NEDAwareness Week 2016

Posted by on Feb 27, 2016

NEDAwareness


#NEDAwareness: National Eating Disorder Awareness

Another NEDAwareness Week is drawing to a close. This year’s theme, “Three Minutes Can Save a Life: Get Screened, Get Help, Get Healthy,” focused on the importance of early detection and intervention. I can’t emphasize enough just how important it is to act as soon as possible if you suspect that you or others you love are struggling with eating-related issues. Catching an eating disorder or disordered eating in its earliest stages shortens the overall duration of the illness, decreases severity, and improves the chances of full recovery. Early intervention literally saves lives.

(And on that note… please check out Proud2BMe.org’s series on early intervention stories, including mine: Early Intervention Could Have Rewritten My Eating Disorder Story.)

NEDAwarenessIt has been a pretty remarkable week for me. It began Monday with an Open House at the National Eating Disorders Association headquarters, where we announced that Mayor De Blasio and First Lady McCray had officially declared it Eating Disorder Awareness Week in New York City. (Also, the First Lady very kindly included my story on her blog! Check it out!)

That was really exciting, because that was a project I’d been working on for a couple months. It was amazing to see it come to fruition and to see how excited people were about it. It was recognition and validation of our battle with eating disorders — it really meant a lot that the City was so willing to work with us in this way.

The other significant moment for me came on Thursday, when I had the opportunity to speak to NYU students and the Active Minds NYU chapter as part of their NEDAwareness week events. The talk I gave was, “You’re Not Making It Up: Finding Help at the Earliest Signs of an Eating Disorder.” I shared my story and discussed the hidden signs of a burgeoning eating disorder and how we can help a loved one or ourselves in that situation. The students were very engaged and asked great questions. I was really impressed by how much effort they put into this week!

Moments like these made the already surreal week even more dream-like for me. It throws into sharp relief how different my life is now compared to my first NEDAwareness Week.

Two years ago, I spent this week inside a residential treatment facility. I had never marked NEDAwareness Week before then — after all, I’d only been diagnosed with an eating disorder barely two months prior.

We acknowledged the week from inside the center, but we didn’t do very many “awareness-raising” activities. Besides, we weren’t really the target population in need of education about this illness. We were already intimately familiar with it.

Nevertheless, there was something really special about that week. When I heard about the various events that the “outside world” was doing in the name of eating disorder awareness, I felt seen. The 58 of us there may have been locked away in treatment, but we hadn’t been forgotten about. Thousands of people were thinking about us and what we were going through. Strangers were talking about our illness and doing their best to garner the attention needed to find treatment and prevention strategies.

It made a difference. Feeling seen and heard made me feel less alone; feeling less alone made me feel hopeful; and feeling hopeful brought me one moment closer to recovery.

NEDAwareness

 

Why I Love NEDAwareness Week

I know there is some debate within the eating disorder community regarding this week. Some argue that raising awareness does nothing to tangibly support people suffering from this illness. Others worry that this week has come to highlight all the wrong messages about eating disorders. Their concerns are not unjustified, but I will need to write a separate post to give that discussion the attention it needs.

I will leave it at this: From where I stand, this week is invigorating and healing for me. Eating disorders are shrouded in stigma and shame. They are severely misunderstood and, recently, they have increasingly become the punch line of some hurtful jokes.

But for this one week, we make a collective commitment to facing that shame head on and speaking publicly about our battles. We change our profile pictures to the recovery symbol, we share facts and anecdotes on social media, we wear green, blue, and purple and we don’t hesitate to tell people why we’re dressed in those colors. All of us unite in a sign of mutual understanding and support.

The candor I saw my friends display this year even gave me the courage to post my very first eating disorder-related picture on my personal Instagram account (the one under my real name, not The Middle Ground). Granted, it was the picture of the Empire State Building lit up in blue and green for NEDAwareness, and I didn’t include a caption or any personal notes — but I nonetheless made a public post regarding eating disorders using my real name! That’s huge for me, since I still have friends and family to whom I have yet to “come out.”

For one week, rather than feeling like a pariah with a bizarre, incomprehensible mental illness, I feel empowered. Most important, the whole week is a reminder of the year-round truth that none of us is alone in this.

That will not end with this week. Let’s make sure to carry it into next week and the weeks to come.

Thank you all for another very special NEDAwareness Week.


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