Today is the second day of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDA Week) 2013. The Theme for this year is “Everybody Knows Somebody”. Eating disorders are widespread illnesses and can affect anyone regardless of age, race or gender. This week I am going to focus my blog on eating disorder awareness, what it is like to have an eating disorder and share some bits of my own journey. To learn more about eating disorder please visit the NEDA’s website.
Scientists can’t say for certain what causes eating disorders whoever a common phrase used by clinicians is “genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger”. It’s true some people are more genetically predisposed to having an eating disorder. According to The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness if a woman has a mother or sister with an eating disorder they are twelve times more likely to have one. Their are also certain personality traits that seem to indiciate that people could be more at risk. Again, The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness indendifies these traits as “depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and personality disorders.” Then add society and it’s preoccupation with a standard of beauty that revolves around perfection and thinness and many women and men fall victim to eating disorders.
My own history with an eating disorder follows many of these identified causes. Here is how my eating disorder began:
There was a pouch on my stomach. I grabbed at it while I sat on the couch and frowned. Why was it there? I was starting 7th grade in a few weeks and I was terrified to be going to a new school and moving on from elementary school and into the world of homework, multiple teaches, bells, passing periods and lockers not to mention cheerleaders and dance teams. I hardly expected myself to be popular. I only wanted to escape unnoticed into the halls and not repeat the bulling that had followed me since first grade.
That lump. Why was it there? Why could it possibly be there? Why was it on my stomach. Could I have a tumor? It wasn’t unheard of. Teens, preteens died all the time. I had read about it in those Lurlene Mcdaniel books. A lot of people got cancer. A lot of people had tumors. That was it. I had a tumor on my stomach.
The next few days passed in a blur of worry and anxiety. I was constantly grabbing at the pouch at my stomach and I had begun to panic in earnest telling my family that I was going to die. I had a tumor. Look at it. Look at my stomach. My stomach had always been flat. As flat as a pancake. I had little shape. I was skinny. It was always the first thing people identified about me. So to have a pouch? Well, it had to be cancer after all stomach’s were flat. They didn’t have pouches on them.
My 7th grade physical arrived much too soon. I hated physicals. They required taking off your clothes and standing there in those paper thin gowns while the doctor made you do all sorts of silly tests. I usually saw a male pediatrician but for my physical I always saw the female in the office.
I hate these things. I was sitting on the hard bed waiting for the doctor to leave so I could put my clothes back on. I was cold and embarrassed and wanted to escape into the 100* weather and go back to riding bikes with my brother and cousin. My mother sat in the chair beside me and we were waiting for the doctor to finishing marking off the requisite checks on the form the school required.
“She thinks she has a tumor”
“What?” The doctor turned around and eyed me. I wanted to shrink even further back into the wall.
“She has a pouch on her stomach and she thinks it’s a tumor. Will you please tell her it’s not”. My mother’s voice was tinged with annoyance.
The doctor sighed obviously irritated to deal with a twelve year old hyperchoicardic. I was embarrassed but also relieved I didn’t want to die and I had been to embarrassed to ask her about the pouch.
So I lied down. Her hands were cold even through my gown as she probed my stomach. Suddenly she started laughing.
“It’s fat. You’re developing fat. You don’t have a tumor you’re simply developing fat. When did you start your period?”
“A few months ago”
“Well your body is catching up. That’s not a tumor. That’s fat. You had beter get used to it”.
We left after that. But I wasn’t relieved in fact I was more upset than if it had been a tumor. I would have preferred hearing I would die that hearing I had fat and it would only continue. And so in my own way I set about doing exactly that.