• Shannon Brault

NEDA Week 2020

It’s 1:37 a.m. on the last official day of NEDA week and my mind is going a million miles a minute. I wanted to write something inspiring for NEDA week, but instead I’m going to write something that’s real. Not to say that it won’t be inspiring, but I won’t sugar coat it, eating disorders are terrible in every possible way. They are not a choice. They are not about fearing food. They are not something that you can “just stop”. They are a big deal, and they are the most deadly mental illness, killing one person every 62 minutes. Eating disorders, along with nearly every other mental illness, are so incredibly stigmatized and hold myths around the situation which completely diverts the attention from what is important. Eating disorders are a huge deal and they are awful, terrible, isolating, crippling and deadly. While all of these things are true, it IS possible to recover from them FULLY. As Jessie Diggins said this week: "Eating disorders are hard to understand, they are scary and they don't have to last forever."

There are so many societal systems in play that perpetuate eating disorders. If a loved one has an eating disorder, its not their fault. If you yourself have, or have had an eating disorder, it is not your fault. That is one of the most important things to remember. It is not an issue of faults or choice. We have this rhetoric that is largely perpetuated by our fad diet culture, which, for lack of a better term, is utter bullshit. How are we supposed to believe we are good enough when everything around us is telling us differently? I constantly see people on instagram (clearly giving into pyramid schemes) selling weight loss programs to make money, but what is to say that the body you live in isn’t good enough? Who/what is to say that you’re fat? What does that even mean? We all have fat, but we are all human. Just because we have fat does not make us fat. If it did, wouldn’t we all be toes since we all have toes? Or eyes? Or whatever else you want to say? The idea that we are only beautiful, attractive, or worthy of someone else’s love if we look a certain way is absolutely absurd, yet it is a hard thing to get around since we are socialized to think that way. We also hold everyone to this “western” standard of beauty and completely ignore other cultures and cultural differences in terms of beauty standards.

To people who are not personally experiencing an eating disorder, it may be hard to understand them, but the reality is that they’re here and they’re so much more common than any of us would originally think. An overwhelming amount of people will have an eating disorder at one point or another, and sometimes, people will never even know or accept it. We think of eating disorders and we just think of anorexia or bulimia, but there are other ones that don’t gain as much media attention that are just as common if not more common, including binge eating disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder and diabulimia. Eating disorders are a serious issue that carry a lot of shame and misunderstanding. Many people don’t even think they need help because while they believe they do not fit a social or cultural version of beauty, they also think that they do not fit a social or cultural version of skinny, sick, or unhealthy. Body dysphoria along with many other crippling aspects of the illness accompany these thoughts of never feeling you are enough, or that you will never be enough. Eating disorders and their roots are different for literally every single person, but it is almost never the “fear of food” and it quite always is an underlying issue(s) that sparks these illnesses. People with pre-diagnosed mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and depression are more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder throughout their life. While they suck, recovery is possible.

