Area Woman Battles Hidden Condition
By The Den's Emily Aker
Emily will be writing for Greenbear The Den if you have questions for Emily contact her at email@example.com and your questions and comments will be forwarded to her.
Emily's Own Story
If you had passed by me just three years ago, you would have suspected something was wrong. You would have questioned whether my size was normal. You might have asked yourself if maybe I was sick and suffering from some sort of disease. I was sick, but it was no disease.
A major thing I’d say to people is that the sufferer has not chosen to have an eating disorder. This is slow suicide and simply telling them to eat will never be the cure. Mental disorders are complicated, complex, and there is not an easy fix. The one thing an outsider can do to help is speak up. Do not keep mental disorders in the dark. A conversation needs to start and continue about mental disorders.
As a second grader, I became very aware of how my body looked in comparison to the other girls my age. From that point on, whenever I looked in the mirror I criticized every single part of my body. Never did anyone ever tell me explicitly that I was fat. Never did a doctor appointment end with a discussion about being “overweight”. For some reason, between the ages of eight and thirteen, I began to base my self-worth on what I looked like and I was not happy with my image.
Eventually, that low self-esteem, perfectionism, and lack of self-worth manifested itself into an eating disorder. It started out as a diet. I cut out things until I was only consuming fruit on a daily basis. I began increasing the amount I exercised until I was spending a total of eight hours a day in motion.
The diagnosis of anorexia nervosa came the beginning of high school. That began my treatment journey: trips in and out of psychiatric wards, multiple different therapists, and residential treatment. Our community knew something was up, but the extent of what was wrong was unknown to many. This was a battle between my mother, myself, and a vicious inner voice telling me that I was nothing unless I was thin. When I went off to college, the battle became too much to fight on my own. I gave in to the voice telling me that even at 80 pounds, I still wasn’t thin enough. One night, my body gave up. For a moment I headed toward a light until a voice called me back. I was admitted into my last residential treatment a few months later.
Eating disorders are mental disorders no one talks about, yet over 30 million people in the United States suffer from some form of eating disorder. Those struggling often do so in secret. It is messy, it is scary, and it is so confusing to people who are not familiar with the disorder. Now, on the other side of the struggle, I am doing everything in my ability to bring awareness and erase the stigma around eating disorders. Presentations in high schools, starting a NEDA walk in Fort Wayne, and writing and publishing my personal story are what I have done thus far to bring the realities of eating disorders into the light. Still, many people ask questions such as what my experience was like and how I got an eating disorder. For these questions, I have the following answers.
First of all, when I am explaining a mental disorder to someone I remind them that a mental disorder does not define the sufferer. They are not their mental disorder and are a unique human being just like anyone else.
Secondly, I explain that an eating disorder is recognized by the sufferer as a separate voice in their head. That voice is their inner critic, a traumatic memory from their past, or the voice of society. The voice tells the sufferer what they are and what they are not. You are fat, you are worthless, you will never amount to anything, no one loves you, you have no self-control, you suck, etc. The voice also determines the rules of how the sufferer is to live in order to become the image of perfection. Some are ordered to over-exercise, some are told certain foods are off limits, some are told that if they don’t do something a certain way then they will never reach perfection. This voice becomes a part of the sufferer to where they cannot distinguish what voice is the disorder and what voice is their own conscience.
Thirdly, I explain that these people absolutely need treatment. The problem most people run into, sadly, is the access to treatment is barred to almost 90% of people suffering from an eating disorder. Many people never receive the treatment needed due to cost. On average, a patient is recommended to remain in residential treatment a minimum of ten weeks. Residential treatment costs a whopping $1,000 a day, and most insurance companies will only provide coverage for 30 of the 70 days. There are more and more resources becoming available to people seeking inpatient treatment including scholarships and grants provided by various eating disorder organizations.
For more information on eating disorders and what research is currently being done, visit the NEDA website. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.