Saturday, March 01, 2008

Make a call for mental health parity

Last week I learned, to my shock and horror, that because my daughter had anorexia, we cannot get health insurance, except through a large group plan (i.e., through an employer). We can't become freelancers and buy our own health insurance because, as our agent said, "You'll never pass underwriting."

What we need in this country is real true health care reform, not some bullshit foisted on us by the greedy health insurance companies. And I hope to God I live to see the day it finally happens. In the meantime, we can do something now by helping to pass a federal mental health parity law. The U.S. Senate has already passed its version; now the House of Representatives is getting ready to debate its version.

Please take a few minutes to call your Representative and advocate for passage of H.R. 1424, coming up for debate this Wednesday. The Eating Disorders Coalition--one of the most effective advocacy groups in the eating disorders world--suggests saying something like this:

I am a constituent of Representative ______ and a supporter of the Eating Disorders Coalition. I am calling to ask that the Representative vote for H.R. 1424, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health & Addiction Equity Act. Parity is a fair and affordable solution to insurance discrimination against people with eating disorders and other mental disorders. It will save lives and families.

But you can say whatever you want. Just make the call. Please. In this era of pressure politics it really makes a difference for the folks in Washington to hear from the little people.

The number to call is 866-727-4894.

(Not sure who your Representative is? Go to this site, click on the little hand on the upper left hand side of the page, and enter your zip code to find out.)

All of us who have found ourselves in DSM at one time or another thank you kindly.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What, if anything, can you say?

That's the question raised by Kate in the previous thread:

If we think intervening is good, maybe even if the person we see struggling with eating is a stranger, how are we supposed to approach it?

She's wondering about what to say or do when you see someone who is obviously struggling with anorexia, whether it's a stranger, an acquaintance, or a friend.

I can't imagine anything anyone could have said to my daughter when she did have it that would have made a difference. But she was 14 when she was ill. Is it different if you're older?

I would really like to hear from those of you who have struggled with anorexia. Was there anything that anyone said that made a difference to you? What was it? What advice would you give someone like Kate?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Anorexia: a portrait


You’re standing in a bakery. Not just any bakery—-let's say it's the best bakery in Paris. It’s warm, and the room is full of so many wonderful smells: cinnamon rolls, sourdough bread, pain au chocolate. Flaky Napoleons decorated with real gold leaf, the chocolate custard oozing from between flaky layers. Gateau, petits fours, elephant ears, all of them buttery and sweet and warm.

And you’re hungry. Not just a little hungry, not just wanting to eat. You’re starving. Your hunger is a hurricane blowing through you like a thousand fists, battering your insides. It’s a tiger clawing you, its claws sharpening on your insides. As you stand in front of the glass cases filled with beautiful pastries and cakes and breads, the tiger swipes at you again and again. Your stomach clenches and contracts. You swallow again and again.

More than anything you want what’s in those glass cases. You want to sink your teeth into one of those pastries, let almond filling ooze from the corners of your mouth, lick raspberry jam from your lips. You want to bite into an ├ęclair, taste the rich custard, hold the chocolate against your tongue until it fills your mouth with sweetness. You know just how good everything would taste because you’ve been dreaming about it, night and day, for months. Other people come in and out of the bakery, buying white paper bags full of warm cakes. Other people reach into those bags, break off a piece of croissant, pop it into their mouths. But not you. Never you.

Because you are not allowed to eat. Though your stomach grinds against your backbone and your cheeks are hollow, though that familiar wind howls inside you all day long, you cannot eat. When you do, when you manage half of a fat-free yogurt, a pretzel, two grapes, the voice in your head starts up again. It hisses in your ear—how weak you are, how stupid and lazy and gluttonous. It shouts at you all day long: You’re a fat pig. You’re disgusting. You don’t deserve to eat. You don’t deserve to live. You don’t remember when that voice began. You can’t remember a time when it wasn’t inside you, always watching, making you suffer. The voice takes you inside your worst nightmare, to the scariest place you’ve ever been, a place you’d do anything to stay out of. So you don’t eat, even though food is all you think about, all that matters. Even though all day long, wherever you are—doing homework, sitting with friends, trying to sleep—part of you is standing in this bakery, watching, smelling, longing to eat, paralyzed with fear.

And you can’t leave the bakery, either. You have to stand here, breathing in those buttery, delicious smells, the voice growling softly in your ear. You have to stand here, longing for the pastries, terrified and alone. You have to stand in this bakery, shivering now, getting colder and colder and more alone while the rest of the world goes on, full of light and laughter and good things to eat.

You wish someone else could sweep into the bakery, cry, “Here you are!,” hand you a warm roll straight from the oven, and protect you while you take that first bite, the buttery taste of relief. You wish there was someone, anyone, who could shout down the voice, who could keep you safe. But there isn’t. There will be no rolls for you, no pastries, no feeling of relief and safety. There’s only the voice and its torments, and you, more alone than you’ve ever been. You, growing smaller and thinner and frailer. You can't bear the suffering. You want to die.

This is what it feels like to have anorexia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tapeworms, anyone?

You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

**Link from Asylum, courtesy of Abigail Saguy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A little exercise for National Eeating Disorders Awareness Week

As I was reading this article on the "global obesity epidemic," I couldn't help thinking that it was in fact a blueprint for creating an eating disorder.

Let's take a closer look.

Wherever we read the words weight gain let's substitute the words weight loss. Wherever we read the word obesity, let's substitute the word anorexia. Instead of weight maintenance, let's go with weight loss. For prevent we'll say cause. For less, more.

Now let's look at the section of the article that talks about strategies for weight maintenance--I mean weight loss.

[The researcher] will argue that small daily changes, say using the stairs, are enough to cause incremental weight loss that can lead to anorexia. [The researcher], however, will make the case that much larger life-style changes - say exercising 60 to 90 minutes a day - are needed to cause weight loss.

"Our data from the National Weight Control Registry suggests strategies associated with successful weight loss include high levels of physical activity and conscious control of eating habits," said [the researcher]. "Dieters who remain diligent about diet and exercise are much more likely to gain weight back."

Examples of conscious control include frequent weighing, following a consistent dietary regimen across the weekdays and weekends, and taking fast action if small weight gains are observed. . . .

Actually you don't even have to change a lot of the language here, because the basic idea in maintaining weight loss is the same in inspiring weight loss. You've got to make changes in your life--in other words, you've got to behave in eating-disordered ways--in order to lose weight.

Frequent weighing, rigid eating behaviors, obsessive attention to dietary details. Yup. Sounds like an eating disorder to me.

And since this is, after all, a week when we are supposed to become more aware of eating disorders, I encourage you to go out and eat something and then not write it down. Have a second helping. Don't weigh yourself. Eat what you feel like. Stop when you're done.

In other words, eat normally--if we can even remember what that means.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A health insurer gets its comeuppance

in this story, sent by a friend, about a judge who ordered punitive damages for an insurance company that dropped a breast cancer patient in the middle of chemotherapy.

I'm particularly obsessed with health insurance stories right now, having just heard that our family would not make it through medical underwriting now because our daughter had anorexia. This story has nothing to do with food, eating, or eating disorders, but it's just so damn gratifying to see a health insurance company get called on one of its many out-and-out exploitative practices.

I'm always amazed at how self-serving these companies are--and how they get away with it. So yay! for the good guys. And a big thank you to judge Sam Cianchetti, who did the Right Thing and who I hope will be rewarded for his good judgment somewhere, sometime.

Now if we could just send the CEOs of companies like Health Net to jail for doing stuff like this, I'd be a happy girl.