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My battles with people who don't understand eating disorders.
Member Name: cirsty
Advantages: people pulling together to support one and other.
Disadvantages: ignorance, fear
It's eating disorder awareness week in the UK, and to me it's almost like a holiday to be excited for.
I know, it's quite an unusual thing to say.. but I've been so passionate about eating disorders from a young age. I've never had an eating disorder nor have I been close to someone with one, it's just been an interest that turned into a full blown fascination and passion. Let me tell you a bit about my background, and how it all relates into eating disorders..
I'm 21 years old and I'm a mental health nurse. Like any teenage girl growing up I had issues with my appearance, I didn't like my new hips or my small chest and I was constantly pouring over magazines with heavily photoshopped models with flat tummies and taut thighs and began to torture myself for not looking a certain way. Like many people, I grew out of this phase and started to read into photoshopped images within the media and how this impacts society and gradually came across eating disorders and it all came to a halt. I was fascinated, enthralled, gob smacked and pulled in by this online world for people with eating disorders, and rather than wanting in I wanted to know why these people felt that they had to hide away in the wide world of the internet to seek help from their illness. As my interest grew I researched eating disorders more and before I knew it I had a growing pile of textbooks (psychology, physiology and sociology books about eating disorders) and years had gone that I knew this was the career I was born to do.
All of my assignments in high school were related to body image and eating disorders, photoshop, mental health and the media's obsession with falsifying a person's image, and with every assignment I needed more and more information. I followed the size zero debates and created scrapbooks with stories in newspapers and magazines about eating disorders and even joined an organisation for young people to help educate those about eating disorders. I can remember being told when I was 17 years old that I was not allowed to go into classrooms to discuss eating disorders because it 'might encourage people to starve themselves' and the ignorance of this nearly knocked me off my feet. A typical teenager, I thought the world had the same thoughts as me and I felt (and still feel) that eating disorders are serious, scary and anyone suffering deserves the best care in order to tackle such a deadly illness.
Needing to vent my frustration somehow, I started campaigning. I raised money for BEAT (http://www.b-eat.co.uk/) and ran body image work shops during the summer for young people interested in looking after themselves mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I did this for 3 summers in a row and by the time I'd reached 18 I was looking to further my career in something, but what? I could be a dietitian for people with eating disorders, I could be a music therapist.. but it just didn't give me that satisfaction. So I applied for mental health nursing and began a very long but self fulfilling 3 years of hard work and dedication and gained a Bachelor of Honours Degree in Mental Health Nursing.
Now, during my time of studying, I found that the stigma and prejudice against people with eating disorders was rife. Some staff nurses were scared of caring for someone with anorexia due to lack of education about the illness and others just couldn't be bothered with them, thinking that the patient had 'brought this on themselves' and 'obviously didn't want help'.
***Can I just say right now, an eating disorder is not self-inflicted. It's not an extreme diet or attention seeking behaviour. It is a true and deadly mental illness, and the deadliest one at that. A person with an eating disorder can strive for control and there are often underlying problems also***
For 3 months I worked within a wonderful team caring for people with eating disorders and I came across some devastating cases. There were individuals who could not function without doing 300 sit ups in the morning and surviving on a very small amount of food. There is this ignorant view that someone with an eating disorder is smug and wants to look like a particular celebrity, but this is not the case. Seeing an articulate, intelligent and bright individual cry over a full fat yoghurt is really sad and upsetting, especially when you have an understanding of eating disordered behaviours.
Now, I'm still campaigning. I still actively research eating disorders and have written countless essays and reports regarding the nurse's role in caring for someone with an eating disorder and how we can change as a society to support the vulnerable members. For eating disorder awareness week, I challenge you all to research with me. Look up the signs and symptoms, behaviours and warning signs. Take that fear away.. you might save someone's life by doing so.
Summary: let's pull together and support people with eating disorders.