How ex-sufferers can help the Eating Disorder community
I wrote last week about why I don’t think sufferers of eating disorders should become treatment therapists for eating disorders. Today I’m going to focus on something totally fantastic that an ex-sufferer can do if he or she is interested in getting involved.
When I reason that I don’t think ex-sufferers should be therapists, it’s not because I don’t think that they have something very valuable to add to the ED discussion, treatment, and overall understanding. Quite the opposite actually.
As ex-sufferers, we can use our experience to help others—but we need to be careful that we don’t guide them into the same obstacles that we fell into ourselves. We can also help caregivers and parents understand the complete and utter confusion that sufferers feel, and the irrational thoughts that the disease bequeaths us with. We have one hell of a lot to offer.
If you want to become an ED advocate, there are some things to consider. You’ll have to make decisions around your own stance on the arguments that we commonly come across. While it is important that you speak honestly, it is also important that you understand that your thoughts and feelings when you were a sufferer were not necessarily rational. With this in mind, consider which parts of your story are actually going to be helpful for current sufferers, and focus on those rather then the parts that could be harmful (regardless of good intentions).
Be an advocate for treatment that works
I never went though any treatment or therapy for Anorexia, but I used FTB techniques on my own self. I’m not someone who believes in the effectiveness of psychotherapy (and I have a psychology degree, so I’m not entirely ignorant to the claims on how it works)—frankly I think that psychoanalysis is complete bullshit. But that’s just my opinion.
Family-Based Therapy (FBT), even in the botched-together, sans the family part, farraginous, version that I managed to use on myself is the only thing that got me out. It is my own opinion that FBT works best out of any treatment for eating disorders. But don’t just take my word for it. It’s also the only really tried and tested treatment that consistently delivers good results.
That’s why I choose to be an advocate for evidence-based treatment for EDs rather than well marketed and culturally ingrained—yet arguably ineffective—talk therapies.
You might not agree with me, but your voice is valid. Advocate for treatment that not only works for you, but that you know works for and will continue to work for other sufferers.
Separate your triggers from your treatment recommendations
I’m going to write a whole blog post about this one for next week to explain it fully, but basically this means that you need to understand the difference between your ED triggers (environmental) and your ED (genetically based illness). In advocacy, make sure you are clear which is which, so that you are able to properly understand what exactly what practices are helping you treat and keep treating your ED.
I’m not implying that your triggers are not important and should not be treated, nor an I implying that you should not talk about and identify them, I am simply saying it is important that you separate those from your eating disorder—because the treatment is different.
Anyway, more on this one next week.
Don’t take it personally
If you are living with an eating disorder you know only to well that some days are better than others. You also know that the less-good days are often the result of not enough food in your body. When I was suffering badly from Anorexia my personality was defined by cranky irritable, irrational, mean, and quick to anger. Now that I am well fed and weight restored, I can still be all of those things, but I also have the ability to be really nice, loving, patient, calm—basically I am a much nicer human being when my body isn’t starving.
I’ve seen, and been involved in, all sort of heated discussions and flare-ups within the online ED community. This stuff is real, it’s physical, and it’s emotional. Eating disorders ruin lives, not only for sufferers themselves, but for the parents and loved ones of sufferers also.
Know that you are part of something bigger than you
This is the real essence of advocacy. It is an incredible feeling to know that your voice is one of many. Thousands and thousands of people—all ages, genders, races—are coming together online and at organized gatherings to push for better understanding and changes to the way that eating disorders are treated.
In this sense, or individual stories matter, of course they do. But it is only by working together that we are going to make changes happen. Think of your personal story as another pair of hands that are all coming together to help push the elephant up the stairs.