Today is the day I have waited for, for (almost) a decade. An eating disorders clinic gave a presentation to the staff at the ballet school. It was to raise their awareness of EDs and give them signs and symptoms to look for in students. Since I have worked there I have been appalled at how ignorant teachers in this professional ballet school are towards eating disorders. Their lack of concern considering the industry they are in and the outright denial has sickened me. They don’t know anything and they don’t care enough to educate themselves.
Perhaps because of my history of EDs, I am passionate about helping our students. Many times I have been irate because I have mentioned a student that I am concerned about and no one has taken me seriously. I would prefer our students didn’t have to suffer our collective ignorance. I think many of them have because we have not had the resources (knowledge, counselors etc) to help them. I am glad that so many of our staff have never suffered an ED, but I am angry that even though they don’t know what it is like to have one, they haven’t bothered to learn anything. Lately there has been an epidemic of EDs spreading through the school and residence which prompted this sudden action.
This long-awaited day finally arrived and we gathered in studio 5 (the one with the fat mirrors) to watch the presentation. Right before we went in, one of my co-workers who refused to come upset me (read my last post). She used to have bulimia, briefly and told me that she doesn’t have patience for EDs. “I don’t know how to deal with it. They must just get over it.”
I think there are a lot of unresolved issues on her part.
I was quite wound up by the time I went in. I knew I would have questions and answers, but I also didn’t want to give away how much information or knowledge I have because of my own ED. I was alarmed at how bad I felt sitting there and hiding the truth of the extent of my ED from the rest of the staff. When the facilitator described symptoms of Anorexia or Bulimia, I squirmed. She talked about looking for callouses or scraped knuckles (Russell’s sign) and I hid my hands underneath my notebook. A few of the staff know a very limited amount about my ED. I avoided eye contact and took notes. I wondered how many of them might put two and two together as she listed most of my behaviours out loud and on a power point while describing signs and symptoms to look out for in students.
Most of the time I listened to the staff ask their stupid questions and tried to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn’t shout at them which is what I felt like doing. A few times I had to interject with what I knew to be pertinent to ballet, dancers and ED in order to clear things up for the facilitators as the rest of the staff were clueless. I managed to avoid a few arguments where I would basically have to give myself away by saying “I know this because I do it…”
I didn’t learn anything that I hadn’t heard before, but I was glad to be reminded of a few things that I don’t always attribute to my ED. Anxiety disorder in bulimics can be as high as 75%. I suffer debilitating anxiety that has got a lot worse in the last three years and I never link it to my ED. She also said that the ED sufferer’s behaviour and reactions are complicit with their main form of ED. For example, bulimics are impulsive and over react. They explode in uncomfortable or negative emotional circumstances. I did find it ironic that this explanation was going on at work in front of my colleagues because I feel like this happens to me a lot. Daily sometimes. It actually upsets me that the size of my reaction is disproportionate to the situation.
I was also reminded that after five years of having an ED, the chance of a full recovery is almost nil no matter the age of onset. Imagine how I feel after 21 years?
I was most grateful for the moment when the facilitator explained that not everyone with an ED is excessively thin. Our staff are the kind of people who need to see a skeleton before they will react. In the past I have heard statements like these:
“She doesn’t look sick.”
“She isn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder.”
“Maybe she is just naturally that thin.”
“I saw her eating a sandwich/a pizza/an apple…”
“She is so fat she should get an eating disorder.”
The last one is always meant in a sarcastic, joking manner to be funny.
I thanked her for finally explaining that ED has its own logic and not to try to use logic on someone who has one. I hope the staff keep that in mind. If I have to hear “she should just eat something” in reference to my students ever again after today, I might just bite someone.