PHOTO CREDITS TO MILITARY.COM and COOLESTGADGETS.COM
some people become outraged when they learn that the military is not quick to accept those with eating disorders. past or present. They say it's unfair discrimination. I say it's wise and protective, probably in majority of the cases - and the military is a machine that runs on time... it would take TOO much time to make exceptions for those rare cases so I fully agree with the blanket exclusion.
Before you get angry. Hear me out.
I may not be a health professional (though technically I was one for awhile, but I'll get to that part later) let alone a mental health professional (my mental health knowledge doesn't extend very far beyond a couple of psychology courses and trauma studies courses), but I am something a lot of those that are outraged are not... I am a former member of the military who has an eating disorder.
I don't talk about this very often... especially not in detail. I don't think very many people have ever heard me speak more than just a skirted conversation about basic training and my time in the military. I usually just say it was a poor decision with slight elaboration and then move on.
I keep on starting and stopping writing this, because I want to make sure that I fully explain the military that I experienced.
To give a little background, I engaged in eating disorder behaviors prior to joining. Since I had not been officially diagnosed (though I came close to it in college) and was in denial, I was able to join the Air Force.
I was slightly underweight upon entry and when I shipped off to basic training I was put on an eating waiver... As it was explained to me by my MTI (Military Training Instructor --- aka the boot camp leader) "basically what this little waiver means is that it's my job to make you fat. So eat up little piggy - we'll work it off later"
Let's evaluate this statement.
Let's take the first part: "it's my job to make you fat."
okay... translation for an eating disorder mind (and actually a mathematical mind as well... really): you're supposed to gain weight... gaining weight = making you fat.
Let's take that second part "So eat up little piggy - we'll work it off later"
eating disorder translation: "you're eating. you're a pig. you need to burn it off."
Where was this said to me?
At a special table in the center of the dining facility. A special little table that was monitored closely (for food intake) by MTIs. They would bring you more food if they felt you hadn't gotten enough to eat... and you were given extra time to eat. Both of those latter things would make the "regular" trainees grow disdain towards you as they were only given about 7ish minutes to eat (no joke).
When I did a four month stint in IOP, eating at a table with other people with similar eating habits didn't really phase me, because it brought me back to basic training... just like eating with the eating waiver kids again. Hahaha.
Anyways I digress (in case you haven't noticed... I tend to do that)
I got done with basic training went off to tech school. Felt a pressure to do well... had personal stuff crop up involving the reason why I left college... and felt the need to get the weight off.
I wound up in the hospital a couple of times for dehydration and once for ipecac. I became underweight again and yet people were still pushing me to exercise more and to perform academically and physically.
It strained me. I wound up admitting I had a problem after my second stint in the hospital for dehydration, but before my venture with ipecac that I thought was going to kill me (I don't think I've ever been that ill in my life. let alone for that period of time... almost a week)
They had me see a therapist, but I was still being pushed to do all these things. I was put in charge of sports day every weekend. By the time I was to depart Wichita Falls, TX I was told I needed to enter a treatment program. The people at Scott AFB (which was to be my new base) wouldn't permit me to go immediately into an intensive patient program upon arrival, rather just an intensive outpatient program. I was given the phone number for mental health at Scott and sent on my way.
I arrived on Scott and was told how much I was needed there, that they were short handed... and I never made that call. Mental health (who was expecting me to call) never called me either. I found out later that my doctor KNEW I was supposed to go into treatment upon arrival. She told me that she wanted to let me form my own consequences. Whatever that means...
I wound up in a career field dominated by men. The female that was there when I got there was on her way out - her replacement was extremely pregnant and we only overlapped for a month or so before she gave birth and a couple of months after.
There was competition, high standards (I was the only person under a tech sergeant at one point when I was the only female back there) because they were used to people higher ranking with more experience... I was given an extremely large work load for an airman, and I caught the running bug.
The running bug was fueled by the military. The guys in my work (I worked in the medical field in dental) wouldn't let me take leave unless I was running -- because they deemed that a "legit" reason.
They would comment and critique my run times.
I felt like I was under a microscope 24/7 as I lived on base.
