This article is a response to http://www.returnofkings.com/21313/5-reasons-to-date-a-girl-with-an-eating-disorder .
Nothing screams ‘there is so much misogyny and prejudice about mental illness in the world’ louder than a good old fashioned article about ‘reasons to date a girl with an eating disorder’. But there’s more than that. Eating disorders have been- quite appropriately- declared an illness like any other reserved for people of all ethnicities, genders, ages, and socio-economic status. In other words, the presence of an eating disorder is as much of a reliable predictor of various socio-economic, cultural, and personality traits in a person as a sprained ankle is. Not at all.
The idea of dating someone because their illness makes it easier for you to get what you want is repulsive, if not sadistic, which is why I wanted to challenge this article and the prejudice surrounding mental health.
I could have responded to describing what it is like to have clumps of hair fall out every time you brush it. Or how hard it is to be trying to get through a day when your vision is blurred and you are shaking with weakness. Or what it feels like to be trapped in your own head and tortured by your own thoughts. Or what it is like to have a mind so cloudy that you are unable to construct a sentence, or concentrate long enough to hold a conversation. Or what it feels like to have a feeding tube inserted through your nose and down your throat. Or how humiliating a supervised shower is. Or what it is like to have someone else decide when you can see your own family.
But it seems illogical to respond to such a negative article in such a negative way. I chose instead to try to describe what mental illness, such as an eating disorder, feels like. I have only scratched the surface, but I hope I have used this destructive article to show a glimpse of what mental illness is like. From my experience, something good comes from all destructive things.
I have met some of the most beautiful people in my recovery from anorexia. By this, I mean people with so many truly amazing qualities- real beauty. I have written about just five of these qualities.
- They are strong.
Recovery involves battling with your own mind every single day. Facing your most terrifying nightmare on a regular basis. I don’t think there is anything braver than embarking on a journey that you cannot rest from even when you are so scared and so exhausted. To learn to override your thoughts and feelings, that your life is worth living, to learn to accept yourself, to even like yourself, to persisted with friends and family as they try to understand, to face the stigma and misconceptions of mental illness day in and day out takes real strength. There are few situations that take more strength than this to overcome.
- They understand what it means to be patient.
Patience is such an important virtue- in our relationships with people around us, with our hopes and aspirations and to get through the tougher aspects of life. To recover from an eating disorder takes real patience. Patience with yourself as you try to begin to comprehend why your thoughts are telling you to starve, that you are worthless, that no one could possible tolerate you, let alone love you. Patience when you take a few steps backwards even though you want to go forward. Patience in accepting where you are, and patience to get to where you want to be. Patience with your friends and family when they unintentionally say things that hurt you as they try to help you. Patience to accept that everything takes time.
- They are compassionate.
People recovering from an eating disorder or other mental illness know what it feels like to be hurting on the inside, but hiding behind a smile on the outside. They know what it is to feel like the whole world is crashing down on you, and to have everything you are broken at rock bottom.
Sometimes we can be too wrapped up in life to notice that other people are suffering. But when you know what it is to be hurting, you begin to understand other people, to get a glimpse of their hurt- in fact you feel it yourself, and are compelled to show compassion and be there by their side.
- They know the value of friendship.
Eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, tell you that everyone hates you. You deserve to be alone. You are not worth friendship. People in recovery know what it is to be terrifyingly lonely, even if you are surrounded by friendly faces- it’s part of being unwell. So recovery involves breaking down these false beliefs, recognising that to your friends and family you are worth so much. But what is more, it is realising that your friends and family are worth so much to you, that to be human is to need other people to laugh and to cry with. To understand that relationships can seem scary, will be hard work, but have so much value.
5. They see how beautiful life can be.
We don’t choose to be alive. But those who are recovering from an eating disorder do.
Eating disorders consume your mind. They consume your feelings about yourself, your value, your worth. They consume your hopes and aspirations. They then consume your friends and family, leaving you to believe that you deserve this isolation. Finally they consume your body. Your life. Eating disorders destroy a person’s whole existence. But, to have chosen to recover is to have chosen to live. Every single day isn’t something that you have to just go through, but something that you have decided you want, and have fought so hard to have. Going into life with this mind set, you cannot fail to appreciate how pretty a pink and orange sky looks, or how fun it is to mess around with your friends, or how good a cup of tea is, or how fuzzy a hug from someone you love feels, or how refreshing raindrops feel on your face, or how electric it feels when you make someone else smile. They have chosen to see how beautiful life can be.
In the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, beautiful people do not just happen.