I hesitated for some time in posting this because there is a chance for misinterpretation despite my attempts at clarity in my presentation. Perhaps I should include a disclaimer that this is completely personal (as all my entries are) and thus, largely subjective. I am only speaking about myself in all sense of responsibility both negative and positive. It is what I understand of my past and how I choose to perceive my future at this time. I also know that there are many other people who were hurt by my illness in various ways and to them I am very sorry also but I speak more freely of that in face to face interactions. This particular entry is directed strongly towards eating disorder sufferers that have known me over the years. That said....here it is!
I've had something enter my awareness recently and it feels a bit like I've been socked in the stomach when I think of it. I came across an entry by an ex-pro-ana blogger (if you don't already know, pro-ana is a dangerous mostly online movement of people encouraging and sometimes promoting eating disordered behaviours amongst each other. I became aware of pro-ana in my teens and spent hours on sites that have since been banned from the internet but I understand that new sites are being maintained and generated all the time. The idea is sickening and maddening.), This writer was expressing her deep regret in being involved in bringing other people down. Upon further reflection I realized that although I was never active in anything pro-ana I also owe many people – online and in real life – a sincere apology.
To those online who may or may not be privy to this: I am sorry. I also kept a blog through my darkest times. I thought I was keeping it vague as far as triggering information went. I thought I refrained from any sort of numbers: weight, calories, laxatives, purges, hours of exercise, etc. As I believed those were the most common triggers. True. For some people. I also kept it pretty tame compared to the reality in regards to any indication of behaviour. However, for the most sensitive of sorts who struggle with this, I believe that the “triggers” can often be those of: the actual sickness of others (not necessarily thinness, but physical unwellness and complications); the degree of medical and therapeutic attention being paid to them; and the absolute misery of their life. This is another, extremely sad, truth. And in that respect, I may as well have been pro-ana in the way that I possibly caused harm to others. I was the person people compared themselves to and said they weren't “sick enough” because Julia did x, y, and z and was still walking and talking and not in hospital. It is those lost souls, the meekest of people with eating disorders, the loneliest, the most self-loathing, that could have come across my blog and felt extremely unworthy. And with that knowledge, I have no choice but to express a most sincere apology.
My purpose for blogging at the time was largely for an outlet – to send to cyberspace the hell that I was living and wish that someone might hear and understand and maybe reach me. I did warn people that it could be triggering to read but I didn't even understand exactly what that meant. I didn't think that any aspect of my life would be remotely “desirable” to anyone – in their right mind. Clearly, I didn't think that through when considering my readers.
I came across an entry recently that I had saved to my computer explaining that I understood the sole reason for my life to be that of teaching people how to help other people with eating disorders in the future; those that I thought could actually could be helped as I firmly believed I was hopeless. However, my writing was not addressing or accessible to that audience.
I wanted to be a warning to others because I thought I could never be a positive influence so if I could make anything of my life, it would be helping people a) understand (which was more in my day to day life of revolving hospital doors at various institutions and interacting with practitioners) and b) scare those in the earlier stages of eating disorders or treatment enough to get help and stop the descent into hell that I had taken.
I believe I may have contributed positively in part B of that intent. I think that many people cruising actual pro-ana sites and stumbled across blogs of people who were actively losing their battles, may have chosen to seek help and grasped how terrible life with a “chronic” eating disorder was and possibly turned around sooner.
To those who were already deemed “chronic” or had given up on themselves, I was merely another person who was “better” at destroying themselves than they were. And to those people:
I am so sorry.
To the sufferers I interacted with in real life, I know now that I was a triggering person to be around. I was blinded by my own illness, consumed, and I know you knew that but that doesn't remove the fact that I, at times, played a role in contributing to your feelings of worthlessness and underservedness ( I believe I just made that word up!) and frustration; that in conscious and subconscious judgements of yourself, I was a standard that your illness held.
