Stability

I’m emotionally stable.

I am not purging or restricting. I don’t know if I could really say I am binging, either.  I am not self-harming.

It makes me feel kind of boring as a person.

It’s a little unsettling only in the sense of not fully knowing what to do with myself.

I’m not in graduate school,  I don’t have assignments or deadlines to worry about.

I’m not in treatment 3-6 days a week.

I’m working between 30 and 36 hours a week. (Which is a significant time commitment, when you factor in my commute.) I don’t go out much. I rarely drink.

My days are completely predictable, and since I’m bad at making small talk, I don’t have much to say to my coworkers. Even those I usually confide in about personal things. But this isn’t a bad place to be.

I have some concerns about my health. I have to get an ultrasound on my thyroid next Friday, and I am probably going to have to get a swallow study done soon. My doctor and the psychiatric nurse I went to see have conflicting ideas about one of the medications I am on.

But otherwise, it’s quiet. Too quiet…

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My Recovery Tattoo

This is the symbol of the National Eating Disorder Association:

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“The logo of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is easily recognizable as a stylized heart…The heart demonstrates loving concern for those suffering from eating disorders…diversity and acceptance of all body shapes and sizes. The fluid lines of the logo also symbolize curves and motion; both are symbols of a healthy body image..
Some people view the NEDA eating disorder symbol as a combination of two lines which combine to represent strength and recovery. Individual interpretation may vary, although a popular explanation has the smaller line representing the eating disorder, and the larger line standing for the strength and courage displayed by those in recovery. The heart may also symbolize self-respect, acceptance, and love.
The emblem implies awareness, support, self-acceptance, and recovery; important elements in the prevention and treatment of all eating disorders. It does not refer to one specefic eating disorder diagnosis, but is meant to represent all of them.”
It is also said that the NEDA symbol is meant to represent the curve of a woman’s body. But it’s important to remember, many people with eating disorders are not women, And perhaps, not all women have “curves.” (People also have many conflicting ideas about what it means to have “curves” or be “curvy.”I am not opening that can of worms today.) 

I knew that I wanted a recovery tattoo when I first went to treatment at age 17.  At the time, I was too young to get one. But I did enjoy the temporary ones the treatment center gave us during NEDA week.

As years passed, I sometimes felt I didn’t truly earn the symbol. And before long, I began to feel like maybe I was “too fat” to have something on my body associated with eating disorder recovery.

In May of 2017, I convinced myself this was one of the reasons it was important to get the tattoo.

The placement of this tattoo was important to me, and I readily share it on social media. I’ve never seen a picture of a fat person with a NEDA tattoo. I’ve also, to my knowledge, never met a fat person with a NEDA tattoo. People with eating disorders come in all sizes, and part of recovery is accepting your body’s natural size, so I’m disappointed I don’t see NEDA tattoos on people of all shapes and sizes. Designs such as such as a lotus flower, butterfly, or bird are also common eating disorder recovery tattoos. And certainly, people choose other symbols that may be more meaningful to them. I am certain it’s only a matter of time before I encounter someone with a body like mine who has a recovery tattoo.

The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn

Emilie Autumn is a musical artist I listened to when I was in high school. Today, I still enjoy her music in small doses, and I love her fashion and general aesthetic. She has also written a semi-autobiographical book about her experience with bipolar disorder,and being hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

This post contains spoilers for “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” by Emilie Autumn.

Synopsis

 “Emilie Autumn, a young musician on the verge of a bright career, attempts suicide by overdosing on the antipsychotics prescribed to treat her bipolar disorder. Upon being discovered, Emilie is revived and immediately incarcerated in a maximum-security psych ward, despite her protestations that she is not crazy, and can provide valid reasons for her actions if someone would only listen.

Treated as a criminal, heavily medicated, and stripped of all freedoms, Emilie is denied communication with the outside world, and falls prey to the unwelcome attentions of Dr. Sharp, head of the hospital’s psychiatry department. As Dr. Sharp grows more predatory by the day, Emilie begins a secret diary to document her terrifying experience, and to maintain her sanity in this environment that could surely drive anyone mad. But when Emilie opens her notebook to find a desperate letter from a young woman imprisoned within an insane asylum in Victorian England, and bearing her own name and description, a portal to another world is blasted wide open.

