Strength and recovery: The downside of motivational messages
It’s no secret that I’m on Twitter a lot. I use it both professionally and personally. It’s almost my second home.
This afternoon, I ran across this tweet:
Having an eating disorder doesn’t show “strength.” Strength is when are able to overcome your demons after being sick and tired for so long.
— Demi Lovato (@ddlovato) November 12, 2014
Now, I’m not generally a big fan of inspirational stuff. Others like it, and that’s fine. Lots of people also like Demi Lovato and, perhaps it’s the age difference, but she’s not someone I would classify as one of my role models. Again, she seems very nice and she’s done lots of stuff and that’s great. I’d probably like her if we met.
Nonetheless, this tweet really rubbed me the wrong way.
I know she meant it to be inspirational and to encourage people towards recovery. There’s nothing wrong with that.
My question is for the flip side: if you can’t recover, does that mean you’re not strong enough?
I know lots of people who have fought damn hard against their eating disorders even though they haven’t overcome it. Sometimes they can’t get the treatment they need. Other times, that treatment isn’t effective. Eating disorders are extremely challenging diseases. No, an eating disorder doesn’t mean that you’re strong, just like any other illness doesn’t. It means you were unlucky in the jackpot of life. But not getting well doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough.
It means you’re just not getting well.
Other than my general dislike of inspirational statements, this is one of the potential downsides of motivational messages. It’s hard to point out their downsides because they seem so, well, positive. But the problem with them is the subtle messages they send to people who continue to struggle. It’s like saying to a cancer patient who gets a metastasis that they weren’t trying hard enough to overcome their disease. It’s silly. People with eating disorders relapse and they struggle to get into remission, and it says nothing about who they are as a person. It says everything about eating disorders.
My worry is that someone who is struggling will read this and somehow think they weren’t strong enough for recovery, which would only make them feel worse. That’s what I would have thought.
It seems an odd thing to challenge, but I think there’s an underlying theme in the ED world that if you just try hard enough, you, YES YOU, can recover. Sorry. No amount of “trying” got me to recovery. It’s NOT that simple. I’ve read other messages that say full recovery is totally possible if you work hard enough. Again, that’s not always possible.
If motivational messages help you, that’s wonderful. Just remember that while overcoming an ED does require strength, it’s not weakness if you continue to struggle.