T1ED advocacy – what’s okay and what’s not?

(Disclaimer, I still only have vision in one eye so please excuse any mistakes! Proofreading is too difficult when typing hard enough!)

Why is it always important to question your motives behind being a charity representative and volunteer?

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I want to discuss and acknowledge the significance of an issue I often find myself evaluating and for which honesty is essential for. It brings up a dilemma I find myself prone to fretting over which regards the way that I might be perceived by the people that read this blog and are audience to the contributions I provide to the DWED website and social media pages. It’s also something I have been called out on and asked to consider by friends that really only want to see me well and healthy.

I’ve been a volunteer for DWED for over a decade now and presently have a very active role, contributing to the majority of online content and campaigning for awareness through regular posts to Twitter, Facebook and interaction with other associated pages, groups and organisations. These days I feel I have become director, founder and good friend Jacq’s second in command, and have tried to hold the fort steady over the recent period of time during which she has been forced to focus primarily on the demands of completing her PH d something that I am in awe of and also so very proud of her for. Let me stress that none of what I do or have done for DWED in the past has ever been asked for nor expected of me.

But the undeniable fact is that I am not recovered from T1ED and still very much struggle with my own eating disorder and mental health. This offers up a quandary concerning the authenticity and validity of me being a DWED representative or standing as any kind of advocate for the cause we, and I, promote.

Should I be allowed to have such an active role in DWED? Is it okay for me to put myself in the position of being a spokesperson and even offer advice to others with T1ED on how to cope and aim for achieving a better quality of life? Is it acceptable I put out opinions that serve to support or even challenge our members over their own eating disorders when I perhaps need to devote more attention to overcoming my own? Is there a line between black and white here or are there many shades of light to thick foggy grey?

I know I won’t come to a conclusion either way, and I can’t control any perception that the people that read this blog will have, but I’d still like to acknowledge the argument and present my explanations. I hope not to sound as if am providing excuses or attempts to dilute fair judgements but instead some justification and details of context. I also feel obligated to admit that I myself have objected to other charity volunteers that air views that can often raise red flags to highlight a hypocrisy that dilutes the messages they are relaying. But is that most sanctimonious and disrespectful of me? Those character traits are ones I’d truly loathe to have, even if just fleetingly.

My ultimate objective is to always try to be genuine and never serve as an example to DWED’s followers of what recovery is or should be like. I am careful, or hope to be in never serving as an example of how to be or reflect any kind of attitude that remotely encourages other to follow my lead or to not be positive about being able to beat their own difficulties. I try to say ‘this is what we need’ or ‘this is how treatment and the system needs to change’ rather than ‘you can better by just doing x and y’, because really, who am I to say when I have not been able to get there myself? It would be inherently two-faced and undermining.

I’ve also been asked why I am so invested, why I can’t break away like so many volunteers have before me. In many cases this has been for the purpose of attempting recovery or achieving some semblance of purpose outside of the disordered ‘bubble’ - an environment that may be triggering and let’s be honest, quite boring if you’ve found other aspects of life to occupy time and thoughts.

My response to this is again uncertain – on the one hand I do wonder why I have pretty much become the main volunteer standing at DWED, at least in an admin -type capacity and one that places me in a public faced role in writing the members content. blogs and navigating DWED’s social media activity. I do think yes, it’s caught up in the way my disorder is so very ingrained and a part of what I am used to, but it’s certainly not a negative thing for me, in fact I see it as positive and helpful.  I care and I want to help. At the end of the day when I see our analytics and the responses to tweens or Facebook posts, as well as retweets of my writing, it makes me feel accomplished. Like I have made a change and done something useful beyond eating and puking or obsessing about the number on the scales.

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Of course, if I could have a thriving full-time journalism career instead, perhaps with a focus on literature, as well as still playing some part in supporting DWED as a way to give back, then that would be fantastic. But It’s not realistic, and so I do what I can do feel better about myself as accept my efforts as achievements, however small those may seem at times. Certainly, that acceptance can shrink to dust as I shrug it all away as nothing worthwhile. But I know my pesky sick and self-destructive voice all too well. Doesn’t mean I do not hear it. I push my fingers in my ears, sing la-la-la and try to not let it disrupt entirely

There’s no clear-cut conclusion to any of this. It comes down to how followers and supports of DWED regard my involvement with DWED. That is crucial because I’d never ever want to be a negative influence to members that need support,. Furth more I’d hate to be an annoyance, overexposed or too honest and forth giving, dramatic even, a drama queen. I do worry that our blog page basically reads as ‘Claire’s diary’ now! But simply without these blogs there would be scarce content and little promotion or exposure of the charity on an online and socially interactive level.