As these letters from the past continue to appear, Emilie escapes further into this mysterious alternate reality where sisterhoods are formed, romance between female inmates blossoms, striped wallpaper writhes with ghosts, and highly intellectual rats speak the Queen’s English.

But is it real? Or is Emilie truly as mad as she is constantly told she is?

The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls blurs harsh reality and magical historical fantasy whilst issuing a scathing critique of society’s treatment of women and the mental health care industry’s treatment of its patients, showing in the process that little has changed throughout the ages.”

Content warning for suicide, gratuitous descriptions of self-injury, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, eating disorders, body shaming, medical trauma, gore, violence.

The Book Itself

When “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” was first published in 2008, I wondered how the author, and possibly her publicist, got off charging so much for a book. According to her website FAQ, the book cost  $75 upon release. I recall seeing it  on Amazon for as much as $355. I have now come to understand the first edition of the book was expensive to make and ship, and therefore expensive to sell. Newer additions are affordable and available both in paperback and as an e-book. A complaint I heard from people who purchased the first edition is that the book contained many spelling and grammatical errors, and several pages consisted of crayon drawings or strands of hair. I would have liked to see these drawings, but they were not included in the newer editions. I doubt this is the artwork the critics referred to, but these are some of the illustrations excluded from the 2017 paperback:

On her website, Emilie Autumn notes additions to newer publications, such as new scenes and characters. She does not explain what details were omitted.

There are so many versions of this book, I can only speak to the 2017 paperback version I have read.

Psychiatry Vs. The Asylum

The book contains two stories: an account of Emilie Autumn’s inpatient stay on a psychiatric unit and the life of Emily with a Y, a young violinist in Victorian England. Emily with a Y is sold to a music conservatoire at the age of 5. When she is 17, she is sold to a nobleman, attempts suicide to escape his cruelty, and is then institutionalized in The Aslyum for Wayward Victorian Girls. Emilie finds jentries from Emily’s diary every day between the pages of her notebook. At the beginning, I was engaged with both stories. But two thirds of the way through, it became evident that Emilie’s narrative wasn’t going anywhere and I became a little less invested.

This book does not paint mental health treatment a positive light, and makes many damaging assertions. But it was not nearly as bad as I built it up to be in mind, as I’ve been reading criticisms of the book for almost a decade. Sadly, I do not feel Emilie’s experience in the hospital was anthing unusual. After reading a story like this, it’s hard to feel bad for Kesha who *almost* wasn’t allowed to write music during her stay  in residential eating disorder treatment. Imagine the challenges of NON-FAMOUS people of color, transgender and non-binary people, and other marginalized groups face. And the poorer you are, the more likely you are to wind up in an overcrowded state facility with county workers experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout.

I have talked openly about my experience with mental health treatment in the past. The general psychiatric unit I was on is said to be nicer than our county mental health complex.  But even so, people arrived almost hourly by ambulance, often with only the clothes on their backs, soon to be shed for blue plastic ones. Staff often had to focus on stopping physical altercations, rather than comforting clients distressed by it. Though men and women are roomed in separate hallways whenever possible, the common areas are still mixed. “Single gender” units may create problems for transgender and nonbinary clients (who should most DEFINITELY be housed on units most congruent with their identity). But housing survivors of sexual abuse and trauma on the same units as loud and violent men is not desirable. I have never been on a psychiatric unit longer than a week, and my experiences look like The Ritz-Carlton compared to Emilie’s. In my previous post about inpatient treatment, I wrote about my second stay on a general psych unit. Right before transferring to the eating disorder unit,  I saw the youngest patient on the unit, a recent high school graduate, comforting and grounding a middle aged woman experiencing a PTSD episode, because none of the staff was available to do so.

