Thursday, June 21, 2012

Consent and Blame

In life there are things we can control: What time we get up, what we eat, how we spend our free time. Then there are those things we can’t control, like the weather or traffic jams or the neighbor’s dog barking at 3 a.m. when your window is open.

What about eating disorders? Someone on this discussion in the Chronicle of the Horse forums seems to think we can control whether or not we get one (see post #70).

The opening line threw me off completely: “Nobody can give you an eating disorder without your consent.” Really? REALLY? Do you think people go signing up for them? I sure didn’t. Given a choice, I think anyone with an eating disorder (past or present) would trade anything to never have had it in the first place.

I do agree that no one person can be the sole cause of an eating disorder. It’s usually the case that you can’t even pinpoint an exact trigger. In my case the whole thing just sort of happened without my even knowing it. So who’s to blame?

Yes, maybe myself, for not realizing what was happening sooner. Maybe a sports trainer making comments about your weight. Maybe friends influencing you in high school. Maybe the super-skinny fashion models in teen magazines. I honestly don’t know because each case is so unique. What I do know is that at no point did I say, “YEAH! Bring on the ED!” I did not consent.

I don’t think it’s fair to blame the victim, as this person does. They make it sound like we’re so weak if we can’t just wish away an ED and be “responsible for our own happiness.” But there’s a difference between deciding to be happy and actually being happy (Yes, they actually said that “happiness is...a decision.”). You can "decide" it all you want, but you’re just deluding yourself if you don’t feel it. Like an eating disorder, happiness is an emotional state of mind, and as we all know those are really hard (if not impossible) to control. There are those people who don't show their emotions...but that doesn't mean they don't have them. If we could all just decide to be happy like some magic genie, there would also be no depression, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses. But I don’t see those people getting blamed for their conditions.

Bottom line: ED messes with your head. It sneaks up behind you and grabs you before you know it, and then it burrows its poisonous roots deep until you don’t know which parts of your mind are yours anymore. You can’t blame it on just one thing, which makes prevention so difficult. And you can’t just decide to get better; it is a long, slow process--which is why inpatient treatments have such a poor success rate. You can restore the weight, but as long as you leave the mental poison it’s not true “recovery.”

So where does that leave us? We can’t avoid all these influences, nor can we skirt around the issue of weight when we live in a world with such extremes. No matter how hard we try we can’t have absolute control over our internalizations of what we hear, see, and perceive. And that’s coming from someone who (now) knows what to look for. How can we expect kids to be alert for a sneaky monster that they don’t even know exists?

I think it’s important for parents, teachers, mentors...anyone who knows, to observe closely. Watch your friends and your kids and yeah, maybe even your parents, because the earlier you catch something like this, the better.

And realize, you can't blame yourself. Or your mom or your coach or your favorite TV show. That is what makes ED so sneaky.

We can’t just wish happiness upon ourselves. But by working together we can mitigate the triggering circumstances and, maybe, take a step closer.
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