You feel as if your skin burns, mind races, and heart runs out of your body. How do you tell the others what’s happening inside? They don’t see what you see, feel what you feel, think what you think. The world is like a crowded freeway, as you try to walk between the speeding cars without getting hit or killed. Your family looks expectantly at you to move, but you’re frozen. They think it’s so easy and simple. Just pick up the fork. But the room is loud with all your thoughts. You’re fighting a battle they can’t see. How can they know what you’re going through? You’ve explained, but they don’t understand, as much as they try. You take a breath, as you fight yourself for survival.
(End of Fiction)
Eating disorders were not invented in this generation. It’s likely that they’ve been a part of humanity’s bizarre brain chemistry from the beginning. However, the more information we have, the more we start to manipulate and play with thoughts and perceptions. Everyone feels like an expert on the matter, especially when they come across someone who’s battling one of these issues. But what do we think we know?
We see eating disorders portrayed on TV shows about teenagers. People even joke about celebrities who were admitted into a clinic for treatment. But what happens when the person suffering from this is not a fictional character or a famous person whose whole story we don’t know? What do we do when this is someone we care about? A family member, a friend, or a significant other? How do we support them without coming off as patronizing or insensitive? Is there a way to be supportive, even when we cannot fully understand what’s going on inside them?
According to the United States National Eating Disorder Association, in the US alone, “20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS.” Those numbers are on a constant rise. While we can blame the media for the pressure it puts on young people to look a certain way, the truth is that these disorders are mental illnesses that cannot be demoted or simplified because we can’t fathom the complexity of the situation.
To say that the cure for someone with an eating disorder, in this case anorexia, is to eat something, is like telling someone with severe depression or bipolar disorder to try being happy. There are plenty of myths regarding these issues. It’s seen as a socioeconomic ailment, a race or gender situation, or even as a vanity-driven action. But these are stereotypes perpetuated by TV and film writers who feel that adding a character who happens to be going through this will add something to the plot. In real life, the people who are in the middle of this hell feel like they’re drowning and nobody knows how to help.
Recovery is sometimes a lifelong process. People who are in remission can relapse or be in constant anxiety, waiting to get their life back. According to Dr. Laura Hill, President of The Center for Balanced Living, on her TED Talk, “Eating Disorders from the Inside Out”, the best way for someone to resume their life while still combatting an eating disorder is for them to see food as medicine. They receive a “prescription” for their food, with measurements, ingredients, and other specifics. Since their relationship with food is different, then the way they can consume it should be treated differently.
But there are other things that can help someone during their recovery. There are several forms of therapy. For artist Christie Begnell, her illustrations are her defense against her eating disorder (which she calls ED). Through several drawings depicting this relationship, she has been able to find healing.
“When I was most unwell, I was able to sit down and draw the chaos occurring in my mind. As disturbing as some of the images [were], it gave my family a whole new level of understanding as to how I was feeling and what my thoughts were. It wasn't always safe for me to voice my thoughts and feelings. My ED was an unhealthy way of communicating that pain; art has become my alternative.”
Her Instagram page and the book, Me and My ED, have received praise and interest from people who have been going through the same process, as well as family members and caregivers who are trying to understand better.
Her ED is shown as a purple monster who tries to lure or control the main character. She lurks behind her calm moments or even rides a unicorn promising to make everything better. Begnell’s Instagram also features a list of things to look forward to during recovery. It’s supportive of other people going on this journey and is constantly reminding the audience that there are different ways to get better.
Through this deeply personal project, Begnell is giving a voice to a misrepresented and misunderstood group of people. Through her method for recovery she is able to bridge the gap between those who want to explain what’s happening to them and the people who want to be their support.
You can find more of Christie Begnell's work on her Instagram and website.
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