The focus of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 1-7) is raising awareness of the impacts, dangerous myths and stereotypes associated with eating disorders.
The campaign slogan for 2022 is: Everyone has a role to play – recognizing that we all have a role in Eating Disorder prevention and recovery.
The following is a personal story shared by a Parent Partner from our Vancouver Island Eating Disorder Client and Family Advisory Committee.
Our family has been living with an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa, for 4 and a half years. We knew nothing about anorexia before this. Sure, I had an acquaintance that had anorexia when I was younger, and I was aware of the Karen Carpenter story, but not much beyond that.
This isn't surprising; most people know little about specific diseases until they are directly impacted by them.
I of course knew of the weight loss and food restricting with anorexia, but I didn't know of the myriad of other health problems that can be associated with the disease. Heart problems, bone loss – these were frightening things to hear.
And the affect on our child's mental health? Rages became common. Visits to the emergency room for punching walls. Calling the police and ambulance for threats to harm herself. And worrying about what the neighbours would think when they saw the flashing lights, heard the screaming and shouting.
Silly to worry about that when you may lose your child, the things that go through your head. I lost the ability to care what other people thought of us and our situation a few years ago. Most people - your neighbours amongst them - don't know your story and what you are going through. The assumptions of what is wrong with them – the problem child. Is it poor parenting? An out of control teen? Is it drugs?
Our daughter went from being a smiling, active teenager to a scary stranger. We could still occasionally see our daughter in there – scared, struggling, lonely – but what so many others saw, particularly in our local hospital, was a difficult teenager trying to get attention.
When she refused to eat or drink, when she raged against having to have someone keep an eye on her when she ate or went to the bathroom, when she swore and said horrible things – staff said how sorry they were that I had such a terrible daughter. She would hear staff talking about how terrible she was, how they felt sorry for me.
But I don't have a terrible daughter. I have a brave daughter who has had to face all these demons by herself – yes, she has a family that loves and supports her – but she is alone in her head with the voices, and she has to fight them herself.
This terrible illness affected everyone in our circle – the sibling who did not understand what was going on, who would search for photographs from years gone by so they could find a photo where their sister was smiling and happy – the other family members who thought we were not being forceful enough, (just make her eat!) – the friends that we did not see anymore as it was just too hard to try to have her eat with other people, or worse, to leave her home by herself. Would she eat? Would she harm herself?
Having no one to talk to was hard. People would actually tell her she looked good! She had lost weight! People just didn't - and don't - understand how dangerous an eating disorder is. They didn't have to pick her up off the bathtub floor after she collapsed, see her bones sticking out of her body.
They didn't have to listen to the doctors talk about the bone density loss she had suffered, how she probably wouldn't get any taller as starving herself had permanently affected her growth.
My daughter continues to battle this disease; it is an uphill battle. Even when you see her looking good, being able to eat meals with others out in public, that does not mean there isn't still a war going on inside her head. But recovery is possible, and we will continue to work towards it.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, we're here to support you. Eating Disorder Services on Vancouver Island, Referral Form for the Eating Disorders Program, Peer Supports and Caregiver Support Resources Lists: www.islandhealth.ca/our-services/eating-disorders-services
In an effort to reduce stigma and raise awareness, wear Purple! Snap a picture of yourself wearing purple or a landmark lit up purple and share on social media using the hashtag: #ShowPurpleLove, #ShowUsYourPurple from February 1-7. Local landmarks that will be lit in purple for the week include: BC Parliament buildings, Campbell River Community Centre and Town Circle in the Comox Valley.
For other Eating Disorder Awareness Week events and activities taking place across BC, visit: