Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

To The Bone fits my reality almost perfectly.

“I had an eating disorder, and To The Bone Got it Almost Entirely Wrong”

Author, Lucy Kelly: “The new Netflix movie is a remarkably tone-deaf and insight-free depiction of anorexia nervosa.” 

I thought To The Bone finally depicted someone struggling with the terrifying choice of anorexia versus recovery.  To The Bone is reassurance that other people have lived my story and other people had the same fears as I did and that other people took years to make the choice to recover.

Yes, this post will discuss anorexia symptoms–my experience with various symptoms and treatment.  At no point will I make the claim that my experience is everyone’s experience–or even that it should represent the majority of people with an eating disorder.

As advocates for mental health awareness in general and eating disorder awareness specifically, we bemoan the fact that not enough media accurately portrays eating disorders, that anorexia is glamourized or romanticized and that society doesn’t understand that anorexia has a mortality rate of 20%.

Then there comes a movie–that is fiction (and she makes a point to call this a fiction, not a documentary/memoir) , but based on the writer’s personal experience–and now people are pissed that it isn’t accurate enough, and that it’s not representative of all people who struggle with an eating disorder.

We ask for reality and then bitch when we’re given that reality.  Does anyone else see the inherent conflict of this statement?

No one story will ever be representative of the majority.  And if we want to keep saying that each individual’s story is unique, we can’t expect one story to work for everyone.  Articles and blogs such as the one I have linked to are now complaining that her story didn’t represent their story.

But–it was nice to finally see this story represented in media.  This story is strikingly similar to my story. If we want people to understand the harsh realities of  eating disorders, tell them to watch this film, because I’m having problems seeing this as ‘romanticized.’ It certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

The seven patients are male, female, black, white, straight, gay, bi, and have anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, and exercise addiction.  This isn’t supposed to represent typical treatment centers, but in one inpatient treatment center, there were only three of us in the eating disorder treatment.   The idea is that it isn’t traditional at all.  The main character faints while waiting for a bus. She’s forever huddled in several layers of clothing in an effort to stay warm and hide herself from sight.  She forces herself to do sit-ups in bed because she is terrified of life without sit-ups. Another patient keeps a smelly paper bag under her bed to throw up in when no one is watching.  A pregnant patient loses her baby due to complications from the eating disorder.  The token male dancer had to stop dancing due to injuries–that are a result of the eating disorder, and he finds during the movie that he will never be professional dancer again because his knee is shot.  One patient is forced to have an NG-tube and struggles to accept how many calories being pumped into her.  Which of these stories present an eating disorder as a beautiful way to live?

ached to tear the NG-tube out.  The only reason I didn’t?  My doctor said he would just put another one back in, and that this time I’d be on a one-to-one on a medical unit on bed rest, and I figured (in my obsessed brain) that at least I could burn off a few calories by walking from the dining room to the living room, where we had to sit. All. Day. Long.  I kept a chart tracking exactly how many sit-ups, push-ups, toe raises, squats, etc. I did every single day.  I would not go to bed until I finished all of those exercises–in addition to whatever running and walking and biking and swimming I had done earlier in the day.  I timed how long I stretched my hamstrings–and kept a chart of all of my stretches too.

We say that media only contributes to the stereotype that only very thin people need treatment.  This film only has 7 patients, true–but some are emaciated, some are thin, some may be overweight (from a health perspective).  Some are athletic.  Some aren’t.  Yet all of them are getting help.

This film does not cater to people wanting numbers of any type.  We only have a few shots of Ellen, the main character, in anything but layers of clothing.  We don’t see her weight.  We don’t hear her weight–either her current weight or how much she’s lost.  We don’t see sizes.  There is one calorie reference.  We don’t even know how many sit-ups Ellen does every day.

As for how the film represents families trying to deal with or understand their loved one’s struggles with an eating disorder?   The sister voices her anger at not having a real sister, only an illness standing in for a sister.  The parents and step-parents struggle to understand and support their daughter and really have no clue how to do so and, even if they did, they’re exhausted and wish they could just forget about it.  If you want to say that parents do everything they can possibly think of to seek help or to read up on a diagnosis and possible treatments or providers–be thankful you can have that viewpoint.  I don’t.

This film doesn’t wrap things up in a nice, neat plotline.  We don’t dive into all the myriad ways someone might develop an eating disorder.  And the patients don’t simply get to the treatment center, get help, and get better.  In fact, the ending simply shows her deciding to really give treatment a chance–without the happily-ever-after conclusion Hollywood loves.  Ellen has had treatment–and then relapsed.  Over and over again.  Which is kind of what my story was.  Hospitalizations that I was not invested in aside from keeping my doctors from committing me.  Discharge, relapse, readmission.  I can’t be the only one with this plotline.

Ellen is terrified.  Of recovery.  This is what we don’t want to speak of.  We want to think that people get sick and want to get better.  But what if you’ve been sick for so long you’ve forgotten what not being sick is like?  What if you’ve been told by multiple treatment providers that “once an anorexic, always an anorexic”?  Life without an eating disorder is the unknown territory that could be beautiful and fulfilling, but it could also be horrific and painful and terrifying.  Terrifying enough to paralyze you.

