DiversifYA: Katie Locke

KatieToday, the amazing Katie Locke joins DiversifYA! Just in case you aren’t following Katie yet, she is a YA/NA writer (who owes me a manuscript, hurry <3), a cat herder, and has been one of my favorite people on Twitter for a long time now.

Right in time for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Katie is here to talk about living with ED-NOS. On the same subject, do read her tremendous posts on living with your own mortality and the beginning of recovery too. And of course make sure to follow Katie on Twitter, here.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I no longer identify myself as someone who suffers, present tense, from an eating disorder, but I say that I am recovering from “an eating disorder”. Technically speaking, I’ve been diagnosed in the past with bulimia nervosa and an Eating Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified because I did not qualify for the anorexia nervosa diagnosis under the DSM-IV. If they had been using the new DSM-V back then, I’d be diagnosable with anorexia nervosa. I spent most of my time in the land of the ED-NOS and probably am still diagnosable.

2. What did it feel like growing up with ED-NOS?

I didn’t have a name for it for the longest time. As a teenager, I thought because I wasn’t emaciated and because I was not vomiting that I didn’t have an eating disorder. To friends, I called it “screwing with my food”. It colored all of my social interactions. I didn’t do dinners with friends. I avoided lunch. I went to the library instead. I regularly didn’t eat all day, and then rode my horse in the afternoon. I was exhausted and unfocused in class. I’m sure, in retrospect, that my grades suffered from my lack of eating.

As a little kid, I wanted to be the prettiest. By third or fourth grade, I figured out I wasn’t going to be the prettiest.Then I decided I was going to be the smartest. By eighth grade, I figured out I wasn’t ever going to be the smartest. So I wanted to be the thinnest. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t “win” that one either.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I figured out that how I ate and viewed food–and my “right” to it–was really abnormal. Other people around me didn’t withhold food from themselves if they did poorly on a test. The people around me didn’t eat foods that caused them physical pain (I have an underlying gastrointestinal condition making me hypersensitive to many foods).

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Biggest challenges? Turns out I wasn’t nearly as sneaky at hiding it as I thought I was, so I’ll cross that off the list. Biggest challenge was recovery. It’s a work in progress. I like to say that it’s a process, not an event. Because my eating disorder, I had to drop out of a summer class and go to treatment at a day program instead. That was six years ago. I’m still consciously fighting to choose recovery every single day. Some days are harder than others. For me, I think it’ll always be a challenge some days.

Quirks/perks? First, I met the best people in treatment. I’m still friends with several of them, both online and in person. The strength, diversity, and strength of the women I met in treatment still awes me. Secondly, I know a LOT about nutrition. I know a freakish amount about nutrition now and body absorption of vitamins.

4. What do you wish people knew about having ED-NOS?

Most people don’t even know that Eating Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified exists. Because of pop culture and the media, most people think that the only two eating disorders are bulimia and anorexia.

ED-NOS is complicated. ED-NOS can mean a couple of things. It can mean that you have most but not all of the qualifying criteria for BN, AN, or BED (Binge Eating Disorder, which is another terribly misunderstood and deeply shamed disorder). It can also mean that you have disordered eating with a pattern of intake that is not consistent enough to be the other labels. Most–but not all–people with ED-NOS maintain normal weight (same thing goes for people with bulimia, by the way). We ‘pass’, so to speak.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

That people with eating disorders are always emaciated or overweight; that people with eating disorders are always straight, white, cis females; that recovery can be achieved by having a loved one beg for someone to recover or eat; that people with eating disorders want to be models or thin (Thinness is a red herring: there’s usually a lot more to why people with an ED have an ED than ‘thinness’); that eating disorders are choices. 

Maybe at the beginning, for a person, it was a choice (I remember the day I started to weigh myself and set a low weight goal, for instance). But after awhile, it is a compulsion because eating disorders are mental illnesses, not lifestyles.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Fear is a mind killer. Don’t be afraid to write a character outside of your own limited experience. The internet’s a great place in that there’s a lot of information, and with enough digging and research, you can make the connections you need to write the experience with respect and accuracy.

I’m fond of saying that mental illness is no more a literary tool than rape is. Characters are more than the experience of violation or illness. (This is also exactly why I trained myself away from saying someone “is anorexic” or “is bulimic” or “is eating disordered”, including myself.)

Don’t be afraid to reach out on Twitter, Facebook, AbsoluteWrite, and other forums. If someone asked me on Twitter to talk about my experience in treatment, or just in general, I would share because I want there to be accurate books that speak to this illness. (That’s a standing invitation to writers to reach out to me: @bibliogato on Twitter if you are writing a character with an eating disorder and need a sounding board). 

For writers writing characters suffering from an eating disorder:

Recommendations (and these come with a HEAVY trigger warning for those who suffer from an eating disorder) for nonfiction: THIN, a documentary by Lauren Greenfield (on youtube in its entirety); WASTED by Marya Hornbacher (an old but frightening insight to a woman with a severe eating disorder. Most eating disorders don’t get this severe, but Marya lets you inside the rationale and the magical thinking that characterizes severely disordered thinking. Her followup: Madness, about her bipolar disorder, is also really incredibly beautiful and also frightening).

YA fiction I’ve read that I think has dealt with eating disorders really appropriately and with startling accuracy: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson; Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff (it’s not the main plot point here, but it’s here); Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. And keep an eye out for Hannah Moskowitz’s 2015 title from Simon Pulse about a girl named Etta with ED-NOS who is also a biracial ballerina. It’s awesome, even if you have to wait a year for it 🙂

Check out the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), SomethingFishy.org (but please respect the confidentiality of the women and men on the forums), and my new personal favorite, the .gif posts of edrecoveryproblems.tumblr.com (link on the sidebar for the gif only posts, but the Asks also provide incredible insight to the mind and thought processes and daily struggles of people with eating disorders.)

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