Please Understand What It’s Like To Be Me (…Or A Giraffe)


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TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of issues related to Eating Disorder recovery. No numbers involved.  

Also, there is a rather nasty animal welfare story mentioned in the first two paragraphs.

I read an horrendous story the other day about a giraffe tragically killed in South Africa recently as it was being transported on a busy highway.  The giraffe was decapitated when the truck it was being transported by drove under an over-bridge.  The giraffe was blindfolded (it makes me wonder if the driver was too), and I think that is standard practise for transporting these animals, to keep them calm (personally blindfolding me will not keep me calm).

Somehow the giraffe was expected to know just when to ‘duck’ as they passed under an over-bridge.  The truck driver blamed the giraffe for its own death. It seems to me that the driver totally failed to think of what it is like to be a giraffe.


Of course, if you’re not a giraffe then it is very difficult to understand what it is to be a giraffe.  And if you can’t do that, then you can’t put yourself in the giraffe’s shoes.


It seems to me that we are all giraffes… or bears, or dogs, or even caterpillars. No one can understand what it is to be us if they have never experienced being us.  That makes it very difficult to explain to another exactly what it is that we face, whether that be over-bridges on highways, leaves on a tree, or people living every day with mental illness.

At this point I need to say that writing this post is incredibly difficult.  One I’d rather not write.  But then maybe someone, somewhere needs to read it.  And that’s why I write.  This post reaches into my most vulnerable places.  Places I try not to go, especially with other people.  To anyone else it might seem like a small matter, but then they fail to understand what it is like to be me.

Some years ago I had Anorexia Nervosa, as I have written here before.  I headed down a very dark track for about five years and put my life in serious danger.  Since then I have continued to struggle with food, weight and body image issues and so technically am described as having ED-NOS (Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).  While it continues to be a major issue in my life I have to say that of all my mental illnesses it has the least attention paid to it by any of health professionals I see.  They appear to be just not interested.  Seemingly if I’m not in immediate danger then it doesn’t matter.

Then yesterday my doctor told me that I need to lose some weight.  That might seem odd but some people who recover from Anorexia actually go on to become overweight.  I am one of those people.  And actually I have been here before, twice since losing the Anorexia label.  That is, I have become overweight, taken steps to lose the weight, usually at the prompting of a doctor and lost a small army each time (…in other words too much!)… and so the cycle goes.  The doctor never seems to get just what they started. Actually I am very ‘good’ at losing weight.  ‘Good’ because I can take the weight off, but I can’t stop.

Exercise is the same, and I have unfortunately struggled with compulsive over-exercise.  No problem starting (once you push me out the door) but stopping is another issue.  Right now I’m too scared to start because I know where it ends. It seemed to me yesterday that my doctor thought he was talking to a ‘giraffe’ when he was actually talking to me.

He had no regard for what made this issue particularly difficult for me.  He didn’t understand that actually I am terrified of losing weight because I won’t be able to stop.  He actually made a joke of it when I tried to remind him of my history.  It didn’t help when he over-estimated the weight I need to lose to get down to a ‘ideal weight‘.  Numbers are extremely unhelpful for me at the best of time without getting them wrong.

Admittedly my doctor did not know me when I have Anorexia but he was aware of my history.  Somehow he totally disregarded that I am not the same as any other patient in his waiting room.  He was saying I could just go on a diet and everything would be fine.  He had no idea how scary a diet (and potentially dangerous) is for me, or anyone else with a history of eating disorders.  He had no concept of the danger for me.

My recovery from Anorexia was never ideal, and there were many aspects not addressed at the time.  This was because of a lack of funding for treatment of Eating Disorders in New Zealand at the time, and a lack of understanding of what other mental health issues I had going on (no one had picked up the existence of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I was simply seen as treatment resistant).  All I had to do was to put the required weight on, and then somehow it was assumed the problem was solved.  It wasn’t, and I know it still isn’t.  It never would be for anyone with an eating disorder of any type.  It’s simply not that easy.

But isn’t that why we need to be treated as the animal we are?  Isn’t that why we need to be understood for our particular needs and issues?  I am one person, different from all others, yet I know that health professionals must often struggle to have the time to remember this.  I am not the same as every other person who needs to lose weight.

