Thursday 24 September, 2020

This is what it feels like to be a Cayman teen with an eating disorder

Thumb to middle finger, I wrap my fingers around my wrist in hope that they will meet each other more effortlessly than they did yesterday.

Stepping on the scale first thing in the morning to psychologically take stock of the lowest number of the day.

As I walk through the supermarket, I scan the nutritional content of every item before it gets placed in my cart.

I am an encyclopedia of calorie counts of... well... everything.

These are snapshots of my every day life. And just like a snapshot, they do not come close to telling the whole story.

Before it was “I’m not skinny enough,” it was 2 am binges and crying into my third bag of chips in half an hour.

What can I say... I guess on some level it's not that nothing is being done here for people like me.

Of course we have resources in Cayman; we wouldn’t be much of a community without them. The Alex Panton Foundation is doing an amazing job addressing teen mental health issues, and there are pediatricians who are licensed to diagnose and recommend treatment. But our community is not fit to handle the battle against this stigma towards food and the need to be thin. Like most countries, we are focused on the medical and health issues associated with eating disorders, and those who address mental health, focus more on depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. If I was "bad enough" to need formal treatment I would need to go abroad.

I am not the only one... I know others like me... those who I'm close to and others who I look at across a room or a crowded cafeteria and... I just know. Just like everywhere else, and especially in small communities, no one is very quick to admit to an eating disorder and share their story. 

Most of us are alone in our suffering and some are even clueless that there is even something wrong. Parents are the ideal support system under all the right conditions, but many do not necessarily understand the ways in which this overwhelming obsession dictates actions and reactions.

If one survivor would step forward they would be a beacon for the rest. So today, that person is going to be me.

Here is a brief education on widespread misinformation on eating disorders.

No, we can’t “just eat.”

No, we don’t see ourselves the way you might see us.

Yes, we know our actions are unhealthy.

Sometimes even though we might desperately want to get better, we might be scared to get better because "getting better" means gaining weight.

Even though smoking has its own set of medical complications and risks, the addict will continue to smoke. Think of us in the same light.

I know that an eating disorder can take your life. I know of the possibility of organ failure.

Luckily I've come a long way in the past two years and I'm no longer in the realm of medical risk... but I'm smart enough to know that this won't ever just go away. I am always at some point on the road where my obsession might pass me by. Sometimes it will wave and continue on its way and other times it will stay for a while.

As beneficial as it would be for the Cayman Islands to have a clinic dedicated to eating disorders, I am sadly aware that this won't happen any time in the near future.

Until then I implore you to reconsider your attitudes and statements around food and body image, and this especially goes for adults. Even if you aren't a parent, there is always a younger person who is listening to you.

Confront your ignorance.

Step outside yourself and dare to see someone else's pain and even though it might not be easy, offer them your hand.

Because, at least for now, this is the only support we've got.

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