Proud2Bme | Ending the Silence Around Bullying

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Ending the Silence Around Bullying

By Rachel Taylor--According to a study from Duke Medicine and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, bullying can affect the development of eating disorders in adolescents.

Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior and self-harm.

While researchers were surprised to find that those who solely play the role of the bully do have an increased risk for developing an eating disorder, they were not shocked to find that the research also revealed that the victims of bullying have an increased risk for developing an eating disorder as well.

I am one of those victims. From a young age, I was bullied for being too big and it greatly affected my self-worth and confidence. I know now that it has direct ties with my eating disorder.

It began in my freshman year of middle school. I was being bullied for the first time and wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I understood why I was being targeted: because I was fat. I didn’t have any friends except for my twin sister and my best friends since grade school; however, I did not have any classes with them and I was only able to see them during lunch breaks.

I was isolated for six hours a day, five days a week because everyone refused to speak to me—and if they did, it was as if they wanted the conversation to be as short as possible. My sixth grade year was one of the loneliest times of my life.

It wasn’t long after the abuse started that I began exploring different diets. I switched my breakfast for one of my mom’s Slim Fast shakes and I began researching different diets online. Eventually, that led me to pro-ana sites where I found extreme diets. The more extreme the diet, the more willing I was to try it—and the quicker I thought it would work.

I began to wish for an eating disorder, believing that it would make me thin and the bullying would stop as a result. What saved me from self-destruction was the arrival of summer vacation. Family trips, spending all day and night with my sisters, cousin and best friend, and feeling loved and accepted saved me.

And for a while, everything was okay. When the new school year came around, I was nervous but actually made friends pretty easily—many of whom I still talk to today. However, despite my bonding with my new group of friends, the bullying still occurred. If anything, the attacks escalated, lowering my self-esteem with each assault. Still, I carried on and even forgot about my previous ambition to develop an eating disorder.

Then, it all came crashing down. It began shortly after my 14th birthday. I couldn’t take it any longer. I had more friends than ever, got along with most kids in my school, and I was receiving solos in choir and lead roles in my school’s plays. I was also a top student with good grades, but none of that mattered.

I began skipping meals as an effort to lose weight, allowing myself only one meal a day and punishing myself with self-injury when I consumed more than I was allowed. While it started off as a poorly constructed idea, it quickly became my way of life. It didn’t help that my friends elected not to comment on my new meal plan, but that wasn’t what kept me committed to my weight loss regimen. It was the bullies. Each insult hurled my way worked as a sick and twisted form of motivation.

By high school, I had a full-blown eating disorder complete with bingeing, purging and restricting. I didn’t know how to live without it. It was hard, but now ten years later and after two stints in a treatment program, I can say I’m finally able to get my life on track. But my recovery hasn’t been without trials.

In the summer of 2015, I became the target of a hate group online called Fat People Hate. I had never experienced cyber-bullying while in school and I wasn’t sure how to comprehend what was happening to me. While it did not send me into a downward spiral like my family feared it would, it did affect me.

I began to feel as if I could do nothing right. Everything that I put online was being torn apart, making it challenging to focus on being healthy versus wanting to simply be thin. I tried my best to justify myself to the cowards hiding behind their anonymous online profiles. After six months of torture, the abuse had not stopped and I made the decision to delete my YouTube account, the place where it all started.

My treatment team often tells me that recovery is not easy. Like life, there are always going to be ups and downs. What matters is that when you do get knocked down, you don’t stay down—something I wish I had realized when I was in my pre-teen years.

And while I’ve come to accept that this is the path that my life has taken and I’m happy, I often wonder what my life would have been like if the bullying hadn’t happened. Would I have still developed an eating disorder? Would I have still spent a decent chunk of my life hating myself?

Even with the cyber bullying that happened, how would I have reacted if I had never experienced bullying before? Would I have dealt with it better or worse than I did? Would I have had the courage to speak out against my abusers in an effort to protect others?

I don’t know. Although I can’t change the past, I can change the future for others, which is why I actively speak out against bullying. I hope that my story will one day help others. I won’t rest until the day comes when no child has to suffer the abuse that I have.

For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.

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