When someone sees or hears about my feeding tube for the first time, I tend to get a lot of questions like,
“What is that?”
“Are you okay?”
The questioning doesn’t bother me; I don’t mind explaining. I smile and reply that I have Dysautonomia and gastroparesis, at times even thanking the person for asking.
Sometimes I also get the question, “Are you recovering from an eating disorder?”
When I answer no, I get reactions such as:
“Phew! I was afraid you were one of those girls trying to starve themselves!”
“Oh, so you actually have a problem. You have a real illness.”
I know they are probably well-meaning, but I cannot help but cringe a bit at their response.
I myself have never suffered from an eating disorder. However, I have had my struggles with major depression, and let me assure you: mental illness is a big deal. To constantly battle your own mind is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s isolating, painful, and absolutely exhausting.
I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must be to respond to the questions I’ve gotten while actually having a mental illness like an eating disorder. People have gone as far as apologizing for making an assumption about my tube, as if the very idea of having a mental illness should disgust me. No wonder people are so afraid to seek help…
The mental illness stigma in our society needs to change. An eating disorder isn’t simply a girl or boy who wants to look like a model. Depression is so much more than being sad. I have watched mental illness destroy the lives of dear friends and tear apart my own family, physically and emotionally. It’s very real, very serious, and much more common than some like to think…
No, I do not and have never had an eating disorder. My feeding tube was placed because of severe autonomic dysfunction and a paralyzed GI tract, and while my tube can drive me crazy at times, I am not one bit ashamed of the thing helping to keep me alive. But those in treatment for mental illness should not be ashamed either. As a matter of fact, they should be proud of the courage it took to seek out that help! The only people who need to be ashamed are the ones who have the audacity to belittle someone else’s fight.