Parallels are drawn between The Aslyum (and Victorian society as a whole) and today’s treatment of women and the mentally ill. But where does it cross a line? I understand The Aslyum isn’t just a metaphor for Emilie’s stay on the psychiatric unit. It’s a metaphor for abuse and trauma she’s experienced in her life, and how modern society treats both women and people with mental illness. But in essence, she is comparing her 2 week hospital stay to the 10 year imprisonment of Emily with a Y.  The girls of The Asylum are starved, beaten, poisoned, chained up, drowned, forced into sex work, intentionally infected with the plague, and forced to undergo many dangerous and unnecessary medical procedures such as bloodletting via leeches, lobotomies, and hysterectomies. . Dr Sharp was a creep, and psychiatric hospitals today may be negligent, and at times unnecessarily cruel. But does her stay really warrant this comparison?

When The Asylum narrative ends (I won’t spoil how), it culminates with Emilie having a breakdown. After discovering both the entries from Emily Y’s journal are “missing”, and that the staff have been reading her journal entries, she lashes out and is then, sedated and moved into isolation. When she wakes up, she is able to slip her hands out of the restraints to reach a crack in the wall. She tears away the plaster and reveals the moving, black and white striped wallpaper of The Asylum of Wayward Victorian Girls. This is where I can no longer suspend my disbelief. We don’t find out how or when Emilie gets out of the hospital, or if she ever receives the help she needs. The remainder of the book is entries from her journal that were, allegedly, confiscated by the hospital during her stay. Even if I am operating under the assumption that everything leading up to these events were true, I do not believe the doctor’s notes on the entries to be authentic. Within them, Emilie is referred to as W14A (Emily with a Y’s cell number in The Aslyum).

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A major difference between Emilie Autumn, and Emily With a Y, is how they treat their fellow patients. In the Asylum, Emily with a Y, allies herself with the girls of The Striped Stocking Society. Near the end, even adversarial figures (like Silent Sarah) join forces against the primary antagonists. Emilie shares a few meaningful exchanges with other women in the psychiatric unit, but otherwise avoid other patients, and expresses disdain for the majority of them.

I also cannot ignore how much Emilie Autumn apparently dislikes fat people.img_5100

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Apparently, being mistaken for someone with an eating disorder is worse than the discrimination, shaming, and dehumanization people in larger bodies experience. And apparently, it’s unreasonable to monitor someone on a psychiatric unit who is both underweight by medical standards and is eating very little during their stay. I guess I learn something new every day!

Vovatio‘s review of the book sums up my thoughts well:

“The thing is, in the allegedly autobiographical segments, Emilie comes across as rather entitled and unlikable, fat-shaming and making disparaging comments about other patients. If we just take these as reflective of her state of mind at the time, it’s understandable; but it’s complicated somewhat by how the book ends with some fairly lucid, astute observations on mental illness. If she was able to think more rationally about her experience later on, would it have been all that difficult to apologize for some of her meaner moments? While I’m sure mental institutions really are uncomfortable, non-forthcoming about treatment, and prone to drive someone mad even if they weren’t when they were committed, we have to remember that: 1) they’re underfunded, and 2) there’s a lot we don’t know about the workings of the brain…To imply things haven’t changed much since the Victorian era is…well, not something I’ve studied, but likely not entirely fair, even if there still is a lot of stigma attached to mental conditions. I know Emilie mixes fact and fiction when giving information about herself to the point that we don’t entirely know what’s true, and that’s fine in and of itself; I appreciate artists who can craft far-fetched biographies and absurd images. What’s less fine is when someone uses this to address an actual social issue like the treatment of mental patients, when there’s no way of knowing how much of the story is even true. The blurb for the book claims that it ” has been cited in text-books used as part of the psychology curriculum at Oxford University in London,” which I’m pretty sure is completely false.”

While I don’t want to accuse Emilie of fabricating her own memoir, this disclaimer from her website seem like a way to skirt around the issue of authenticity:

“The Asylum book is my story, in every sense. The words you read in this book are copied directly from the pages of my journal kept whilst I happened to be incarcerated in a high-security psych ward. That said, I categorize the book as fiction (as all memoires ultimately end up being) because I enjoy the freedom it gives me to change names and add characters and storylines at a whim with each new edition.

