Looking back on my eating disorder recovery journey, I am grateful for the amount of help I received and the level of care I was recommended to. However, what I am not appreciative about is the extent of shaming and toll that process took on me.
I understand that health care providers and treatment team professionals are trying to keep clients thriving at the minimum amount of care necessary. But for others facing a situation similar to mine, where outpatient treatment was not adequate enough, the process it takes to finally receive an effective structure of treatment can take an extended amount of time and obstacles.
When I was seeing an outpatient therapist specialized in eating disorders, appointments were very limited. It started out as seeing her every five weeks, which in terms of beginning recovery and normalizing eating is not nearly enough support. She began weighing me during sessions, and when she saw that I lost weight, she would see me more frequently, such as every two weeks. But if my weight stayed stable, she would spread out the time between our sessions again. The message this communicated to me was that I was not deserving of help, unless my weight continued to decrease. However, I see now that this is a completely FALSE statement. Eating disorders are a serious mental illness. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses with 1 in 5 deaths resulting from suicide. Therefore, weight is not an accurate indicator of illness severity or the extent to which someone is mentally suffering.
Several months later, after continuing to make no progress with infrequent, outpatient therapy, I was referred to an Intensive Outpatient Program that met three times a week. Even after settling into this IOP program, I was not making much progress. I was overwhelmed with disordered thoughts and engaged in destructive behaviors. My treatment team there made me feel like I was failing at the requirements expected of me. The most corrupted, illogical part of this was that the professionals had made me feel like I was not trying hard enough. If I had put in more effort, had more self discipline to complete meals and take on less in life, I could have succeeded right? Absolutely not. I was putting in my all to these programs, yet the eating disorder voice was far too overwhelming. After months and months of feeling shame and frustration, while all my peers were graduating and leaving the program, I was finally referred to an inpatient, residential program.
I see now how residential had saved my life, but why was it that therapists and dietitians had made it seem like a failure for needing a higher level of care? Why was it that I had to undergo nearly a year of suffering due to receiving the wrong level of care until I was finally provided with what I needed? Programs thrive on success rates and statistics. It is also much cheaper for health care providers to keep people at the perceived minimum level of care necessary, especially when it comes to mental health treatment. Health professionals and treatment programs will try their absolute best to help a client transform while they are under their care, without needing to refer them out. But there comes a point when this intention becomes more damaging than beneficial to the client actually receiving treatment. More awareness and education needs to be spread about these pitfalls within the mental health treatment system. Victims of mental illnesses should not be feeling discouraged in terms of recovery due to the disregard and ignorance to the level of care necessary.