By Jamie Bushell, USA
As a new(ish) member of the eating disorder recovery community, I feel a multitude of emotions contributing to the World Eating Disorders Action Day’s blog, including fear, courage, vulnerability, gratitude, and excitement. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and other mental health issues for 13 years now and have only considered myself to be in recovery since I entered residential treatment for the second time as of December 2015. Until the fall of 2015, I remained pretty hidden and quiet about my struggles. Shame fueled this secrecy and my eating disorder thrived on the desire to isolate. Throughout my life, secrets have been an underlying theme. In addition to my mental health issues, my sexuality was a secret I kept hidden until I was 23 years old.
When You’re a Queer Woman with an Eating Disorder
In hindsight, questioning my sexuality during my teenage years, along with confusion about gender expression greatly impacted the evolution of my eating disorder. Currently, according to the National Eating Disorder Association, “research is limited and conflicting on eating disorders among lesbian and bisexual women.” As I continue to navigate the winding road of recovery, I’ve been exploring the intersectionality between sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, and eating disorders.
With limited evidence-based research, I struggle with feelings of invalidation. There is a void in eating disorder research for these marginalized communities.
I often ask myself why I didn’t feel comfortable opening up about my struggles before the age of 28. While many of the reasons are definitely eating disorder related and my personal tendency to be a fairly secretive and introverted person, I also believe that societal expectations and stigmatization of mental illness oppressively silenced me. I think my secrecy was a protective coping mechanism to ensure a false sense of personal safety. One of the most powerful things I have learned in recovery so far is the power of re-finding, redefining, and subsequently using my voice to express my core beliefs and intuition. I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a network of people that helped me overcome my fear of using my voice.
This year in particular has been a long battle, a sojourn of epic adventures. While I still have a long way to go, I would not be where I am today without the support of my fiancé, also named Jamie, my parents and my current treatment team. Finding the right treatment facility or team, that accepts, understands, and treats dual diagnoses (e.g. PTSD), can be a challenge and can often take multiple attempts. This search for treatment can often lead to increased feelings of hopelessness, further feeding (no pun intended!) that loud eating disorder voice. This is why it is so important for treatment programs to fully understand the significant interplay between eating disorders and other psychiatric illnesses and symptoms that often fuel each other.
Choice of Language is Vital
Additionally, not only are there problems with mental health treatment facilities understanding the intersection of co-occurring disorders, but medical providers such as primary care physicians need to be educated on not only the signs and symptoms of eating disorders but also on the appropriate use of language when discussing eating disorders with patients. When I came home from residential treatment, the first thing a new medical provider said to me as she entered the treatment room was, “You have an eating disorder? Your weight is perfectly normal, so I’m really not surprised that you have your period back.” Already feeling exposed in my paper gown, I remember the overwhelming sense of shame that came over me. I wanted to run out of the office.
Story-telling is a Way to Connect
As I begin to share my story publicly, alongside my fiance’s recovery story as a carer on our blog, I not only feel a sense of relief, but I feel like I am (metaphorically) carrying less on my shoulders. Throughout recovery when fear of revealing my story creeps in, I remind myself that secrets are what have kept me sick. As a literature major in undergrad, the power of language, in the telling of stories, and of personal narratives have always held high importance.
I truly believe that the way in which we come to understand ourselves and others is through storytelling.
Collectively known as the “Jamies”, we feel very fortunate to be a part of the first World Eating Disorders Action Day on June 2, 2016. This global effort to bring activists, advocates, sufferers, and carers together as a connected community is truly remarkable. Not only is there comfort in numbers, but there’s a certain sense of power, of strength in the sheer force of a collective. At thirdwheelED we are determined to facilitate and engage in this crucial conversation across our social media channels in an effort to promote community dialogue, decrease stigmatization, and dispel common myths associated with eating disorders.
Jamie and her partner Jamie launched thirdwheelED in April 2016. The organization had been a budding idea for several years. Jamie explains: As a lesbian couple navigating the winding road of recovery, we strive to offer an authentic, dual perspective of eating disorder recovery, from both a patient and a supporter, through the use of personal anecdotes. thirdwheelED seeks to encourage people and carers in recovery from eating disorders to discover their voices, individually and collectively, as a community. As an eating disorder recovery blog written through a queer lens, thirdwheelED explores the relationship of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression, and how they might impact the evolution of eating disorders. Our values consist of empathy. authenticity. acceptance. thirdwheelED is an honest, safe space of inspiration and motivation for those recovering from an eating disorder and their supporters.
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Join Jamie in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.