Crumbling Stigma

STIGMA. “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”

When I first planned this post, I was so sure and excited to share it. But as this week drew near, I became increasingly hesitant & nervous; because the stigma is very real, and there is a very real risk on negative responses. 
I’ve been battling the insecure voices whispering “no one cares about this,” “this account is just for baked goods,” “people might judge you,” or “people just want to see cakes and cookies.” But, while some of those may be true, this post isn’t for those people. This post is for people like me, who have or are struggling with an eating disorder; for those who have felt, or currently feel, alone in that struggle due to the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds it.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I’ve had a feeling in my gut to share my past struggle with you. That this post is meant to help someone in their journey, as it would’ve helped me in mine. I felt called to help crumble the stigma, to help support the #ComeAsYouAre campaign, to share that eating disorders don’t discriminate, that they affect people of any race, gender, shape, size, and circumstance, myself included.

My eating disorder did not start intentionally. In college, I experienced stressed induced GI issues which caused me to get sick after nearly every meal resulting in a minor weight loss. I underwent dozens of tests with no successful diagnosis/treatment while also struggling with deep rooted insecurities, and negative self image, so I was drawn to the idea of being able to seek comfort in food without weight-gain and thus began to intentionally purge. I believed I was in control, but it quickly became a habit/addiction to which I was a slave. I felt broken, full of shame, and utterly alone in that struggle when I so desperately wanted to be seen and be free from it's control. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about my eating disorder, because of the stigma surrounding it, it’s not something we talk about in society other than being stigmatized in TV. 

There were a few months in my senior year that I stopped, sheer determination to not feel broken kept me from purging, but the weight gain broke me down and I relapsed. It wasn’t until a few years later that I began my recovery journey, around the time my brother asked me about it. He addressed it out of concern for my health, identifying eating disorders as a dangerous medical condition, and that I could ask for help if I wasn't ok. Of course I denied having an eating disorder at first, but after that one email I no longer felt invisible and alone in my struggle. That email gave me the courage to seek help, (though it still took a few weeks to admit to my brother that yes, I was struggling with an eating disorder.) 

As I healed, and addressed the root of my insecurities, I began to open up to family and friends. But it wasn’t until the past year or two that I’ve felt comfortable being more open about my past, and sharing my struggle. Even now, having been fully recovered for a while (I honestly haven't kept track of how long), I am still intimidated by the stigma, the fear of not being accepted, of being seen & treated differently--you’ll notice that even throughout this post, I’ve shied away from naming it, because saying “eating disorder” carries a LITTLE less stigma than saying “I’ve struggled with bulimia.” A statement that makes me quickly want to follow up with the statement “I've never shoved my fingers down my throat to purge.” Why? Because of the stigma, because of how bulimia is portrayed and presented to the world. I feel the need to rationalize and normalize it, to explain myself so that I'm accepted. Talking about bulimia (and eating disorders in general) makes people uncomfortable, which prevents someone from seeking help. 

But, I remind myself that any negative response to my story doesn’t matter. I remind myself of how alone I felt and how my story could help someone else in their journey to recovery. So even though I will always be aware of the risk for relapse, and I avoid my triggers, my eating disorder bulimia is not who I am and it doesn’t define me, but rather it is a chapter in my story of becoming the woman I am.

I’m not sharing this for pity or reassurance, I’m sharing this because when I was in the depths of my struggle, if I had seen a post like this, I would’ve felt less alone, less shame, less guilt, and less brokenness. I would’ve felt like I was seen by someone as more than my eating disorder, and I likely would’ve sought help sooner. In fact, the vulnerability of a former classmate sharing a post regarding shame and an unhealthy relationship with food, that made me think “maybe I’m not alone,” and sparked the desire for healing & recovery, opening the door for me to hear my brother’s concern. That. That is why I’m sharing. To help even just one person feel less alone in their struggle, (eating disorder or other).

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