In a world where media plays such an important role in forming perceptions and schemas for understanding, we are often fragmented by the ways it misleads and distorts. In the pursuit of shiny things, I have been trying to focus on what is right. I’m a bit of an empath- hard-wired to feel in certain ways and sensitive to the downfalls and destructive qualities of an environment that strongly affects my nature. As aware as I am to that which seems scary or upsetting, I am able to pick up on and really embrace that which is extraordinary. As vulnerable as I am to feeling the pain of my surroundings, I am equally as susceptible to be entirely moved by a kind deed or a sunny day. Just as much as the recent, incredibly unusual snowfall has pushed against my mood, the idea of warm weather and lying on the beach literally makes me smile and feel giddy.
With these shiny reflections in conjunction with an understanding of the role of the media, National Eating Disorder Awareness week has struck me this year as a significant and outstanding example of the opportunities presented to make that role advantageous to our society. With social networking and mass marketing at such a peak, the platforms given to the public on which ideas are spread is key to our growth. If we sit back and shake our heads at the distortions spread, without equally doling out our truth, we submit to the downfall of humanity. We let the dark win. Paradoxically, if we find these moments as opportunities, we allow a whole new level of knowledge to find its place in the minds of the widespread readers that are literally at the tips of each and every one of our fingers. We have the power to make it shiny.
So, after that rant, I’m taking NEDA week as a chance to spread my truths. It’s unfortunate that what can often be spread on this week are potentially triggering posts with sick pictures and false messages, but what needs to be heard are the facts, which are so, so important and so rarely talked about beyond the eating disorder community.
The fact of the matter is that eating disorders are devastating illnesses that have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yet, every time a person dies of an eating disorder, it is a preventative death. Recovery, though it takes time, commitment, and lots of people to support the individual on the path, is 100% possible and necessary in order to survive and truly experience life. Eating disorders are often seen as attention-driven, about “control”, and image-oriented, yet the truth is that they are complex mental illnesses that derive more from places where self-worth, self-love, and self-acceptance are lacking. The journey to heal oneself, thus, cannot be measured only through the numbers on a scale, nor by any other physical standard. Eating disorders are biopsychosocial disorders, stemming from various environmental, biological, and mental factors and triggers and, therefore, the road to recovery must be holistic and take into account the progress the person makes in all levels of their life.
There is no perfect path, imperfection is a quality that must be accepted in this process, and it applies to the recovery process, as well. One cannot foresee where these roads will take us, and often the various sections of healing do not happen at the same pace or time. Physical, mental, and emotional transformations happen over time and, though they go hand-in-hand in their necessity, are not always in similar places of evolution. Bodies do not always tell our stories. Eating disorders can’t always be seen in a person’s weight. Similarly, when a person is weight-restored, their mind and thoughts may not be healthy, yet. Though each piece takes its own amount of time, and there is no timeline for recovery; though each each person’s eating disorder looks different, as does their recovery; though there is no one fix for all, one thing that is true for every person with an eating disorder is that they can get better.
Just as it is so important to spread awareness and share the truth, it is so crucial to keep hope. When a mental illness appears, it can often feel hopeless, but treatment is necessary and the exposure and understanding is the only way to get through to the other side. The fact of the matter is that statistics prove that each person who reads this knows someone, whether they realize it or not, who suffers from an eating disorder. It is a widespread disorder and it does not discriminate. Eating disorders flourish in secrecy, but words are powerful and recovery is real.
NEDA week is a time to learn, a time to exercise our ability to share and express, and it is a time to see the truth. Every day is a chance to change and change is possible. I’ve seen it and I’m working towards it.