Thoughts: To the Bone

Netflix originals seem to be all about the controversy lately! From 13 Reasons Why (I have not and will not watch this), and now with the new release of To the Bone. While I applaud Netflix for having the metaphoric balls to tackle some difficult subject matter, To the Bone has left me with more questions that I had before I watched.

For those of you who are not aware, To the Bone is a new Netflix Original film about a girl named Ellen, who struggles and lives with Anorexia. In the months leading up to the release, this film has been a source of controversy throughout many social media outlets. Let me run you through some reasons why:

  • Lilly Collins, who stars in the film as Ellen, has a personal history with eating disorders and lost an incredible amount of weight for the role. She says that the weight loss was done in a safe, controlled, and healthy way. But many people who are also in recovery from eating disorders have expressed concern about this online. They are saying that the idea of someone losing weight in a healthy way with the intent of portraying someone with a life threatening eating disorder is a dangerously mixed message to be sending.
  • People are questioning the ethical choices of the movie’s crew (just FYI, the movie is based on writer Marti Nixon’s experiences in treatment with her own eating disorder) of allowing Lilly Collins to potentially jeopardize her own health and recovery by preparing for this role.
  • Many people in the online body positivity and eating disorder recovery communities have expressed fear that this movie may glamourize eating disorders and the behaviours that go along with them. This would be so harmful when in reality what people need is education surrounding eating disorders and calling them what they are: The mental illness with the highest mortality rate
  • Many people have also expressed concern that the film could potentially perpetuate harmful stereotypes associated with eating disorders. For example: That an eating disorder affects only certain type of people, or looks a certain way. Historically, the media has had a tendency to only portray eating disorders by showing images of young, white, emaciated women.

Overall, prior to this film being released, I had seen more concern and negativity about this film that positivity or praise. I saw countless urges to people in recovery to not watch it, due to possible triggers. But, I decided that I am strong enough in my recovery that if I were to feel triggered I would simply stop watching. I decided I wanted to be able to form my own thoughts and opinions about the movie. So I watched it, and let me tell you have I got thoughts…

Things I liked

Firstly, I was thankful to see that the film was prefaced by a trigger warning. I felt that considering the subject matter and the fact that there are fairly graphic depictions of eating disorder behaviours and of very low weights that this was responsible. While the warning will not prevent people from watching (we can’t control people, as much as we’d like to sometimes) I felt that it was in very good taste to include it. It showed an awareness about the subject matter and made me feel like they had considered the possible effects that the film could have.

Something I felt was really well portrayed in the movie was the effects of Ellen’s illness on her family, as well as their struggles to understand. Eating disorders can create a ripple effect within families. It is incredibly difficult for people to essentially watch their loved ones die in front of them; it’s only natural for family to be effected in these situations. This difficulty is only compounded by a present lack of understanding of the loved one’s condition.

Unfortunately, there are many people who believe that eating disorders are a choice, and since that is not the case, people can be confused by how difficult recovery is as the complexity of recovery is not consistent with the notion that eating disorders are a choice. Now this is not to say that this is the only source of confusion for families of loved ones with eating disorders. These are complex illnesses and honestly they can be hard to understand for anyone. All in all, I think that To the Bone did a good job of illustrating a family’s struggle with eating disorders including the confusion, fear and hurt that goes along with it.

In the movie, the main plot centres around Ellen entering a new residential treatment facility. I was pleased to see the film show some (key word: SOME) diversity when it came to the other patients that Ellen was in treatment. For reference, the group home has seven residents. Of the seven, six were female, one was black, one vocalized struggling with an eating disorder other than Anorexia or Bulimia, and one was pregnant. Now while this was a valiant attempt at showing some diversity, it unfortunately leads me into…

