After last night’s article I was reminded of one of the most infuriating statements I’ve ever heard. I could only assume that the person who uttered it was either completely uneducated, massively disillusioned, or a combination of the two. This person knew me very well and had listened to me describe what the hell I was living in was like countless times. Yet still, they opened their mouth and said five words that I simply could not fathom.
“Your anorexia is a choice.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand if you don’t completely comprehend eating disorders. If you’re genuinely unsure of what they are and what they entail and cause, I’d be more than happy to help you gain a better awareness of them. We need to create an open dialogue about the subject. By establishing a conversation, and a greater understanding of just how devastating these disorders are, we can hopefully inspire more people to help those afflicted, and also to seek help if they need it rather than suffering in silence.
What I cannot forgive is blatant refusal to accept that my feelings, emotions, and beliefs are valid. Eating disorders are irrational by nature. There is, in reality, nothing logical about abusing the body mentally and physically. But in the mind of someone with an eating disorder, they are doing what is the only option, as far as they can see.
I can see how someone who is simply poorly informed on the subject might come to the conclusion that I am choosing not to eat. Surely, it could look like that. Your average everyday person makes the decision to prepare meals and consume them on a fairly regular basis. They feel hunger, and to alleviate it, they eat. Then they feel full, and cease eating until they feel hunger again.
You might look at me, someone who is fairly far in to the recovery process, and say that I chose to be ill. You look at me and see someone who eats on a fairly regular basis and assume that I do so willingly.
“Your anorexia is a choice.”
Let me dispel that nonsense for you.
Again, I don’t presume that you are necessarily aware of the depth of an eating disorder. But I believe that the majority of people reading this possess kindness and common sense in large enough quantities to understand that I am writing to you with complete and utter sincerity. I am not lying. I am not exaggerating. I am not confused. I am telling you what I know to be the truth, as strange and as illogical as it may seem.
When I was in the hospital, it wasn’t because I decided I wanted to be. I don’t think that anyone really wakes up in the morning and wants to be hospitalized. In fact, I wanted more than anything to be free. I begged the staff to send me home rather than back into eating disorder care. I fought with them about meals, insisting that I didn’t need to eat everything they were putting in front of me. I remember on my third trip to the hospital in the span of a month, I was in the back of an ambulance about to pass out from malnutrition as the EMTs pleaded with me to keep my eyes open, jabbing IVs into my arm and checking my blood pressure.
Every day I woke up in a bed that I mechanically angled so that I could fold myself into the smallest ball possible, in a futile attempt to feel as little as I possibly could. My arms were bruised from having blood taken from me every morning, so I wore little mesh pieces of fabric around them to hide the mottled appearance of my skin. I tied the pants they permitted me to wear as tightly as I could around my midsection in a bizarre attempt to hold everything in, as if this would somehow make me skinnier. My friends and family came to visit me often, and although I saw the concern and the fear in their eyes, I was blind to what they were able to see when they looked at me. I would turn the trashcan in the bathroom upside down so that I could stand on it to examine myself from every angle, just to reassure the voices in my head that, yes, indeed, I was fat.
I won’t describe to you the behaviors I used while eating because I don’t want to trigger anyone. Suffice it to say that I did not eat like a normal person. I formed strange habits and rituals around the process of consuming food. And every morning at the crack of dawn, when they came in to take my weight, I would cry afterwards.
I don’t wish the hell of an eating disorder on anyone, not even my worst enemy. This alone should speak volumes.
I don’t take medications that have been scientifically proven to alleviate the monstrous whispers in my mind because I want to take them. We’ve rotated my meds so often that it’s enough to make anyone feel dizzy. The hope is to eventually find a combination that helps quiet my intrusive thoughts and mold new pathways in my brain that think in healthier ways.
I don’t follow a meal plan because I want to eat. Yesterday was a prime example. From the moment I woke up in the morning, I felt wrong. I didn’t want to put anything in my mouth. And every time I was asked to eat something, my answer was the same. “I don’t want to eat.”
Now, I can see where the confusion might come in, if you are truly unaware of the depth of an eating disorder. The word “want” is certainly misleading. A more accurate statement would be, “I can’t eat.”
“Your anorexia is a choice.”
The person who said this to me believed that it was that easy for me. That all I had to do was pick up the food, put it in my mouth, and chew.
They did not take into account the way I watch time tick by with no sense of urgency stirring in my brain.
They did not take into account the revulsion that rises in my throat at the prospect of even preparing food.
They did not take into account the fact that every morning I perform the ritual of pursing my lips, running my hand over my hips, and wrapping my arm around my stomach, in an attempt to reassure myself that I have not gained massive amounts of weight since the previous day.
They did not take into account the hysterics I was sent into when I was caught exercising by a doctor while I was in inpatient; I had to be given medicine and held down.
