“Who the hell is Ed and do I need to talk to him?!?!”
This is an email I received from a friend before I had gone public with about my eating disorder. I completely understood her confusion. Up until that point, I had dabbled in posting a few Facebook status updates that mentioned him and how I was trying to stay away from him, but I would be surprised if more than 10 people actually knew what I was talking about. It probably looked like I was dealing with some sort of creeper stalker. And this is not untrue. At least, not in a metaphorical sense...
If any of you have ever seen "Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn,” you remember the scene involving earwig-looking creatures that entered your brain and controlled your mind. For those of you who aren’t as ridiculously nerdy as I am, Spiderman III’s “Venom” might be a better analogy. Ed is an earwig. Ed is venom.
So now that you all know who Ed is, you probably think I’m also schizophrenic. But the reality is we all talk to ourselves, albeit usually not aloud. The only difference between your “Let’s see, I have to finish reading that chapter for chemistry, but I’d really rather play video games…I can just do it in the morning, oh, and don’t forget to take out the trash…” and my dialogue with Ed is, you don’t debate with yourself about sticking your finger in an electrical socket, or lighting your hair on fire, (or maybe you do, I’m just guessing) or some other self-destructive behavior, like going a week only eating an apple every other day. I’m sure you’re wondering why I, and many others who have also struggled with eating disorders, refer to this illness as an individual being - a separate person with his own thoughts and actions.
Mental disorders are some of the most misunderstood illnesses. It’s no secret that there is still a stigma that accompanies any mental diagnosis. Although more recently society has become slightly more accepting of their widespread prevalence, the prejudice is still there, and none feel the burden of discrimination more than those who suffer from mental disorders.
But not in the way you might think.
I can only speak for myself, and perhaps some of the people I have gone through treatment with, but when I had finally come to terms with and accepted the fact that I had an eating disorder, I beat myself up about it. How could I LET this happen to me? I should be stronger than this. I should be smarter than this. I know this is killing me, why can’t I just stop? Every time I purged, I told myself I was pathetic. Stupid. Weak. A failure. Eventually, I was convinced I would never recover, because I was only capable of doing the wrong thing.
When I entered recovery, I still considered Ed and I to be the same person. I had never heard of “divorcing Ed” or any other such reference to personifying an illness. Girls in treatment sometimes referred to thoughts or actions coming from their eating disorder, but to me, even then, the distinction was not great enough. I still owned my disorder.
It wasn’t until I started reading Jenni Schaeffers’ book, “Life Without Ed,” that I was introduced to the concept of viewing my eating disorder as an entirely different person. At first I thought it was a bit ridiculous. I am NOT going to go between two chairs facing each other and have a conversation between myself and Ed. I’m already bonkers enough. I still haven’t done that. But those of you who have been reading regularly are aware of the dialogue with Ed that I have documented.
Of course, these “conversations” were written in hindsight. Separating Ed’s voice from my voice is still not necessarily something I recognize immediately when I’m in the moment. But using discourses to analyze my past thoughts and actions has helped me to make sense of the myriad emotions I experience.
One of the greatest, and most challenging, steps I have taken in my recovery is to realize that I am NOT my disorder. Yes, my disorder is a part of me. But it does not DEFINE me. I am not a “bulimic person.” Bulimia has found me. To put it in perspective: if you got into a car accident, would you from that day forward refer to yourself as a “car accident?” Probably not. I mean, we’ve all had the occasional “I’m a train wreck” moment, but I do not believe that’s a literal reference.
Ed is how I took back my identity. All the things I had hated myself for, they were not, and are not, who I am. I can blame Ed for a lot of things: my depression, misery, self-loathing, anxiety, behaviors around food. But in the end, it does come down to whether I let Ed get the better of me. I can’t always use him as my scapegoat. When I make poor decisions, and believe me I do, I can’t point the finger and say, “it was HIM! I’m innocent!” I may not be guilty of murder in the first degree, but if I helped bury the body, I’m still an accessory.
One of the hardest things about recovering from an eating disorder is taking responsibility. Yes, I can blame Ed all I want. And that helps me to remember that I am still me, and that I deserve so much more than Ed gives, or takes away. But my recovery is MY responsibility. No one else can kick Ed out. I cannot rely on others to take the steps for me. All I can do is ask for support; the rest is on me.
But even though taking responsibility is the hardest thing any adult has to do, it is also the most empowering. Ed isn't something I "let" happen to me. He just did. And it's unfortunate. An old proverb states: "We cannot change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails." I didn't choose to suffer with Ed. I didn't wake up one morning and say, "Bulimia sounds fun, I think I'll give it a try..." Who would? But I do choose to live. And I'm choosing it now.