Things I didn’t like

Eating disorders do not discriminate with regards to who they afflict. There is no one way to have an eating disorder nor is there any one particular way that an eating disorder can look. I appreciate that To the Bone attempted to represent this diversity, but I just felt that it fell short. I am someone who did not fit the societal picture of what “an eating disorder looks like.” I appeared to be at a healthy weight and often felt that I did not “look sick enough” to need help. This is not something uncommon and unfortunately I have heard many other people talk about experiencing similar feelings. I feel that To the Bone showed the majority of its patients as fitting societal expectations and stereotypes of what eating disorders “look like.” This is an extremely detrimental way of thinking especially to those living and struggling with eating disorders. To the Bone perpetuated these harmful stereotypes and in my opinion did not do justice to displaying the diversity and wide spread nature of eating disorders.

Now let’s go back to where I said that six of the residents in the group home were female; yes, there was a male patient. I think this was an amazing choice to show a male living and struggling with an eating disorder. It is too commonly believed that eating disorders are exclusive to women, and this did a great job at dispelling this.

However, in my opinion it wasn’t all good. SPOILER ALERT: Ellen becomes romantically involved with this male patient. Now first of all, in inpatient treatment settings, romantic relationships between clients is highly forbidden. People receiving that level of treatment for eating disorders are extremely vulnerable and relationships between two people in such vulnerable states could potentially be disastrous to recovery- so right off the bat it’s a pretty unrealistic story line. Secondly, I was extremely bothered by the film’s portrayal of the notion that “if someone struggling with an eating disorder finds someone to love them, then it will be a magical cure for them.

THIS. IS. NOT. TRUE.

People living with eating disorders are not sick simply because their lives are devoid of love. This though proves takes away from the severity of eating disorders. I feel that this part of the film trivialized and diminished eating disorders and honestly, this was probably the biggest disappointment to me.

Things I am neutral on

Now with regards to if the movie glamourized eating disorders, I genuinely did not feel that the film did this. I felt that the film accurately and genuinely portrayed certain eating disorder behaviours. The way Ellen had bruises along her spine because she was constantly doing sit ups, the way that the nurses at the treatment centre had to lock bathrooms for thirty minutes after meal times, the way that patients were terrified to get feeding tubes because the fear of food was that strong, I felt that these things were accurately depicted throughout the film.

The last thing I want to touch on is if the film is triggering. This part was hard for me to form an opinion on. I personally, did not find the film to be triggering. But that is not to say that it could not be triggering to others. I feel that I am at a very good place and I feel cert strong in my recovery. But I feel that for people who perhaps do not feel strong and confident in their recovery, or people who haven’t yet made the choice of recovery that this film has the potential to be triggering. My advice would be to use your judgement and if the film does get to be too much for you to remember that you have the power to simply stop watching. If that happens then take a beat, and reach out to someone you love and trust and have a conversation about you’re feeling.

Overall, I do not think that To the Bone was a terrible movie, but I also do not feel that it was the best portrayal of eating disorders. I think that this film had nothing but the best intentions- to raise awareness and create conversations about the reality of eating disorders. However, I feel that in some areas they did a disservice to the eating disorder recovery community. My final thought is in the form of a question that I would love to hear thoughts/comments on:

Will there ever be an appropriate way
to depict an eating disorder journey in film?

Low is Low

Have you ever thought about the negative thought processes you engage in?
I have, and what I’ve discovered about myself was pretty saddening. 

About three or four months ago, my depression and anxiety had become simply unmanageable. My bedroom was filthy, I was washing my hair maybe once every two weeks, I was only leaving my apartment to go to work (which was limited since my hours had been cut), I was isolating myself from people and things that I loved, I was spending full days in my bed… But at the time, I could not see that I had hit my version of rock bottom.

Let me tell you why.

The thing about humans is that we are all extremely unique beings. We experience things differently, have different ways of internalizing life events, and all around we simply process things differently from one person to the next. When we consider these differences, it seems logical to understand that each of us, as individuals has different versions of what low points of our lives look like.

