To better connect those who may be hesitant to seek treatment for their eating disorder, we sought the help of some of the brilliant minds of those in our partial hospitalization program. Below are some of the common obstacles in seeking help – as reported by our patients – and what they have learned since taking that brave first step toward healing.
- I didn’t want to be labeled as “the sick one.”
I already felt like I wasn’t good enough because I had type-1 diabetes and needed medication to regulate my blood sugars. I didn’t want people to think oh, now she’s sick with something else.
What treatment has helped me to realize is that I’m not broken because I have a chronic illness. I am strong for enduring the unique challenges that having type-1 diabetes and an eating disorder bring up. I understand now that my eating disorder behaviors have served a function and that subconsciously, I was trying to protect myself from uncomfortable emotions that I didn’t want to experience. Having a mental health condition doesn’t make me a lesser human being. What finally got me to reach out for help was my eye doctor telling me that I was at risk for going blind because of what I was doing to my body (manipulating my blood sugars using insulin). The idea that I might not be able to see all of the wonderful things around me was terrifying.
- I can beat this myself if I just try harder.
I’m a registered dietitian and I felt really shameful seeking support because I had all of the knowledge about nutrition and knew exactly what I needed to do get myself well. I kept thinking, ‘I’m smarter than this. I can do this myself if I just try harder.’
I feel exactly the same way – I’m a therapist and have worked with people with similar issues. I didn’t think I needed treatment because I already knew all of the interventions that treatment would teach me. I kept thinking that I should be able to figure this out on my own.
I’m starting to recognize that eating disorders can outsmart even the smartest people in the world. They are manipulative, intrusive and a worthy opponent. I finally gave myself a little grace and realized that eating disorder treatment was equal opportunistic. Just because I may have extra training in mental health or nutrition doesn’t mean that I can’t learn more. Undergoing treatment will help me be a better care professional as I will be better able to empathize with my clients and understand their journeys that much better.
- I’m not sick enough for treatment
One of my biggest fears was that once I entered treatment, I would be ‘the biggest’ or people wouldn’t take me as seriously because I wasn’t underweight or restricting. I didn’t understand why I needed treatment if I felt fine physically, my labs weren’t irregular and I didn’t ‘look’ ill.
In treatment, I’ve learned that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and that the intrusive self-deprecating thoughts in my head warranted support no matter what I looked like on the outside. I realized that it wasn’t about being sick enough, because people who are healthy don’t want to be sick at all.
- I’ve already been in treatment before and “failed”
When I relapsed, I looked at it as if I had failed. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents and I felt really guilty that they had spent money for me to get treatment just to need it again. I thought if it didn’t work last time why would it work for me this time? I started doing my best to just accept that this was how life was going to be for me rather than risk “failing again.”
Having gone through treatment several times, I’ve come to understand that relapses aren’t failures. They are simply opportunities to learn and discover more about yourself. Taking time for yourself and interrupting eating disorder behaviors is a really good way to have some introspection and set productive goals that position me to live a happier life.
- I’m not ready to give up my eating disorder
When you’re deep in the trenches of your eating disorder, you have this irrational sense of being in control. My thought process was that if I got help, it would mean that I’ve lost control.
When I was at my sickest, it was really difficult for me to articulate what I was feeling verbally. Instead, I wrote a lot of poems and this one was a metaphor for not wanting to go to treatment due to being scared of change. ‘Recovery is like jumping into the water. You know the water is going to be cold, and of course when you first jump in there’s going to be this initial shock and discomfort but once you get used to the water you can start to actually enjoy what it feels like to swim. When I finally realized how much pain I was in, I realized that I had just been treading water when there were a lot of lifeboats and lighthouses around that could have helped me.
- I have other things going on that are more important
I was really hesitant about doing something for myself because I have two beautiful children that I need to focus on. I felt like getting treatment for myself was selfish. I couldn’t commit to treatment knowing that I’d be leaving them for an extended amount of time.
What I can better understand now that I have been focused on nourishing myself more appropriately, is that treatment is actually for them too. I can be a more present mom, and better model what it looks like to take care of and appreciate your body. Getting treatment has helped me to interrupt the behaviors that were risking my health and happiness –the behaviors that could have prevented me from seeing them grow up.
- I don’t look like other people who will be in treatment
From the little information I knew about eating disorders, I didn’t look the people who typically struggled. I had seen the videos in health class about the ballerina with anorexia, but I didn’t know a ‘band geek,’ soccer player with an athletic build could also have an eating disorder.
I have learned that all types of people struggle with eating disorders and that eating disorders look and present differently in each person. When you come to treatment, no matter how ashamed or worried you might feel, the support from the clinicians – and especially from the group – is endless.
If you or someone you love have experienced any of the above barriers, know that you have the ability to take that brave first step in healing. As one of our patients said, “Once you do, you’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders.” Reach out, you’ll be glad you did.
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