My dear friend Emily, started a blog this week, discussing the life stuffs that are fulfilling and also challenging. She wrote a brilliant piece, that introduces her readers into a subject, this is still understood and needs more awareness. Like many people, disordered eating can mask itself for the people that after impacted by these silent attackers. I myself have battled with my weight since I was a teenager.
Youth, especially teens, face certain societal pressures to fit in. A social circle, the ‘in’ crowd, the ‘cool kids’. As a kid who wore glasses their whole life, easily weighing over 200 lbs, and grew up in a home where my mother could cook for an army (seriously, there was always enough for seconds and thirds) and for someone who preferred living in my own head, and not being physically active, I was a hefty child. My height balanced the weight, to an extent. Today is the first time, since being a toddler, that I can fit into medium sized clothes. But in high school I was always digging through racks for anything sized extra-large. I tried very hard to be one of the ‘cool kids’.
I had friends. Close relationships with certain educators, but I still felt alone. More and more of my friends were dating more and more of my other friends. Being a big, gay native guy wasn’t the easiest to find a partner. Queer as Folk were pumping out twinks left and right and every magazine and tv commercial, were talking about the latest weight loss craze. And this drove me nuts. Because no matter how hard I tried to break out of my lazy, self-hating shell, I was too anxious to provide myself with a voice. No one can shut me up now, but I felt so quiet.
Life felt so controlled and rigid, that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t be free. Not being patient enough to have control over what I wanted to do, I decided the best thing I could do, was control an aspect of my life, that could try and give me empowerment. So I choose food.
I could wait so long to eat, and make myself not feel hungry. Trying to be more active and controlling my diet, I began to see a weight loss over time. I felt happier. Clothes were fitting me better, and other folks started to notice me. This lasted for almost two years. I went from being almost 280 lbs then dropped to almost 100 lbs in a short period of time. But it was a year into my disorder, and not even realizing it was a disorder, that I started to have stomach and chest pains.
My family doctor ordered blood tests, sent me to a pediatrician and ordered a gastroscopy (a long scope, with an attached video recorder, that goes through the mouth, down the throat and into your upper intestines)for me. The gastroscopy was considered a small operation, which I would need to book a ride to and from the health centre, get some groovy drugs and wake up trying to put on my coat, while at the same time being attacked by a hanging potted plant that wanted to steal my jacket. Again, really groovy drugs.
The tests came back negative. However, due to some improperly sanitized instruments, I got a call back to the doctors office. They had informed me that due to this unfortunate happening, I now needed to get screened for 6-9 months for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C. Just a reminder, I’m also about 16 years old, when this goes down. Pretty heavy shit for a kid, who is looking scrawny and already having palpitations.
Dr. Sandra Stevenson was my pediatrician, and she did so much for me. We talked a lot, about as much as I could when I went to see her. She sent me to a dietician and also to a psychologist. And it was Dr. Lefave, the psychologist, who diagnosed me with disordered eating. And no, not just anorexia nervosa, but a combination of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. By this time, my illness was visibly to friends and family. I didn’t like eating in crowds of people, so I avoided doing so in public settings. I narrowed my food choices, to basically coffee and pizza. But I would binge on the food that I wanted to eat, because I was so hungry. My weight loss also included headaches, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, and weakened my heart muscle. To the extent that my family doctor warned me of really sticking to a certain weight area for a period of time, to get healthy again.
“If you lose anymore weight, there is a chance you might have a heart attack. However, if you gain weight too fast, you might also have a heart attack.” Support structures and dialogue needed to be created to my loved ones. Also group therapy at the Riverview mental health hospital would also be considered for treatment.
I went to group therapy, and only told a handful of friends about my secret. I was the only male. I saw some familiar faces. And I listened to their stories. Their issues with image and how they portrayed in society. Looking for acceptance, and living with trauma of their own. Stories that matched mine, and facing other people’s stories of even hungrier demons. I didn’t last long in the group, after one girl needed to get treatment somewhere else, to best treat her illness.
I got better. With time and work, I managed to find a balance with my disordered eating. Some days are still a struggle, but I can feel comfortable eating in a restaurant or a communal setting. I no longer run to find a washroom to purge my nutritional intake. It is no longer a weapon against me. Ask anyone, and I can still gorge on my favourite food in the world: A meat lovers pizza from Mrs B’s.
When I was kid, my mom ordered CD’s from a mail out we received. And one of those CD’s was The Greatest Love Songs from The Carpenters. I listened to that album over and over again. Learning each song from an incredible song bird. I longed to know more about her story. So I read what I could about Karen Carpenter. And I learned how she was pressured to look a certain way for television and promotion. And how she died of a heart attack and became the poster person for disordered eating, for her generation.
To wrap this post up, so I can eat lunch (LOL), it is important to keep an open mind about mental health. If it were more visible, it would probably be more easier to understand. But a lot of times its not. To be kind to others at all times is crucial, because we each battle our own demons, that sometimes eat away at us in silence. Love yourself and love those around us. And remember to feast and laugh.
You Look So Good
You look so good.
O. M. G. you’ve lost so much weight
Killing me softly, eating away the pain
Emotional eating and not eating when you are emotional
The desire to fit in
The pressures to look right
To look white
To look normal
But feeling abnormal
Like a beast
Don’t smile so you can hide your braces
Push up your glasses and try to look ‘cool’
Sit up straight
Hide your nails
Thirsting for society to not care
To not feel their eyes
Loved, but not feeling it
Only feeling the emptiness in your belly
Created by an emptiness that stems from the heart
That impacts that mind
Which closes your mouth to sustenance
A foreign being has taken over my dietary needs
Feeling sick and knowing that the stomach pains were the result of a detached head case
Who can’t wrap around the freshness of the bacterial pressure to keep the goodness relatively fine for tomorrow
Hoarding time to eat
To binge on my friends
Who I’ve paid for
To give me life
Quickly, because I am starving
If only I were smaller
If only I could cut off the bad fat
And sew myself to the image that is perfect
The heartache became too much
For my changed frame that once held the photo of a chubby kid
Now stands a big boned, skinny Indian kid
Who was lost in a world that wanted to eat them alive
For someone else’s approval
For anyone else’s approval
“Busy college girl syndrome” he called it
Anorexia with a side of bulimia
A scope stuck down my throat to make me healthy
Then a mistake
Spoiled, unclean utensils and a few rounds of blood work later
My anorexia didn’t turn into HIV or Hep C
So that’s a positive
You know what I mean
Group work at Riverview
Then I met her
Her sickness ate her alive
We watched her
And we each faced our own personal picture frames again
To see the beautiful beings that starred back at us
To embrace our differences
We broke the mould for our own spirits and light to shine bright
To feel free to munch, nibble and feast
Today I am a free foodie
And no longer lost in this Masquerade