** This post is not delicious. It is not yummy. It is about a very real, very serious issue called Eating Disorder.
But if you’re here for some enlightenment on eating disorder issues, read on, and I’d love your genuine input and thoughts. **
Okay, sorry. I’m a bit late on this, because I had to rush in my Thanksgiving post and my Blogger Recipe Challenge post beforehand. So this is a late Weekend ED Series post. And I don’t even know why I’m apologizing for it when I’m the Big (Fat) Boss of this blog.
Anyway. I had a blogger meet-up today with Lynn, Amanda and Andy, and Kaitlin. Lynn graciously gave me a ride all the way to Pasadena and then back. I was very lucky to be able to sit solo with her and have a good chat with her, only occasionally interrupted by Lynn’s adorable road rage as we cruised down the horrible LA traffic.
If you don’t know who Lynn is already, she is the beautiful blogger behind The Actors Diet, who has made it her personal mission to let the world know that yes, actors do eat! But what’s unique about her blog (besides the fact that she is an actor) is that she is very open about her history with an eating disorder—something you don’t see often in the heavily shrouded Hollywood biz.
“Honestly, it’s been such a relief for me to come clean,” Lynn told me. “I have nothing to hide. And that’s been a huge lift off my shoulders. Now, I have tons of actors coming to me and opening up to me about their own eating problems.”
That’s the same way I feel about my eating disorder. And I believe that Lynn was able to come as far in recovery as she did because she was able to move past the first stage of recovery: Acceptance.
When I think back to it, I’m pretty sure I’ve had an eating disorder since I was 16. But it wasn’t until I was almost 18 that I finally admitted it to myself—yet even then, I couldn’t, wouldn’t, admit it to others.
There are so much weight and stigma to eating disorders. Everyone has their own opinion on what it means, what it is. I definitely had my own prejudices. I was ashamed of my eating disorder because I viewed it as a superficial, vain, air-headed…behavior.
To me, eating disorder was less a disease than a weakness of character, an unwise judgment, and a mental disability. Cancer patients deserved sympathy. But eating disordered individuals? Why don’t you just eat a freaking cheeseburger, you cowardly idiot!
Yes, that was the way I thought of EDs, even while I myself was struggling with it. Ah, the contradiction. The horrible, self-loathing irony. I was utterly disgusted and derisive of myself, which fueled my desire to punish myself, which led to deeper self-hatred, and so on. A vicious, wretched cycle.
As my weight continued to drop, my jeans sagged around my hips like a loose rag, and my empty, soulless eyes boggled out from its bony sockets, I could no longer ignore the fact that something was very wrong with me. My friends whispered behind my back. Teachers cast worried glances at me. Strangers stared in the streets. And my parents were absolutely terrified and confused.
Every day was a drag; I could barely get up in the morning, my backpack cut and scarred my bony shoulders, and I had to cling to the rail in order to climb a flight of stairs. At many points, I wanted to just crumple up and faint so that someone could just put me away into the hospital. I was so, so tired, but my stubbornness refused to “give in.”
And then finally, that day came. A woman in my church who had read up on eating disorders visited my house one day. “She needs to go to the hospital,” she urged my parents.
At that moment I returned home from school. And I felt a sudden sense of relief—finally, I thought. Finally, this game of pretending I was normal was over. “I want to go to the hospital,” I told my parents, taking them by surprise. “I think I might die if I don’t go.”
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. At that time, I still wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. But deep down, I wanted to be diagnosed. I wanted a professional to tell me, “Yes, you have anorexia. And it’s okay.”
We went to the Emergency Room. The church lady signed me in, and she wrote down “anorexia” as the reason for admittance. I got very upset and snapped, “This is not anorexia.” Yup. Still in denial, the stubborn mule.
I got a check-up. The nurses freaked out. “She needs to be admitted to the ICU, now,” one nurse barked.
“What took you guys so long?” another snarled at my poor befuddled parents, who held my hands to keep me warm as I shivered and trembled.
They wouldn’t let me walk to the hospital room. They said I might keel over and die any moment. They stuck me in a wheelchair. And as they wheeled me away, I sunk back in my seat, and let go.
