I wish that there was a #MeToo type campaign against eating disorders. There is tremendous impact and empowerment in taking a subject that is far more comfortable being left in the shadows of darkness and exposing it to the light. This exposure has vast potential to lead to productive places.
That being said, it takes tremendous courage and fortitude to open up about the things that we keep hidden from others because we feel that they are enshrouded in shame or stigma. I know firsthand through this blog how incredibly difficult it is to forfeit my privacy and to reveal experiences which are raw, agonizing, and intense. If I make it look easy to bare my soul and to share my painful personal ordeal with my daughter’s eating disorder in a public forum, then I am quite the illusionist, because it is anything but easy. However, it’s important, and to me that trumps easy.
I couldn’t help but think that while I was happy to see so many people break through barriers as part of the #MeToo campaign, I desperately wanted to raise the level of global awareness on the subject of eating disorders. I wanted people talking about eating disorders and revealing their stories through social media. Because despite their rampancy, eating disorders are still very much left in the dark. There are so few people willing to share their lived experiences in order to shed light on this poorly understood illness, which is fraught with misconceptions, preserving the stigma surrounding eating disorders. This stigma can be a serious barrier to treatment, not to mention generally hurtful for a sufferer and his/her family.
Maybe it’s because I was in this mindset that I reacted so viscerally to the Jerusalem U video titled “How I Conquered My Eating Disorder” as part of their “Hear me Roar” series. I think that it’s phenomenal; it really blew me away, and I’m a tough customer. If you are going to watch one video about eating disorders, watch this one.
“How I Conquered My Eating Disorder” features a soft spoken, poised young woman named Gabi, whose quiet and intelligent manner captivated me from the first second. There is something so real and so authentic to me about Gabi and her story, including her admission that she suffers from depression in addition to her eating disorder, and that even after recovery, every day presents a challenge. This video strikes a chord within me in so many different ways, including that she and my daughter share the same name.
You may be surprised by how little Gabi relates to food in her video. I think that she illustrates the complexities of eating disorders so well; how they interfere with every aspect of a person’s life, and how they strip a person of the basic elements of his or her personality. She talks about the social and emotional withdrawal from her loved ones that she experienced during her eating disorder, which as a mother I can tell you is one of the most difficult things for a family to deal with.
Gabi talks about it taking a lot of little moments of realizing how much her eating disorder was damaging her until she found the strength to fight back. I don’t think most people realize how strong eating disorders are, how much of a hold they have over every aspect of a person’s life, how long it takes for a sufferer to get to the point of being ready to take even the tiniest of steps away from the illness, and how much power and fortitude a person needs to conquer an eating disorder. This girl is a rock star in my book; not only because she worked her way to recovery, but also because she is brave enough to expose her pain and tell her story.
I truly respect the way Gabi talks about recovery being a daily active struggle. Her description of the difficulties that she still faces, and her description of recovery as being a series of ups and downs and not a linear, smooth process, feels very authentic to me. You can see the struggle on her face, but you can also feel the fierce warrior within.
Gabi, I hope that your video inspires others to come forward and say, #MeToo. I hope that others tell their stories as eloquently as you told yours, so that the secrecy, shame, and stigma surrounding eating disorders, especially in the Jewish Orthodox community, finally begins to dissipate. I hope that others will glean hope and power from your lived experience, and that you will always be strong enough to roar. Hugs, brave warrior girl, and respect.