Besides this, I find people’s eyebrows raise a bit when they get to the talking rats, and I prefer being able to say “it’s only a story” rather than fail gracelessly at explaining how very real those talking rats are to me.

In the end, though I categorize the book as fiction for practical reasons, there is no one reading the story who doesn’t come away with the distinct sense that all of this really happened, and that is just as it should be.

There is an additional disclaimer about seeking treatment for mental health issues.

Emilie does not seem to have a very high opinion of doctors. What would she recommend a person do who is in need of mental help?

“While it is true that my own lived experience within the mental health care industry has not been even remotely positive, I firmly believe in the benefits of psychiatric medication when absolutely needed, and, first and foremost, in the life-saving act of talking, because if you are still talking, you are still breathing, and someday, you will be able to sing again.”

Further Reading

If you read this book, and enjoyed the passages about Emily with a Y, I recommend the Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray (“A Great and Terrible Beauty”, “Rebel Angels”, and “The Sweet Far Thing”), The School for Dangerous Girls by Eliot Schrefer, the movie Suckerpunch, and perhaps the Bard Academy novels by Cara Lockwood (“Wuthering High”, “The Scarlett Letterman”, although admittedly, I never read “Moby Clique.”) If you liked the parts about Emilie’s hospital stay, perhaps you could read “Girl Interrupted” or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” (Please bear in mind, while I’ve seen Suckerpunch within the last few years, I haven’t ready of the aforementioned books since high school. They are all family friendly when compared to “The Asylum”.) I have ready many memoirs about people with mental illness, several of which had at least a few chapters taking place in an inpatient or residential treatment setting, and the majority were more satisfying than Emilie’s account.

Asylum Branding

I also find myself rolling my eyes at the sheer amount of merchandise centering on The Asylum theme. I am intrigued about her the musical  adaptation of the book that is in production. Emilie has already released an album of the songs.  I understand the “lifestyle” Emilie is selling isn’t that of The Asylum run by the cruel doctors. It’s the utopia Emily and the Striped Stocking Society created after taking it back from their captors. But even so…

Here just a  few of the items available on Amazon and/or in The Asylum Emporium.

Binge Eating Disorder IS a Restrictive Eating Disorder

This post was retrieved and revised from my previous blog, originally published in April. This is a topic I will likely be explaining for the rest of my life. 

I was lying in bed between my doses of thyroid and blood pressure medication, scrolling through Tumblr on my mobile device. This post got me out of bed fast:

This isn’t an internet troll we’re dealing with here, in which case it would be best to ignore it completely. Upon careful examination of her blog, it appears this woman is both someone who has struggled with Anorexia, and has taken a strong stance against Pro Ana/Mia websites. That being said, people can call Pro Ana/Mia users out on their bullshit without spreading misinformation about eating disorders.

I responded with the following:

“Looking at your blog, I don’t think it was your intention to invalidate people with eating disorders other than Anorexia. But I also don’t understand why people in general  focus so intensely on why these eating disorders are different from each other rather than their many similarities.

And I do want to argue that Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia ARE restrictive eating disorders, even if they manifest differently than Anorexia.

Few people wake up one day and start eating out of control. And while I am aware binge eating can be a way people try to cope with depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions, there is usually more to the story. Especially in people with a drive for thinness or a desire to lose weight (regardless of their body size), there is a dimension of calorie restriction. (This includes the Pro Anas you are talking about.)

Binge eating in people with Binge Eating Disorder, (as well as Bulimia and EDNOS/OSFED) is often fueled by a cycle that includes restriction. Binges are often caused by fasting or dieting.

People with Anorexia and other eating disorders restrict for the same reasons. But eating disorders present differently in different people.