I think that the work I do had a hand in the negative thought processes I began engaging in at this time. At the time when my mental health was rapidly declining, I was working as a Social Recreation Worker at a community mental health organization. When I take that into account, I can understand that I was seeing people who were some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in my city. I saw people who I was working with, and saw that they were struggling and I began to engage in thought processes such as:

“I’m not that sick. Other people have it so much worse than I do.”
I don’t deserve to get help, other people need it more.”

I have since reflected on these thoughts and I have been able to realize just how detrimental they were. These thoughts had a huge hand in why I was super reluctant to reach out for support that I desperately needed. I viewed myself as a helper and was of the belief that I should have been able to handle things on my own. How could I be providing support and assistance to other people when I couldn’t even figure out how to support and assist myself?

What I have finally come to accept and acknowledge, is that as humans are all unique in the ways we process, experience and internalize things, we all have different versions of high and low points in our own lives. What might be difficult for my best friend, might not be difficult for me, and by the same token something that completely debilitates me might be something easy to handle for my best friend.

I realize now that three months ago I had hit the lowest point of my life, and for me that became my rock bottom. It didn’t matter that other people also had struggles, what matters is that for me, I was experiencing the hardest point of my life thus far. I was experiencing the lowest point of my life. I was not experiencing the same things that people around me were experiencing and the fact that I was trying to compare my struggles with those of others, was in fact me invalidating my own experiences. I was subconsciously saying to myself that my struggles weren’t valid and that they were not hard enough to warrant me worrying about them or seeking help.

If you find yourself struggling, focus on your struggles, your experiences and how you are processing these things. Please remember that the struggles and experiences of others have no bearing on you and yours. The things that are hard for you are just that, hard for you. The fact that you are struggling is completely separate from how other people experience and process struggles. Please remember that your experiences are valid and if you feel like you are slipping into your version of low, that you are worth reaching out for help and support.

A struggle is a struggle.
We may all experience low points differently,
but conquering them can give a universal high.

When Did “Fat” Become the Real F Word?

Why do we force words to live exclusively from one another?
Why can fat not mean beautiful?

I recently remembered something from when I was in the sixth grade. There was a girl in my class who was a bit bigger than most of the other students in our class. I remember hearing the way that the other students spoke about her, the mean jokes they would make behind her back, and the almost as cruel things they would say to her face. I remember noticing that she was being treated differently and in a negative way because of her size.

I decided then that I would never let myself look a way that would give other people an opportunity to treat me poorly. I wish I had taken this experience in a different way, as an example of people I never wanted to be like. I never would want to be treated like this classmate, but the lesson I learned was not to be kind to people, it was to never become fat enough to allow people be cruel to me.

I used to be so scared of the word fat because we live in a society that equates fat to ugly, or less than. I was scared of the idea of gaining weight because I thought that if I did then I would also become ugly or less than. We live in a society that puts limits on what words can be. I was more scared of being fat than I was of being a bad person, of being considered rude or mean, and I was scared of being fat more than I was worried about getting bad grades.

I was eleven when I learned that our world says that being fat is bad. I was eleven when I became afraid of gaining weight. I remember it like it was yesterday, and one day I hope to not be afraid. But for now, I will remember to be kind, and to stand up for those who are mistreated. I do not view gaining weight as the end all and be all of my life, and there are now many things I consider to worse things than ganging weight, but I am still somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of it. So until the day I am not afraid, I will choose to be kind and to reject cruelness.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

I used to think that the parts of me that I hated, were hated universally by anyone and everyone I met. I assumed that because I hated my stomach and the excess fat I thought I had, that everyone around me hated it too.  I remember thinking that no one would ever fully love me. Because if I didn’t fully love me, how could I ever expect anyone else to?

So I would hide the things I didn’t like about myself from most people. There were times when I was completely ashamed of the fact that I live with multiple mental illnesses, so I would only disclose it to a select few people. I remember even after I had stopped self-harming I was completely petrified of the idea of anyone seeing my scars that I would wear long sleeved shirts and sweaters on even the hottest summer days.

