May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Disclosure Is Step One

I can recall with ease the first time that I admitted that I was suffering from anorexia. I was sitting on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, tears rolling down my face as I had just finished watching Hungry to Be Heard (Orthodox Union). The film presented the struggle by a man in the Orthodox Jewish community regarding eating disorders. For the first time I felt validated; I felt as if perhaps I wasn’t a “freak,” that I didn’t need to feel ashamed because there were others like me and that I was not alone.

I told my parents then that I knew that I had a problem and that I wanted help. I was fearful of what recovery would mean, of if I could survive without an eating disorder—when in reality I would not have been able to survive with one. After months of hearing my parents and doctors tell me that I had a mental illness, months of true denial and resistance, I finally admitted that this disorder was crushing me. While I was unsure of my future, I knew that I didn’t want to continue on that way, suffering.

It is not simply that I disclosed, or finally admitted my problem to my parents. Rather, I finally admitted it to myself. When struggling, whether it be with mental illness, medical illness or a situation or dilemma, there is generally a period of denial. Sometimes the denial works to protect the individual; in the beginning, it may ease the individual into ultimate acceptance. With mental illness, denial is often a means of holding on to the disorder. The denial I experienced during the first six months of my eating disorder presented itself through the voice of my anorexia; I did not believe that I actually had a problem because admitting this would mean that I would need to forfeit, in some way, the behaviors I was using, and the eating disordered part of my brain did not want this to happen.

To fully admit that I had a problem, that some part of me recognized the ways in which the eating disorder destroyed me, was the beginning of my being able to get help. I am blessed as I was able to do so by being surrounded by such loving and supportive parents. My parents worked hard to do everything that they could to help me after I was diagnosed; they Skyped my meals with me, visited every week I was in treatment for visiting and family therapy and went above and beyond to make sure I was as comfortable and supported as I could possibly be. My siblings, though they were unsure how to help, let me know that they were around to help me in whatever way they possibly could. And my boyfriend at the time called me each day, and no matter how slow the conversation or how hollow I felt, he let me know that he was not giving up.

I was and am blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful, supportive network. This allows me to disclose openly when a problem comes up, or when I am feeling sad or fearful. And disclosure truly is the first step. Not everyone is surrounded by a family such as mine. Some individuals feel as if no one could possibly understand, or feel that their families or friends simply do not have time or wouldn’t know how to relate. It is important to try to identify one person with whom to take the risk of disclosure. This might be when a significant event happens, or when emotions run high. As human beings there is value in our social interactions and so to be able to reach out to others is an invaluable skill.

Sometimes asking for help can be difficult; we may feel vulnerable or weak, or think that there is always something worse out there and our problems are insignificant. In reality, any problem is significant and having others to speak to who can provide empathy and perhaps insight can completely change a difficult experience. Locating the one or two people who seem safe and trustworthy, and perhaps keeping those names and numbers in our back pockets, can act as a saving grace during a hard time.

Experiencing difficulty is an awful experience in and of itself, but to do so while feeling alone only heightens the discomfort. There are some individuals out there who feel that not a single person can understand. But maybe you are the person who can. By working together as a community to provide support and to let friends and family members, as well as community members, know that we will try to help as best we can and that they should not feel judged, no matter the situation, can completely change the experience of suffering. Together we can experience support and comfort not only for ourselves but also to others during difficult times. We can foster a sense of safety to encourage disclosure. Together we can help one another to feel as if we are not alone. This feeling was the powerful force that paved the way for my recovery. Just think what would happen if we could all foster this for one another and raise each other up during the difficult times.

By Temimah Zucker, LSW

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