This article from the ED Institute came out before the of the DSM-V. So when the author refers EDNOS, they are for the most part, talking about Binge Eating Disorder. * The primary focus of this article is ways that healthcare providers, even those who specialize in eating disorder treatment, pathologize binge eating when in reality, it’s a natural, adaptive response to restriction. But even internet arm chair psychologists, gatekeepers of diagnosis, could benefit from reading it. *

“Often diagnosed as ED-NOS by psychiatrists and psychologists alike, the patient is encouraged to focus on lessening binge episodes. Sadly, almost all patients enter into this cycle from a period of self-administered starvation and the binge is the body reacting to too-severe calorie restriction relative to its energy requirements. Recovery from all facets of an eating disorder requires focus on lessening restrictive behaviors. “

While people who are weight restoring have different needs than patients with “normal”, “healthy”, “overweight/obese” BMIs, the treatment for Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, and disorders in the EDNOS/OSFED and ARFID categories are the same. And as I’m sure you are aware, people of all sizes may be experiencing negative consequences of their eating disorders such as low blood pressure, dehydration, anemia and other vitamin deficiencies, menstrual irregularities, heart palpitations, etc, etc. But the point I’m trying to drive home is, people who binge also restrict. It is a core feature of their disorder.

And failure to recognize this is why a lot of people trying to recover from Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, OSFED/EDNOS get stuck. They get stuck in the cycle because they think their binge eating comes from a lack of will power. Binging is often the body’s self-preservation instinct. It doesn’t know the difference between a famine and an eating disorder behavior, and it’s protecting itself against starvation

There are many articles on the ED Catalog website about Binge Eating Disorder that touch on this, as well.”

*indicates changes made since my initial Tumblr response. Sadly, I did not think of my “armchair psychologist sick burn” until later.*

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

I am not ready to intuitively eat!

And it’s a relief to acknowledge that.

My outpatient dietitian and I decided it’s important to stick to the meal plan for now then see where I’m at in 2019. The meal plan is the minimum. 3 meals, 3 snacks a day. And I’m supposed to eat every 3 hours. And that includes Thanksgiving. My goal today is to eat 100% today.

It’s a shame that on holidays, if you eat before the big meal, people look at you and your bowl of oatmeal like you’re a pack of wild animals devouring the carcass of a baby kitten. I am trying my best to heal my relationship with food.

I am still going to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family tonight. But I am trying something new this afternoon. The treatment center I did IOP at in Spring of 2017 is having a lunch today for its alumni. I am going with someone I connected with in the alumni Facebook group. Unfortunately,  my experience at that clinic was not a net positive. They were a very new facility and still working the kinks out of their program. But they are trying to build a strong alumni organization and are also launching a free eating disorder support group, located down the street from my work. So I am going to their Thanksgiving lunch, in search of additional support. Even if my treatment there left much to be desired, I may make some worthwhile connections within the alumni community.

The image at the top was made by eating disorder and non-diet dietitian, Mary Radovich. Visit her website  or facebook page.

Letting Ana Go by “Anonymous”

Young adult literature is one of my guilty pleasures, and I particularly enjoy books about mental illness.

Spoilers for “Letting Ana Go” by Anonymous.

In the tradition of Go Ask Alice and Lucy in the Sky, a harrowing account of anorexia and addiction. She was a good girl from a good family, with everything she could want or need. But below the surface, she felt like she could never be good enough. Like she could never live up to the expectations that surrounded her. Like she couldn’t do anything to make a change.But there was one thing she could control completely: how much she ate. The less she ate, the better—stronger—she felt. But it’s a dangerous game, and there is such a thing as going too far… Her innermost thoughts and feelings are chronicled in the diary she left behind

“Letting Ana Go” is another cookie cutter YA adult novel about a teenaged girl with Anorexia. Little stands out about it to make it particularly terrible or memorable. There are dozens of better books about eating disorders, both fiction and non-fiction. Like the overwhelming majority of books in this genre, “Letting Ana Go” could easily serve as a how-to manual for young people looking to experiment with calorie restriction and compulsive exercise. If the story had artistic merit, was educational,  informative, or told the story of a marginalized person, I might give it a pass. But it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. “Ana” comes from the same series as “Go Ask Alice.”  I wasn’t sure at first if this was the last “Anonymous Teenage Diary” Beatrice Sparks fabricated before her death, or if it was written by a predecessor. I realize now, Sparks was in her 90’s when this was published, and likely unable to write a book that even attempts to resonate with the youth of today. Sparks is responsible for a “Kim: Empty Inside” (2002), a previous installment of the series who’s protagonist had both a name and an eating disorder. I read that book at least a decade ago, and will probably revisit it for comparison purposes.

