Coming out of the (ED) closet

It sounds pretty ironic that someone with a very public blog on eating disorders isn't always open about her disorder in real life. I always told the truth if someone asked, though they rarely did. But after so many years of being known as the Girl with Anorexia, I didn't want that identity to keep following me.

I was more than a little embarrassed and ashamed about the years I spent sick, and it wasn't something I wanted to advertise to people. "You know that time when I got trashed on my 21st birthday? Right, that never happened because I was in the hospital..." And so on. I wasn't proud of it. As I moved from place to place and away from the people who knew me at my absolute sickest, I found I could conceal the worst of my history.

Part of the concealment was my own desire for privacy. My psychiatric rap sheet is really no one's business. For some reason, spilling my guts on the Internet to a bunch of strangers was less daunting than disclosing the same information to co-workers or classmates. They could have Googled me, I suppose, but I generally didn't look them up online, and I'm fairly curious, so I'm guessing they probably didn't.

There are other reasons I don't like bringing up my eating disorder that are sort of the last vestiges of ED thinking. My worst fear is that someone will tell me that I look far too fat to have ever had an eating disorder.  Or "But you don't look like you have an eating disorder..." Which we all know is a load of bull. An eating disorder is a mental illness. It doesn't come with a very heroin chic "look". Except tell that to the fear-laden lizard part of my brain.

But with my book coming out in the fall and with me getting a more realistic grip on many of my fears, I've started to open up a bit more. A big thing for me was telling my book club group. I had posted about finally finishing the manuscript back in February on Facebook, and I had a book club meeting the next night. I was asked about it, and I honestly thought about giving some sort of vague, non-sensical answer, but then I realized that I would be lying by default to some of my friends. It also wouldn't be giving them much credit. So I said that I wrote about anorexia, my experiences with the illness, and some of the latest science.

The world, you should note, didn't stop turning. I thought I felt it lurch, but no one else did.

It's funny that I can be so open about my ED on the strange, vague online world but totally clam up in person. I think it's the issue of shame, when you get right down to it. I am not proud of my eating disorder, not really. I'm proud of overcoming it, proud of the things I learned, but the illness itself? Nah. That's not a bad thing. But there's a difference between not being proud of something and being ashamed of it. I can kind of turn down the shame a bit on my blog, but it's much harder in person.

I'm finding, though, that most people don't actually judge me because I've had anorexia. At least, not the people I spend a lot of time with and think are worth telling about my eating disorder. I guess that's part of the point of my writing a book, too--helping people learn that an eating disorder really isn't anything to be ashamed of. Every time I share my story, it invariably happens that someone says "I had an eating disorder, too." It's a relief for me to hear that I'm not alone, and I'm guessing it is for them, too.

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D said...

It means the world to know that you aren't alone!
Reading your blog has always given me hope that I can recover.
Thank you for that.

hm said...

For me, there is also a piece of "...aaand also I might want to jump back into my ed..." going on. Telling people who actually know me is scary, b/c they care, and it will impact them if I relapse- they will lose me temporarily- or worse, for good. That is part of my shame/guilt.

And I am scared of the judging. Soooo scared of the judging. Of hearing, "JUST GIVE IT TO GOD!" Or, "Don't you have better things to do than think so much about food? I'm WAY too busy for that. Life's too short. Just go play with your kids and stop thinking about it." Or the ever popular, "Just eat!" Pretty much anything that begins with "Just..." is gonna hurt like hell to hear.

Then again, sometimes you get the people who show honest curiosity, empathy, interest, care. Who say, "I do not understand, but I will listen." Who support without becoming critical or codependent and guilt-trippy.

Life's such a mixed bag. And being honest is sometimes a roll of the die with regards to what reaction you're going to get. You have to pick carefully. But if you find people who care and don't say "JUST _(bleh)_" then being honest is worth it.

I'm glad you've found that sort of people. This phrase in your post is key: "the people I spend a lot of time with and think are worth telling". You have to be selective when deciding to whom you will tell your struggles. It is smart, not shame-based, to take your time and look people over carefully- practice interacting with them extensively to get to know their characters- before investing in them with your honesty.

But I babble... so, to wrap up, I will say that I CAN'T WAIT TO READ YOUR BOOK. :) :) :)

#kiwifingers said...

Agreed. Another thing I am afraid of, or rather, just want to avoid having to deal with, is the prevalent myths, stereotypes and misinformation surrounding ED's. If I had to explain to every single person I tell what an ED actually is, well, it wouldn't happen because they'd walk away before I'm finished.

Anyway, great post. Its good to hear from you Carrie. :)

Anonymous said...

Man, i don't have trouble spewing about my ED to anyone. I mean, i don't advertise it when i first meet someone, but if it comes up in conversation, Why not? Here's the thing ... when you're actively sick it's not quite as easy to say, "HEY look at me, i'm an anorexic". Or, "hey, guess what, i'm going home to chuck: I'm bulimic".

There's something very difficult about talking about the illness when you're ACTIVE. Partly because you need to continue the behavior, and you don't want them around while you're "behaving", or because you're afraid you smell like vomit. OR, YOU KNOW everyone will gossip ...and THEN maybe "get it". You have to decide if you're up for telling people about your very obvious pain (when you're not really ready to live with the fall out). Just sayin ...

