Monday, November 19, 2012

How You Can Help: Do you know what you say?

I want to first thank all of the people who reached out to me on Saturday to comfort and support me, and just generally be awesome. I really do appreciate the support I've received as I'm writing my way through this journey. It's a weird place to be, and there's no update for Google Maps that's going to give me a map for this thing.

A lot of people have asked me what they can do to help, or to let them know if I need anything. And earlier tonight, I decided to share with a number of my professional associates who are also my friends (emphasis because I'm not just randomly sharing this with people), which was kind of terrifying. Telling people in person, eyes fixed on my shaking hands, is a lot harder than writing about it into the internet where 6 (okay, 16) people will read it, and they're all people who know me well enough to want to know that this is going on... anyway.

So, since I've been sharing all of this, I thought it might be a good idea to start to try to answer this question of "how can I help?". The thing that comes to mind immediately is: don't talk about weight. My weight. Your weight. Some celebrity's weight. The weight loss of a woman we both know who has recently had a baby. This time when you lost a bunch of weight then put it all back on. Don't talk about that stuff.

It should go without saying that you should never offer a person with an eating disorder advice on weight loss (it doesn't); but just as importantly talking to me (or with me in a conversation among many people) about how you need to/will/want to/whatever lose weight is a really fucking bad idea. When we talk about ourselves, we say how we really feel about things. And you may not consciously think that I need to lose weight or am disgusting and awful because of something that may be as important to my value as my shoe size; but when you're talking about yourself that way, that's what I hear.

Now, it's not your fault. But the thing that I'm learning about people with eating disorders is that we are dangerously obsessed with comparing ourselves to other people as much as we're obsessed with food and our damaged body perceptions. And when you, who are much more successful than me, much thinner than me (in my eyes), so much more this and so much more that; talks about how you need to lose weight, I start to wonder "well what does she think of me then?"

I don't know what's going on in your head, and I'm not going to pretend to because I gave up omnipotence when I moved in with The Emperor, and I don't know if your desire to diet and lose weight is driven by the same obsession that has made me sick. I don't know if your weight loss is good for you or not*. And I don't consciously think that you think bad things about me because I'm not trying to lose weight, and am actually trying to be okay with where I am in my body and have a healthier image of it as it is. However, when you say something off-handed about weight or dieting, my brain goes into over-drive and I obsess about your one little comment, and start playing the tapes that tell me how worthless I am because my weight starts with a 2 on some days.

More importantly, if I ask you to stop, please remember why. My anxiety level is already so high right now because I'm fighting the status quo for my entire body that has been reinforced by just about everyone I know for my entire life. I don't know what goes on in your head when you talk about dieting and how you want to lose weight, but I know what goes on in my head when you do it, and it hurts me.

Finally, I want the people I love to stop talking shit about themselves. Seriously. If you wouldn't say it about me or to me, then don't fucking say it about or to yourself. I know better than a lot of people, as someone whose negative perceptions of herself has caused so much damage I can't eat like a normal person; that when you talk shit about yourself it does a lot of damage, and that damage is really hard to repair. If you're not trapped in an eating disorder cycle, you're already a step ahead of me in trying to heal that damage**, but for the sake of your innate beauty and divinity STOP TALKING SHIT ABOUT YOURSELF. If you can't stop completely, then stop when you're around me. I literally cannot handle it. It may or may not be true, but I view you as having a better handle on things than I do, so when someone I love and respect starts acting in ways that reinforce in me that appearance is important to beauty/value it tells me that it's okay to act like that. When someone tells me, however unconsciously, that it's okay to act like that, they might as well be telling me that I shouldn't bother with recovery and just go full bore into my eating disorder. You may not think you're saying that, but you are.

And, if weight isn't a number that is determinant in my value, then why does it have to be determinant in your value?

*I do know that 95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it all back and more. I also understand some of the science behind why that happens. And it's not because people who intentionally lose weight lack self-control or whatever bullshit the Diet Industrial Complex is pushing this week. 
**Healing the damage done by talking shit about yourself, it should go without saying (but doesn't) is not going to happen if you continue to denigrate yourself by saying how badly you need to lose weight. You can't actually change the inside by changing the outside. You won't like yourself better thinner, you'll just want to be thinner still. That's how it works. That's how these eating disorders start. 

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