Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Voiceless: Part One

I apologize for the formatting and random white backgrounds. I am working on the glitch ... 

Part One

Dear Blog Readers,

When I proposed this blog, I envisioned a space for vague writing and art that was full of glitter and rainbows. I am coming to terms with the fact that Eating Disorders are hard and messy. They are gross and painful and heart-wrenching. And while I love the idea of glitter and rainbows, there are so many voices that need to be heard. The hard, messy, painful struggle IS beautiful.

There is messiness and discomfort even within the Sheena’s Place Safe Space Guidelines. The reality is, there is nothing comfortable about Eating Disorders. This blog will continue to challenge common narratives while staying within the guidelines, and will include these brief introductions to allow readers to make the choice to continue reading or not.

In order to change the way EDs are understood and treated, and to work towards destigmatization, we have to talk about the problems WITHIN the community and WITHIN treatment. We have to examine experiences of people navigating supports in bodies deemed unacceptable. Bodies that have been pathologized. We have to identify our struggles, name them, and come together as a community to make change. We have to talk about the hard stuff.

Due to the length and complexity of this piece, I will be posting it in 2 parts. I believe that the importance of giving voice to the voiceless requires time to read, process, digest, reflect upon, and take in the thoughts, ideas, and emotions presented in this piece.

We welcome your feedback, whether you agree or disagree. Your voice is important.

Part 1 is below and discusses women in bigger bodies feeling excluded or unwelcome in spaces created for Eating Disorder services and supports.

Part 2 will be posted next week. It will explore the experiences of women living in larger bodies as they navigate the medical system.

If discussions about bigger bodies, BED, and/or medical professionals fat-shaming are hard for you to read, then this may not be a post you want to read. If you stop reading here, your struggles are valid and your choice for your self-care is valid. Take good care of yourself, and remember to nourish your body, mind, and spirit.

Your blog moderator,
Kira

***********************************

THE VOICELESS

I have woven together a series of stories shared by women in bigger bodies who have Eating Disorders. It is important to begin by saying that people of all sizes experience the world in unique ways. The purpose of this piece is not to dismiss the experiences of people with Eating Disorders who do not live in bigger bodies. I want to acknowledge that your experiences are of equal worth. For women in bigger bodies, there is very little public discussion about what it is like to live in a bigger body at all, let alone to live in a bigger body with an Eating Disorder. It is not my aim to belittle or ignore the experiences of anyone else. This piece aims to give voice to the women living in bigger bodies who have not had the space to share their stories. As you read, you may have feelings of defensiveness, or anger, or sadness. I invite you to ask yourself why you are feeling what you are feeling. I invite you to explore where your defensiveness is coming from.

“I feel like if I try to talk about my experiences of ED in a bigger body, others around me get defensive and insist that they experience the same body shame that we do. They don’t. Of course they have experiences of body shaming, and judgemental comments. It just isn’t the same. Their bodies are acceptable. Mine isn’t acceptable anywhere.” - PD

I was born into a culture and society that places value on the size of bodies. Throughout history, the value of a person has often been dependent on the current idealized body. I live in a country that was not designed with larger bodies in mind. People don’t want these bodies to exist. The multi-billion dollar diet industry preys on the shame and judgement of bodies. This piece focuses on female-identified bodies. Women in larger bodies are terrifying to people for many reasons. We are also treated as though we are open to comments, advice, ridicule, and control.

