healthcare, mental health, modern problems, psychology

What’s eating young women these days? Eating disorders and COVID-19…

This morning, I read a news story about how eating disorders are on the rise in the United Kingdom, especially among young women. Pediatricians in the United Kingdom are seeing a tremendous rise in the number of patients who are coping with the stresses of the novel coronavirus by engaging in harmful behaviors such as binging and purging, starving themselves, or exercising excessively.

Karen Street, a consultant pediatrician at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and an officer for child mental health, says, “Eating disorders are often related to a need for control — something many young people feel they have lost during the pandemic.” Eating disorders often occur in young women who are extremely accomplished and driven, engaged in extracurricular activities and earning high grades in school. Thanks to the pandemic and being forced to isolate, many of the activities that young people could be engaged in are now unavailable. Teenagers don’t always have the coping skills that older people have, which would allow them to find a more COVID-19 friendly passion. It’s also harder to see a health care provider face to face right now, as many of them are either focused on treating patients with COVID-19 or are not doing so many in person consultations because of the risk of spreading the disease.

I was interested in reading about this phenomenon. When I was much younger, I used to struggle with eating disorders myself. I think my issues were actually connected with depression, anxiety, and terrible lack of self-esteem and secret wish to exit this life. I never really saw anyone about treating them and eventually managed to outgrow my obsession with food, diet, and exercise. It took years, though, and most people had no idea of the extent of it and would not have taken me seriously even if I had tried to tell anyone. I certainly didn’t look like I had a problem with food or dieting. I think, in my case, I exchanged my problems with eating disorders with something else. My issues with food mostly seemed to stop once I started taking the right antidepressant.

I’ve often marveled at how a few years taking Wellbutrin permanently seems to have changed the way I used to feel all the time. Before I got treated for clinical depression, I often felt overwhelmed and out of control of my emotions. I would vacillate between being funny and gregarious and being very depressed. When I was much younger, people would often ask me, in all seriousness, if I was bipolar. I am not bipolar, but I did have a chemical imbalance for years. Wellbutrin seems to have permanently corrected it, though– that, and having Bill in my life has made a huge difference. He treats me with love and respect. I literally don’t feel the way I used to feel all the time. I feel much more balanced and in control, and with that balance and control, I stopped caring about dieting. I don’t need a lot of people in my life. I just need one person who cares. I have that in Bill. If I didn’t have him, maybe I would go back to the way I once was.

I’ve often thought about what life must be like for young people right now. I think if I were a teenager in the lockdown COVID-19 era, I’d be going crazy. I can remember being 13 years old and stuck at home with my parents because I was sick or there was a big snowstorm. The first day or two was great, but then I got bored and frustrated, and being with my parents was hard, because we didn’t really get along that well. My parents were always at home, because they ran their business from our house. So snow days were particularly difficult, because I had no escape, other than going to the barn where I kept my horse. It wasn’t always easy to get to the barn when there was snow. I usually rode my bike there. It’s hard to bike on snow packed pavement. I remember getting very cagey and depressed when I was out of school for several days due to snow. I would have absolutely hated the way things are now, even though I’m a fairly self-directed person and would have probably done fine with online school.

Being isolated from their peers, teachers, and health care providers, has increased the risks to mental health issues in teens. Young people in Britain are developing eating disorders and can’t get treatment because there are not enough beds in treatment facilities. Washington Post reporter, Miriam Berger, quoted a couple of pediatricians who have seen eating disorder cases rising. From her article:

Luci Etheridge, a pediatrician specializing in eating disorders at St. George’s Hospital in London, reported… a 250 percent increase in cases compared with 2019, with a particular spike in September. Previously, the center had been able to access referrals within a nationally mandated four-week window; now they have 30 children on the waiting list to be assessed.

And:

Jon Rabbs, a consultant pediatrician in Sussex, [claims] his eating disorder service usually saw 11 referrals a month. Since September, it has risen to around 100 monthly.

The increased time people are spending online is probably contributing to the problem. With fewer offline activities available, youngsters are focusing on apps that have to do with calorie counting and recording exercise. Some people will become hyper-obsessed with their diets and exercise because it may take their minds off of the horrors of COVID-19. Or they worry about getting fat because they’re supposed to quarantine or stay at home as much as possible. Or, for some, it could be that the dieting apps are even like video games, as in, “let’s see if I can beat my record for jumping jacks”. On and on it goes, as the sufferer focuses their obsessions on the disorder and being alone with it, instead of getting back to living normally someday.

The sad thing is, when the pandemic ends and lockdowns are lifted, the people who have developed eating disorders will likely still have those problems. The obsessive behaviors won’t go away simply because people will, once again, be allowed to live somewhat normally. Thanks to the lack of treatment facilities and far fewer in person health provider visits and/or attention from teachers, friends, and guidance counselors, the disorders will go unnoticed and untreated for much longer. Delaying the treatment may lead to physical devastation, particularly if the person also gets sick with COVID-19. And one of the main features of eating disorders is the desire to be left alone and isolated. The pandemic provides a perfect environment for that, making the situation especially difficult for those who are already in recovery. I would imagine it’s the same for recovering alcoholics or other addicts, who need regular support to help conquer their addictions.

