How I Voiced My Eating Disorder Struggle Through Art After Being Invalidated by Others
Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
Eating disorders are real, traumatic mental illnesses, and are valid at any weight.
At the height of my eating disorder, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital because I couldn’t guarantee my own safety. I had lost a considerable amount of weight in a short period of time — I was abusing laxatives, I was skipping meals and restricting calories. I was exercising for many hours per day and I spent every waking moment wishing I was dead. However, according to our public health system, this wasn’t enough. I didn’t fit the criteria for an inpatient eating disorder admission because I was not “thin enough.”
My weight seemed to confuse the mental health trained staff on the ward, as well. In the midst of a panic attack over a plate of vegetables, I had a nurse tell me to “get over it,” after she had told me I didn’t “look anorexic.” My entire admission was one invalidation after another. It broke my heart and made me furious all at the same time.
That’s when I decided to draw.
I drew my anger at the doctors. I drew the voices in my head and the prison cell that was my eating disorder. My drawings became more and more revealing as time went on. I showed my friends, I showed my family, I showed my therapists and my doctors. Finally, I had a way of validating my illness that didn’t mean I had to “fit into” a certain body mass index to be taken seriously.
My drawings showed people the true nature of my eating disorder. A demon, living in my mind, shouting abuse at me every second of the day. The desperation that came with trying to control my weight down to the last gram so that the neglect and bullying in my life would no longer haunt me. The power that came with “numbing out” and feeling superhuman while I ate less than everybody else. The relief as I deprived my body of what it needed, killing myself slowly from the inside out. I hated myself. I was repulsed by myself.
It was never about weight loss. It was about refusing to live in a healthy body when my mind convinced me I deserved to rot. When I was in the depths of my illness, I had no voice. Every time I voiced my fears and thoughts, I was laughed at, yelled at and told to stop being “silly.” I was taught that my concerns weren’t important enough, and that there were people worse off in the world than me. I learned to suppress everything, and use my body as my voice instead. If I was upset, if I was angry, if I was heartbroken, my body would show them just how much they hurt me. Of course, it never did.
My drawings became my voice.
If they’d like, I want people with eating disorders to use these drawings as their voices, too. There is vulnerability in showing people how you really feel. I used my artwork as a way to test the waters. If somebody reacted positively to my drawings, I would know they could be trusted. My drawings provoked questions. My family and friends started asking questions.
Why are you feeling this way?
What is this like?
How can I help?
I then chose how much information I wanted to share with them. My drawings helped me communicate with people, and I want my drawings to help people with this isolating and illogical illness.
Unfortunately, our resources in Australia are limited when it comes to eating disorders. There are nearly a million people with eating disorders in this country, and only very few hospital beds. Services are exhausted and staff are undertrained. Medical and health professionals are invalidating people with eating disorders every day and this needs to stop. I will never forget my general practitioner telling me that she wished she could “diet like me.” I will never forget the doctor who told me, “Get a boyfriend, because that will make you happy.” This needs to change. Our attitude about eating disorders needs to change.
Eating disorders are valid at any weight and my drawings are proof of the reality this illness.
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.
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Photos via Christie Begnell.