From June 1–June 14, I spent my time interning at an inpatient eating disorder facility in Oklahoma, and let me tell you—it was quite the experience. As you might have gathered, I’ve spent my fair share of time on the other end of the treatment wagon in efforts to get my life together. Going into this experience I was really nervous because I could either do awesome, or I could be massively triggered and dissolve into a messy panic attack. Given that I want to acquire a career treating patients with eating disorders, I felt like there was a lot riding on this little excursion. But, thankfully, I successfully conquered the adventure, and came away with some thoughts to share with you lovely readers.
I am not where I was. It was with some amount of shock that I realized I no longer belong in a residential eating disorder facility as a patient. I am solidly in recovery and able to see patients with compassion, rather than giving in to the roaring comparison monster that demands to know why I am not as thin as the girl sitting in front of me. My passion was confirmed, I did not crawl into a closet to have a panic attack (woot!), and I definitely still want to continue to fight for my career goal. But, I still have work I need to do in therapy to further strengthen my mental resilience and solidify my recovery foundation. I can’t say that I wasn’t triggered while I was there, because that would be a blatant lie. Eventually those triggers build up, along with my anxiety, and by the end of my time there I was well aware of the areas that I need to continue to focus on. But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that while it might not be easy, it will be worth it.
I want another tattoo and a couple more piercings. I don’t know what it is about patients in eating disorder facilities, but clever tattoos and piercings abound and now I want more! Sorry, parents.
Insurance treatment for eating disorders is supremely crappy. As body weight inches downward, the potential consequences become more deadly and life altering. As purging behaviors, such as vomiting, taking laxatives and/or diuretics, and over-exercising increase, the gastrointestinal system is ravaged and critical electrolytes that keep a heart beating are adversely affected. So please, someone tell me why insurance won’t cover inpatient treatment for a 21-year-old who has a BMI of 13 (and used to be at an even lower weight of 55 lbs.) and the bones of a 97-year old. Or the 12-year-old girl who has severe OCD and is 20 pounds below her normal weight range because she’s been starving herself and over-exercising. Or the 30-year-old who purges everything she eats, which could critically skew her electrolytes and stop her heart, and she also takes 20 to 30 laxatives per day, which have the potential to permanently ruin a colon. Or the 15-year-old girl that stopped eating and drank so much water that she was catatonic when they found her and had to be tube-fed for weeks and weeks.
Eating disorders are deadly mental illnesses that wreak physical and mental injuries upon the sufferers, and yet insurance persists in limiting coverage. But, in the same breath insurance companies won’t hesitate to cover treatment for diabetes and dole out glucometers. To me, this issue is a glaring example of the lack of mental health parity in the United States. Perhaps it’s due to the overall length of treatment that is required to completely force the eating disorder into remission, as it can be years and years, and repeated admissions to inpatient units and emergency rooms.
But I think that stereotypes are one of the primary components that keep eating disorders from receiving the same coverage as diabetes or heart disease. Yes, there are the stereotypical, affluent, white young women who are in treatment for anorexia. But, there are also the very young girls who are 8 or 10 or 12 years old and purge to deal with anxiety, and restrict because they’re depressed and they don’t want to get fat. There are also the older women who develop eating disorders at the ages of 50, or older, or they have been sick for a very long time. There are the boys and men who have eating disorders and have to fight against the stigma that they suffer from a “girl’s illness.” Eating disorders don’t discriminate between age, race, ethnicity, gender, income or education. Families shouldn’t have to go broke in the process of getting their loved one treatment for a deadly eating disorder. But they do, or patients get abruptly kicked out of treatment, and to me, that is a tragedy, because eating disorders kill.
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