“A woman I really respect once told me, “When they look at me, I can feel that my body is their worst nightmare.”  And our bodies just might be their worst nightmares.  And it’s stopping me from fully accepting (or maybe embracing) my eating disorder.” - Maddi

Existing in a bigger body is exhausting. Physically, my body takes a beating. My exhaustion, though, is psychological and emotional. Going out in public is always intimidating. Will this be one of those days that a stranger insults my body? Or will it be a friend offering me diet advice? Maybe today is family-criticizes-my-body day. Or, perhaps it will be family offers a bribe to have me force my body to conform to what they think is an acceptable standard. People I have never met, comment on my appearance, my choices, and my very existence. Strangers yell horrible things at me. For no reason other than that I am evidence of the worst thing that could happen to them. People invite their friends in bigger bodies to do things in spaces that weren’t designed for them; places that have chairs with arms, or small chairs, or plastic chairs that will crack, leather (real or not) furniture that we sweat on and stick to and leave embarrassing marks on, trips that require flying on airplanes that charge you for 2 seats, movie theatres with arms that don’t lift up, tiny bathroom stalls we are physically unable to navigate, diet propaganda everywhere, physical activities with posted weight limits ... everywhere we turn, there is something else reminding us that we don’t belong and that we aren’t welcome.

EATING DISORDER SUPPORTS

“I feel like even within a community where I’m meant to belong, it’s divided into ‘us’ and ‘them;’ that our bodies somehow dictate our struggle or that they preempt what opinions or experiences we may have.” - Maddi

Having an Eating Disorder in a bigger body can make seeking support and treatment embarrassing and demoralizing.

“I have an eating disorder. It’s something that I’ve been coming to terms with over the last year or so - it’s a label that I still don’t always feel comfortable with. Don’t get me wrong.  I like labels.  (Okay, maybe I love them.)  They help me sort my life and the things in them into neat little boxes.  They help me explain what I’m going through - they help me find peers and resources to help me.  But this one isolates me. I don’t fit in with the eating disorder community.  My Binge Eating Disorder (BED), while the most common eating disorder, is often not what people think of when they hear ‘eating disorder.’” – Maddi

“I tried to get help years ago but I was laughed at! The woman actually chuckled and said that I just needed to shed some pounds.” – RK

“It took forever for me to tell my parents that I thought I had an Eating Disorder. They looked at me with sarcasm and pity and put me on a diet.” - NB

Our on-going experiences of judgement and the faces of disbelief we live with leads us to avoid accessing resources that we so desperately need. “If you have an Eating Disorder, why do you look like that?” is a question I have been asked more times than I care to count. There comes a point where you give up and stop telling people that you are struggling.

“Why bother doing anything about it [ED]? Its not like anyone will believe me anyway.” – DH

“The public don’t think of bodies like mine [people in bigger bodies with ED]; they don’t think of problems like mine.  They picture emaciated women, not an obese woman just praying to feel better - or to feel anything else. Emaciated women should not be the face of eating disorders. Eating disorders are as varied as their sufferers; did you know that the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 - the standard for diagnosing mental illnesses) lists eight eating or feeding disorders? Yet, here I am, feeling like an intruder in the community that I need - the very community that I rely on for my recovery. I’m tired of feeling alone, like my symptoms are a personal failing, or like my body makes me less worthy, and I need my community to help with that. Being around others like me has already helped enormously.” – Maddi

When you feel like you don’t belong in the very space that was created for you, it makes supports terrifying. Whether this sense of being an outsider is due to internalized fears, or the design of the actual physical space, entering a place created for supporting people with Eating Disorders can be intimidating in a way that is different from the experience of people who are not living in bigger bodies.

“I know there are places I can go. I know that I can get help. But I can’t go to those places. I’m too ashamed of my body. All these smaller people look like they belong. I don’t even look like I belong in the world. I can’t go. I just can’t” – GH

“I’m too big to go to treatment.” - LJ

Getting through the door of any treatment or support services building is an accomplishment to be proud of for any bodies. You found courage you didn’t even know you had. You took that terrifying step and walked into a space where you are no longer alone. There is a sense of shared experiences. I would like to argue that walking through that door in a bigger body is a unique experience.

