So, when you think of eating disorders, what comes to mind? Someone who tends to just eat too much? Someone who dislikes food and does not eat much at all? Someone who tends to be very self-conscious and looks in the mirror a lot?
The next week will be a very special week for Dear Hope; this week, we will see a featured piece every day relating to a topic: eating disorders. Allow me to explain where the idea originated.
Last fall, I came across a great organization titled Active Minds. Over a decade ago, a wonderful woman named Alison Malmon began this organization after losing her brother, Brian, to suicide. The conversation on mental health needs to become commonplace, thought Alison. Of course, this is not a quote, but rather one of the driving ideologies behind Active Minds. Its purpose, in abbreviated form, is to embed chapters into college campuses, bring together passionate students with the common goal of raising mental health awareness, decrease stigma, and create more accepting, welcoming environments among a demographic where mental illness is rampant.
I started a chapter at my school, and I have loved everything about it over the last year and a half. I have loved being shown the sides of people that would never have emerged had the conversation not been started. I have loved opening myself up emotionally to something that I have never felt fully comfortable with because such an omnipresent stigma exists.
Dear Hope loves to focus on these goals in many different ways, one of which is through personal narrative. Coping: This is Who We Are is such an incredible series because it gives us living, breathing proof that mental illness is so real that it feels tangible. It shows us the true stories behind our loved ones, our acquaintances, and strangers across the globe. There is so much that the surface does not show. And so, the many driving forces behind awareness and reducing stigma, such as Active Minds or Dear Hope, simply want to make what is under the surface come up and gasp an oxygenated breath of relief, free of any shame.
This week, February 21st-27th, is Active Minds’ National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The events occurring on campuses across the United States will range from speakers, to narratives, to panels, to screenings, and far into the realms of creative mental health education. As I organized for our week, I thought, why not include Dear Hope?
So, we gathered narratives, poems, and other creative pieces to showcase those who have identified with struggling with some sort of eating disorder. Some are anonymous, some are identified. Some are narratives, while others are creative pieces. Regardless of the format or identity, we wanted to dedicate an entire week to showcase stories of struggle, self-doubt, and healing within this specific area of mental health. Every area of struggle deserves its highlight, and we at Dear Hope want to spread the message that no matter what you experience, you should never feel marginalized or alone.
This is our test run; we only have room to grow. Four pieces: four stories of mountains and valleys with all of the details beautifully scribed to evoke emotions of empathy and compassion is just a start. 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States alone identify with struggling with an eating disorder, with many more unreported. Let these narratives be a seed to relate to, to expand upon, and to spread the message that you truly are beautiful and good enough just the way you are. Even though eating disorders go far beyond a conscious dislike for one’s self-image or diet, encouragement such as this is an abbreviation of “I validate your struggle, but want to encourage you that the person you are is one of a kind, and thus, amazing.”
So, if these pieces speak to you in any way, spread them. We want to hear narratives of more women who have struggled with the concepts of skinny, societal expectations, and self-image. We want to hear stories of those who have suffered from bulimia and other binging/purging experiences. We want to hear from men who have struggled with a category of mental illness that is constantly pounded with the societal hammer of masculine expectations to have muscles and be tough. We want to hear your stories of using food as a coping mechanism and overeating. The list goes on.
To wrap things up, my point is that while these four profound, insightful, and wonderful stories have infinite potential for impact and empathy, they are only a snippet of the experience behind food, body image, and mental health. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a few impactful steps that leave permanent prints in the ground, in this case at least.
Tomorrow you will see some background information on eating disorders. What are they? How do you know when restricting, overeating, or looking in the mirror becomes unhealthy? This information is vital in understanding the symptoms that serve as a baseline, in some way or another, to these stories. The following four days, we will share these stories with you. As always, feel free to always ask questions, provide support, give feedback, or build upon anything that is discussed this week.
Remember, you are not alone.
And you are loved.
This post is a part of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Find the other posts here:
An Introduction To Eating Disorder Week – What are Eating Disorders? – He Called Me the “T” Word” – An Empty Home & An Empty Stomach: My Lifelong Struggle With Eating Disorders – The Fine Print – Doubt: Sarah’s Poem – A Journal on the Imperfections of Perfection – Nervosa
Note: If you want to read more about Active Minds or Alison, please follow this link: http://www.activeminds.org/index.php . I’ve naturally abbreviated all of the wonderful work that they do, so if you’re interested, I encourage you all to check it out 🙂
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