The unnamed protagonist (who we’ll call “Ana”) runs cross country. Her coach assigns  food diaries to the girls on the team, and only the girls, with the intent of monitoring them for signs of eating disorders. Ana begins her logs with good intentions. She wants to ensure that she meets the daily calorie needs in order to stay healthy and preform well at her sport. But everything goes awry when her best friend initiates her into diet culture and the Pro Ana community. A fellow team mate, ballerina, and textbook case of Anorexia, Jill helps the protagonist into her grave.

“Letting Ana Go”,  like every book in the “Anonymous Teenager Canon” is a cautionary tale. The events unfold at an accelerated pace so we can arrive at the worst possible outcome in 300 pages. I don’t mean to imply eating disorders aren’t dangerous, or that teenagers don’t die from the complications. But the first entry of this journal is dated May 18th, and the diarist drops dead in less than a year.

Losing weight allows “Ana” run faster. She becomes the team captain. She pushes herself harder to fit into a Homecoming dress. She collapses once at a cross country meet, then again at the dance. Less than 6 months after starting her diet, her liver starts to fail, but medical intervention came just in time. Ana eventually goes to treatment, commits to recovery, and begins to get better. Jill pulls her back under. The book ends with the transcript of 911 call and a report from a medical examiner. This confirms, to no one’s surprise, the diarist was a Caucasian female, age 16.

There’s a a fair amount of fat shaming in this book.Most of the body shaming is reserved for Ana’s mother, who is described as fat. But there’s plenty of it go around, and we hear remarks made about the customer’s at the restaurant Ana works at, and some of the other patients she meets in treatment. I understand Ana’s thoughts and feelings about other people’s bodies reflects how many real people with eating disorders think and feel. They compare themselves to others, because they are struggling with their own self image. Most, but not all people with eating disorders, compete with others. Some, but not all, feel a sense of superiority over those they view as having less will power. But that doesn’t excuse writing a book about eating disorders, including numbers and weight loss techniques, marketing it to vulnerable, body conscious teenagers, and sprinkling in fatphobic language. At times, it’s gratuitous, and doesn’t contribute to the message. This book is obviously trying to discourage it’s readers from dieting or developing an eating disorder.

There is one thing about the narrative that I feel is worth mentioning.  “Letting Ana Go” briefly touches on the issue of insurance coverage. The amount and quality of treatment often depends on a person’s insurance, assuming they have insurance, and assuming insurance covers eating disorder treatment at all.

“I got called into Sharon’s office this morning, and when I walked in, Mom was standing there. It turns out the insurance company reversed the preauthorization for my stay here at Hope House. Mom and Dad can’t afford to keep me here, even though it’s not as expensive as some of the other places…I could tel it was killing Mom to take me out of this place…”

“Mom has gone back to working he night shift because the pay is better and she needs to up our health insurance plan so she can send me to a better treatment center. As if I’d go..”

“Mom found out today that the new insurance won’t cover any treatment for my anorexia. It’s a “preexisting” condition. She’s still vowing to send me off to a treatent camp somewhere, but I won’t go…”

Ana’s friend, Jill,  comes from a wealthier family and is sent to a more expensive, out of state treatment facility. She survives. Ana dies. It is a cruel reality.

I don’t recommend this book to the audience it’s written for, and a  more mature audience will likely find it juvenile. I don’t mean to imply reading “Letting Ana Go” will cause an adolescent to develop an eating disorder. But books like this are sought out by those that are already struggling with them, and often appeal to those who are at risk for developing them.