It’s too soon to say what I am going to do about my doctor’s request for me to lose some weight.  He may not be able to consider my issues but I know them all too well.  I know that my physical health is not in danger right now, and I’m not going to do anything that puts my mental health in danger.  I simply can’t afford to.  Otherwise I’m a blindfolded giraffe being driven under over-bridges on a highway.  And that’s just dumb.

© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


23 thoughts on “Please Understand What It’s Like To Be Me (…Or A Giraffe)

  1. stick to your guns…you know what is best for you more than anyone else, even doctors. either write up something to give to your doc to read so he will ‘get it’ better. or just keep telling him, or bring someone you trust to help speak for you.

    but whatever you do, don’t put yourself–body or mind-in danger again. stick to your guns, you are healthier now than if you put yourself in that situation again. you wouldn’t tell an addict to go out and take some more the drug he used to addicted to to ‘cure’ him of his withdrawals. duh.

    sending you all the support you need to get through this.

    • Those are very wise words Kat. Thank you. And you’re so right about the addict. Such a shame that even doctors don’t ‘get this’. Thanks for your support. 🙂

  2. The giraffe event was appalling. Enough said.

    Diets? Nope. No diets! Just eat healthy stuff. Spoken by a fat girl who has taken ten years to realise she’s okay with being big and beautiful. 😉

  3. Hi Cate! I’d like to know if you told your doctor about your fears, why you are afraid to follow his instructions and your concerns about what he told you? If you didn’t I would suggest you try opening up to him. If you did, you might consider seeing another doctor. I don’t know what his specialty is or if he is really qualified by education and experience to treat you considering your past history.and this is something I think is worth considering. I agree with what you’ve written. The trouble is that we all sort of do understand what other people go through, the only problem is we really don’t. At least not to the depth that others have plumbed when they have actually experience trying times and survive. That makes it all the more easier to misunderstand the scope of a problem and less likely for us to discover our own bias that many times almost blinds us. A frog can’t see a dead fly because his brain isn’t wired to see it unless it moves. Sometimes we allow reality to hide behind huge blind spots and on top of that we are trying to operate a very complex machine on only 15 watts of power. I expect you’ll be able to straighten out this doctor Cate. I have full confidence in you. Kill a giraffe like this and then blame the giraffe? It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. God Bless!

    • “The trouble is that we all sort of do understand what other people go through, the only problem is we really don’t.”

      You’ve got that so right, John and isn’t that so dangerous in so many ways? I did try to explain the concerns I had but he really wasn’t interested in knowing anything but his own opinion. That’s a bit harsh, I suppose but I suspect it is very true. He was a General Practitioner and while he doesn’t have expert knowledge in the subject I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in expecting him to know how dangerous and damaging his advice was.

  4. Can you switch doctors somehow? This doctor doesn’t seem very smart or sensitive. He reminds me of the driver who expected the blindfolded giraffe to duck! A decent doctor would know not to advise a person with a history of eating disorders to diet. It is one thing if he wants you to exercise for the health of your heart, or eat more healthful foods, but if your physical health is fine, then your weight is fine the way it is!

    • Yes, I’m inclined to agree. If I lived n South Africa I would believe that the doctor WAS the driver of the giraffe. It’s something I’m thinking about. Thanks for your suggestion.

  5. Cate, I think you are doing the right thing. This doctor doesn’t seem to understand how dangerous his advice is and hope you are able to find a better one.

  6. I am overweight and can’t lose. I started dieting in June and was losing nicely. So I incorporated walking I got up to 2.5 miles a day. Then my back started hurting. So I stopped walking and the depression got me eating the junk food. I want to lose and the doctors I see constantly tell me I need to lose but fail to give me any advice on how to lose it. Doctors are human with flaws. Some good some okay we are the ones who need to tell the doctors what our difficulties are.

    I wish you success in the task before you. Hopefully your doctor will monitor you closely.

