Sunday, January 3, 2016
Through my online studies—I have been learning about various types and causes of anxiety. One part of my course led me into an in depth study on eating disorders. Thankfully, I now have a clearer understanding of the inner turmoil my daughter, Heather, suffered, in regards to her bulimia, prior to coming out gay.
Throughout my study—Heather and I had discussions about how there’s a stigmatic myth that keeps many in the dark with regards to their eating disorders. We also discussed how this myth needs to be exposed so others can feel more comfortable in seeking the help that they need.
Recently—I did a question/answer discussion with Heather pertaining to her bulimia; a window view of a difficult period in her life. And she has agreed to let me share her personnel story on my blog and Facebook, in the hopes that it may help others know that they are not alone.
Heather, at what age did you become bulimic?
I’m not sure there is an official start date to an eating disorder. For me—it was a culmination from years of shame, of my true self, that lead up to an expression. And this expression was in the form of bulimia. But, in many ways, the ball started rolling around the age of 12.
What do you feel caused your eating disorder?
I don’t feel there was one specific item that caused my eating disorder, but rather a gathering of items that I had brushed off for years. I knew I was different, and so did my friends, even at a young age. But we just chalked it up to me being “artsy.” I believe my fear of being open and honest lead to an innate need to find some sort of control, in a life, where I felt I had absolutely none. And an eating disorder gives you your own distorted world of control.
Were you experiencing anxiety at the time? And if so, why?
Yes, my anxiety was directly related to the fear of what I could not name. In my specific instance—it was naming the fact that I was a lesbian and all that goes along with that. It was the struggle with wanting to be true to myself and the pressure to be everything else that was contrary to my inner being. My expression of what it meant to be female in a world that pushes very hard on what an expectable version of that is.
Did you tell any of your closest friends about your eating disorder?
During that time, I was closest to my (then “friend”) wife. During that time of darkness, I found her. Somehow, it’s honestly an absolute miracle that we found each other in the most unlikely place: Bible College. But there she was, the person I could be 200% my true self with. The person who would prove to me that all the other people I feared, the people I couldn’t be real with, would also surprise me. She helped me open up to my best friend back home as well as the man I was engaged to, a young man who was also aware of my “struggle.” In many ways, it was a place for me to hide, as an excuse, for my odd behaviour and my distance from him.
How has your eating disorder affected your life?
I am lucky. The harm on my body was only a year and a half, at max, at its worse. Though, there were stints of extreme unhealthy minimal eating prior to that. Beyond that, it has affected my permanent relationship with food. Most people assume that because I’m no longer binging and purging that I’m cured, though, much like alcoholism, there is no true “cure” but rather a resistance built up. Over time, my strength has become stronger and my relationship with food has become more and more healthier, even though I still have unhealthy urges and tendencies that I need to keep in check, because if I’m not truly focused on taking care of myself, it’s easy for me to go a day without eating.
Do you feel you have control over your eating disorder today?
Yes – I do. I owe that to myself and my faith. I know myself, and I understand what I need to do, day in and day out, to keep myself in check.
What advice do you have for young women who may be struggling with an eating disorder today?
People need to stop their focus on stopping the issue and looking beyond that. It’s all about the cause. We also need to be aware that for each person the reason and reaction may be entirely different. And I think having more open avenues for young women to express their discomfort, be it with their body image or their self-expression, we need to promote a mass acceptance as difference, and not only acceptance, but a push to promote difference, as beauty.
It took great courage and vulnerability for Heather to share her story. For her—bulimia was a control mechanism that she used to temporarily slay her inner turmoil, which had been building throughout her teenage life.
However, there's not a one-size-fits-all for the different types of eating disorders. And it doesn’t matter what the reasons are for falling into the trap of harmful practices to one’s body. What matters is that we open the window, let the arms of support come in, and help others back on track. Through open dialogue, in a safe and non-judgement setting, individuals can then expose the root cause(s) for their unhealthy behaviour and move toward healing the body, soul, and mind.