This caused me to keep secrets from people close to me; parents, friends, partners, you name it and I probably kept secrets from them. I’m not talking life threatening secrets, but secrets nonetheless.

The thing is that I should never have felt like I had to hide any parts of me. Sometimes letting people in and showing them these parts of me helped me to see how they could be lovable.

I remember when I started taking medication for my anxiety I was tentative to tell people. I was worried that the stigma surrounding taking medication for mental illnesses would be too much for me to handle. Then I talked to a close friend about it and she told me that she viewed it as a sign of strength. She felt that by me making the step to take medication that I was being self aware enough to admit that my life needed more help than I had been giving it. Now I try to talk to people about the fact that there is no shame in taking medication for a mental illness, the same way there would be no shame in taking medicine for a cold.

Since being in recovery from my eating disorder, I have gained a substantial amount of weight. It’s been a huge adjustment for me, going from thinking that gaining weight was the worst possible thing that could happen to me, to trying to understand that gaining this weight was healthy. If I had never worked up the courage to be intimate with my fiance even after gaining weight, I never would have been able to fully appreciate my new body. I am still learning to love myself, but seeing that someone else loved me despite something that I perceived as a flaw was a huge catalyst for my journey of self love beginning.

What I’ve learned over the years is that someone who truly loves you will never make you feel like you have to hide parts of you. Someone who cares about you and your best interests will want to know about every part of you, and yes, I mean even the dark and scary parts that you keep so hidden they’ve collected dust.  There’s nothing healthy about secrets. Sometimes they start out with the best of intentions, but rarely will they have positive end results. Letting those dark and dusty parts come out can be a really daunting task, and I get that. The thing is that when you find someone worth letting them out for, it will be one of the most liberating and full of potential experiences of your life; it has been for me.

If You’ve Never Tasted Peanut Butter

I really hate questions about “what I did today.” I understand that questions like this are a pretty standard part of life, but they make me uncomfortable.

Why, you ask? Well, because some days, I really do not do that much, and that can make people look at me differently. There are days when either my depression, anxiety, or body image (or any combination of the three) make it extremely difficult to do things. There are days where leaving the house is too much for me, and migrating from my bed to the couch is my greatest accomplishment. There are days when every sight of my body brings me to tears, so the thought of being naked even for the purpose of bathing is paralyzing. There are nights when I’ve slept for two hours because the thought just wouldn’t stop, so I spend the day following binge watching Netflix to keep my mind from wandering.

But I can’t just tell people these things. When they ask me “What did you do today?” it’s easier sometimes to come up with a lie than to deal with the looks of pity, confusion or disgust. I know they don’t mean any harm, but they just do not understand. If I were to be honest on those days and respond with something like “Well today my biggest accomplishment was moving to the couch from my bed,” I know that some people would look at me differently. That is the problem with stigma. People do not understand that things that may seem like “simple, everyday tasks” are quite the contrary.

I live with multiple chronic mental illnesses. I am still learning how to cope and how to deal with them in my day to day life. People try to do their best to understand, but it’s hard to understand something they haven’t experienced. If you’ve never tasted peanut butter, you can’t really imagine the taste. Sometimes the thought of explaining the taste of my mental illness is just too hard. So if I seem hesitant to tell you how I spent my day, take a beat, and ask yourself if you’re ready for any possible answer. Remember that my life taste different than your’s and unless you’ve tasted my problems, you may not ever fully understand them.

Eat the Pizza

I love pizza. It’s probably my favourite food in the entire world. I remember when I was deep in my eating disorder I was in my second year of university. I remember when I would be with my friends after a night of drinking and everyone would decide to order pizza. I would be paralyzed. My ED would say to me,

“Don’t eat it. They’re watching. They already think you’re fat. Do not eat the pizza.”

