Yesterday I found a raw, heartfelt blog post about what it is like to live with an eating disorder. I remember that through my own recovery process, one of the things that was most meaningful to me was reading the words of people who “got it”. It seemed few and far between to find someone who truly understood the way I was feeling…mostly because of the mysterious and hidden nature of eating disorders themselves. We hesitate to expose them, despite the fact that millions of people do understand what we are feeling. Today, I utilize an empathic approach to my therapeutic philosophy as much as is helpful for my clients. I want them to know that I get it, because I do.
Reading the blog post yesterday, titled Eating Disorders and the Fear of the Ordinary , I was instantaneously drawn to the writer’s reality. She wrote about something she called “the impostor syndrome: the gnawing fear that you don’t really belong there, that you don’t have what it takes, that you somehow slipped through the cracks in the admissions process and are actually an intellectual embarrassment, an incompetent fraud who knows jack-all about anything — and that sooner or later, like the Wizard of Oz, you will be found out and exposed for the humbug you really are.”
I reflected on my own journey. Did I feel like an impostor? Certainly I did, trying to fit in with crowds of people who did not accept me, trying to mold myself into something I wasn’t in hopes that I would be accepted. The most significant way that I was an imposter was in relating to my own self. I was not living within my own skin, my own body; I was detached from the neck down. I couldn’t believe that the body I had was mine, and for many years, I didn’t want it to be mine. Now I know that it was not about my body at all, but about accepting myself for who I was, inside and out. Accepting my sensitive nature, accepting that I had a streak of perfectionism in me that would always peek through.
The author talks about feeling as if we are impostors who “are horribly afraid that somewhere along the line somebody will figure this out. We are convinced in the teeth of the evidence that there is something fundamentally flawed about us, something that needs fixing and yet is unfixable.” This can lead to hurting ourselves through destructive behaviors and feeling as if we are different from everyone else. This would-be self-absorption makes us feel different, special, unique. This feeling, she says, is “miserable, but also seductive.” Thus one of the reasons that eating disorders are so difficult to recover from: we must realize that we are not so different from others, that we belong, and that we are deserve the same self-confidence that others do. But that is also, in the author’s vein, ordinary.
The author also points out that when struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder, one may feel very alone and separate, but
“what’s so funny about this whole self-fulfilling prophecy is that we aren’t really alone, and our methods aren’t really as terribly original as we’d like to think they are. The statistics don’t lie: there are eight million [reported] eating disorder sufferers strong in this country alone, each and every one of us absolutely convinced that we are unlike all the others, that we are somehow Extraordinary.”
What are we trying to achieve by being extraordinary? Do we want to be noticed? loved?
I encourage you to read the entire post, and to reflect upon how it relates to you or to someone you love who has struggled with an eating disorder. The final words are written as if from my own mouth: “I’m not extraordinary, and I’ve nearly killed myself trying to be — but what I am is perfectly imperfect. That’s what I have to offer this world — and that’s fine by me.”