. You know, things like, “Do you think you could be pregnant?” Or “If you’re not going to be more honest with me, you’re never going to get better.” Or “Good to see you’ve got a little more meat on your bones.” Or “Have people told you that your thinness scares them?”
Yep. I’ve heard it all.
Why don’t those of us struggling with eating disorders turn to professionals for help? Naturally, there’s the stigma of trying to explain to friends and family that you have a mental disorder. It doesn’t get the same reaction as telling them that you have cancer. If I came out and said that I had leukemia, my peers might feel uncomfortable, nervous, and sad, but they would not try to write it off as “narcissism.” I wouldn’t have gotten cancer as “a plea for attention,” or because I was “too stupid to know when to stop dieting.” I would not be told to “get over” my cancer and to just make my cells start reproducing normally again.
Eating disorders are diseases, but they are also condemnations. They are seen as something we should have stopped.
We should have known better.
And then there’s the yawning gap between what we need and what so many professionals are able to give us. We reach out for help, and we are judged and slapped back down and our questions go unanswered because we are too ashamed to ask them. We retreat back into silence, screaming into pillows because they, at lest, won’t tell us to just get over it.
Still, I’m not giving up that easily. I’m not ready to resign myself to a life of non-answers and stigma. I’m going to find out what’s going on with my body right now, and I’m going to sync it with my mind once and for all.
It’s my body, after all. I’m the one that has to live in it. The least I can do is make it comfortable.