Wow. What a crazy day today was. For some of you, I know you’re thinking “Crazy day? How about the last 6 months?” I want to thank a lot of you for your emails and messages about my lack-of-posts. Let me fill you in on what’s been happening before I get into what today was about. Not to make excuses – but to justify. I don’t feel like I’ve had a creative bone in my body until recently.
I am still in school; I am currently taking my last science pre-req before I start the Nursing Program in August. Studying is a full-time job on top of my full-time job. I spent most of the fall wedding planning and on December 21, 2012 in Naples, Florida, I married my best friend, David. Exciting, crazy, cold – it was one of the best days on record. For someone like me, who thought a wedding was so far out of the picture EVER, it was amazing to see possibilities become real.
After the wedding was Christmas, New Years, then on January 4th I turned 30 (yikes). School started back up, then its David’s Birthday, Mini-honeymoon, and now it’s February 25, 2013 and we are at the beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Do you feel caught up? Good. I’m ready to talk about today. Actually – I’m ready to TALK today. Every NEDA Awareness week I have done “fear week”. I cook a different food every night and post pictures about it. Burgers, pizza, fries, bacon…whatever you can think of that I used to be terrified of, I would make it and eat it: more importantly, I would enjoy it.
I wanted this week, this year to be different. An eating disorder is never about food. Alcoholism is never about alcohol and sexual addiction is never about sex…it all started with something else and the way we chose to “handle our issues” is the only thing that separates us into different categories.
Today I did something I’m going to call “My Silence Experiment”. So here’s the mission: be completely silent for 24 hours. No talking, no conversation…no TEXTING (gasp), for 24 hours to recognize those who are silently struggling. I was silently struggling for 7 years. I have been recovered for 4 year, 2 months and 2 weeks and I’m telling you today was the hardest day I’ve had in a long time.
For those of you who know me, you know that talking is not something I can easily give up. It’s almost like oxygen. My ‘strong suit’ is making people laugh. When I’m stressed, I’ll make you laugh. When I’m injured, I’ll make you laugh. I remember having bacon grease dumped on my leg in 1996 and I had the whole class of people rolling. The minute we got in the car to go to the hospital I was STILL cracking jokes and I remember my coach saying “you know this really isn’t funny…?” I make jokes, that’s what I do.
Aside from the place my head hits the pillow every night; one of my favorite places to go is Total Athletic Performance. I get a great workout and have an awesome time. I had no idea how much this ‘being silent’ idea was going to completely suck (for lack of a better term).
I wore this button on my shirt. It said “I am SILENT today for those who are silently struggling with an eating disorder.” I figured this would 1, explain why I was being a weirdo and not talking. 2, shut people up that I didn’t know, because no one wants to talk about an eating disorder – face it. I found that to be true today with a few people.
I had no idea how powerful today was. I had so many memories and emotions come back from not being able to say a word.
Let’s start with David, my husband. I woke up, rolled over; he said “Good Morning.” I smiled and got out of bed. “WTF? Oh yeah – no talking.” For the rest of the morning he didn’t talk either. He kept signing to me, writing notes, waving me out the door when I motioned I was going to leave. I wrote him a note that said “You can talk, you know…” He told me he felt guilty talking if I couldn’t talk.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? I remember sitting around the dinner table with my family in the deepest part of my disorder and NO ONE wanted to say anything. I certainly had nothing to say – my entire mind was consumed with 2 things: 1. what I can eat and what I can and 2. When can I work out again? There was NOTHING to talk about! Not to mention, if my family had talked about anything I wouldn’t have had any input in the conversation. I could have turned a conversation about a new car and the president into “today at lunch I only had steamed broccoli, isn’t that great?” I still can’t believe my family put up with me.
So the workout was hard – not being able to join in the conversations, answer questions, ask questions if I had any (I always do) or talk with my friends, I said goodbye and when they asked “when will you be back?” I pointed forward: “tomorrow?” A nod ’yes’. I’m really looking forward to adding 30 minutes back on to my workout because I talk too much.
As I was leaving the gym, there was a group of older gentlemen standing by the door. One of them I recognized. I see him almost every day I go and always try to talk to him; he never really answers me back. But TODAY, of all days, he walks right up to me with his little posse and says “Hey! Is there a big group of you girls working out in there today? Are you just finishing up?”
You should just talk, Mel…he won’t have any idea what an eating disorder is…it won’t mean anything to him, just tell him you’re done working out and no one else is in there, I tried to convince myself. Instead; I stuck my chest out at him and let him and his 7 friends read my button. “Oh.” He smiled, said ‘that’s great, you can’t talk today” (wasn’t sure how to take that) and the crowd started to break up. Except for one man.