I finish though by asking of you all to please come forward to me and tell me if I am being unhelpful or if you’d rather I pipe down a bit! I mean that. My writing is also of value to me and so I want to be safe with knowing that on the whole the work I am producing is okay and does the good that I want it to do. I’d rather know if something is off so I can try to make changes.  You can always PM me on Facebook or DM on Twitter. Alternatively, to hide your identity feel free to use the anonymous contact form on our site (ignore the info about being a case study and just submit your message.)

Thank you for listening xx

By Claire Kearns

I'm All Too Aware of Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week has come around way too quickly again: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

*sigh*

Snippets of NEDAW specific media have been cropping up for the past two weeks and I have become increasingly apprehensive about the days ahead. Of the stories I might see. The photos of tortured faces and skeletal bodies. The swapping of confessional histories, tallies of hospitalisations and physical complications. Then ultimately the lip biting and need to stifle judgement it all may personally lead to because I really don’t want to upset anyone. It’s all so precarious.

I am very much aware of eating disorders. Too aware. Painfully aware. I wish I wasn’t.

I find the whole EDAW thing completely draining and part of me wants to burrow away into a tight ball and hibernate till it’s over.

One of the most difficult things is the barrage of confessional life stories that we will hear - I’ve already seen many cropping up on various social media platforms. I don’t mean to criticise individuals posting this confessional stuff  - I really do recognise that intentions are good, but there’s a distinct gap in understanding and sense of consequence there. A lack of care over the content they are presenting to what may be a particularly vulnerable audience.

We all say it eating disorders aren’t about weight. But the anorexic voice can be almost laughably predictable in obsessing when it comes to our own weight. Personally, I avoid pushing inspirational advice to anyone else, because I know the way I look and evident behaviours can make it sound false and patronising. But others don’t seem to see the problem in doing this. Yes, it’s okay to talk about your struggles, your successes, and nobody should have to hide away from a camera capturing real life moments - being ill is nothing to be ashamed of. But I can’t help but think people should think twice before posting objections to flawed media coverage and damaging advertising when their posts made contradict their arguments. Preaching about fighting stigma and how eating disorders are not about weight on Facebook rings hollow at best when accompanied by emaciated photos. If it’s not about weight then nobody needs to see them.

Certainly, if looking back at those painful reminders helps someone personally to feel motivated and want to continue in getting better, that is great, but surely it can be done without exposing it to a public space with the potential of causing others harm? I do completely empathise with that nagging need for validation, but putting that responsibility onto others is unfair, especially if they have eating disorders themselves.

It feels like standing in an echo chamber when coverage starts to crop up on your social media feed. Voices bounce back and forth against the walls, each one trying to increase the volume of pitch, be louder than the rest. Yet the people that really need to listen and take notice are outside in the open air and completely oblivious.

EDAW is supposedly about raising awareness and educating people. But I just don’t think this kind of approach will ever educate anyone much at all.  The media regularly sensationalises their lifestyle articles with low weight photos for shock tactics. It’s not really that startling anymore, and whether partially aware or not, the fact is that these posts really have the potential to affect followers in adverse ways.

The cherry on the cake this year is that the focus had been set by B-eat as ‘early intervention’. Don’t get me wrong, early intervention is hugely important and a worthwhile topic that needs acknowledgement, but to me, right now, it feels like another huge slap of rejection and dismissal - invalidation even. See, early intervention has ALWAYS been important, but it’s only in recent years become cast into the spotlight for attention, yet what about those of us who didn’t get the early intervention we needed - WE needed it too – we didn’t get it then, and we need support now. [Another blog to come on this later in the week.]

I feel like what those of us that regard ourselves as advocates need to be working towards is challenging misconceptions out there. Because although eating disorders are being talked about more and more, it’s too often couched in ignorance and misinformation.

This is particularly relevant in regards to ED-DMT1 or diabulimia, which is only just becoming more talked about. Despite the success of more widespread coverage over the years there have been a lot of mixed messages about what diabulimia is and how it is distinct from ‘ED-DMT1’. DWED aims to put up definitions and resources relating to this as part of our new ‘about us’ page soon. We feel we have achieved our first goal which was to just get more people to hear the term ‘diabulimia’ and begin to talk about it.

Awareness – about eating disorders in general and diabulimia specifically - can be raised without implicit competitiveness. Without showing photos and offering stats in an attempt and prove our right to a voice. We all have that right. Words are more meaningful, and all of us offering any commentary during NEDAW need to stop and think for a second before we press the send button: it can be too easy for the eating disordered mindset to sneak in despite our best intentions. Let’s be real and let our stories stand alone and challenge each other if needs be. The fight is not over, but often we can be shouting so much that we fail to realise the hardest fight begins closer to home.

 

By Claire Kearns.