Monday, January 08, 2007
(Eating disorder cartoons from cartoonstock.com)
I visited an ophthalmologist recently, whose suite is across the hall from the office where I work part-time at a university medical center. As he tinkered with bright lights and dilating drops, he asked me if I had any areas of specialty. “I do a lot with addictions and eating disorders,” I said.
“An eating disorder—now that’s something I’d like to have.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” I replied.
“Actually, it would be kind of nice to have an eating disorder for a little while, lose 30 pounds, and then get rid of it,” he parried.
And, here, I found myself in familiar territory, defending why one shouldn’t aspire to an eating disorder, challenging the conversational levity associated with a specific diagnosis. He didn’t, for example, suggest he’d like to dabble in opiate addiction. When I talk about working with anxiety and depression, no one jokes about how appealing a stint as a depressive would be, or how nice it would be to have a panic attack now and then. Eating disorders, however, seem to have attained “class clown” status in the arena of psychiatric diagnosis. Even amongst a medical professional. . .
Why is this? Why not consider the gravity of such conditions? How did one of the most fatal psychiatric diagnoses become convenient fodder for jokes? Is it because the pain and suffering of eating disorders is largely internal and therefore unknown? Is it because eating disorders have become so popular in our current zeitgeist (especially among models and celebrities) that they’re almost considered trendy? Is it because the manifest goal of an eating disorder (to lose weight/be thin) is so noble that we’re willing to overlook the process as means to a coveted end?