Why Eating Disorders Awareness Week Is Challenging for Me as a Mental Health Advocate


I’ve been an eating disorder survivor for 12 years. I’ve been a mental health advocate for almost nine years. I create Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) programming materials for Active Minds and I have traveled around for the last seven years telling my story during this week of observance.

But I still have a really hard time during Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

On the one hand, I am so passionate about this issue. I want people who struggle to know there is hope. I want them to know there is help available. I want them to know treatment can work and things can get better. I want their friends and family to know they’re probably not going to do everything perfectly, but by being there to support their loved ones, they are providing a much needed connection to the world outside the eating disorder. I want to give those folks specific strategies for how to be there for their loved one while taking care of themselves, too.

This work is also how I get to honor my family, close friends, advocates and treatment providers who are the reasons I’m still here today.

But this work is also difficult. We don’t have nearly the research we need in order to run an effective public health campaign. That’s why NEDA works so diligently to lobby for research funding among its many other amazing programs (including their helpline!).

This work is also laden with stereotypes and misconceptions that are so entrenched in and reinforced by our culture that they seem impossible to root out. I mean, how do I create programs and messages about awareness when I can still hear my eating disorder voice whispering at me sometimes—reinforcing those stereotypes and misconceptions?

And eating disorders are complicated! How do I explain the intricacies of eating disorders in 140 characters? Or in an 8.5 x 11 inch flyer? How do I explain that eating disorders are a bunch of entangled biological, psychological, emotional and environmental factors that impact people differently? Is it practical to suggest we pursue deep conversations about all of the nuances and how we can create more compassionate and supportive communities?

Do people even have long, deep conversations about anything anymore?

Like so many of us, I’m an advocate with a long story trying to make a difference in a sound bite world. That’s why I’m so glad The Mighty is giving advocates and survivors like you and me the opportunity to participate in these long conversations. In fact, today at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on The Mighty’s Mental Health Facebook page, I’ll be doing a live stream where we can actually have those conversations that delve into the complexities surrounding eating disorders!

I have come to think of this week as just the beginning of a conversation that lasts all year. I think of it as an introduction and invitation for anyone and everyone to join me in parsing the complexities of eating disorders, finding the kernels of hope that spark recovery and creating the networks we all need to stay connected even when we struggle. This is my invitation to you, dear Mighty followers. I’ll see you at 5pm ET!

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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