So I would sit there, wanting nothing more than to just have a slice of pizza, but I wouldn’t. I would make excuses to my friends about why I wasn’t indulging with them; things like I’d had too much to drink and I didn’t feel well, or I had pizza recently and didn’t feel like having any, things like that.

The thing that doesn’t make sense is that when I was alone in my dorm on a regular old weekday, my ED would push me to order myself a large pizza, eat the whole thing solely with the intention of purging. My ED would convince me that because I was alone, no one was there to judge me, and it was perfectly okay to order a large pizza to myself. But then the more I would eat, the more my ED would guilt me into purging. I remember one night I had eaten way too much pizza, and felt disgusting. But I also remember I did not want to purge, so I took a shower. My ED was so loud and it screamed at me,

“You’re disgusting. How can you stand to look at yourself in the shower?
Look at your stomach. Look at your thighs. No one will ever love you like this.”

I purged in the shower. I was crying my eyes out and I felt so alone. I wish I could say that this was my rock bottom moment, but it wasn’t. As my disorder continued and progressed, I felt like I was letting my life pass me by, because it was. I was missing out on things that I loved, on doing things with my friends, on wearing certain things, I would literally avoid leaving my apartment on days where my body image was too low to fathom being seen in public.

I remember thinking my ED was my friend. I thought that it had my best interests at heart, so it definitely wouldn’t lie to me about people judging me for eating pizza. It wouldn’t convince me to stay in my apartment if I really shouldn’t be staying in. But I was so wrong. Now that I am in recovery, I can see that there was nothing friendly about my eating disorder. Bulimia was not the friend I thought it was. It wanted to kill me and it most definitely did not have my best interests at heart. I wish I knew then what I knew now, but alas, hindsight is 20/20.

So, the lesson here is that, a friend will never tell you to not eat things you love. A friend will always let you do what feels right for you. A friend will let you be you. Moral of the story: Always eat the pizza.

Can You Measure A Life in Boxes?

I saw my life
packed up in bins,
bags and boxes. My
whole life had been
condensed into assorted
cardboard and plastic.
I said goodbye to
nothing and no one.
I went silently,
too tired to fight. 
But the bins, bags
and boxes, said more
than my silence
ever could. 

How could five
years fit into 
such a cramped 
array of containers?
Where is everything I
spent time building
and creating?
Since when are adult
children the 
youngest of all?
Why will I always
be sick even when I 
become well?
When did they all
become blind to
logic and reasoning?
When will I
learn?
When will I stop
trying to change
and understand
them?

All of the questions I
could never say,
were spelled out in
packing tape and
Storage lockers. 
I couldn’t look back, 
the tears were coming, 
so I ran as fast as my
car could drive.

August

If I were a weather pattern, I would be one of those late August days. The days that look so good on paper, the ones that never look bad on the surface but if you look beneath it you’ll wish you hadn’t.

On the surface, late August is perfection. School is out for the kids, warm weather, long weekends, swimming… What’s not to love? But if you go deeper you’ll see the wandering minds of children and wandering minds are dangerous. You’ll see the sticky and humid feelings of discomfort that accompany warm weather. You’ll see routines interrupted and ensuing chaos and you’ll see the possibility of drowning.

When people saw my surface, they saw a helper. They saw someone who had it all together. But if those people took the time to peel back my layers, they would see that I needed more help that I could have ever given out. They would see the struggles I masked with humour. They would see the years of wounds I left unattended. They would see the discomfort I felt in my many sticky and humid situations. They would see the constant closeness I was to drowning.

They would look beneath my surface and see all of these things, but they would wish they hadn’t. The surface is always easier to stomach.

You Two

I heard
words and
never had
bruises or
black eyes. 

But why
should that
make my
suffering any
less valid?

My wounds
were beneath
my surface
but they
were still
painful and
true and
sadly real. 

Words hurt
because memories
never fade
the way
bruises do.