When I was in college, I watched a friend fight for her life. Only I had no idea the force she was battling. At the time, her descent into her illness was almost undetectable to me, as well as our circle of friends. Looking back, now I understand the telltale signs: uncharacteristic mood swings and chronic fatigue; bouts of dizziness and bloody noses; her once gregarious and energetic personality ebbing away; grey skin and hollow eyes where ruddy cheeks and sparking emerald green pools once lived. Over the course of one short year, she became a shadow of her former self right before my eyes.
I had no idea.
I did have an idea that something wasn’t right with my friend, but I chalked up the changes in her personality and appearance, the loss of energy and interest in things she once loved, to the loss of a long-time boyfriend. She had taken the breakup pretty hard, after all. She didn’t want to bother us with her problems, she said, and determined to get through her struggle alone. But alone isn’t always the strongest course of action. When life is hard, we need support. Sometimes there is strength in numbers.
She had no idea.
One day, things became a bit clearer when I went into the bathroom after another one of her particular lengthy trips there, and I recognized an unmistakable pungent odor that hung in the air. Dots began to connect and a rudimentary picture began to form for me of the silent war my friend was waging. I talked to our other roommates about my suspicions, and together, we talked with our friend. Silent tears of shame rolled down her cheeks. We offered to help, though truthfully, none of us knew how. The silence between us widened.
We had no idea.
At the end of that school year, we all went home for summer vacation. The following year, she didn’t return to school. I never heard from her again. Every year, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I think about my former college roommate and I wonder….is she all right? I wonder if she is happy and healthy, and if the sparkle returned to her eyes. I wonder if she got the help she so desperately needed. I wished I would have known how to help her. But I truly had no idea.
Fast forward thirty years. Now, I have an idea.
Eating disorders are complex life-threatening illnesses that affect millions of men, women, and youth every year. What can begin as a seemingly innocent way to numb, avoid, or control, can turn into a serious problem. Eating disorders are not a choice. My college roommate’s battle with bulimia was the first pang of awareness for me of the devastation and destruction an eating disorder can cause. Eating disorders will steal your joy, stomp on your personality, and strangle your connections with those you love. I watched an eating disorder consume my friend. I have witnessed eating disorders destroy other people I care about.
February 22-28, 2015 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
This year’s theme: I Had No Idea
In honor of my friend, and any one you know who has battled an eating disorder, I want to invite you to get involved by helping me to promote eating disorder awareness. Keep it simple; learn something new about eating disorders this week. Education is the key to increasing awareness and improving the chances that more people will get the treatment they need. When I began to educate myself on eating disorders, I became passionate about bringing hope and healing to those who struggle with these devastating illnesses, and am now privileged to work in the field of eating disorder treatment. I love my work. But you don’t have to make eating disorder recovery your life’s work in order to make a difference.
You can make a difference by doing one thing: help promote awareness. You can do that by passing along this blog to someone you think may be interested in it, or visiting the National Eating Disorders Awareness website where you can learn about lots of other ways to get involved: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
My college roommate was just the first person I knew who struggled with an eating disorder. There have been many others since – some that I deeply care about. I wish I had known then what I know now. Sound familiar?
Hope whispers, now you know.
Now that you and I both have an idea, we can do something about it. This is one cause where you don’t need to stand alone. Because when it comes to battling eating disorders, there is strength in numbers. And I’m standing right here, next to you.