Reflections on NEDA Week

TW: Eating Disorders

[Image description: An image from the NEDA website, featuring three women in swimsuits, the NEDA logo, and the 2020 NEDA week theme, “Come as You Are”]

Article by Keira DiGaetano

I thought that I had been looking forward to National Eating Disorder Awareness week ever since I started recovery -- until it finally happened. Suddenly, I was thrown into a vortex of mixed signals and pro-recovery posts that I realized I wasn’t quite ready to see. Dissecting my eating disorder and all of its intricacies and implications in my life has never been easy for me, but I find the most clarity in my reactions to NEDA week, both positive and negative. 
In the months leading up to NEDA week, I anticipated the moment that I could post about my own experiences and share with the world such a large part of my life that had been hidden for so long. I’m writing this the day before NEDA week is over, and I have yet to post. What’s stopping me? Just like everything to do with my eating disorder, there are too many elements at work for me to completely comprehend. On one hand, I came to the realization that the desire to post on Instagram could be fueled by my eating disorder attempting to justify my recovery weight gain -- not healthy. On the other hand, am I preventing myself from posting so that I can slip back into my old habits without anyone noticing? Ironically enough, I’ve felt myself slipping up in my recovery in the past couple weeks, the most negative headspace I’ve been in since choosing to recover. Of course that had to happen now, coinciding with NEDA week and making it impossible for me to share my feelings genuinely and authentically. On the other hand, I don’t want to be forced to wait another year to share my experiences -- I do think that opening up would feel deeply freeing. Whether or not to post has turned out to be such an unexpectedly difficult decision to make, and it’s challenging my recovery, for better or for worse. 
My eating disorder, like those of so many others, has hinged on my connection to social media. Before I started recovery, I wrapped myself in body positivity and pro-recovery accounts as a source of comfort. I was simultaneously deeply submerged in eating disorder meme accounts and blatant diet culture promotion posts, to the point where my Instagram explore page is still vastly overpopulated with weight loss posts and other damaging images. Has Instagram helped me or fueled my mental illness? I don’t know, and that’s incredibly frustrating. How do I heal in an environment where I can’t trust myself to judge how something will affect me until after it’s already washed over me? 
While NEDA week seems mostly social media-focused, its presence in my offscreen life has been much more indisputably positive. My college has held a few events, my friends and I have had a couple of conversations -- it’s been pleasant overall. While all signs would indicate that social media is the variable that turns NEDA week from a helpful to a hurtful experience, I can’t seem to tear myself away. I know that that’s a shared experience, but I find myself finally realizing the full extent of the impact that the intersection of social media and NEDA week has had on me right now, as I type these words. 

Apart from my own personal experiences, NEDA week faces many problems with regards to how it frames recovery and the body positivity movement, but it’s extremely valuable to me as a platform. Mental illnesses are so inextricable with secrecy, embarrassment, and inner shame that it often seems as if awareness weeks are the one time we aren’t obligated to feel guilty for sharing our feelings. I haven’t come to some grand realization of the best environment for my personal healing, but I know that, at least for one week a year, the world is genuinely wondering how we feel. Despite NEDA week’s complications, I remain extremely grateful for its existence.

Note: I took a break in writing this article to breathe, gather my thoughts, and listen to some music. I stumbled upon “Le Festin,” otherwise known as that French song from Ratatouille, and was struck by the relevant emotion of the lyrics, so I just wanted to leave a couple lines down here. Take them as a mantra, reassurance, whatever you need:

“A life to hide and then finally free, the feast is on my path”
-Le Festin, Camille