His eyes welled up with tears. He just stared at me for few moments. “Hi, my name is Hank.” He just kept staring. I’m thinking okay, do I talk? Do I leave? Do I pat him on the shoulder? Then he spoke. “I’m really glad that you’re doing this, my granddaughter is in Denver in rehab for an eating disorder.”
He continued on and told me that his wife and his daughter don’t know what to do. They’re lost and would love to talk to someone. “Can I at least get your name?” Hello, Melissa!!! Speak now!! I choked on the tears I was holding back and said (too loudly) “Melissa. My name is Melissa. Thank you for sharing.” I told him I went to rehab in Arizona; he had heard of Remuda Ranch. I told him I’d been 4 years recovered. I told him it was possible for her too. He said his wife or daughter would be calling me and I’m hoping they’re reading this. If you are, I can’t wait to hear from you.
I couldn’t figure out what to do. I just sat in the car and cried. I thought about going back in for a hug, which also meant I would have let everyone see me cry: not happening. So I went about my day to see who I could be silent to next.
Publix! I was greeted by every single person in a Publix uniform today. “Hi, how are you?” “Are you finding everything okay?” “Can I help you with anything?” Honest to God, 4 people within the first 5 minutes said something to me. When I got to the register, the woman said “HI, How are you this afternoon?” I smiled at her and looked down. She stared at my button, looked up at me and said “Is everyone doing this today?” I shook my head ‘no’. “So it’s just you?” I shook my head ‘yes’.
“Cool.” And she gave me the thumbs up sign. She didn’t say another word while she rang me up and said “I feel stupid because I don’t want to talk because I knew you couldn’t.”
I found this to be true a few times today. So many people knew I couldn’t talk, even if they didn’t know why, and felt bad talking when I couldn’t. How do you think people felt when I wouldn’t eat? Did people feel bad eating or talking about food when I was around? I KNOW people felt bad bitching about “being fat” or how bad their diet was when I was around. To me – this was evidence that there are SO many people out there that want to help; you just need to tell them you need it. Even if you don’t know what you need. The minute you SPEAK UP, you are free. Being silent, to put it pretty bluntly, will put you in an early (and silent) grave. I know friends of mine already had my head stone and eulogy written – telling them I was starting to seek help was a huge weight lifted off their chests.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t make it through the 24 hours. David’s daughter came over and re-inspired me, I was pumped to be silent until tomorrow morning, then about 5:00pm our neighbor came over and I showed him the button he said “Are you trying to raise money for this?” I laughed so hard I couldn’t help but tell him what was going on. Then I spent the rest of the night telling David about my day in ‘silence’, since I wasn’t able to tell him before.
The bottom line: when I was anorexic and bulimic, I would always say to myself “If you’re not skinny, what good are you?” No self-worth, no purpose, just be skinny and small and you‘ll get by.
Today, at about 11:30am, I thought to myself “If I can’t communicate, what good am I?” I was struck by the irony and finally figured out the purpose of today’s experiment. You have to ask yourself one question: WHO. ARE. YOU? Who are you?? I assure you the answer is not “A size 2.” Or “A funny person.” You are so much more than your size, shape or color. YOU are your dreams, your goals, your passions, your mistakes, your ‘wins’ and your dreams. Take it from me, the girl who defined her future by this motto “If I have to buy bigger than a size zero, I’ll start running more” to the girl who now can’t possibly pick one goal she wants to do, because there’s so much life ahead to live. There’s life ahead for you too.
Today I was silent for more reasons than I anticipated. I was silent for those who feel they can’t speak up about what they’re going through, for those who feel they’re the only one on the planet going through this and for those who are terrified of who they would be without their “ED”. I was also silent for my 2 friends Kristen and Laura: both spoke up about their disorder, both tried to get help and both lost the fight. Kristen and Laura are terminally silent. My silence today reminded me of the smiles and tears they both brought to my face while I had my time with them.
My advice? Do something great with your life. As soon as you let go of your eating disorder you will have 25 doors in front of you and you can choose which opportunity you want to walk into.
I want to leave you with this verse. I was recently talking about this passage with my friend, Anna about being ‘okay’ where you are right now. Trust in God to save you when you know you can’t save yourself…and no, it won’t happen overnight. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
Stay tuned for tomorrow!!! What could be scarier than being silent for 24 hours???