Eating Disorder Exhibitionism and the Problem with Before and After Photos

I’ve been trying to come to terms with something a lot of people without eating disorders don’t understand, and that a lot of people who have eating disorders don’t talk about.  In people who have experienced dramatic weight loss as a result of their disorder, there is a sense accomplishment associated directly with the illness. And a lot of this doesn’t just feed into being told you are thin and attractive. Some of it comes from shocking people, garnering concern and attention. People know they look unwell, and they take pride in it. This certainly isn’t universal. And social media plays a large role in this. Before online communities, the majority of people were sick in secret. Today, there’s a bit of exhibitionism involved in the race to the bottom. This is the most apparent in the Pro Anorexia community.

Yesterday I stumbled upon this video by Of Herbs and Altars. In it, they discuss their history of Anorexia, and why some people flaunt their ill bodies on social media.

Content warning.I don’t agree with everything that Dorian says. They are still a little self-congratulatory about aspects of their illness. Their discussion of “Basic Anorexics” and the language used surrounding larger bodies is  a little problematic. It’s not intentional fat shaming, but I take issue with some of the things Dorian says. I did subscribe to their channel. They have an amazing aesthetic. I do  do find them both funny and endearing, and I love that they are pulling back the curtain on this. (I don’t particularly want to give YouTuber Eugenia Cooney any more attention than she’s getting. I had no idea who she was until yesterday.  But this video does specifically pertain to her.)

The exhibitionism among people with eating disorders is something few people will talk about, and fewer people understand. And people may assume that  I don’t understand it because I have spent most of my life fat. (And I don’t mean that as a derogatory term. It is a neutral descriptor.)  I’ve struggled primarily with Bulimia, so my experience has been very different from Dorian’s. But at the start of of my eating disorder, I had (Atypical) Anorexia. Though I was never considered “underweight”, I experienced a dramatic, visible weight loss. I wasn’t able to maintain it for long, even while engaging in behaviors. And this in no way reflects on “will power” or the severity of my symptoms. Rather, this is the result of my body trying to keep me healthy and alive, and most likely had something to do with my genetics. At my highest weight, I suffered the worst effects of my Bulimia. In my life I have been both thin and underfed with no blood work abnormalities, and fat and malnourished with multiple nutritional deficiencies.

But when I was thin, I thrived on the attention I got. I reveled in it. It is sadly not surprising that I received praise from the people in my school, church, and extended family. I was a fat girl who became a size that is more socially accepted. But I never felt thin enough. I always thought I could stand to lose more weight. Yet at the same time, I took pleasure in signs of illness on my body. I did post pictures showcasing certain parts of it that were guaranteed to attract attention and concern. Those that knew or suspected my methods expressed concern over how rapidly the weight came off. I dismissed them, but continued to share closeup images on my Myspace profile, taken at specific angles to showcase the parts of me that were smallest. This wasn’t like the Fitspo community of Instagram (which is a problem for other reasons.) This was Pro Ana culture.

It is strange when your body is somewhere in between, because people perceived mine so differently. I’ve had some people tell me “Of course no one one knew you had an eating disorder, you weren’t that thin.” But then other people will say I was too thin and I looked unhealthy. After gaining a lot of the weight back, I started to show  photographs to people that didn’t know me when I was thin. And I did it specifically to hear them say things like,  “You look so much better now”, You used to very unhealthy, or “You don’t look diseased anymore”.  I did this partly to torture myself and mourn the loss of my old self, but also to feel my disorder was valid. I was thin once, so my eating disorder was real. I used to live vicariously through my thinner self and continue to revel in the comments well meaning people made. I don’t do this anymore. I stopped both for my own health and sanity, and to avoid triggering other people. But I know I am not the only one who views my (Atypical) Anorexia with rose-tinted glasses.

Blogger Lindsey Hall discusses the nostalgia she sometimes feels in a post cleverly titled, “Ew… She Sent Me A Sick Pic”: Why We Lust Over Anorexia”

“Last week, I caught myself doing it —Reminiscing over anorexia like the 1976 class ring a football coach shows to his buds over a beer. Ever feel like you relive it? Just a taste. Yearn for it like you’re gonna shiver in your sleep – missing the lifestyle you created around it. Human beings, eh? We’re destructive mother f*ers. And none more destructive than those of us who develop eating disorders…What nobody wants to just bloody admit about eating disorders – is that half the battle of moving past one – is being self aware enough to not glorify it. It’s retraining your brain to not believe that it somehow is one of the most interesting things about you.”

