Move-in day at the nation’s colleges and universities may as well be a season unto itself, what with the queue of cars, the upraised trunk doors and the flashing amber (or selective yellow) headlamps, which look like the runway lights for planes preparing to land.
Amidst this flow of foot traffic and the movement of big rolling bins filled with clothes and suitcases, in spite of this air of excitement and this atmosphere of emotion – between the embrace of parents and children, and the greeting of old friends and the meeting of new acquaintances – there is an undercurrent of worry; there is a feeling, by some, of fear and anxiety.
There is the inner sound, as loud as a bullhorn and as repetitive as an echo across an infinite canyon, which pollutes the mind and poisons the body. Such is the disease of having an eating disorder.
I know of what I write, because I write about a disease I have.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), studies from one college over the last thirteen years show an increase in eating disorders from 23 to 32 percent among females and from 7.9 to 25 percent among males.
More disturbing is the fact that only six percent of all college students with an eating disorder receive queries from health providers, who may suspect these students have this illness.
That figure is alarming, but not surprising, because I see similar issues in my industry.
There are actors and actresses who look like models of fitness – their bodies seem to defy reality (and the law of gravity), without the need for a photographer to airbrush anything or an editor to enhance something – while these same people suffer in silence. Behind their smiling faces and perfect dentition, behind the mother-of-pearl whiteness of their teeth, is pain beyond description.
These stars endure the self-loathing that is an inseparable part of having an eating disorder.
They are no different than college students or parents or teens with this illness, because a disease makes no distinction between the famous and the fortunate, or the inconspicuous and the impecunious; we are all members of this fraternity of the diseased, but not the doomed.
Therein lies a key distinction college students need to know, that recovery is probable – and remission is possible – provided these men and women get the care they require.
What I want every student to recognize, what I want every person with this condition to understand, is this: You are not alone.
The burden you bear is as physically strenuous as it is psychologically severe; it is an invisible crucible as tortuous as its real-life counterpart, a sign of punishment and penitence that strikes young and old alike.
With the right help, students with an eating disorder can free themselves from this agony. They can liberate themselves from these stations of condemnation and collapse, of self-abuse and judgment, since I issue this statement from a place of health and wellness.
I am in remission from this disease not because of luck or some quirk of biology, where my mind involuntarily repairs itself by disconnecting misfiring neurons and reconfiguring the circuitry of my brain.
I am in remission because of the work I have done – and continue to do – along with the guidance I enjoy from experts concerning this illness.
If we can remove the stigma of this disease, if we can equip colleges and universities with the counselors they need, if we can have speakers visit these schools – if we can do all of these things, and more, we will help a great number of students.
Away for the first time in their lives, or without the aid and comfort of friends and family, college students with an eating disorder are vulnerable to a kind of tortuous temptation.
We may not be able to remove that obstacle, but we can – and will – overcome it.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.