Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Plug for NEDAwareness

This week is NEDAwareness week (National Eating Disorder Awareness). 

You probably didn't know that. I just found out a couple of years ago.

It's interesting, today there seems to be a week/month dedicated to awareness for pretty much everything. Ignorance makes them easy to cast aside and ignore - yet isn't that the primary purpose behind many of these awareness periods? To build support and help the unknowledgeable become aware of and hopefully understand what someone else might be going through?

I thought about posting a picture of myself during my anorexic years, when I was at a weight that makes me shudder to think about today. But I think it is unnecessary. Would seeing a picture of a super-skinny me really help others understand the claws of this disease? More likely it would cause a response of pity, or questions about how could I not see how thin I was. But that is exactly the problem. I didn't see how badly I was hurting my body and the layperson (or even my parents) didn't understand how I could not.

The only way I can think to describe it is like when you stand before one of those fun house mirrors. Outsiders who are looking at you see your real size and shape, while you, looking in the mirror, see a distorted image - only in your mind it's not distorted at all. For me, ED was like a poison seeping into all aspects of my life. It affected my school, home, and spiritual lives - even before I knew what was going on. 

The hardest part is the recognition that part of the disease is self-inflicting. Notice that I said part. Recovering from ED only partially involves gaining weight (this was in my case - remember eating disorders can effect those of all shapes and sizes, it is not only the super thin that may be struggling with  an unhealthy relationship with food or distorted body image), the other part is learning to break free of the mental control ED exercises. Eating disorders are a disease.

I'm lucky. Today there are still times where I struggle with anorexic thoughts, but I'm blessed to have a solid support system that has helped me heal enough to be able to recognize those thoughts and identify them as wrong and deceiving.

I'm also scared.

There are so many women who are infected with the disease and the age in which girls seem to becoming body conscious is getting younger and younger. It would take me only a moment to list off a dozen girls I know who do/have struggled with an eating disorder. Some are doing well, while others are on a multi-year journey that never seems to end. Sometimes I catch myself (when interacting with someone with ED) just wanting to shake them and say - "I know this is hard - I KNOW, but you have to believe me....things are so much better on the other side. The first couple of pounds are the hardest, but it gets so much easier to love yourself and love life again!"  But even if I did that they probably wouldn't believe me, I know because people told me the same thing, and I told them they were wrong.

You can do something.

If you are a mother/aunt/big sister/big cousin/mentor, etc.: 

1. Watch how you talk about your body and others bodies in front of young girls (and even older ones!). You are a model for someone younger and your dissatisfaction in your own body or criticism of others can make significant imprints on a younger woman.

2. Watch how you talk about dieting - we live in a society that always has some get-thin-fast scheme. Rather, focus on emphasizing a healthy balance of eating and exercising.

3. Emphasize that true worth and beauty comes from having a relationship with Christ - there is nothing more important than a recognition that we were created in the image of God, and he makes NO mistakes.

4. Watch for warning signs - if you have a friend, daughter, cousin, sibling, etc. that begins to exhibit concerning behavior/attitudes, confront it right away - don't let things go further!

5. Pray. Pray for those you know are struggling and pray for the vulnerable women/girls in your own life. Physical illnesses are often emphasized to pray for healing for, but the truth is that we cannot forget those who are struggling mentally as well! They need just as many prayers!

And if you are struggling with an eating disorder - know that you are not alone, that you are loved for who you are - not by what your size is. Tell someone what is going on and seek help! Feel free to contact me as well (my email is under the "contact" tab). Part of my healing happened when I talked to others and learned how they had made it through and handled triggers - other times it just helped to have someone listen who really knew what it felt like.

There is another reason I didn't post that picture of me at my lowest weight - it's because it simply hurts too much. 

I'm happy where I am today and know that my experience with ED has helped shape me, but when I think about 16-year-old Julianne my heart hurts. When I think of the tears she shed of confusion,  loneliness, and loss I want to hold her in my arms and tell her that everything is going to be alright. And when I see pictures of her it is my fervent prayer that my daughters, nieces, and friends never experience what she did.

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