This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Today’s post demonstrates the importance of this week; the importance of education about EDs, the importance of services for EDs, and the invaluable resources available in our city. It also points out the lack of knowledge and training, the stigma, the fear, and the wait times for OHIP covered treatment programs. I invite you to reply to this post by emailing me at Kmccarthy@sheenasplace.org to make this post a discussion. I can post your responses anonymously and begin the important conversations about what is missing in the available treatments in this city, province, and country.
Be kind to yourself and remember to nourish your body, mind, and spirit.
In a support group last year, a question was posed to members: “What is something you wish your healthcare provider knew about EDs?” For Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2020, I decided to make a blog post inspired by this question.
Years ago, I vividly remember the pounding in my chest as I entered my doctor’s office, wiping my sweaty hands on my shirt. I wondered if THIS would be the day my shameful secret would be revealed.
I informed my GP about the physical ailment I had been experiencing. “That’s odd,” she replied. “We’ll run some tests.” The appointment ended. On the bus back home, I let out a sigh of relief, and felt I could breathe again. Deep down though, there was a part of me that scared me that my secret was still safe with me. My secret was, in fact, keeping me unsafe.
Back then I had (kind of, sort of) come to terms with the fact that I had an eating disorder, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud. And so, whenever another physical manifestation of this disease presented itself, I would haul myself back to my doctor, explain the presenting problem, all the while remaining mum on what really needed to be said: “I need help.”
I wanted my GP to connect the dots herself. All of my individual visits indicated the presence of an eating disorder, yet my GP never asked the question. And so I remained silent. We remained at a standstill, while my eating disorder continued to plunge on at full force.
Years later, when I finally found the courage to tell my doctor (crying, looking at the wall above her head) that I had an eating disorder, things started to move in the right direction. I was referred to the Toronto General Hospital’s eating disorder clinic. This program, along with Sheena’s place, have helped me immensely on the road to recovery.
It struck me as odd that my doctor didn’t consider an ED as a possible cause for all of my visits. My initial thought was to brush her off as a “bad” doctor. As I began to do my own research on EDs however, I began to realize how little attention this very serious illness gets. The consequences of the lack of awareness are dire: misdiagnosis, pervasive myths (“you don’t LOOK like you have an eating disorder!”), and stigma.
Oh, stigma. I think it’s stigma that has had one of the biggest effects on me. I had spent so much time thinking I WAS my eating disorder. One single entity, intertwined in the vilest way imaginable. I hated every part of myself. It has taken just as many years to unlearn this type of thinking, and I still have to challenge the thoughts on a regular basis. It can be exhausting.
Ultimately, the problem is institutional. These thoughts of mine would have been far less present if adequate funding was given to ED programs, and if EDs were thought of as simply an illness (albeit a complex one) that requires treatment. Imagine how that would help reduce the stigma.
I, myself, had to wait six months to be admitted to the Eating disorders program at Toronto General Hospital. This is a dangerous and potentially deadly amount of time to have to wait. And here is the most devastating fact of all: there are no publicly-funded programs for those living with certain types of EDs, such as binge eating disorder. This is shameful.
As Eating Disorders Awareness Week comes upon us, I feel angry. I’m providing an outlet for my anger by writing this blog post, and contacting elected officials. I’m not mad at my doctor anymore, by the way. It’s not her fault inadequate training is given to doctors about this disease. She’s a part of this broken system, too.
I also feel hope. Knowing that there are organizations and people out there (like the amazing folks at Sheena’s) who are working tirelessly to advance the cause of eating disorders is a very positive thing. And having elected officials on our side (I have my own wonderful MPP to thank for that – shout out to Dr. Jill Andrew!)
So, anger and hope. Two emotions that fit kind of weirdly together, and that’s ok.
Have an angry and hopeful Eating Disorders Awareness Week, everyone.