“How do you have an eating disorder?”

It was my first night inpatient at Forest View. I was more than terrified. I stood nervously in the hallway near the nurses station. Why I was standing there I can no longer remember, although it may have been waiting for the 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th blanket. Maybe I was afraid of being alone in such a scary place. I don’t honestly know because I was completely stuck in the ED, my mind fogged by all of the restriction from the majority of the past year.

Either way, there I was in the hallway, wishing I was anywhere else. I would have rather been at MCC eating in the cafe, back in high school, at work, or stuck in PHP since I would be able to go home then. I knew I was supposed to be there, I knew I wouldn’t do college if not. I knew that this was a chance to stop behaviors for a week and hopefully head into the school year in a better place. Of course, I was wrong about that. After my encounter that night I was so upset that I considered just signing myself out AMA.

A girl around 20 came up to me in a wheelchair. She had announced why she was in the hospital many, many times: she drank bleach with the intent to commit suicide/self harm as well. I had no reason  to judge her. In fact, I never felt anything but compassion and understanding for any other patients. All of them, myself included, were seeking help for mental illness. We had no right to say someone is worse off, that you are better than them, they seem “happy/just fine”, or that there’s no reason for them to be inpatient. Despite these unspoken rules, she did anyways. It hurt me in more ways than she would ever know.

Right away, she told me why she was at Forest View (only the 10th time I’d heard it) then proceeded to ask me, “why are you here, you seem fine?” This worried me right away. I could have lied, maybe I should have. Instead I admitted that I’m suffering from an eating disorder and that I’ve been very bad this whole summer. This primed her for one of the most hurtful comments I had ever received in regards to my ED: “How do you have an eating disorder?” If that wasn’t enough (trust me, it was), she started telling me I was way too large and compared me to another girl who had a BMI in the low teens, which I know because said girl told me in a bragging way :(. She claimed I shouldn’t be here because I’m not *that* bad. Then, she laughed at me and gave me a terrible look. I walked away because I could barely hold the tears in and found nothing else to say that would make her see I wasn’t just a fraud.

I went straight to my room and cried in the comfort (well, not really but it was better than being out in the common room) of my own bed. I couldn’t stop the thoughts that only multiplied following her words. I tried to muffle the sound as much as I could, but the nurse doing rounds heard me anyways and became somewhat concerned. She asked if I was just scared given it was my first night. I shook my head yes so she sat with me for a minute and gave a little pep talk. After she left I knew I should quiet down. I did, and tried my hardest to push her remarks out of my head.

I would love to say that her words haven’t affected me since that day. She questioned the validity of my illness and assumed I shouldn’t be in treatment. I have always dealt with these fears on my own but she only intensified them. I still struggle with that. When I entered residential I was convinced they would tell me I wasn’t really struggling, that nobody would believe me since I wasn’t emaciated and had no physical changes due to my ED. I waited for someone to not take me seriously. Thankfully, that never happened and I was continually supported by everyone. Her comments have also made me hyper-vigilant when I tell others I have anorexia. My automatic expectation is to have a repeat of what happened that night in inpatient. I imagine them saying I’m too fat, too happy, attention-seeking, etc.

I am working past that 2 minute conversation. The most important thing is to know that I am sick. I cannot mull over everyone’s reactions to determining whether I am or not, because in the end, I do have anorexia.

Next time you see or learn of someone with chronic illness, please treat them with dignity. What’s on the outside doesn’t reflect how they truly feel. Any “how do you have ___” questions do nothing but harm.

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