This entire week I have been trying to figure out what I wanted to say for National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Last year I took a leap of faith and shared just part of my story in my first blog post in honor of NEDA week. I entitled it NEDA Week, Need a Hand. After a long and busy week with some soul searching, I decided I wanted to share my story since then. I have shared this story many times in the recent past and I think it is so incredibly important to keep sharing these stories not only for ourselves and our own recoveries, but for everyone else. There are so many things that we all go through at the same time. Feeling like there is someone on this earth that understands what you’re feeling and where you’re coming from is so important. With that being said: since going back to treatment for round two, I have really gained a voice that I had been missing for a long time and I’ve really learned so much about myself and everyone else in this world. Ever since I have started this blog and realized the importance of my own voice and story I find myself asking what I can do to make this world a better place. I have used my voice repeatedly through social media advocacy, being a volunteer with WithAll and sharing my story with loved ones and with my classmates (funny enough). Last week I even gave a presentation on my personal leadership journey and I included my experience with an eating disorder since it has quite literally affected every aspect of my life. It has affected how I interact with myself, other people around me and the world at large, as well as influences how I see and go about life in this world that we have created collectively. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for this journey. I am a very progress-oriented person and the progress I have made is remarkable. Am I fully to where I want to be? No, but that’s okay. Everyday is a new opportunity and we are all constantly a collective work-in-progress, and that is incredibly special. This month I got a super cool opportunity to be in a video for WithAll’s gala this year and while it was so incredibly intimidating, it was wonderful and I am quite excited about it. Telling your story doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it is just as (if not more) important as it ever was to share it. Treatment is important and both eating disorders and treatment are stigmatized, which makes getting help that much harder. The thing that was different the second time around was that I wanted to be there. I wanted to get better and I wanted to continue being the best me I could be. It made all the difference in the world - wanting to be there and wanting to get better. It really helped me with every aspect of my life while shaping every aspect even more. While I wanted to be there and overcame some obstacles of being there, that isn't always the case for everyone. Recovery is hard and is one of the hardest challenges that has ever pressed on my life, but access to treatment is limited and not always available to everyone who needs it. Like any other medical care, some people cannot afford it due to costs and insurance coverage (or perhaps, non-coverage). I actually gave a speech on this last semester. In the United States at least it is required for insurance companies to cover mental heath, but it gets quite complicated with eating disorders, since they are seen as behavioral issues, and not as the mental illnesses that they are. On top of that, there are also people that do not have access to places to go depending on where they live. Some people have to travel quite far, while others may decide not to go and try to get better themselves, or continue doing whatever they are doing. This also doesn't even begin to touch on how the medical field does not have to be trained in all aspects of psychology and can easily be brushed off, how much bias and discrimination play into our medial and psychological practices and how many people leave offices feeling unvalued, or undervalued after trying to seek help.

My entire mindset in life has changed in the last year and a half, and even more since starting college. I think about the quote that goes: “You live your entire life in your head, so you better make sure it’s a good place to be”. For the longest time, it wasn’t a good place for me and even sometimes now it is not (but that is part of trying to be the best version of me possible). We need to be nice to everyone in this world, including ourselves. Treat yourself with as much kindness and compassion as you would treat the ones you love most in this world. It is something I work on each and everyday.

I’ve been thinking about something special I can do this NEDA Week, and I realized I already did something super awesome and special. For this year’s WithAll Gala, I was asked to be interviewed for a video that they’ll show at the Gala sharing part of my story. I touched on this earlier, but it was so intimidating and so wonderful. I walked into The Emily Program in which I went to all of my appointments and went up to the WithAll office to do this initial interview. I was seated in front of the camera as I spoke to Jeff over FaceTime. I was so nervous and it was hard to share my story, even though I have shared it a million times and I spend so much of my time thinking about it and reflecting on it along with the rest of my life experiences. For me it is one thing to think about these things in a story-like manner in my head, and then a completely different thing when I say it aloud. I was so scared that I wasn’t sounding eloquent or authentic and I was freaking out about that for weeks after. I then met Jeff at Hyland Park Reserve two weeks later to do some more shooting for the video of me skiing. SO INTIMIDATING BUT SUPER FUN. While I know how important it is for me to use my voice, I realized that it would be taken to the next level. I use my voice and share my story with my friends, family, classmates and whoever reads my blog posts, but this is going to be shared with people I don’t know at all, but if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

Also for NEDA week, my mom and I did the NEDA walk at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, which was inspiring and overwhelming in the best way possible. Seeing so many people caring about the same issue that is so near and dear to my heart left its mark on my heart that I will take with me everywhere I go.

I know that mental health and eating disorders are just some of the incredibly important things that rarely are brought up in discussions, but just remember that you are NOT alone, and your story and voice ARE important. If you or a loved one has or has had an eating disorder, know that there are ways to support them and ways to ask for support. Asking for support is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do and even sometimes now things do not come across the way that I want them to. You have to find your support system and use them when you need it. We need people for our high moments just as much as we need them for our low moments, and we need people that fully understand us and the nature of what we need. These people may not be who you think they are, but they are there and so important. Supporting someone through these times is just as hard and requires patience, gratitude and compassion. Ask what your person needs instead of imposing what you think they need onto them. Check in with them to see how they're doing, and never, ever stop giving them the love, support and strength they need through these tough times.

We can all be NEDA Warriors together. The discussion can and should continue on past this week. We are stronger together, and it is going to take us all to end the stigma around eating disorders and treatment.


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