That's why i admire the blogs i read (albeit, confidential ;-)) where people who are still struggling write in great detail about their struggles and their attempts to get well ... sometimes alone.

ANYWAY ... life: It's all good. J O U R N E Y continues. MELissa

esqueci a ana (ex-ana) said...

I have similar feelings. That is the reason why I created the blog many years after the ED end.
(waiting your book. translations of it are planned?)

The Blonde Sheep said...

I can relate, in some way, to every single one of your posts. Whenever I find myself struggling with my own recovery, you inspire me and remind me I am not alone. For that, I thank you.

Anonymous said...

After going through a bit of coming out for both, the anxiety and worry about rejection (and possibility of it occurring) are surprisingly similar. Although all who I've had a conversation with about my eating disorder (far more know...) know that I'm gay, I've spoken very little about my eating problem except for on blogs. Thanks for reminding me how similar coming out of the closet is.

Abby said...

I finally "came out" about my OCD/depression/ED stuff last year, ironically on my blog, simply because I was involved with a charity project and wanted the people who "really" knew me in real life to know about it. I was scared crapless. I didn't want people to judge me or look at me as "sick," even if my physical appearance gave that away.

However, although I touched upon it, my blog was never really ED-centered and I really wanted people who "knew" me to know the real me through my blog. At times I'm funny. I can be witty. I can be insightful. I can be relatable. I'm not just someone who struggles each day, and opening up was the best thing I did. I didn't keep me stuck--it helped me to connect.

I still don't talk about ED stuff in person that much-I prefer to keep that separate-but it's no longer something I feel shame about.

Big props to you, as I'm sure it was hard. But in the end, it's all a part of what makes you you and you have so much that you should be (and I know you are) proud of.

Abby said...

P.S. Yes to everything HM said. I'm done now. :)

Anonymous said...

I am the same exact way Carrie! I find it weird that I can be open online, have a blog and everything, but I don't want any of my "real life" friends to know. Yet I don't know why because I am proud of what I have overcome! I will try to follow your lead in the future :)

So excited for the book! I am reading Running on Empty right now and it is so so well written :)


Little Riverr said...

I love your blog!! It's so well written and is me to a T.

Becky said...

Hooray Carrie!! You are brave and you have an amazing brain and I'm so grateful as a mom of someone with an eating disorder that you are becoming more open.

I've always been open about my daughter's eating disorder, much to her dismay. I have from day one felt strongly that we cannot keep these dangerous biological brain illnesses in the closet because that gives them strength and perpetuates the myths about them in society. I know I'm speaking to the choir here.

I am hopeful that your book will help reduce the number of people on this planet who say all those things that begin with "Just..." The title of my book, Just Tell Her To Stop, was given to me by a "friend" who said that to me at one point...I spend as little time with her as possible now. She never did get it and doesn't seem to want to get it. I don't need those people in my life.

Congrats to you Carrie on coming out, on the book and on breaking down stigma and shame! So happy for you and all the amazing people who get it who are in your life!
Becky Henry
Hope Network,LLC

die besserwisser said...

@Becky - You revealed your daughter's eating disorder without her permission? I find your sentiments admirable, but unfortunately EDs are still heavily stigmatized, seen either as a ~psychiatric condition~ or ~mental illness~, with all the prejudice that comes along with those labels - or a testament to vanity and lack of intelligence. Both interpretations can have serious and deleterious effects on her future. Assumptions may be made by employers and schools, and schools may not want to deal wit the potential liability... There are ways to get the message out there without compromising your daughter's private health information without her consent. There are ways to write about your experiences as a parent of someone with an ED and still protect their privacy.

Carrie, what's your take on parents "outing" their kids, as someone who's been very much in the ED spotlight but voluntarily so?

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Pooky said...

I feel like I could have written this post. It took me YEARS of recovery before I came out openly. I consider myself 10 years into recovery but it was only this autumn that I finally realised I should be proud to be recovered not ashamed to have suffered.

And that is despite 5 years of having worked in the field and having absolute respect and understanding for all other sufferers. But then, we always do have different rules for ourselves it seems...

Kailee said...

So you basically wrote a post with my thoughts plastered all over the page. Thank you. I've been recovered from my eating disorder for about a year now but yet so few people know about it, and I've been contemplating writing about it on my blog and telling it on facebook and stuff. The thing is, I know it will happen...someday. But that someday is always what stops me from doing it today. It's probably the scariest thing in the world to admit to people that I have an eating disorder. I feel my heart stop and I can't breath. I don't know why it is but it is so so scary to tell people. But the sentence in your post that really jumped out at me was: "The world, you should note, didn't stop turning. I thought I felt it lurch, but no one else did." I think I get afraid that everyone in the world will be like "Whaaa?! You????!!" but it will go on as planned and I might be the only one actually saying that. Anyways, thank you so so much for this post, because there are not many "coming out of the ed closet stories" to put it plainly and it helps to read people's experiences and also to remember that when I do share it, life will continue on quietly as it always does and will. :)

Kelley said...

I reallt like the title of your post. Being affected by an eating disorder for over 14 years, I finally feel like I am completely fed up by it controlling my life. I still suffer, but am "coming out of the closet", as you have worded it. I am starting my own blog about my eating disorder and all of my past and current struggles. Check it out and let me know your opinion, I love your site!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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