06.30.2017 // Stigma Stops Treatment; Stop Stigma
There's a reason that getting eating disorder treatment is so hard, duh. If there wasn’t one then it would be a whole lot of confused advocates out there, but this reason goes beyond the logistic view. It’s the mental side of the mental health issue because of course, we’re not struggling enough with the mental side of the disease.
I remember the first time I walked into my first support group. I was diagnosed (formally) about a month earlier, and was in screaming matches almost every night since then with my parents around meals times. Exhausted, and tired of saying, “I’ll go next week”, I decided to actually let my Mom drag me to the support group. Of course, I was in complete denial of the fact that I had a disease.
Walking into the group I initially sized up every person in there, what were they like? How big were they? What did I look like in comparison? I didn’t let myself think about the positive things that people were saying, didn’t even say a word the entire support group except for my name. I don’t think I even let myself acknowledge the fact that everyone in that room was struggling like me. It wasn’t something that I wanted to think was even a tangible thing, and these people who struggled, made it even more real, it was really happening.
The saddest part is I distinctly remember people saying their wins for the week, the challenges they faced and overcame, and I thought how I never wanted to be in that place. I didn’t want to accept that things were a challenge for me, I tried to make myself believe that I simply didn’t like those things, nothing was wrong. I remember seeing people happy and speaking in unison with my eating disorder when I thought, how could they be okay like this, they must be weak. Little did I know how strong they were.
It was so hard for me to accept my illness because of the way that anorexics and people with eating disorders and mental health issues, in general, are perceived. I didn’t want to be the sick one. I didn’t want to be the “crazy” person in my friend group, in my family. I didn’t want to actually accept the fact that instead of going to a concert with my friends that night, I was “so weak” that I had to come to a support group to do the thing that people do every day without an issue, live.
Good old debilitating stereotypes and stigma aside, there was also the fact that eating disorders are manipulating bitches with more hidden agendas than the US Congress. As a restricted my caloric intake, ran an insane amount (and subsequently got my heart rate down to 11 beats per minute above cardiac rest), I still listened to the voice that said I wasn’t that bad. I didn’t talk to my best friends like I used to, I was terrified of going out with friends for dinner, going for a day without a run, or even sitting down for more than a minute; but it didn’t matter to my eating disorder, I “wasn’t like people who are really sick.”
Don’t wait until you are “too sick” to get help because there is NO such thing as being too sick with an eating disorder. You will never be too sick for your eating disorder to want to get help. One of the people I was in treatment told us a story once that even when she was in a hospital be because of her eating disorder with people telling her how she was close to dying, the eating disorder was still telling her how she was still “fine”.
I wish beyond anything that the people who are struggling don’t have to go through what I, and so many other people, had to go through to finally take the first step to get help. There is NO shame in getting help. Accepting that you have a mental illness does not make you weak or less of a person (example a me, like hello I’m fabulous). The second I was strong enough to finally accept that I was struggling, I found so many people like me who were also struggling. It’s not like it’s such a big secret anymore, people are struggling with mental illness.
We have to learn how to deal with it as a society and not stigmatize it as much to help create a place where people can actually feel comfortable reaching out for help. I was scared because of judgement, and also because I didn’t want to have those negative connotations that came along with being the “sick one”. Guess what though? Those are all stereotypes we created that are not real in the least. The people I have met who are battling everyday are the strongest people I know. From ER nurses, yoga teachers, cops, students, moms, dads, and every other kind of independent, kind person you can find out in the world, you can find that they also struggle with a mental illness in some capacity. Just because you are sick does not mean you are the negative stereotype we hear, if you are sick, please know this - you are not alone. There are more people than you could imagine out there who can relate to you. And most importantly, you are NOT weak for getting help. In fact, telling that bitch inside your head that you’ve had enough of its shit, and accepting that it’s is so biologically and mentally ingrained in you that you need help beyond your own self, is the bravest thing that you can do.
TORONTO - Sheena's Place is also a fantastic resource for people struggling with eating disorders, and Stella's Place is an amazing space for people with mental illness struggles (free support groups and counselling).
NATIONAL - Mental Health Helpline