The Family Secret We Can No Longer Keep
Since September of 2012 our family has been keeping a secret from most of the world. Only a select handful of friends are aware of what's been going on. Beyond that tiny group of people the only others that know are the ones that “needed” to be aware of the situation. It has been a tough and exhausting road, and the journey has only begun. However we've recently come to realize keeping this secret is not helping anyone and may even be making matters worse.
I have two goals with today’s post. My first goal is to educate you. This way when I start sharing my personal struggles, my tears, my fears, even my anger you’ll be more informed than I was when we started this craziness. The second goal is extremely self-serving ~ I am trying to find support.
When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, tears are shed, a battle plan devised, troops are rallied and you forge on. Most times there is a path to recovery. There may be trails along the way that you didn't plan to explore but for the most part, with your medical team's guidance, everyone has a fairly clear view of what's ahead. It's as if there is an itinerary; at 6 months we'll do this, 4 weeks after that we'll start this treatment and so forth. That's not true when the diagnosis is Anorexia Nervosa.
Anorexia Nervosa as defined by the National Library Medicine is an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height. That's the same as saying The Bible is just a book or an Ocean is a body of water. Anorexia is an all consuming, life threatening, manipulative disease that has many different facets.
Unlike other diseases the rise of social media has made it all the more harder to help someone battling Anorexia recover. I refuse to assist in the promotion of any sites that promote anorexia however I promise you there are literally thousands. Known to insiders as Pro-Ana (Anorexia) or Pro-Mia (Bulimia) these sites teach, encourage, berate and even discipline their followers. Tumblr is a favorite tool for those looking to continue in this "lifestyle" through the sharing of pictures, exercises and tips. Twitter is used to share goals, find buddies to help you through the shakes and other side effects, give advice on how to manipulate those around them. Disappointingly you can find pages on sites like Livestrong and Sparkpeople. Facebook and Pintrest strive to not allow any ProAna or ProMia pages; however there are always ways around it.
Thinspiration or Thinspo is the latest "cover word" for those looking to be public about their "lifestyle". Are you bit curios about my use of the phrase "lifestyle"? That's because some that are dedicated to being Anorexic or Bulimic they do see this as a lifestyle choice. On more than one website I've seen them compare their situation to that of homosexuality in earlier decades. Just as homosexuality used to be in the DSM as an illness, a disorder and is now respected as a lifestyle choice they believe that Anorexia and Bulimia will follow that same course. (Important to note that I do not believe that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice I am quoting from the sites)
Living with an anorexic is quite different from what you may have seen portrayed in movies. Due to the overwhelming mental/mindset consumption of this disease they become masters at lying, being sneaky and are manipulative in ways that would make most televangical preachers envious. They are “on” 24/7, literally. Chances are they are up exercising in the middle of the night while you are sleeping. That YouTube video they’re watching actually has a secret “in your chair” workout. Every meal has the potential to become a battle zone. Every time they go to the bathroom you listen for the sounds of purging, some even do it while they shower. You can't bribe them into eating. Sharing medical proof what they're doing to their bodies and the future ramifications does little to shake their commitment. It is a never ending secretly fought war. AND it is emotionally as well as physically exhausting.
Despite the anorexic's attempt to hide their disorder there are tell tale signs. Unfortunately in our Thin is Best society most anorexics don’t stand out until their BMI is around a 15. Most insurances will not cover in-patient treatment for anorexics until their BMI is 15. For a 5 foot teen that means she would have to weigh approximately 77 pounds. They are very very good at hiding what their body actually looks like ~ mainly because they believe it to be something very different than what it is (this is called body dysmorphia). You can start to see the effects in the quality of their hair. In girls with curly hair they will actually see sections loose most of their curls. Their skin has a grayish quality to it. They have difficulty maintaining long nails. They have very little energy, which is OK in their minds as that means sleeping and not eating. Most noticeably are their moods, think seriously pregnant woman combined with someone PMSing and that is a common day.