The repeated hospitalizations did one thing–they kept me physically alive until I hit my particular rock bottom and made the decision to recover and to actually participate in my own treatment.  At the time, I probably would have said I wanted nothing to do with whatever life was.  Now?  I’m glad people forced my physical body to maintain enough health that I survived.  Now?  I’m glad I hit rock bottom and scraped my way back up to somewhat level ground.

This movie will trigger a great many people.  Some people will watch this movie for that very reason.  They want to get tips and tricks to be sicker.  This film won’t give out a lot of tricks.  I’m positive that a lot of people have already printed out pictures from this film and pasted them on walls and in journals as “thinspiration.”  However, I don’t think any representation about eating disorders could not be triggering.  The people who will stare at these images will find inspiration in any movie, any television show, any magazine, any fashion runway, any fitness program, any gym.  They will see someone who is frail from chemo treatments as desirable.  They will see pre-pubescent children as ideal.  They will look at Olympic weight lifters and think that body type can be had by every citizen in the world.

What are some other things you will see watching this film?  How difficult it is to navigate relationships when you or the person you care for are ill.  Family, friends, romantic interests–all are affected by an eating disorder.  How recovery is not a simple process of finding a treatment center and forever moving forward.  How no one can make you recover unless you want to recover.

This film may not be representative of your reality.  But the article I linked to above doesn’t represent my reality.  There is no one reality, no one story.  Perhaps that is what people need to see.  Sometimes, stepping outside of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to alternate realities really is the best course of action.

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, diversity, Eating Disorders, exercise, family, health, identity, images, inclusiveness, movies, publicity, recovery, relationships, thinspo, To the Bone, treatment, triggers, weight | Leave a comment

My Recovery=My Responsibility

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Since I wrote my previous blog post, “To the Bone” has continued to stir up controversy and anger.  Project HEAL, an organization that supports eating disorder recovery, has fielded a lot of angry questions about how the organization could be on board with a project that is potentially triggering for people with eating disorders.

In addressing the potential for triggers, their cofounder writes, ““Eating disorder recovery was the most challenging journey in my life, and in the early stages, I was triggered by many things—friends from treatment, diet talk amongst peers, stepping into a gym, and seeing very underweight people. I had to understand where I was in my journey and avoid those triggers. As I progressed in recovery, I was able to be around those triggers, and now, facing them solidifies how strong I am in recovery and how I never want to go back. I hope that our community can keep this perspective in mind when carefully evaluating whether to view this film.”

One of the most difficult things in my own recovery was acknowledging, and eventually accepting, that other people aren’t responsible for my behaviors.  Although I wasn’t triggered by seeing underweight individuals, I was triggered when my friends would talk about exercise, especially about running.  Sure, it would have been nice if the whole world stopped talking about exercise; then I wouldn’t have had to face the negative consequences both negatively idolizing and obsessing about an activity that other people enjoyed.

What was worse than talk about exercise, though, was the actual act of eating.  Meals, snacks, coffee house trips–all had the potential to bring up bad memories and connotations.  But I kind of had to eat, and I kind of had to eat and drink around other people.  If I had chosen to eat in isolation, I would have been giving in the distorted thoughts in my head that made me miserable.

So did I grab a whole bunch of friends and invite them over for a feast that rivaled Thanksgiving dinner?  No.  I started by eating meals with a close friend or family member at somebody’s house before I went out to eat in public and chaotic restaurants.  With peers and colleagues, I went to grab coffee with them before saying, “hey. Let’s grab some lunch before our workshop.”  As I felt more and more comfortable, I gradually began to expose myself to other difficult eating situations.

The same happened with exercise.  I didn’t just jump right in to discussions about someone’s specific training schedule, but observing my friends discuss exercise helped me see the positive and healthy role exercise played in their lives.  I didn’t go from not exercising for a whole year to training for a competitive half-marathon.  I had to learn how to approach exercise in a completely different manner than before, and I did so gradually.

During recovery, especially the early stages, I had to make some very difficult choices.  I had to ask myself what would be upsetting and potentially triggering and what would be upsetting and uncomfortable and what would be upsetting but okay.  And what would bring me joy.  At first, I did choose not to engage in some activities for my own well-being.

I do that still today, and this extends far beyond food and exercise habits.  If I know an upcoming event will be lots of people talking and laughing in a rather small room that amplifies all the chaos, I have to decide ahead of time whether or not I want to go, or if I want to go for a short time and then leave.  I find that when I am physically exhausted or under a lot of stress, my social anxiety flourishes, so I take into account all aspects of my health.

And there are times that I have no other choice but to walk into a room full of chaos and act like my brain isn’t sending me millions of messages that tell me to run and not look back.  But because I have learned to take care of myself, and because I have learned new coping skills, and because I have learned how I react in different situations, I know I can face upsetting environments without being tempted to use unhealthy coping skills.