To any well person reading this, you may not understand. I had it all: I had a compassionate, ever-present team that cared about me and swooped into save me at every possible chance; I had the ability to attend my specialist appointments as they needed to happen and access to medical and psychiatric attention as frequently as I needed it; I had a family that refused to give up on me; all the while, I had my eating disorder still. I never had to fake being okay, there was never an expectation that treatment would “work” and I would just “get over it” and move on but there was always an ongoing belief that one day I would be successful and the pursuit of that from all the members of my team on my behalf is admirable (an understatement if there ever was one). I also had/have a very strong body that put up with a lot of abuse while maintaining functioning or reestablishing functioning quickly. Abuse that I could not even consider many people surviving to be honest and that at times, I know, this also became a negative “standard” for some people.
I was also a very good actress and skilled in keeping up appearances so to speak. I tolerated treatment, externally, much better than a lot of people. I did what I was told and if I was not, I hid it exceptionally well (from fellow sufferers – to any nurses or caregivers reading this, we can agree that I hid very little very well!). I attended groups, extended support. I brought smiles to people's faces in many dark times with my sense of humour. I seemed to make and maintain friendships easily. I kept my cool (though possibly only through extensive use of medication) in most situations. I was granted privileges based on my “cooperation”.
To people less actively involved in treatment, if I was not “triggering” as it may relate to behaviours but I was a drain of any positivity and that I was not aware of. Furthermore, engaging with me at times may have brought about unwanted or misunderstood feelings that created any sort of internal and unpleasant chaos.
I eventually lost all shame when it came to my illness. I assumed the identity and radically accepted it within myself and thought that was a shared understanding. However, I have learned that was thought by no one to be “real” or ultimately lasting, but I was allowed to be exactly what I was in any given moment. Is that not what any human desires? To be allowed to be themselves and bring to the table whatever is going on with them and still be loved? I was that person.
So, to my friends and even those who did not engage with me on a friendship level but watched and possibly hurt themselves further because of me:
I am sorry.
However apologetic, and sincerely so, I do not necessarily assume blame for what I have described above for it was not the real me!
I was - and continue to be - fortunate in uncountable ways. When one person gave up, another grabbed the towel. How this all played out for me is a bit unfathomable: my parents separately choosing a little northern town to reside in; a compassionate and interested doctor all the way from South Africa taking over the family practice of another remarkable doctor and assuming my care with chutzpah; someone knowing someone who knew someone who my mom got in touch with that happened to have a brand new clinic starting and agreed to take me on. And simply, the gene stock that I came from that granted me the remarkable body and thus my physical survival and the recovery I have achieved. It's a bit mind boggling! And the boggling continues as I encounter more and more amazing, beautiful people in my days.
I have thought a lot about and noticed over the months the experience of the butterfly effect. This is illustrative of the possibilities in a more negative sense of which even the kindest of people are capable of if we are not aware. Things have changed now for me. I have been referred to on more than one occasion as an “inspiration” (not “thinspiration”!! Let's have a dark little laugh at the pro-ana term); as good company; as one that revives the spirit of others and brings joy to lives. I was allowed to be who I was and now, I am enabled to be who I truly am and with that, the potential for a greater and more positive ripple-from-me-effect grows stronger each day.
It's not a burden! It's not the drowning sense of responsibility to save a great portion of the world that I had in the past. It is actually quite brilliant realizing what potential my life holds just by living it with kindness to me and those around me.
It's as simple as wearing a real smile that the driver across the street sees and returns and as he shoulder checks, passes that lingering smile on to the person who nearly honked because he felt he was being cut off but refrains...thus not startling the nesting sparrow in the bush nearby who's just coaxing her babies out of the nest, one who takes their first flight and lands a little too closely to the sidewalk, that a pedestrian sees and observes because she was not distracted by a noisy traffic interaction and experiences peace from her thoughts as she watches the little sparrow gain the courage to try to fly again and then shares her experience later with a glum friend...and so on!
This is what makes life a serendipitous continuum!
It is a beautiful and a great responsibility as one is aware and capable. As a human collective, we have unbelievable power to better the world starting with the bettering of ourselves and choosing to “pay it forward”.
This is illustrated so eloquently in the words of Dawna Markova in a poem that is an old fave of mine:
“I choose...to live
so that what came to me as seed goes on as flower
and what came to me as flower, goes on as fruit.”
I can't change the negative impact I had on some people for a number of years (though I do understand it and do not guilt myself as that would be entirely unproductive) but with that awareness, I can choose to spend the rest of my years promoting as much positivity in the world as possible – and that is a very exciting task at hand!