The unique shame of being a black woman with an eating disorder almost killed me
I’m finally ready to fight back
This week, I’m checking myself into a residential treatment facility, because … I have an eating disorder.
Saying (typing) those words out loud (silently, to myself, alone) is the scariest thing I have ever done. But I have to do it, because I know I am not alone.
The unique shame of being a black girl with an eating disorder — being a person who does not fit the stereotype of someone with an eating disorder; who isn’t pale and rail-thin and sympathetically sickly-looking — kept me from seeking help. I was ashamed and afraid nobody would understand; that doctors would dismiss me, my friends wouldn’t believe me, and my family would tell me eating disorders are, for lack of a better term, “white girl nonsense.”
I was partially right: some doctors were unconvinced, some friends were skeptical, and some of my family members were downright bewildered (explaining an eating disorder to a Southern black women who’ve spent their lives showing love and affection through food is … difficult). But the vast majority of people who know about my disorder have supported me as I’ve tried to work through this. They’ve had questions, and I’ve had some long and difficult conversations, but nobody who loves me has turned their back on me.
And so, as I prepare to check myself into a residential treatment facility and finally do the hard work to conquer this thing, I want to share part of my story. I’m not ready to tell the whole story, but I can’t let the shame of keeping this a secret hold me back as I try to recover.
Everyone who suffers from mental health disorders, especially those of us that don’t fit the stereotype, deserves to get the help and care and love they need. And I’ve allowed my own, personal shame keep me from seeking help for far too long.
I was diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, a blanket diagnosis for people who don’t fit the strict diagnostic criteria for anorexia and bulimia, but — in my case — exhibit signs of both) ten years ago. Over the past decade, I’ve been:
- Pulled out of high school to recover from medical complications
- Pulled out of college (twice) to recover from medical complications
- Put through inpatient and intensive outpatient treatment at two separate eating disorder facilities
because of my disorder. And things have only gotten worse. For years now, my eating disorder has dictated every single thing I do.
I wake up every morning in a panic because I still have to move through the world in this body. I take hours and hours to get ready because I feel like if I can’t have the perfect body, the least I can do is use makeup to present a perfect face. I am perpetually running late to everything, no matter how important, because I think that if I can just get my eyeliner wings to match, or my eyebrows evenly shaded, or just the right amount of contour on my cheekbones, maybe I’ll finally stop panicking and feel okay enough to leave the house.
It never works.
I isolate myself because I don’t believe I am worthy of anyone else’s attention. This has gotten to the point where I’m afraid to tweet or post on Facebook or even respond to text messages, because who would possibly care what I have to say about anything? I can’t maintain real friendships — and I’ve never even entered a real relationship — because I can’t imagine what anyone would want from me. The idea someone would get close enough to me that they’d figure out how broken I am horrifies me. So I don’t let anyone in, ever.
And I hate myself for not being strong enough to just get over it. Nobody likes the way they look — why can’t I cope like like everyone else? Why am I so weak that my self-consciousness and self-hatred has the power to keep me from getting out of the bed for weeks at a time?
This disease has come dangerously close to ending my life multiple times.
And I have kept it all a secret. The only people who know about my eating disorder are the people I couldn’t hide it from: my family; my friends from high school who were there when I had to be hospitalized; and my college roommate, Courtney, who saved my life more than once, despite seeing me I was at my worst.
I never wanted anyone to know. Hell, to be fully honest, I still don’t want to let anyone know. All of my instincts are telling me to delete this post, go to rehab in silence, and take this secret to my grave.
But eating disorders feed on secrecy and darkness. They feed on isolation, on making you feel as if you and you alone are singularly crazy in a way no one will ever understand. I’ve sacrificed so much in service of making sure nobody knows about my eating disorder. I’ve prioritized this secret — and this eating disorder — over everything else in my life. And it’s never, ever been worth it.
I’m going to get help. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I have to try. I owe this to myself.