TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of issues related to Eating Disorder recovery. No numbers involved.
Also, there is a rather nasty animal welfare story mentioned in the first two paragraphs.
I read an horrendous story the other day about a giraffe tragically killed in South Africa recently as it was being transported on a busy highway. The giraffe was decapitated when the truck it was being transported by drove under an over-bridge. The giraffe was blindfolded (it makes me wonder if the driver was too), and I think that is standard practise for transporting these animals, to keep them calm (personally blindfolding me will not keep me calm).
Somehow the giraffe was expected to know just when to ‘duck’ as they passed under an over-bridge. The truck driver blamed the giraffe for its own death. It seems to me that the driver totally failed to think of what it is like to be a giraffe.
Of course, if you’re not a giraffe then it is very difficult to understand what it is to be a giraffe. And if you can’t do that, then you can’t put yourself in the giraffe’s shoes.
It seems to me that we are all giraffes… or bears, or dogs, or even caterpillars. No one can understand what it is to be us if they have never experienced being us. That makes it very difficult to explain to another exactly what it is that we face, whether that be over-bridges on highways, leaves on a tree, or people living every day with mental illness.
At this point I need to say that writing this post is incredibly difficult. One I’d rather not write. But then maybe someone, somewhere needs to read it. And that’s why I write. This post reaches into my most vulnerable places. Places I try not to go, especially with other people. To anyone else it might seem like a small matter, but then they fail to understand what it is like to be me.
Some years ago I had Anorexia Nervosa, as I have written here before. I headed down a very dark track for about five years and put my life in serious danger. Since then I have continued to struggle with food, weight and body image issues and so technically am described as having ED-NOS (Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified). While it continues to be a major issue in my life I have to say that of all my mental illnesses it has the least attention paid to it by any of health professionals I see. They appear to be just not interested. Seemingly if I’m not in immediate danger then it doesn’t matter.
Then yesterday my doctor told me that I need to lose some weight. That might seem odd but some people who recover from Anorexia actually go on to become overweight. I am one of those people. And actually I have been here before, twice since losing the Anorexia label. That is, I have become overweight, taken steps to lose the weight, usually at the prompting of a doctor and lost a small army each time (…in other words too much!)… and so the cycle goes. The doctor never seems to get just what they started. Actually I am very ‘good’ at losing weight. ‘Good’ because I can take the weight off, but I can’t stop.
Exercise is the same, and I have unfortunately struggled with compulsive over-exercise. No problem starting (once you push me out the door) but stopping is another issue. Right now I’m too scared to start because I know where it ends. It seemed to me yesterday that my doctor thought he was talking to a ‘giraffe’ when he was actually talking to me.
He had no regard for what made this issue particularly difficult for me. He didn’t understand that actually I am terrified of losing weight because I won’t be able to stop. He actually made a joke of it when I tried to remind him of my history. It didn’t help when he over-estimated the weight I need to lose to get down to a ‘ideal weight‘. Numbers are extremely unhelpful for me at the best of time without getting them wrong.
Admittedly my doctor did not know me when I have Anorexia but he was aware of my history. Somehow he totally disregarded that I am not the same as any other patient in his waiting room. He was saying I could just go on a diet and everything would be fine. He had no idea how scary a diet (and potentially dangerous) is for me, or anyone else with a history of eating disorders. He had no concept of the danger for me.
My recovery from Anorexia was never ideal, and there were many aspects not addressed at the time. This was because of a lack of funding for treatment of Eating Disorders in New Zealand at the time, and a lack of understanding of what other mental health issues I had going on (no one had picked up the existence of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I was simply seen as treatment resistant). All I had to do was to put the required weight on, and then somehow it was assumed the problem was solved. It wasn’t, and I know it still isn’t. It never would be for anyone with an eating disorder of any type. It’s simply not that easy.
But isn’t that why we need to be treated as the animal we are? Isn’t that why we need to be understood for our particular needs and issues? I am one person, different from all others, yet I know that health professionals must often struggle to have the time to remember this. I am not the same as every other person who needs to lose weight.
It’s too soon to say what I am going to do about my doctor’s request for me to lose some weight. He may not be able to consider my issues but I know them all too well. I know that my physical health is not in danger right now, and I’m not going to do anything that puts my mental health in danger. I simply can’t afford to. Otherwise I’m a blindfolded giraffe being driven under over-bridges on a highway. And that’s just dumb.
© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.