Anorexia isn’t an adjective, nor is it a choice.
In light of today being Bell Let’s Talk, I thought I’d share my frustration with people using the terms anorexic and anorexia (or any mental health issue for that matter) as adjectives.
Skinny, fat, strong, thin, big, small, tall and tiny are adjectives. Anorexia is an illness.
Eating disorders are serious illnesses, you don’t just wake up one day and decide to starve yourself and obsessively count your caloric intake. You don’t choose to decide to deny your hunger or decide you’re going to have a phobia of weight gain. Eating disorders aren’t a choice…I don’t know how they happen…but they do.
When people use anorexia as a descriptive word, or any mental health issue for that matter, it does a lot of harm:
- It diminishes the seriousness of the issue
- It stigmatizes the people dealing with the issue
- It discourages those who are either struggling or delicately recovering
I’ve heard people refer to someone as looking anorexic, for example “look at how anorexic that chick looks”, or use the term anorexic because they didn’t eat much that one day. It might be funny to the person saying it, but it’s so extremely painful to hear as someone who actually dealt with anorexia.
I know, because I did deal with it.
I know it’s difficult to change the way someone speaks and uses words, but I do hope that writing this post will create some awareness around being mindful about how you refer to mental health issues.
I still feel slightly ashamed to tell people I had anorexia. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s so stigmatized and I’m afraid of how people will treat me going forward, or if it was just such a dark time in my life that I don’t even want to think about it, but today I decided to really share it with the world. I now don’t really care who knows if I had it. It’s in the past, but hopefully my past can help make a difference for others in the future. It didn’t make me weak, I think it made me 10x more stronger. I didn’t choose it, it just happened. I learned so much about myself and I am the person I am now, today, because of what I went through.
I struggled with anorexia for six years, and out of those six years I was in recovery for three. It was a bumpy journey and it was very much a one step forward, two steps back kind of time. During the time of my recovery I was very sensitive and vulnerable to a lot of triggers, such as clothing sizes, calories, weight talk, diet talk and others who had eating disorders. I had to remove myself from anything relating to the disorder, or else I would take three steps back (sometimes even four steps back) instead of two.
Most of my friends didn’t know what I was going through, because it was something I was ashamed of. I didn’t talk about it because it was so stigmatized…and when I heard people use anorexia in a jokingly way – as an adjective – it made my illness feel even more stigmatized. I would sometimes get to a point where I was ready to tell friends what I was dealing with, but as soon as I heard someone joke about an eating disorder, I quickly backed into a hole and decided not to talk about it.
I have now been recovered from my eating disorder for five years. I am so proud of myself for all the hurdles I managed to jump, but to this day, I am still am reminded of how I felt back then when I hear anorexia (or any eating disorder) being used in humorous ways. It’s not a joke. It’s a terribly devastating disorder and it’s something that is ridiculously hard to get through. I was very lucky to recover so quickly, I do count myself as one of the lucky ones, but unfortunately eating disorders aren’t so easy to recover from and some people go their whole lives trying to get to that end point of recovery.
So the next time you’re about to use a mental illness as an adjective, stop yourself and be mindful of how strong that word really is. Educate yourself and be kind.
…And remember, if you’re dealing with a mental health issue, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. You are NOT weak. You just need help and it’s certainly not easy to do it alone. Reach out to someone you trust, and if you can’t think of that person, reach out to your doctor or a professional health care provider. Here are a bunch of links with resources for more information on getting help if you need that first step. https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/get-help