Monday, February 27, 2017

NEDAW - National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

A few weeks ago, I was at the Humane Society volunteering at the vet clinic when one of the cats let out a blood-curdling scream. It sounded eerily human or maybe more like something that once was human. It did not sound feline in the least. This little guy let out such a wail that the entire staff and volunteer team stopped, all of us with our jaws on the floor, and stared in disbelief. He did so because one of the vet techs merely opened the door to his kennel. She hadn't even touched him. Everything was fine. The resident cat whisperer was brought in, and she was able to safely get him out for some testing. She wore extra padded and extraordinarily long oven mitt-like gloves in order to do so, but the cat's wail was louder than his bite. He actually didn't make any attempt to bite anyone.

The work volunteers do at the vet clinic is sometimes hard, sometimes kinda gross, sometimes physical, and sometimes serious, but overall, it's incredibly rewarding. It can even be fun, but it does take a lot of attention and care. Time usually flies by when I'm there. My volunteer days are full with a work shift right after I leave the Humane Society, but I wouldn't change anything about those long days. I'm getting better at figuring out easy ways to get a somewhat healthy lunch in me those days since I usually end up eating on my way to volunteer, during my shift, or on my way to work.

Why am I bringing this up when the title of this post is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week? I wanted to explain what recovery means to me. Work, volunteering, living, running and being social were all things I struggled with in the throes of my eating disorder. Even during the first five years of recovery, I had a hard time being consistently reliable and facing the world. I held jobs, volunteered, and showed up most of the time, but I frequently called in sick and my mind was often a million miles away, focused on my body, food, weight, or how I felt in my clothes. In fact, when I was volunteering at a different vet clinic during the first year of recovery, I found it very difficult to be fully engaged. I was so rarely in the moment. That slowly changed the longer I committed to recovery.

A lady conducting a research study on eating disorders in which I participated told me that this is often the case. The common response when asked the question, "what was different in terms of working before and after recovering?" was the feeling of being more grounded, being more productive, and feeling more present. There's a shift that takes place, and the attention that was once put on counting calories, obsessing about appearance and worrying about food is freed up to be placed in new areas: work, play, learning, relationships, giving back to the community, helping others, etc.

People often believe that you reach a point in recovery where you feel like you have arrived. Diane Israel suggests that recovery is more an ever evolving process, usually with peaks and valleys. Even now, I look to see where I can improve. The issues I struggle with these days are more what "normal" people deal with: eating more fruits and vegetables or a generally healthier diet, getting enough sleep, finding the right balance of exercise and rest etc. A good recovery exercise is to describe what recovery means to you. I know I have a tendency to be too strict and too hard on myself, so I work on finding ways I can relax the rules I have set in place for myself. It's always good to ask yourself if what you are doing is being driven by compulsion or by the desire to be healthy.

This week, there are so many people promoting their websites, blogs, books, and FB pages in response to NEDAW. It can get overwhelming sifting through what is actually helpful and what is not when it comes to recovery. I have found that one of the best ways to help people is to listen. What does a person struggling with an eating disorder need? What is he or she trying to say through the disorder? Some people don't want help or are in denial, but those who reach out are usually willing to explore the deeper issues.

Telling my story was the first step. It gave me a platform and allowed me to explore my own issues on a deeper level and also provided a way for me to let others know that there is a way to a better life. More importantly, though, it let other people struggling know that they are not alone. Answers were missing when I was unwell, and the outlook on recovery was bleak. Things have changed a lot since then. There is more hope around recovery. I want to offer more, though. With so many ways to reach people through social media, a lot of misinformation can be spread. I'm doing what I can to address specific issues on this blog, but I'm also trying to find other ways to help those in need and those who are willing to accept it. Fortunately, I'm not the only one offering guidance and support.

The last few blog posts I wrote addressed images on social media websites. I'm so glad I'm not alone in my opinions and can talk to others about it. Today, Carmen Cool mentioned "before & after" images in reference to NEDAW on her Facebook page. It got me thinking about images in general again. I think in this field, it's always important to think about how images can affect and even possibly trigger others. More importantly, before & after images end up supporting the false idea that once a given weight is achieved, everything will be fine, discounting the emotional and mental aspects of these illnesses and the deeper issues at play. Probably the best response to this controversy came when someone brought up alcoholics and pointed out how bizarre it would be to see someone who is sober posting images of how drunk she used to be in comparison. What purpose would this serve? None, absolutely none. We don't need to see where you were in order to understand it and to understand the underlying issues related to the illness.

Here is one response to before & after images that I feel is worth noting:


  1. "It's always good to ask yourself if what you are doing is being driven by compulsion or by the desire to be healthy."

    When the thing you may be doing compulsively is a generally healthy thing to be doing, or at least defensible in light of a sufficiently honorable goal, this can be a very tricky thing to manage. When I was training seriously for marathons I would run up to 20 miles a day for a few weeks on end and 15 a day was "nothing." While this is something that elite marathoners and wannabe-elites do as a matter of course, it also provides a convenient shield for other things that may be going on and allows people like me to do a second ten-miler of the day when I'm feeling borderline wiped out because, you know, schedule.

    Also, good on you for volunteering at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. It seems like a number of runners from Boulder with blogs are doing the same.

    1. Yes, I should have added health and something about striving for goals. It can be a fine line.

      There are quite a few Boulder runners who volunteer at the Humane Society. Caolan and her daughter work as dog handlers. One of the volunteer trainers is a member of the Boulder Road Runners, and a few of the vet techs and cat handlers are also runners. I didn't meet anyone in the admin office who raced, but Lisa, the CEO, is super fit and hikes a lot, as do many of the people there and in Boulder.


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