Now As A Recovering Anorexic
This is an incredibly intimidating article to write as, well, I’m doing both now, aren’t I?
I would say I’m an incredibly lucky individual, throughout my life I never felt truly afraid for my bisexuality, my school was overwhelmingly positive in regard to allyship and throughout my time at uni I’ve felt such an embracing community, so when recently in my ED recovery I started running into these emotional walls I found it intriguing how much they coincided with the often less fortunate coming out experiences of the LGBT+ community.
I feel it important that I say I am in no way wanting to invalidate either group in this article I am more hoping to use these experiences, which are both isolating for individuals, as a way of showing the struggles for a disorder which is still so misunderstood. I am very aware this comparison will fall flat in many aspects and it needs to be said and made very clear that being LGBT+ is absolutely not a mental illness or disorder and should never be seen as one. I realised that there are four significant ways in which the experience of “coming out” is so like that of being open about an ED.
Firstly, something I’ve noticed recently becoming recovered enough to socialise more with not just my closest of friends, and that is you get a peek behind the curtain. Sometimes you hear the body shaming, family diets and weight loss talk. Other times it’s the meals they’ll skip or the "overeating" they’ll do.
And even if all comments like these come from an inoffensive place and your friends are deeply caring individuals and don’t realise the depth of what they are reiterating it does leave you with the thought “This is what people really think” and worse it’ll leave your ED saying “This is normal, you’re not supposed to eat the amount you need”.
Of course, though, secondly, you could say something and be the activist - an infamously adored character. All sarcasm aside however, this route requires no small amount of strength. Just as in trying to defend gay marriage in a homophobic class when you were in the closet. You are defending the man on trial all the while people not realising you are said man. And most of the time, you’re secretly thinking the man deserves it. While I could start to explain to a friend as to why they shouldn’t skip breakfast, for so many reasons, what if they come back with something I can’t defend? How does that translate to me, apart from the fact that I have been actively prescribed three meals a day.
Thirdly, the sheer invalidation, claiming an identity though you feel you are so far away from being a "proper" one. If you are anorexic, you will never be sick or small enough, that is the disease by its nature. This is for so long the reason as to why I can’t tell people. It doesn’t matter what significant health issues, hospital records, just turmoil there is to show for it. While this is naturally a part of the illness there needs to be greater education in this regard, while anorexia is not the most common it has the highest mortality rate amongst all psychiatric disorders (including the ~50% not classified as underweight). It has been shown that life threatening pulse rates, blood pressures, and these deaths are not correlated with BMI. I can say from experience that numerous health issues do not miraculously improve once you are no longer clinically "underweight". If you are still only imagining an emaciated individual when you picture anorexia you are contributing to this stigma.
But fourthly, the "What if I told someone?". How will people now act around you, how will they look at you? What will they think when they see you eat, or about what you eat, that you look too comfortable? Will people now feel uncomfortable eating around you? The last thing any good friend wants to do is make their friends uneasy. But where is the line, would you not tell your friends you’d broken your leg? Would some friends more than others ask to help, would others be completely unfazed, might some possibly be thinking “Oh I bet they’re lying about it” or “Don’t know how I feel walking around them considering, you know, their leg”. I truly hope not.
Now it must be said that what I’d hope for most of us in this environment is that “coming out” in this way will be taken well. Friends will still see you the same, just possibly understand certain aspects of you more, and maybe the unfortunate fact will remain that they can say the wrong things, but now conversations will be so much easier, and the secrecy that this illness thrives on, even in recovery, will fade.
Image: Zhivko Minko, Unsplash