Privacy or Secrecy

Bathers or The Secret
Henri Fantin-Latour

Privacy and secrecy in eating disorders can be hard to tease apart.  Where does my desire for privacy end and the destructive pattern of secrecy begin?  Part of what allows eating disorders to run rampant these days is the secrecy.   We the eating disordered engage in our symptoms in secrecy, whether the symptom of the moment/patient is exercise, restricting, purging, laxative abuse, etc.  You can restrict right out in public and still make a secret of it, because people don't want to know.  People don't want to talk about it; they don't want to know about it existing.  They'd rather chastise and "hate" thin women while simultaneously glorifying them, and judge and empathize with women who are perceived to be overweight or obese.  But people don't really want to think about anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder as real things.  They're punch lines or train wrecks, but not surrounding you and sneaking up behind you in the form of your sisters, daughters, friends and co-workers.

The catch-22, of course, is that eating disorders aren't going to dwindle until there is a more thorough understanding of not only their causes, but of what sustains them at a social level.  But to have that discussion and reach that understanding, you've got to tell the truth and shame the devil, not just once and not just with one person or one patient, but over and over again, collectively.  That's why this blog exists, but, let's face it, a meagre 100 readers a day (a good chunk of whom are just here in a quest for the perfect bikini line) will not a social revolution foment.  I find myself ready to make the leap and leave certain privacies behind - for not only my good but the good of common knowledge - only on occasion.  This Sunday, I just couldn't do it.  I have to see that woman more often than I've been seeing her lately, and my psychological issues are... well, psych is tricky, isn't it?  People are open about diabetes or heart disease, but you're not going to have people discussing their bipolar meds or their DBT for borderline personality disorder in the same conversation as they're discussing some of the amazing new blood sugar testing technology.

Our psyches are our own, but our bodies are casually considered public property.  How do you reconcile that when you want to change this part of the Western world?


  1. i hear what you are saying- for me, i am very open about having mental health disorders and have no qualms about discussing it with anyone- because i think more awareness needs to exist that all diagnoses can happen to outwardly "normal" people- and that the stereotypes people attribute to people with disorders are wrong. i felt some discomfort sharing stuff at first, but now i could care less- i have seen that sharing my experiences has helped other people, so its worth a little discomfort to me. i agree that for any kind of change to happen, discussion must happen!!
    love you honey!

  2. I am here, in fact, due to the quest for a perfect bikini line.

    But, I've stayed.

    I don't have an ED, but my mother is a therapist who specializes in treating EDs, so it's a topic I grew up with.

    And, I agree with Sheil, as someone who suffers from depression/bi polar/anxiety/whathaveyou, the whole privacy vs. secrecy issue comes up pretty frequently.

    Anyway, just wanted to give you a "hello" from one of your meager 100 followers. :)

  3. I agree with Sheil and Laura. I think that somehow we as a society have made anyone with a MH issue of any sort feel ashamed that they have a MH issue. The real people who ought to be ashamed are the people who don't want to deal with the fact that MH issues exist, minimize them, or want them kept in the closet. Those who suffer with MH issues, and their families, often suffer even more, either with shame, secrecy or both, because society doesn't want to deal with these issues openly. That lack of openness, the attitude that such things just can't be discussed, equates with shame to me. I wonder if we lived in a franker society if it wouldn't make staying in recovery, or even just arriving there, a little bit easier.

  4. Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that you may be reaching more readers then you know. I, for one, have been happily lurking for months without commenting or "following" you. I just have your blog bookmarked in my browser and I stop by every week or two. I'm not here because I've experienced the effect of an ED first hand, but because I appreciate your slightly cynical and often funny take on the world. More seriously, the messy feedback loop between the psychological root and social reinforcement of EDs is important for people to understand and discuss. I hope you don't feel too pressured to become more public; your blog is reaching people like me who happen upon you through serendipitous searches and return again with minds open to listen to what you choose to share. -CMD in San Diego

  5. You all are just great, and you teach me a lot about the better side of human nature. Thanks for your great insights on this.

    I usually manage to surprise myself with when I'm totally open and when I'm not about having an eating disorder. For instance, last year at BlogHer, I was talking with another blogger who was so very clearly anorexic, and though I'd been sometimes telling people I blog about "women's issues and body issues" for the weekend, I volunteered the information that my blog was on eating disorders, and the relief in her eyes at being able to talk about it was actually palpable (this was at a cocktail reception, and she was at the depth of long term anorexia where looking at fried food is actually uncomfortable). That's a pretty low-risk shedding of privacy, since I could be about 90% sure I was sharing with a fellow ED patient.

    On the flip side, when I've shared just the fact of existence of my ED with some acquaintances or friends, I have been able to see a literal drawing back, a widening of the eyes, a reaction of, "You?" Of course, when you go around asking people, "Gosh! How do you stay so thin?!" I really don't know what you expect. Someone is either naturally thin, or they're unnaturally thin. So the answer is either going to be, "Oh, you know, genetics and moderate living," or some kind of illness or problem.

  6. an interesting experience happened to me a couple of months ago- i got off of cymbalta, and went through insane discontinuation symptoms- a fancy way of saying fucking hellish withdrawal. i had always maintained a boundary of not telling my employer about my MH- but then i essentially had to, because i couldn't work. it really made me aware of the fact that i do have a legitimate disorder that requires legitimate treatment- and there's nothing wrong with saying something.
    ali i dont know what you could say to those incredibly rude people. it's like when people look at me and say "oh you look like you've lost weight!!" and look at me expectantly to say "THANK YOU!! i'm so glad i'm not as FAT as i used to be?!"
    its so weird.


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