Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake Versus Eating Disorder

Tsunnami waters advance over Japan (source).
Sometimes I feel like my eating disorder visits other people's eating disorders so they can come up with more and more insidious brain-benders.  

This week I was blessed to chat with a church friend face-to-face about some of my eating disorder experience, which is a rare thing.  I'm used to the safe distance of the internet, so having a live, in-person discussion was a little scary -- but also very healing.  However, a little ways into our chat, I find myself playing down the legitimacy of my eating disorder and verbally beating myself up right in front of my friend, talking about how it was so horrible of me to talk about my struggle with an eating disorder (the "it's all in your head" gimmick rose to the front of my mind as I said this) when there are people in the world dying of starvation.  And that was before Japan got hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

While I was trolling the blogosphere this morning, I clicked through to Clare's latest post -- and found that this week she was dealing with the same lie from ED that I was.  In Clare's case, the eating disordered part of her brain was using the horrible disaster in Japan to downplay her own struggle for health and healing.  Insidious, right? 

Is there any point in comparing our suffering?  Not in the least.  (Now, if only I can remember this the next time that ED decides to smack me around using someone else's pain.  Easier said than done, I know!) 

Think of it this way -- would you tell a person who has cancer that her cancer is no biggie because someone else has worse cancer?  Or because hundreds of thousands of people live in poverty?  Or because there is an AIDS epidemic in Africa?  

Of course not.  Cancer is cancer.  Suffering is suffering.  Illness is illness -- including mental illness.  

I am not trying to downplay the significance of the AIDS epidemic or of global poverty.  But, as Clare wrote, it helps no one to use the suffering of others to negate our own struggles.  Don't let ED tell you that your struggle isn't "big enough" or "bad enough" to matter.  Would you tell that to a malnourished orphan in the Congo?

I thought not.

Check out Clare's post for ways to donate to the rescue and aid efforts in Japan.  To help African orphans, click here, and to help children everywhere, click here.  To find help being kind to yourself, click here.


  1. What a great, logical way to think about this! There's nothing wrong with focusing on inner healing or gaining inner strength; nothing selfish or bad about it at all! Taking care of yourself and ensuring you are whole and healthy is the best way to help others.I admire mothers who "put themselves first" when it comes to eating right, daily exercise, thoughtful living in order to 1) set an example for their kids and 2) be ready to protect their children (even if that protection is just an emotional one: being alive to "be there" for their children's life events). For me personally, I look at it as helping yourself be strong in order to be strong for others. (PS, It would make me so happy to go out and help save the world, but I know realistically, that's not something that I can do. So, I just do my best to positively impact my sphere of influence, and invest my resources on those organizations that have a wider sphere than I do (like World Vision or American Red Cross).)

  2. Oh my gosh, I could hug you. I was diagnosed this week with severe allergies to wheat, soy, eggs, and dairy, among other things. Yesterday night, when I vented to my sister-in-law that it's been hard to work around the new restrictions, she snapped, "Well, at least you're not in and out of the hospital. John [my brother-in-law] is one up on you."What the hell?, I wondered. "One up"? Is illness a competition? Sure, I'm not in and out of the hospital, but I am a recovering disordered eater, and the new limitations have me heading to therapy to make sure someone keeps a professional eye on my behavior through the intensely triggering process of re-making my diet. It really hurt to be told that none of what I'm going through mattered because someone else was somehow "one up" on me. The worst part, though, is that I believed her, since my ED has been telling me the same lies for years: it won't matter if ED kills me because worse things have happened to better people; it doesn't matter whether I ever get well because I'm insignificant anyway; I shouldn't seek help because I'll be taking time with a doctor away from someone who's *really* sick. Why should my food allergies be any different? I felt guilty that I had brought them up, that I had spoken about them like they mattered, that I had been such a jerk as to think of my experience as personally significant.Then I read your wonderful post and realized that I was "us[ing] the suffering of others to negate [my] own struggles." Thank you, thank you, thank you for the gift of self-awareness... I feel so much better already. (This is Jessa Valence/pru*dance from HC, btw. :))

  3. I would say that for me, the suffering of others does not negate my own, but it does force me to look at my problems in a new way. For instance, my house is currently underwater. There is major flooding in my area and there have been widespread evacuations. The tragedy in Japan makes the floods here look like a puddle. It does not mean that the residents here have less to rebuild or can get back into their homes any faster. In fact, the events in Japan change nothing about our situation. The only thing that has changed is our perspective. Sure we have lost a lot and this is the second year in a row this has happened. But at the end of the day, no one has been hurt and after the clean up, things will be more or less back to normal in a few months. It does not mean that our flood is unimportant, or no big deal, but it does make the challenge of the clean up seem a little easier than it seemed two days ago, even though the workload remains the same.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King