Coming out of the (ED) closet
It sounds pretty ironic that someone with a very public blog on eating disorders isn’t always open about her disorder in real life. I always told the truth if someone asked, though they rarely did. But after so many years of being known as the Girl with Anorexia, I didn’t want that identity to keep following me.
I was more than a little embarrassed and ashamed about the years I spent sick, and it wasn’t something I wanted to advertise to people. “You know that time when I got trashed on my 21st birthday? Right, that never happened because I was in the hospital…” And so on. I wasn’t proud of it. As I moved from place to place and away from the people who knew me at my absolute sickest, I found I could conceal the worst of my history.
Part of the concealment was my own desire for privacy. My psychiatric rap sheet is really no one’s business. For some reason, spilling my guts on the Internet to a bunch of strangers was less daunting than disclosing the same information to co-workers or classmates. They could have Googled me, I suppose, but I generally didn’t look them up online, and I’m fairly curious, so I’m guessing they probably didn’t.
There are other reasons I don’t like bringing up my eating disorder that are sort of the last vestiges of ED thinking. My worst fear is that someone will tell me that I look far too fat to have ever had an eating disorder. Or “But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder…” Which we all know is a load of bull. An eating disorder is a mental illness. It doesn’t come with a very heroin chic “look”. Except tell that to the fear-laden lizard part of my brain.
But with my book coming out in the fall and with me getting a more realistic grip on many of my fears, I’ve started to open up a bit more. A big thing for me was telling my book club group. I had posted about finally finishing the manuscript back in February on Facebook, and I had a book club meeting the next night. I was asked about it, and I honestly thought about giving some sort of vague, non-sensical answer, but then I realized that I would be lying by default to some of my friends. It also wouldn’t be giving them much credit. So I said that I wrote about anorexia, my experiences with the illness, and some of the latest science.
The world, you should note, didn’t stop turning. I thought I felt it lurch, but no one else did.
It’s funny that I can be so open about my ED on the strange, vague online world but totally clam up in person. I think it’s the issue of shame, when you get right down to it. I am not proud of my eating disorder, not really. I’m proud of overcoming it, proud of the things I learned, but the illness itself? Nah. That’s not a bad thing. But there’s a difference between not being proud of something and being ashamed of it. I can kind of turn down the shame a bit on my blog, but it’s much harder in person.
I’m finding, though, that most people don’t actually judge me because I’ve had anorexia. At least, not the people I spend a lot of time with and think are worth telling about my eating disorder. I guess that’s part of the point of my writing a book, too–helping people learn that an eating disorder really isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Every time I share my story, it invariably happens that someone says “I had an eating disorder, too.” It’s a relief for me to hear that I’m not alone, and I’m guessing it is for them, too.