In one sweeping moment, exhaustion inundated every molecule in my body. For the past several months, I had been running on sheer will power. But as I finally let go, relaxed, and gave up all pretension of being “strong,” I was suddenly paralyzed with the fatigue that had been piling for so long on my battered body.
And obviously, the doctors’ diagnosis for me was: Severe malnutrition. Drastic weight loss. In other words, Anorexia.
I spent 5 days in the hospital. It was also 5 days of intense depression and despair. I couldn’t call anyone, because I was so ashamed of my eating disorder. The only person I could call was my school counselor, and even then it was the hospital who called her first.
I guess I wanted the doctors who diagnosed me with anorexia to follow it up with, “It’s okay. You’re not a selfish bitch. You’re just sick. It happens. And we’re going to cure you.”
But that was not the case. On the contrary, I had never been treated more like an animal as I was during those 5 days in the hospital.
“She is not to be trusted,” a nurse told my parents. “Anorexics are cunning, deceiving creatures.”
“You’re going to die,” the psychiatrist told me. “Oh, and none of the treatment centers we called want to accept you. They’re afraid you might die.”
“I know you’ve been throwing up your food,” a nurse accused me. “A few nurses saw you do it.” (I hadn’t).
“You don’t have any friends, do you?” said another doctor to me. “You’re just starving yourself to get attention, aren’t you?”
All these misconceptions about eating disordered individuals! I never felt less like a human. I felt…like I was my eating disorder. I was not Sophia Lee. I was merely, that Pathetic Anorexic Girl.
I felt so lonely and inhumane that I impulsively called two of my best friends and told them that I had been hospitalized. But when my best friends came to visit me right away, I instantly regretted calling them.
Because…what was I going to tell them? There was no way in hell I was going to say, “Ooh guess what! I am hooked up to this IV because I’m anorexic! There is a nurse following me to the bathroom because I am anorexic! They are checking my trash bin for food I may have discarded because I am anorexic! They are measuring my pee because I am anorexic!”
No. Freaking. Way. Instead, I made up an elaborate tale about how I was suffering from malabsorption due to stress, that my digestive system was just not absorbing nutrients properly; hence, my emaciation.
And that was the same tale I told my teachers and friends in school when I returned to school. I repeated it so many times, and told it so convincingly that even I half-believed the fake story.
The only people I came clean to were my parents. After all the shit and contempt they had to endure from the doctors and nurses at the hospital, I owed them the truth.
My parents, within a few short months, turned from the clueless Asian parents who couldn’t understand why their honor role/ youth group leader daughter would ever feel like she needs to “diet” when she’d always been underweight…to the most understanding, compassionate, and encouraging ED counselors.
I have to admit it. I had it lucky. I am very fortunate to have parents like mine, who accepted me, anorexia and all, even before I accepted myself. They read up on Eating Disorder books, googled, paid closer attention to the news. They listened to my irrational fears and anxieties, reminding me daily that they love me, and that most importantly, God loves me.
Obviously, things weren’t all hearts and hugs between us. We also got into tons of fights. But even after all my deceits and fits, my parents’ unwavering love for me slowly allowed me to admit out loud: “Yes, I am struggling with an eating disorder. Please, pray for me.”
Dang, it took a long time to get to that very first stage of recovery: Acceptance.
You see, Pride had always been my biggest downfall. I guess if anything, my eating disorder did a service for me by forcing me to take a huge bite out of the Humble Pie. I could no longer boast about myself, because I had nothing: no beauty, no social life, and my 4.0 GPA meant shit; after all, I couldn’t even do the most basic act of feeding myself.
I was forced to open myself up to the public. Instead of saying, “Look at what I did!” I came to say, “Look at what God did.”
So here was I. Stage one of my recovery: letting go of denial, accepting that I am weak, admitting that I have an eating disorder.
Only when I allowed myself to get to that stage, did I also realize that my eating disorder is not who I am. I am still someone deserving of love, someone deserving of prayer and help.
Which I will talk about more in my next Weekend ED Series post. But until then, I leave you with these questions to meditate on:
- Are you in denial?
- If so, what is holding you back from acceptance and admittance?
- If you do/did have an ED, and have already reached stage one of recovery, what has changed for you?
- What are some misconceptions you might have about eating disorders?