I’m a UNICORN!
Okay, I know, that’s not actually true. I know I’m not so unique and magical that there is nobody else in the world like me. There are actually lots of folks out there who are like me in any number of ways. It’s not the individual traits that make me unique, it’s the combination that you’ll find in me that’s a bit different than most other people in my situation.
I’m talking about people who are in recovery from an eating disorder. In addition to being in treatment for binge eating disorder, I am a grandparent, I am 43 years old, and I used to be a personal trainer and nutrition specialist.
I’ll give you a minute to read that over again.
Yes, I am 43 and a grand mother – that’s odd. Add to that the whole used to be in the fitness industry and now in treatment for an eating disorder and it sounds like a game of mix-and-match where nobody remembered that the pieces need to be able to match.
The strangest fact in all of that, to me, is the fact that I have an eating disorder. I suppose that is likely because it’s the newest piece of the puzzle, and I’m just beginning to know more about what that means for me. I have a difficult time, sometimes, trusting that people will believe that about me.
I know that it doesn’t matter if people believe me or not. It’s just a fact. I have binge eating disorder, and someone’s disbelief won’t make it no longer a fact.
But that wasn’t always my attitude. When I was contemplating looking for help with my mental illness, those facts, (that I am 43, a grandmother, and was a fitness professional) were the centre of an internal debate that went on for weeks.
The stereotypical image of someone with an eating disorder is a caucasian female in her teens to early twenties who looks underweight. And the only thing about that image that sounds like me is that I’m a female and I’m caucasian. It sounds a bit trivial to say it, but that was enough to keep me from wanting to get help for my disorder, despite the fact that the stereotypical image that I had of someone with an eating disorder was really just so inaccurate. I was afraid that to say out loud the things that were going through my mind when I thought about my body and who I am. I was afraid that people would think that it was impossible for me to have those thoughts or feelings because those are eating disorder thoughts and feelings, and I didn’t look like an underweight young woman that we so often picture when we hear the words “eating disorder”. I was afraid I would be labelled a liar.
There came a point that I knew that the thoughts I was having and the feelings I was experiencing had become dangerous and that I needed to find someone, anyone, who could help me feel better. I knew that I could likely slip into my doctor’s office and slide back out again with a prescription for some sort of anti-depressant, but I’d never been a medication kind of person. So that wasn’t an option for me.
I think I touched the bottom of the Google pool while looking for articles to read and videos to watch about people who had gone through the things that I was experiencing. They all suggested that what I was dealing with was an eating disorder that I’d never heard of before. And all the while, as I researched in an attempt to figure out who I could turn to, this other voice in my head was telling me that it was all for nothing. It told me that there was no way that anyone with any sort of mental health education would believe that I had an eating disorder.
Today, I know that this other voice was actually my eating disorder twisting my thoughts to keep me dependent on her, and to keep me ill. She told me that if I walked into a health professional’s office and said that I suspected that I had binge eating disorder that I’d be sent away, or worse – that they would laugh at me. My disorder voice told me that I was stupid for not realizing that all of the people that I’d been reading about and watching tell their stories online were about 15-20 years younger than me. That wasn’t untrue, and it made it really difficult to think that I might be believed.
We typically don’t see or hear about people over the age of about thirty or thirty-five who struggle with any sort of disordered eating. I suppose I just thought that at that point, we’re supposed to have it all figured out.
Looking back on my years as a personal trainer and sports nutrition specialist I get filled with all sorts of emotions. I knew at some point this past summer, from what I’m learning in treatment, that this period of my life was a time that my disorder had complete control over every moment of my every day. It controlled me in a way that is so disturbing to me now, that it’s still pretty hard to talk about. I can say, though, that it was also a big part of the reason that I was so scared that I wouldn’t be believed when I went looking for treatment.
I thought that even if I did find a therapist who could sort out what might be causing my emotional pain, I’d never be able to let anyone find out that I was in therapy. I live in the second largest city in m province, but that doesn’t mean it’s a big city. Quite the opposite, actually – it’s small. It’s hard to do anything in my community without being spotted, and it seems as though everyone knows everyone here. It’s a wonderful thing in some ways, but it eliminates the ability to remain anonymous or private.
I thought I’d never be able to be open about what I was going through because I spent years teaching people how to manipulate their bodies. I was supposed to have the answers to how to make a body look the way it’s inhabitant wants it to look. I felt like such a hypocrite.
What would people think if they knew that I was being treated for binge eating disorder when I was supposed to know exactly what and how much food to put in my body?
I’d been good at what I did as a trainer, after all. I was afraid it would be so preposterous to people that they just wouldn’t be able to believe me and they’d label me a liar.
And even if I hadn’t had any of those worries at all, as wonderful as that would have been, I was still just as afraid of what would happen if I was believed. You see, my eating disorder makes me second guess absolutely everything that I might think. It used to manipulate my thoughts, and in some ways, that was easier. Before I started to understand how eating disorders work, I just thought that the voice of self-doubt that I so often heard in my mind was my inner critic. I thought she was super helpful and quite often I listened to her, believing that she was there to protect me from getting hurt. Now that I know better, I realize that the voice is actually my eating disorder, and that it’s not to be believed. It lies. It tells me to worry about things that don’t deserve my worry, like what it will mean if I do have an eating disorder, or what that will say about who I am.