They did not take into account the pathways I had carved into my brain through the destructive behaviors of restricting and overexercising, over and over and over again, until my thoughts simply could not flow any other way.
They did not take into account the feeling of fear and disgust that washes over me when I find an item of clothing that I can no longer fit into.
They did not take into account the sheer panic that floods me when I lay in bed at the end of the night and let the full realization of everything that I’ve mechanically stuffed into my mouth during the day hit me, full force.
They did not take into account that malnutrition alters the brain.
They did not take into account all the statements I heard from other people that sat in my mind and convinced me that what I was doing was the only option.
They did not take into account the horrible reality that is body dysmorphia.
They did not take into account my complete and utter inability to see how sick I was.
I don’t meet with a therapist, a doctor, and a dietitian on a regular basis because it’s fun. They are there to make sure that my health doesn’t waver, either mentally or physically.
I don’t wake up every morning and feel unhappiness and dread crash over me because it’s enjoyable. I can’t tell you how much I would like to wake up and feel happy and excited about the beginning of a new day rather than scared shitless. But that isn’t my reality.
I don’t wish I were back in treatment because I liked it there. I had to ask people to use the bathroom or go up and down the stairs. If I wanted to use a pair of scissors, I had to request them and be monitored while using them. After every meal, I had to open my mouth and turn out my pockets to prove that I wasn’t hiding anything. Each morning I had to get up, put on a hospital gown, and head into a little room to have my vitals and my weight taken. I had to sit through hours of groups designed to try and teach me skills that I could employ once I left treatment. I had to wait until designated visiting hours to see my family or my friends. I had to fill out menus every week according to a meal plan set for me by my dietitian. I had to go to sleep every night with music playing in my headphones to drown out the horrible thoughts playing on repeat in my head.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for treatment. Because there is no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t received help, I would be dead.
Let that sink in a little bit.
“Your anorexia is a choice.”
The choice is to wake up every morning and get out of bed. The choice is to head downstairs and begin my day. The choice is to grab food and prepare a meal. The choice is to sit down and eat that meal, bite by bite, moment by moment. The choice is to take the medicine prescribed to me. The choice is to sit still instead of engaging in things like bouncing my legs or running up and down the stairs in futile attempts to burn calories. The choice is to go to my weekly appointments with my treatment team. The choice is to tell my anorexia to shut up and go take a hike.
I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder. I don’t wish the moment I first felt disordered thoughts creep into my mind on anyone. I was just a little ten year old girl who suddenly felt massively ashamed of her body and the way that she looked. And that moment spurred on a decade of disordered eating habits and a thoroughly negative relationship with food and exercise.
I have spent more than half of my life locked in a battle with my mind and my body. I have had to leave school, my education, my friends, my family, my home, my future, my freedom, and countless other things behind me in order to save my life.
No one would choose to willingly give up these things. No one would choose to surrender their life into the hands of something that wants to kill you.
I make the choice every day to fight. This does not mean that I also make the choice to be sick. A mental disorder is not something you decide you want to have. It is wired into your body in inexplicable and permanent ways.
Think about it. When you have a cold or the flu or some other physical ailment, you seek medical treatment. No one looks at you and says, “Wow, you’re choosing to be sick.” They just accept your illness as it is.
Why is it different for mental illnesses? Why is there this belief that mental disorders somehow don’t deserve the care and understanding that physical ailments do? Why is there this ridiculous stigma against things like eating disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, and countless others? Why are people so quick to dismiss these things as choices?
They are not choices. Not by a long shot. And if you are so misinformed and ignorant to believe that they are, I pity you.
Yes, you. Not those who, like me, suffer from mental disorders, which are often unseen, unreported, untreated, and misunderstood. I pity you, for your shortsighted and destructive viewpoint.
“Your anorexia is a choice.”
I feel sorry for you. You are so miserably and woefully close-minded. You are the problem.
Millions of people around the world suffer from mental disorders. And they are often comorbid, meaning that they often come in groups. As someone who deals daily with depression, anxiety, OCD, and anorexia, I’m here to tell you just how hellish it truly is. And I’ve even asked for and received help. For every person who is getting help in some way, shape, or form, there are tens and tens more who aren’t. Whether this is because they believe they don’t need it, or because they think they don’t deserve it, or because no one is offering it, or because they are afraid of the judgment they will inevitably receive for their actions.
It is disgusting that someone might be judged for something that is completely out of their control. That’s right, you heard me. Completely out of their control. Their are processes at hand that are still not completely understood. We have come a long way in our knowledge of the inner workings of mental illnesses, but there is still so much we have to learn.
So the next time you hear someone say something as idiotic as “Your mental illness is a choice,” whether it be to you or someone else, educate them.
My anorexia is not a choice.
My recovery is.
And I feel sorry for you because you won’t be a part of it.