The Intersection of Disability and Eating Disorders
By Katrin Alyss--I was born with cerebral palsy. It has affected my self-esteem because I do things more slowly than my peers. I was teased because of the way I walked when I was younger. However, at the time, bad body image wasn’t on my radar.
Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior.
My birth mom could not accept me as I was and expected me to develop at the same rate as my biological siblings and other children my age. She pushed me hard to walk and speak like others.
When I wasn’t moving as quickly as she’d like, due to my disability, she got very frustrated and took her frustrations out on me. She started making fun of the way I walked and talked. I think she believed that with enough pressure, she would get me to walk and talk the way she wanted me to. However, that wasn’t going to happen, due to my disability.
Because she couldn’t make me “normal” in her eyes, at age five she started harping on my weight. Looking back, I think she did this because it was something she felt she could control.
If she couldn’t make me walk or talk the way she wanted me to, she would keep me thin. At age five, she pointed out that I was getting a “fat stomach.” She wanted me to cut out the sweets to lose weight.
As I grew older, she put more pressure on me to lose weight. When I gained weight, she would call me “fat,” causing me to develop a negative body image. I was even told that men don’t like “fat women.” I began to equate worthiness with being thin.
When I first began struggling with an eating disorder, I set out to prove that I could lose the weight and be thin, go to massage school full-time and get top scores. I think that this was my way of hiding my disability.
I was fortunate to find a great therapist who helped me start embracing who I am. I am learning that I can be my own worst critic, and I try to make myself forget that I have a disability by pushing myself. I often lose sight what makes me Katrin/Kat. My therapist is also helping me accept my disability because it makes me me.
I also know that how my birth mom treated me said a lot about the sort of person she was. She couldn’t accept anything less than perfection, and that’s on her. I believe with God’s help and with great people, I will make the most of my life and help others embrace themselves. Whether they’re struggling with an eating disorder or disability (or both), I would tell them it is okay to love themselves because they are special and they have gifts to offer the world.