[Warning: long post. sensitive subject.]
So, I’m ending my 8th week of level II fieldwork on the adult eating disorders unit and I’ve accumulated so much knowledge about mental health and so many more realizations about myself, people, and life than I thought I would — that I felt the urge to write about a little sliver of it.
Well, before I get into it, may I just say — I’ve been leading sensory relaxation groups for the past few weeks now and I feel like a guided imagery master (guided imagery sample - “Take a deep breath in and out… Breathe in relaxation, breathe out tension. Now, imagine you’re on a deserted island… the sun is glistening… the ocean reflecting the color of the sky….” etcetera). I went from shivering in my pants out of awkwardness and freak-what-if-I-crack-up to sailing through it and getting compliments from my patients about my “soothing voice” and nice choice of relaxing piano music.
Thank you, Yiruma. You’re even doing a great job right now as I type.
Anyway, here we go. (Ugh, where do I begin…)
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all of the mental illnesses. I’m assuming it’s partly because eating disorders are usually accompanied by physiological illnesses, as well as other mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD, etc. It’s serious business. When I first started my internship, I had a very superficial knowledge of eating disorders and dismissed the gravity of it. … But then it became a total “Days of Our Lives” soap opera on the unit for about 2 weeks. And even one of the members on our treatment team said that in her 20+ years of working here, she’s never seen the ED unit so full of drama and chaos.
… That’s besides the point, doe. (<— Did I seriously just….?)
I got to slowly learn about the disorder in depth by reading through patients’ constantly updated charts, observing patients throughout the weeks and documenting their progress, attending weekly treatment team meetings, building rapport with the patients, and most importantly, spending time with them in groups - particularly the body&soul groups where we talk about self-esteem and body image issues. During this group, we discuss past events that triggered their eating disorder and how we can reframe these negative “eating disorder thoughts” into more positive ones.
One of the patients’ coping cards (for shopping at the grocery store) that I rewrote in calligraphy. An example of how ED thoughts can be reframed.
As these women began to cut themselves open (figuratively of course; FYI - sharps and other items that can be made into sharps are always locked away, but somehow some patients seem to find a creative way to cut themselves anyway) and share their deepest struggles with one another, I couldn’t help but to empathize with them. Well, to a certain extent. I mean, I don’t have an eating disorder. But, as a woman myself (duh), I often struggle with being perfectionistic, comparing myself with others, and being dissatisfied as a result… maybe because I’m very visual and have an unusually keen eye for detail, therefore easily scrutinizing and condemning the “imperfections” of my own body. Perhaps.
My past may have not been nearly as traumatizing or depressing as the ones my patients had experienced, but I can certainly pinpoint a dozen of events or moments that could have triggered an ED in me.
To name a few:
1. During my “awkward” phase of life, when I was promised new clothes if I lost weight. When I was told I shouldn’t wear yellow or certain patterns because it made me look wide.
2. My senior year in college, when I lost nearly 10 pounds (from a series of stressful events) and secretly loved it… becoming unconsciously obsessive with keeping my weight at a very narrow range of numbers.
3. My 8 months in Seoul, Korea. Enough said.
It’s hard to admit, but I am guilty of a lot of the same things my patients have been doing as a ritual for many years. I am guilty of body checking (repeated pinching of certain body parts, trying on clothes from years back, staring a little too much and too close in the mirror). I am guilty of restricting myself from finishing a delicious meal, so that I won’t feel as “fat.” I am guilty of looking at calories to make sure I don’t go over my daily amount. I am guilty of exercising right after a decently caloric meal. Um…. I’m actually in my exercise wear right now because I was going to go to the gym right after I write this (but I’m not going to because it’s late and….). Can I get an amen, ladies? Anyone?
I claim to be a believer of the almighty, perfect God who created the universe and the people living in it in the exact way He knew would be pleasing and glorifying to Himself, and yet I live in constant complaint of how He made me. I catch myself being hypnotized by society to believe that certain aspects of myself should either be enhanced or diminished/eliminated in order to be considered beautiful. I forget that standards of beauty are subjective and differ in literally every region of the world. I forget that God sent His only begotten Son to die for an ungrateful sinner like me, so that I can live a purposeful life in this “imperfect” body that I should consider a gift of His grace.
Don’t get me wrong. Writing all of these realizations out doesn’t make me free from it. It is something I will probably be faced with for the rest of my life, but just in different ways, according to different phases of life. And I won’t be surprised if you, the reader, feel the same. I just wanted to write all this (and more, but for the sake of time and also the health of our eyes) as a way for us women (and maybe men) to be able to relate, be open about it, encourage and pray for one another, and keep each other accountable. As I have a month of fieldwork left, I need to be in prayer for past, present, and future patients, and even so, for myself - to be in remembrance of His perfect love for His perfect creation.
"You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you."
-Song of Solomon 4:7