Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mourning the loss of a self.

It is not often that I read an article and really relate to it like I did this one: Leaving the sport, gaining an eating disorder.  Though I'm not big on the title "gaining an eating disorder" like it was something that came out of the blue, I did like some of the points the article mentioned.

The big highlight to me was about loss of identity.  Here was this woman who had devoted her life to gymnastics, retired, and then appeared to become fixated on her body.  While it is true as she says, "
The same quality that made me great at sports made me want to get really skinny," the real underlying issue was feeling a huge loss--a life she had known, now going into the unknown, feeling lost, and developing a different identity for herself.

Coming from similar experiences, it is hard to "find" a new identity.  There are those who go unscathed and immediately jump into something new with ease, but I think for a lot of people it isn't easy.  With eating disorders, this can be seen on both ends of the spectrum.  For some, it is the beginning of an eating disorder, for others, it is a loss of an eating disorder as they enter recovery.  What both have in common is that each necessarily needs time to mourn.  I think people forget this and then blame themselves for not being "over" it (whatever that may be); or, they may feel that pressure from misunderstood people.  Or, they hold onto the ideal, that this is their only identity.

For those of you who need scientific evidence, in this New Yorker piece, "
Scientists have found that grief, like fear, is a stress reaction, attended by deep physiological change."

The take home message here is that it is okay to feel sad and upset.  In fact, I think it is important and healthy. This doesn't mean it has to be some huge event, or some tear jerking session (though of course it is okay to cry too-nothing wrong with that), but it's more a feeling of a kind of acceptance.  It's knowing that the loss of one identity allows for us to grow into a different identity--an identity that we can embrace, learn to like, and be successful at.

The woman in this article was lucky in that her eating disordered behavior only lasted about a year.  For many others, it is a long, drawn out process of years.  I hope those reading are not in the latter.  But if you are, and this is one of the things you've held onto-the identity of an ED, I hope you will be able to eventually let go of it.  A good question to ponder here is: how do you want to be remembered--the eating disordered girl? What identity do you want?


Jess said...

Thank you for sharing this. I can totally relate to feeling loss and struggling with finding a new identity when you feel like you lost your old one. I struggle with finding who I want to be everyday and I know I'm only becoming closer to that because recovery is amazing! I hope you have a great day!

Angela said...

I'm 45, and after struggling with an eating disorder for more than half of my life, letting go is difficult. It has defined me for so long, and everyday it is like jumping without a net below. I understand how this gymnast feels, or anyone who has to give up such a huge part of themselves. I'm trying to look at it as a new adventure. Thanks for this post:)

Kaylee said...

Tiptoe - I have been reading your blog for a while and wanted to comment because I read this same article and really understood what you said about the loss of an eating disorder. When the ED has become so much a part of you, giving it up feels like you are losing a bit of yourself - and that is something to grieve. Often the things that contribute to eating disorders are the same things (perfectionism, tenacity, work ethic) that make you successful at everything else. Losing the eating disorder makes you question your strengths and your identity as a whole.

Tiptoe said...

Thanks everyone for replying, especially to some of the new commenters. It is hard to let go of something that held so much of your life (for me like the woman in the article, it was gymnastics). I hope we are all able to eventually realize that we can shed an old identity and develop a new, healthier one. There is a lot more to us that we have yet to realize.

ola said...

Great! I think for someone it is filling some hole/loss, for another one (like me) it is being scared of another identity (that one that everyone around you is seeing in you and you are so scared that you'll fail) and trying to search for some safer and predictable identity.

I was seeing ED as an identity for a long time it was actually relieving and motivating when my therapist said me: stop dividing yourself into ED identity and someone you would like to be without this ED part. Such a person doesn't exist. (Actually she didn't use a word identity, but there is not exact word in English for it).
I am trying to imagine me (and other people) as kind of person with more layers, more (sub)identities that are not excluding themselves. I hope that I can be in the recovery of an eating disorder and at the same time I can have a (sub)identity that has nothing to do with this damned eating disorder (or I would like to think so). And these identities are interacting and creating some new layers and so on. I was so happy when the therapist introduced me to this idea, because that meant not reducing someone/me to an ED.
When I read your blog (most of ED blogs) it always struck me how similar, sometimes almost uniform the ED experiences are and how unique and different the people writing the blogs must be at the same time. Thanks!!

HungryMac said...

Wow. Well, that last question you posed sort of resounded with me as I was just sort of doing a ninja-like read through of your past posts. Before going into treatment, I would have loved to have been known as the ED girl. The secret I held so closely and tortured myself with - no one knew how "damaged" I was because then they would have helped, right? Now I know that isn't true and am working on carving out a new identity. It's a funny connection because a glimmer of regaining my identity was what triggered me to seek treatment. Finally.

Lots to think about from this post...thanks!! I needed a kick in the butt.