“I finally registered for a group and got myself to actually go. I walked in the door and right away I was like, I don’t have an eating disorder. I can’t be so much bigger than everyone here and be sick. I left and never looked back” - TC

“Every week, since January, I’ve been attending a support group for BED. I love that group, and I really care for the people I’ve met in it that have wonderfully supported and inspired me. It is a space where I feel truly accepted and like a part of a community and that has been so incredibly powerful for me. My support group has helped make me more comfortable expressing myself and speaking out about my eating disorder, and even more, they have inspired me to try and learn to accept my body the way it is *right now*. But as soon as I step out of that room and into the rest of the building housing the eating disorder centre, I feel like an imposter. I’m too afraid to join any groups other than the one geared very specifically towards binging. My eating disorder feels less valid because of my weight.” – Maddi

This is not the first person I have encountered that does not feel like they have the right to join groups and programs that could save their lives. The fear of being judged by the very people who are there to offer non-judgement is very real.

“I can’t go there. I’m too fat and everyone will stare at me and think that I am lying.” – BN

I’m way too fat for a support group.” - DE

“I’m petrified of what others in an eating disorders group would think or say about me and my struggle because of the way I look.  Even more, I’ve felt them judging me and my body. After my group last week, I stood outside chatting with someone.  One by one, as the other groups let out, I watched people walk out, with bodies smaller than mine, and nearly every single one looked me up and down - as though questioning why I was even there.  I don’t belong. One of these things is not like the others. One of these bodies is double the others’.” – Maddi

The reality is that the people looking other clients up and down are likely lost in their own thoughts that have absolutely nothing to do with who they are looking at. That does not diminish the fear of feeling like you don’t belong, or the feeling of not looking like anyone else.

“And I’m as guilty as the next person.  I *know* that something gross, dark, and ugly inside me sparks up when I see a body that I deem ‘better’ than mine.  That vitriolic part of me doesn’t trust their struggle.  My most basic, reptilian response is that they are encroaching on *my* space.  My space where my body is okay — not great, but okay.  Where people understand, truly, fully, that it’s not a reflection of my worth or my value. The reality is, they have no idea what it’s like *just trying to live* in a fat body.  But I don’t know what it’s like in their body. That grossness inside of me wants to yell that it’s easier, but I don’t think that’s fair. Maybe I’m imagining the divide, but I doubt it.” – Maddi

“Why can’t there be a place for people like me to be with people who look like me?” – PT

Those of us living in bigger bodies who access services like the incredible groups at Sheena’s Place know intellectually that we are welcome. We know that this space was created for us too. When you live in a world that does everything it can do to make you unacceptable and unwelcome, it is difficult to believe that such a space could possibly exist. That makes getting support and gaining valuable skills really hard. Although personally I have gotten to a place where I join groups based on my needs and no longer look for groups where I think I could encounter bodies like mine, I still find myself caught in the trap of comparisons and of cognitive distortions that insist I am being stared at and judged by the other clients. It takes a great deal of self-love and self-compassion to attend groups at all. It is especially hard when you are living in a bigger body because you are not just challenging your own assumptions about your body, but you are also challenging societal ideals that are backed up by measurable facts about your body. What we have to do is challenge the judgement we impose upon ourselves based on our bodies and societal expectations. “THAT’S THE WORK” – CL

Women in bigger bodies face a unique set of challenges in accessing services and supports for Eating Disorders.

If you are living with an Eating Disorder in a body that is voiceless or silenced, we would love to hear from you. This space is here for you to share and to connect with others who might read your story, or look at your art, and think … I am not alone in this.

*********************
         
Work published on this blog is property of the writer/artist. Content on this blog is edited and approved by the moderator. Sheena’s Place does not specifically endorse any advice or content. This blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Please see your family doctor if you have concerns about yourself or your recovery. No one can recover alone.

If you would like to share your story, or other writings or art, please email your submission to Kmccarthy@sheenasplace.org

If you or someone in your life is struggling with an Eating Disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) at 
http://nedic.ca/ 

If you would like more information or to register for groups, visit Sheena's Place website at 
www.sheenasplace.org


If you are in a country other than Canada, please google your local or National Eating Disorders Centre.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave us your comments and join the conversation! All comments will be approved by the moderator before being posted. This is to ensure that this client-centred space remains as safe as possible.

In the Bedroom