The exhibitionism in the race to the bottom has a tendency to creep into people’s recovery. It is become commonplace to share before and after photos. People will show a photo of themselves thin and miserable as a result of their eating disorder, alongside a photo of what they look like after weight restoration. While this may seem harmless, it can be very triggering to other people with these disorders. I see this most often in support-based Facebook groups and the eating disorder recovery tags on Instagram.  I tend to call it out, because I’ve been there. I always question the motives of people who post “before and after” photos, because I know why I used to do it. I want to ask them “What do you get out of showing everyone how thin you were?”

When I point out how triggering these posts can be to others, usually someone wants to argue. It may not be the original poster. Often it’s someone in the comment section defending them. They tell me that people are going to be triggered no matter what. “The world isn’t a padded cell on a psych ward!”, “People in treatment need to start learning how to function in the real world!”, or “I’m not going to walk on egg shells.” It’s important to distinguish these people from internet trolls. These aren’t the anti-SJW randos. These are sincere people, also experiencing recovery and seeking support in communities online. Some of them behave as if by triggering these people, they are doing them a favor. They are teaching them how to be strong and resilient and assimilate into the “real world”. I understand that it’s impossible to predict every possible trigger for every individual person, especially when you factor in those pertaining to trauma. But most of this comes down to common sense and basic decency. If you have an eating disorder, you know what some of the most common triggers are. And if you are going to interact in recovery spaces online, you have an obligation to conduct yourself appropriately and respectfully. Agreeing not to post a picture of yourself at your sickest, discuss your weight and BMI, or how many calories you eat is not “walking on egg shells.” If you know the basic decorum and you choose to ignore it because “people are going to be triggered no matter what”, you’re just being an asshole. And if you’re posting something on your own timeline or Instagram, and you know you have friends or followers with eating disorders the same guidelines apply. If you are Facebook friends with people you met in treatment, why are you exposing them to something that could be harmful?

Perhaps the worst of if is when people they try to frame before and after posts as eating disorder awareness. These posts do very little to help others. They can spread the misconception that all people with eating disorders are thin and look unwell, when in reality many eating disorders are invisible. And you aren’t helping yourself either. Fetishizing those older photos of yourself is merely a way of keeping a small part of your eating disorder alive. And any good that comes out of these posts can certainly be achieved by other means. You can share your experiences without emphasizing the size of your body.

The National Eating Disorder Association has this great piece on their website about sharing your story publicly. It addresses doing so in a way that protects your own well being, while also limiting possible harm to others. I wish people would apply these principles to sharing their experiences online. I’ve definitely shared problematic things in the past, and I’m sure I still do now time and again. But I sincerely believe, you have an obligation to inform people about eating disorders responsibly, and to avoid triggering other people whenever possible.

“It is important to carefully consider the potential impact of your message on the public, as well the effects of self-disclosure on your personal well-being. Research and anecdotal evidence show that even with the best intentions, personal testimonies can provide dangerous ideas that may contribute to disordered-eating behaviors…Research strongly suggests that testimonies which dramatize dangerous thinness can provoke a “race to the bottom” among those struggling with or susceptible to an eating disorder…A focus on the physical descriptions of the body is not only dangerous, but can also be misleading. Individuals with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes – just like in life!

I ate X calories a day” or “He took as many as X laxatives at a time” can turn a well-intentioned story into ‘how-to’ instructions for someone to follow. You might instead highlight that our self-worth cannot be measured by the numbers on a scale or the size of our clothes. Stories can also effectively – and responsibly – be illustrated by focusing on the mental and physical consequences of the eating disorder (e.g. disrupted friendships and isolation, fear and depression, fatigue, decreased ability to concentrate, medical complications, etc.) rather than the specific behaviors or number counting that perpetuated the eating disorder.”