There are shows and movies I choose not to watch because they are too close to home.  I cannot tell other people what to read or watch or listen to because it is triggering for me.  I am responsible for my own actions.  If I choose to watch something that I know will be more upsetting than I can deal with, I am responsible for my state of mind afterwards, and I am responsible for any and all actions that could result from that state of mind.

A movie itself is not responsible for my mind state.  Upsetting thoughts and emotions arise from a seemingly endless number of situations and images and words and people.  But thankfully, thoughts and emotions do not “make” me do anything.  What I do, I choose to do.

 

 

June 28, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, images, movies, progress, recovery, responses, To the Bone, trauma, triggers | Leave a comment

To the Bone: An Uncomfortable Necessity

Please remember that these thoughts are my own personal opinions.  I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I haven’t performed my own research in order to analyze  statistics.  I am someone who had an eating disorder for a decade.  I am someone who struggled though the initial stages of recovery and have been fully recovered for ten years.  My experience should not be equated with either your personal experience or with academic research.

I think “To the Bone” is a necessary movie, to be released on Netflix in July.  

I think “To the Bone” will be a disturbing movie to watch.

I am sure that some individuals will use the film as “thinspo,” or motivation to continue with their eating disorder.

I still think this is a necessary movie, and I hope that more and more people hear about it and watch it, even if it is triggering and disturbing.

Here’s the reality: Eating disorders existed before movies and social media.  Characters with eating disorders are scene in literature throughout history, even if the modern vocabulary of “eating disorder” and “anorexia” and “bulimia” are employed.

Thinspo existed before the internet.  Thinspo existed as soon as two individuals who were struggling with an eating disorder discussed ways to lose more weight, or be stronger, or look more muscular, or cancel out calories already ingested.

Yes, some individuals will use the film to “get sicker,” but we cannot let fact cancel out everything else this film offers.  If people want a trigger-free environment then don’t read anything, don’t listen to music, and don’t watch movies.  And you might want to stay at home and completely isolate yourself so you don’t come across any upsetting sights or upsetting people when you go to get a cup of coffee.  Don’t bother taking a literature class, since I’ve come across more disturbing scenes and people via our classics than walking around this world.  And don’t bother looking into medicine or psychology or social work or history.

Life is triggering.  That’s not going to change.  Every time I see a television show that uses “cardiac arrest” incorrectly, I feel intense anger.  And that leads to some tough sadness, and then a good dose of guilt.  I feel these things observing various ads and billboards.  But just because they make me uncomfortable, I know the signs need to be there because there is information that more people need to know, no matter how it makes me feel.  So I choose not to watch the cheesy Hallmark movies about terminal illnesses in which the ending is somehow always happy, with great insight gained for each character

Similarly, I don’t watch fashion runways or browse through fashion magazines.  A) It’s not what I’m interested in, and B) I find some of fashion quite upsetting.  I am responsible for not picking up that magazine.  While I was still sick, Girl, Interrupted was a movie I’d watch for “motivation.”  I was the one putting the DVD in my player over and over and over again.  That doesn’t detract from the intelligent, thought-provoking movie that it is.  We need to take more responsibility for our own actions, and that includes how we respond to images that seem perfectly normal to most people.

This film will contain images that aren’t seen as “normal” in the general public.  I’ve only seen the Netflix preview of the movie To the Bone. There are the stereotyped images of anorexia, so yes, it has a character who is female and underweight as the lead.  But there are also characters that aren’t either of those things.  There are male eating disorder patients, and there are patients who aren’t emaciated.  They show the intense obsessiveness of exercise addiction, something that hasn’t gotten much media attention.  There is a scene where the family of the patient responds.  I don’t expect to watch that movie with a whole bunch of warm, fuzzy thoughts that make me smile for days.

And maybe we need that.  Maybe more people need to see the severe emaciation that can result from an eating disorder.  Maybe people need to see the endless sit-ups and stair repeats.  Maybe people need to see someone terrified of a plate of food.  Maybe we need to see someone break down because of that fear.

There is a general thought that “eating disorders are bad for your health, of course, but it’s really just high school girls losing some weight and caring too much about their size.”  Those of us who have struggled or are struggling or have lost people to these illnesses already know this to be a radically false claim.  The general public does not.  The general public sees people who are recovered talking about their experiences.  The general public see individuals in early recovery discussing why they sought treatment.  In most cases, the general public sees individuals after they have received or started treatment,  after some of the severe consequences of eating disorders aren’t so obvious.  If the general public never sees the full reality of eating disorders, why would they fully realize the severity of these illnesses?

And maybe, the general public needs to see how this film impacts those of us who are recovered, are still struggling, or are mourning the loss of loved ones to this illness.  Maybe, it’s time to discuss these illnesses more fully than we have in the past.  The public should be more alarmed if this film isn’t uncomfortable to watch.

 

June 21, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, diversity, exercise, feelings, guilt, heart, identity, images, movies, publicity, recovery, responses, shame, therapy, thinspo, To the Bone, treatment, triggers, weight | 2 Comments