I would be grocery shopping and people I know would see me and comment on what was in my basket (I switched to a basket after one of the guys at my work commented on my use of a cart... asking me if I really needed one for just one person). I would be at the gas station and would run into people.
It was horrible.
I wouldn't go into the dining facility for that reason (I quit going in tech school actually) - the only exceptions being when I was asked to go to the Commander's lunch there and when I was a cadre for JROTC --- both times I noted and used the scale that was inside the dining facility.
One might wonder why a scale would find a home in a place dedicated to feeding others... well, my answer to that this was an Air Force Base meaning part of which dictates your next rank IS your weight... your physical fitness. In tech school I remember hearing an instructor discuss using laxatives to make his weight.
I had a small waist (considering how much I was running - incredibly small for a female) and after my PT test I had my supervisor's supervisor come up to me and tell me that he was right, that I didn't have the smallest waist in the clinic - that X did by half an inch. It became fodder, everyone I worked with knew my weight and here this male in my chain of command was informing me I did not have the smallest waist in the dental clinic - as if that were some prized position to hold (btw: dental clinics are loaded with females -- albeit not in the dental lab -- so it's not even like I had the second smallest of three people) or that I was close to the danger zone. Danger zone?? Yes. Danger zone... you waist too is a factor in your PT test score... which is part of what is used for your performance report which is a factor in promotions which is a factor in $$$
Anyways, to make this shorter than what it's looking like it could be. The military placed a lot of stress on me. Emphasized weight and being in shape. Got me into running in a hardcore way... and what resulted?
The eating disorder got way way way out of control.
I said something to my supervisor once and he told me to be careful what I said because it could jeopardize HIS career if people thought he wasn't looking out for his troop. I kept my mouth shut.
Things got progressively worse to the point of eating with the purpose of having something to throw up... and to the point of needing additional work done on my shoulder when it came time for the second surgery.
Basically I had surgery one done by an Air Force doctor... he didn't repair my labrum correctly... it was bad. Military told me I could still continue running even when it started dislocating again (I asked specifically)... so I did... and not only wound up with the retorn labrum (from the faulty surgery) but also damaged my rotator cuff and enlarged the capsule to TWICE the size (the latter the doctor said was due to the excessive running).
I was running from something, clearly.
Eventually it got to the point where I couldn't handle it anymore... that's when I saw a therapist that was very unhelpful to the point of pulling out a picture of a friend she had and asking me if I thought her friend was overweight...
it was until I went in there and did a tell all shake/sweat/sob fest whilst smelling like vomit that anything happened... I was in an IOP program by the end of the week.
It was that break from the military that I truly think saved my life.
In the military there isn't compassion. You're not even a last name... or a number... you're the last four digits of a number... your social security number that is.
They want perfection. If you're not perfect you're unacceptable to them.
Even though it's been over a year since I entered treatment.. I wouldn't even want to go back to the military for week... oh wait, I didn't mention that... I got medically discharged from the military - the paperwork started right around the time of me entering treatment. I admitted that it was pre-existing. The people in Texas admitted that they severely aggravated the disorder.
I feel like with jobs there's a few combinations possible...
1) You can love your job, not the like the people
2) You can love the people, but not like the job
Both of those make working a job tolerable
You can also love your job and love the people which makes your job amazing
or you can hate your job and dislike the people which makes your job miserable.
When you're in the military and live on the base your job can quickly become your life (I remember getting recalled --- that's when they call you up and you HAVE to go into work immediately --- at 4am the day after my 21st birthday) so when it's that last possibility your life becomes miserable.
I feel like the military life promotes eating disorders and attracts those with eating disorders or personality traits that make people inclined to develop them.
Statistics would back that up, eating disorders are a LOT more common in the military than in the civilian sector.
I cannot imagine very many people with a history of an eating disorder or predisposition towards one faring well mentally in the military. At all. As someone working in the dental clinic my job itself should not have been stressful - but in the military you're taught that everything is crucial - every mistake could cost lives. I would hate to imagine what it would have been like had I been put in a career field that COULD have truly or directly cost lives.
Sorry this was so jumbled, but it was a lot harder and more draining to write than one might think.