Submitted by Kristine Strangis, EPF Volunteer
Today, I felt like making a statement. I truly am a passionate advocate for pro-recovery and mental health rights, especially in the field of eating disorders, and, now that I am recovered, I feel like speaking up for what I believe in. My eating disorder had kept me in the dark for so long, and it was time to break the silence. So, being proud of myself for all of the progress that I have made in recovery, I wanted to show it off by wearing my new recover(ed) shirt to my health club. This was a very metaphorical moment for me, being that compulsive exercise was the major symptom of my eating disorder that held me back from recovery, and also living my life. I wanted to prove that, because I am recovered, I can exercise without having it become obsessive, but rather having it be a part of my activities that I enjoy. I personally believe that part of being recovered means making peace with your fears and, although it took me a long time to get to this comfortable place with exercise, I have proven throughout my recovery that exercise can be a neutral thing, and even a healthy pleasure, just like I learned with food.
With that said, let’s get to what you all are probably dying to know, peoples reactions at the club. Well, I was actually surprised by the variety of reactions that I got. When I walked into the club wearing my shirt that said “recover(ed)” on the front and “Life Without Ed” on the back, I got some interesting looks; there were people that looked confused, people who looked away uncomfortably, people who stared and then gazed downward, people who looked slightly nervous, etc. Overall, my audience seemed uncomfortable, which made me feel out of place, like I did not belong. What is interesting about this is that, typically, people will see how hard I work while I am at the club and compliment me for it, but, when I wear my recovery shirt while working just as hard, they all avoid me like I am some diseased person. This experience really proves how stigmatized and secretive this disorder is; it is a silent killer, and that is why we must raise awareness and educate others about the truth behind this insidious illness because that is the only way that we are going to overcome it.
Now, not all of the reactions were like this, actually, there was one person that complimented me on my shirt, and that was my yoga instructor; she did not say anything directly, but, as I was leaving class, she took me aside, smiled and said “have a beautiful day, may it be full of happiness and peace.” I smiled back, and, just looking in her kind eyes, I knew that she understood. This moment made my day, and gave me confidence again, but also a sense of hope that maybe the world is not all bad.
Now, I do not want to play the blame game by criticizing health clubs; I honestly think that wearing this shirt in public anywhere would have produced the same reactions, but going to the health club was personal for me, it was a statement that I wanted to make by saying: I have made peace with the thing that once controlled me through fear, and I am proud. Health clubs are not the source of eating disorders, and placing the blame on society only emphasizes the stigma behind eating disorders being a choice rather then a bio-psychological illness. Honestly, health clubs have the right intentions and that is to help people stay physically healthy, which does improve mental health as well, but it is when we take these things to extremes that the problem begins. Of course, health clubs could do less with the over-promotion of weight loss, the intense focus on labeling foods, and the crazy workouts; but, honestly, we all have the choice on whether or not we choose to invest our money in and go to these places.
Now, I want to be clear that I am not placing the blame on anyone here; having an eating disorder is clearly not a choice, it is a deadly illness that must be taken seriously, but, on the other end of the spectrum, so is obesity. By putting the emphasis on fitness, society thought that they would solve the problem of obesity, but, as we all know, these problems are much too complex to just solve, especially when there are so many who suffer on both ends of the spectrum. This is why my personal mantra is balance; when one problem is supposedly “fixed” another always pops up in its place, which is just the way the world works; all we can really do is try to find the balance within ourselves.
Throughout recovery, and life, I have learned that there is no black and white in anything, but rather ever-changing views that shape who we are over a lifetime. I do not know about you, but I do my best to take a neutral (balanced) stance on everything; I do my best to understand both sides of the spectrum because my overall goal is to learn. But, because I am human, there are things that I tend to fall more toward an extreme on, and that is okay, as long as we do not hide our true beliefs from the world. I expressed my passion today at my health club for me because I felt inspired to do so, not to make a scene (this was actually the last thing that I wanted), and not to silently analyze everyone’s reactions (although, as an undergraduate psychology major, that may have slightly been an intention), but rather to make a statement, my statement of who I am and what I stand for.
By expressing and staying true to what it is that we believe in, the world will fall into place.