Myths and Misconceptions: some wisdom from Peggy Claude-Pierre

Peggy Claude-Pierre’s book, The Secret Language of Eating Disorders seems to be about as cool a book as you can get.  I picked it up at the library today and already I’m convinced that this book is going to be outstanding.  A little birdie recommended it to me.

Peggy Claude-Pierre’s chapter, “Myths and Misconceptions” just so happened to be one that I flipped to upon opening the book.  Here is her list of myths:

(I couldn’t agree more.)

Myth: Anorexia is the by-product of a culture that prizes thinness above everything.

Myth: Anorexia is more prevalent in females than in males because females are told that appearance is important while males are praised for other qualities.

Myth: Anorexia is caused by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Myth: Anorexia is caused by distant, uncaring, demanding, or otherwise dysfunctional parents.

Myth: Anorexia is the consequence of perfectionist people failing in their desire to be perfect.

Myth: Anorexia is caused by low self-esteem.

Myth: Anorexia is the result of trauma from the pain of parents’ divorce, adolescence, or other life crisis.

Myth: Anorexia is a disease of the “economically advantaged.”

Myth: Anorexia is a psychosomatic disorder caused by a child’s refusal t grow up into an adult.

Myth: Anorexia is an unconscious attention-getting device, a cry for help.

Myth: People with eating disorders are selfish.  They just need to get on with their lives and stop ruining everyone else’s!

Myth: Anorexia is a tool for control.

Myth: Anorexics are to blame for their situation.  They’re doing it to get back at others.

Myth: Sufferers need to hold on to their condition as a crutch.

Myth: The longer you have anorexia, the harder it is to cure.

Myth: Anorexia can’t be cured; it can only be managed.  You’ll live with it and die from it.

Of course, those of us who have had to go through this struggle have heard ALL these lines…or will hear them, eventually.  Many of them were topics of discussion between patients at Walden, while I was there.  But of course, the staff squelched all meaningful discussion…or tried to.  Anyway, we often talked about all of these topics.  I would say that most patients agreed with Peggy Claude-Pierre on almost all these statements, that they are not true.

Well, here are my personal answers:

Myth: Anorexia is the by-product of a culture that prizes thinness above everything.

I think most of us realize it goes far beyond “the media.”  It is much deeper than someone looking at a fashion magazine, and then flipping out.

Myth: Anorexia is more prevalent in females than in males because females are told that appearance is important while males are praised for other qualities.

This illness has nothing to do with values.

Myth: Anorexia is caused by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Not all patients were subject to such abuse.  Many weren’t.

Myth: Anorexia is caused by distant, uncaring, demanding, or otherwise dysfunctional parents.

My parents were the “distant” type.   But they were not “bad parents.”  Their intentions were altruistic.  It’s not any of my mom’s doing that she had it in her genes.

Myth: Anorexia is the consequence of perfectionist people failing in their desire to be perfect.

Some people with anorexia are perfectionistic but I have known many that I’d say were around “average” as far as perfectionism goes.  I run around average.  I know, I know, I was demanding with myself when I was in graduate school.  Yeah, I can kick ass, but that doesn’t make it an ingrained part of my personality.  In high school, I sure didn’t kick ass.  It was a conscious choice, upon entering college, to work my butt off. 

Myth: Anorexia is caused by low self-esteem.

Most people I know who suffer from this illness have low self esteem.  Most people I know who have any mental illness suffer from low self-esteem.  Guess what?  Do you think it’s because of the way society treats us?

Myth: Anorexia is the result of trauma from the pain of parents’ divorce, adolescence, or other life crisis.

I think this one has been pretty much knocked down already.

Myth: Anorexia is a disease of the “economically advantaged.”

Yeah, this one, too, has been proven wrong.

Myth: Anorexia is a psychosomatic disorder caused by a child’s refusal t grow up into an adult.

This is what Dr. P claims, and I’ve always known it was complete bullshit.

Myth: Anorexia is an unconscious attention-getting device, a cry for help.

No mental illness is an attention-seeking device.

Myth: People with eating disorders are selfish.  They just need to get on with their lives and stop ruining everyone else’s!

Apparently a bunch of people dumped me because I was ruining their little party.  Oh well, party-pooper.

Myth: Anorexia is a tool for control.

I think  people who feel that their lives are out of control are the ones that accuse the folks with anorexia of “controlling behavior.”  Makes sense, right?

Myth: Anorexics are to blame for their situation.  They’re doing it to get back at others.

No one is to blame for having this disorder, or any disorder.  If you were born without legs, would that be your fault?  Nope.

Myth: Sufferers need to hold on to their condition as a crutch.

“Addicted to being ill”?  Oh, pleeeese.

Myth: The longer you have anorexia, the harder it is to cure.

Peggy Claude-Pierre emphasizes that we are told this and then we end up feeling more hopeless, and this sure doesn’t help us to get better!

Myth: Anorexia can’t be cured; it can only be managed.  You’ll live with it and die from it.

This is kind of a big debate right now.  Whether mental illness of any kind can be cured or if we have to take meds and “manage” it.

This all gets me back to thinking about expectations.  I get the impression that Peggy Claude-Pierre is pretty much in tune with the thinking that it is degrading the way the medical profession treats us with LOW EXPECTATIONS.

I mean, do you really expect me to go to some mental health “sheltered workshop” and spend the rest of my days doing “gainful employment” in a candle factory?

I think it’s time to break down that shelter and burn down the fucking factory.  Because if eating disorders care is like a factory, all about fattening up skinny kids until they are bloated and miserable (which was about what I saw over there) then sufferers are surely going to be nothing more than candles in the wind.

I will report more on my feedback on this book.  Well, gee, I must be rather impressed, right?

See ya later, alligators….

Feedback and comments welcome!