We are also now in the holiday season, which is stressful and often centers around preparing food and eating it. Usually, we celebrate with each other during the holidays. This year, many people are alone, and a lot of them are facing uncertainty about their finances or career prospects… life itself, really, since we don’t yet know when it will be safe to live in a more normal way. I imagine a lot of teens are hearing their parents worrying about surviving the pandemic, which adds to stress levels. Couple that with adolescents’ inability to do “normal” teenage things. Even dating someone would be difficult right now, which is another rite of passage that mostly affects adolescents. It really is no wonder that a certain type of young person– mostly females, but also males– is engaging in eating disordered behaviors. After all, the one thing most people can control is what they put into their bodies– even if they can’t control a novel virus that is ravaging populations around the world.

Sadly, a lot of people won’t take this issue seriously. As is my habit, I took a look at the comments about this article. At this writing, no one has left any comments on the Washington Post’s article itself. However, many dimwits have descended upon the Washington Post’s Facebook page to leave their ignorant and ill considered thoughts. Quite a few people hadn’t read the article and were spewing the usual crap about “covidiots”, which has absolutely NOTHING to do with the rise in eating disorders. Another insensitive male commenter kept making tasteless jokes about cannibalism– again, this has NOTHING to do with the topic. More than a couple brought up U.S. politics, which again, have nothing to do with the rise of eating disorders among British teens. And then there are the people who blame the media, claiming the media is making the pandemic out to be much worse than it is and is causing the depression and anxiety that can lead to the development of eating disorders.

Having suffered with eating disordered behaviors myself when I was young, this is not something I would ever wish on anyone. It might be funny to make jokes about eating disorders, something that a lot of people don’t understand at all, and don’t even TRY to understand– but to the people who have them, they are hell on earth. While in my case, my issues were mostly in my head and undetected by the people who cared about me, I would not want to be a parent having to deal with a child truly suffering from an eating disorder during the pandemic. It’s hard enough to help them when things are normal. Imagine trying to get help for your child when you can’t even get them in to see a doctor in person and, even when you can, there are no treatment facilities with available beds. Given the damage that eating disorders can do to one’s health, I would imagine that the risk of becoming severely debilitated or dying from COVID-19 would be much graver.

When it comes down to it, eating disorders are a very damaging coping mechanism, not unlike other addictive behaviors like alcoholism or drug abuse. People are stressed right now, and some young people are turning to destructive habits in order to cope with the anxiety and depression associated with the global pandemic. A lot of people who would not have otherwise gone down the dark road of an eating disorder are finding themselves on that path today. If I were a parent, I think I would be concerned… and it would be just one more thing to worry about. I don’t envy today’s parents at all.

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complaints

What do I do all day?

I woke up at 3:00am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I started looking at Facebook. I was immediately horrified at the latest Trump bullshit, to include the letter he sent to the president of Turkey…

Sigh… he’s just insane.

It makes me sad to read Trump’s letter. I have been to Turkey and it was an amazing experience, although it happened a long time ago. But I don’t want to dwell on this… because right after I saw Trump’s letter to President Erdogan, I saw this.

That poor interpreter looks absolutely gobsmacked at the sheer lunacy.

So then I decided I needed to read something lighter and ended up reading recent posts in the Life is Not All Pickles and Hairspray Group. And it was there that I saw this post.

Okay… well, I guess this isn’t totally unreasonable. When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine it, either. I had to work a lot just to pay my bills. I never thought I would be living the lifestyle I live today.

The first few responses were strictly about the fundies on television… really young women who get married when they’re barely legal and start pumping out kids. Then someone posted this:

Even non fundie families sometimes have one spouse who may not work but stays home for whatever reason. I imagine they do what those families would do. Clean, cook, laundry, visit family or friends, maybe babysit siblings or friends kids. 

And if you mean before they’re married, they most definitely clean, do laundry, and watch their siblings.

Again, perfectly reasonable response… until someone went there with this shitty comment.

I honestly don’t know any stay at home spouses without kids at home. Everyone I know works! Do people really do this?! How incredibly LAZY.

Fortunately, a few people piped up before I did and delivered angry responses to this incredibly judgmental and ignorant comment. When I did comment, I didn’t exactly bring the pain to this woman. Instead, I just explained my situation. It’s one that a lot of people face when they marry someone in the military, especially when they wind up living abroad. But even before we moved to Germany, having a job was a challenge, mostly due to moves, the uncertainty of where we were going to be living, and the amount of time we were going to be living there.

Over the course of my twelve years as an “Army wife”, we moved eight times. Four times, we had to move after less than two years in a place. Our stint in our last German town— the first place Bill worked as a civilian— was just over four years, and that is the longest I have lived in one place as a married person. But even though Bill is now a civilian, we still had no way of knowing how long we’d be living in our last town, and we don’t know how long we’ll be where we are now. In fact, twice in the past five years, Bill’s job changed. He changed companies; then we had to move again. Makes it tough for me to plan a career that will satisfy the judgmental out there who feel like I’m a waste of space for not having any crotch trophies, yet won’t bore me or drive me batshit nuts.

A few other folks weighed in on that whole, no job, no kids, no ambition thing…

Bill isn’t in the military anymore, but since we live in Germany, finding appropriate work is a challenge for me. Even if I wanted to work outside of the home, the kind of job that would be readily available to someone like me would be work I have no interest in doing. Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, but I can’t just go on the installation and work in the field for which I was trained. So that would leave working at AAFES, or doing something similar, which doesn’t interest me at all. Besides, there are people in the community who legitimately need those jobs to pay their bills. Bill makes enough money to support us comfortably, so I don’t see why I should take a job at Taco Bell away from a teenager just so some twerp on the Internet doesn’t think I’m lazy.

I’ve pretty much turned into a writer by default and– SURPRISE– I have actually made money writing online. While I could make more money doing other things, I have had my fill of working in retail, waiting tables, shoveling shit, and babysitting. I went to graduate school so I could stop doing those types of jobs. I like writing, and some think I’m good at it. But even writing isn’t doing it for me lately, because I’ve kind of lost the desire to put out content, thanks to some readers who decided to cause trouble for me. I still try to write every day, but I do so in an untrusting way, which makes it a lot harder and much less fun.

I’m a bit depressed about this development, because I know I wrote some good stuff for my original blog– stuff that was useful to people I don’t even know. I also know that some people loved my travel reviews and some folks even tried some of the things I suggested. But thanks to the toxic living situation we left a year ago, I had to close my old blogs– at least for now– start all over, and try to trust the people who visit my blogs now. Believe me, it’s been difficult, and frankly, I’m not even sure it’s worth it. I can get into less trouble when I sit around watching bad TV.

I also make music. Most people don’t pay attention to the music I make, but if I can muster the desire to make recordings and videos, it eats up time and makes me feel productive. I also learn new things when I make recordings and videos, and it can even be fun. But it also seems pretty futile to do it, because so many people like the woman in the Duggar group are judgmental and ignorant. People like that just make me not want to engage with anyone anymore. I figure, why bother? It’s like casting my pearls before swine.

While my not working outside the home when I don’t have children may seem “lazy” to some people, I do try my best to be productive. I’m not sure why it’s anyone else’s business what another person does with their time, anyway. It’s kind of akin to looking in another person’s grocery cart and judging them for what they’re buying and how they’re paying for it.

Just last night, I had a bit of a meltdown that poor Bill had to listen to after a hard day at work. There are a number of reasons why I “melted down”, but one of them is that I am kind of longing for a “normal life”. I always thought I’d have children, a full time job, and all of the trappings that come with the usual American lifestyle. That’s simply not how it turned out for me, and I’m not sure how I can go there now. So I don’t live my life that way… and so far, it works. We pay the bills. I haven’t been arrested yet. I may upset some people by what I write, but I don’t go out of my way to upset people. It’s just me passing the time I have left in this miserable existence.

I also really miss Zane and would like to get another dog. If I lived in my own home, in my own country, this would not be a problem. I could just go to the local pound and pick up a new dog and no one would be judging me simply for being from the United States, as they do here in parts of Germany. We could move back to the States, but I know I would miss living abroad, too. I like being in Europe, even if I’m going through a rough time right now. I know this is a temporary situation… but in the meantime, it sucks. I feel misunderstood, judged, and frankly, over the whole thing.

So yeah… this is what I do with my day. No, I don’t spend all day cooking and cleaning. I don’t care to do that. If I did want to do it, I would. But since Bill is the only person who is directly affected by my day to day activities, I choose not to cook and clean all day. Maybe my lifestyle seems like time wasted to some of you. It’s not what I planned for my life, either. I made Bill grimace last night when I lamented the choice I made, not following my own career. I mean, I wouldn’t trade him for anything. I love him very much, and he’s worth more than a job in a cubicle. But sometimes I feel utterly worthless… and comments like

I honestly don’t know any stay at home spouses without kids at home. Everyone I know works! Do people really do this?! How incredibly LAZY.

do sting a bit… It must be nice to be able to summarily discount an entire group of people based on one’s own narrow-minded perceptions of what everyone does– or should be doing– with their time on Earth. If the author of that above comment ever reads this piece, I’d like to invite her to go take a flying fuck. Now, if you’ll excuse me– hee hee– I’m going to go wash the sheets.

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