    • You’re quite right that doctors are humans and so come with flaws. Still I expect a certain level of flawless for the money I pay. Maybe that’s unreasonable but that’s what my body and mind deserve. It took me a long time to work that out, so I’m not giving up yet. I think of the generation that my parents grew up in where the doctor was seen as ‘god’ and they simply did what the doctor told them to. Thankfully times have changed. I am the one who knows my body (and mind) best. Thanks for your comments.

  7. When we have spent a considerable amount of time learning how to best navigate the dangerous territory of our own minds, and we see a red flag being waved ferociously in the wind, (even though the doctor may have thought he had your best interests at heart), the only way we can ensure our safety is to PAY ATTENTION to that red flag, and give it the due respect it demands. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that failure to follow a doctor’s advice translates to me thinking I know everything or that I’m smarter than anyone else, and although I recognize that the perfectionist compulsion in me sometimes rears it’s ugly little head in that manner, when it comes to navigating those dangerous hills and valleys of the mind, there is no one more qualified to sift through all the available information out there and make an informed choice, more than ME. Yes, I take in information and weigh it against my own history, factoring in my known foibles or murky and muddy waters, and then, only after I’ve applied the base of knowledge that begins with my own version of knowing that I’m a giraffe, and not, say, a lizard, I make the choice that best gets me to where I need to be, and keeps me safe in the process.

    Which is just another way of saying that sometimes we have to trust our own instincts.

    Thanks for sharing this, as it serves as a great reminder for us all.

  8. reading this at first made me giggle, I know that sounds awful but I live in South Africa and remember this giraffe incident. In our country we just went, “oh how typical” and carried on, not because it wasn’t awful but because that’s the kind of idiocy we are so used to in this country. There is a bridge near where I live and if I could get R10 for every truck that has got stuck there I would be rich.

    As for the rest of the post, I totally get it. I too have EDNOS (basically anorexia but I didn’t meet ALL the criteria) and BPD. Right now I am in the depth of my hate relationship with food, sitting on dangerously close to underweight, and I totally relate when you say you can’t stop. It’s like I can see what is happening but I feel powerless to stop it. Doctors are not always the smartest or most sensitive people and I guess you have to do what feels right within yourself. I am glad you are trusting your instincts on this one, stay strong. xxx

    • That made me laugh. Thank you. I guess giraffes for you are like sheep on the highway here in New Zealand. Although I don’t think too many sheep have trouble getting under overpasses. 🙂 And you’re right. Doctors (bless them!) are not the most sensitive or smartest people. They really need that part added into their personality while at medical school. Is that too harsh? Nah, after all we have to put up with them.

      • Well we don’t get too many giraffe transported here, probably because they’d just end up on the endangered species list, lol. But seriously, we don’t, it was a pretty rare thing. Glad it made you giggle in return 🙂
        And not too harsh, I agree we definitely put up with lots too!

  9. I completely understand this. It felt like I was having an out of body experience recently when a doc told me I was obese….me? Obese? Thankfully only by 3.5 stone….. hardly obese! It’s insensitive of your doc to advise you to lose weight without first holding a little understanding of how this might impact on your life. Surely your records clearly indicate previous issues with being too underweight. I would say he’s treading thin ice. I wouldn’t hold much confidence in future consultations. You know where all this might lead, so it’s probably best you try approach it from an entirely different direction. It might take months, maybe years, to come down a few pounds, but I hope you can find comfort in being aware rather than taking extreme action…. or listening to this donuts advice!

    • Yes, it’s a totally different ball game when a patient has dedicated themselves to so underweight that they risk their life. Unfortunately too many health professionals think they understand but actually don’t get it anymore than the general public get anything to do with eating disorders. As for obese, it’s weird isn’t it because it’s not actually as much as we like to think it is. And of course it must apply to other people. So when a doctor points the word at us, it’s a bit of a wake up call. I guess that is a good thing. 🙂

  10. I can’t find any words for the giraffe murder (and that’s what I think it is), but it’s so true that we don’t often try to think about how it is to be someone else, or how someone else’s life differs from our own. Hell, I try and try and try to ‘put myself in their shoes’ but I’m just too darn judgmental. That’s not to say that doctors shouldn’t really be pros at that. I wish you all the best, including a professional who recognizes your inner giraffe.

    • My inner giraffe tells me that we should simply keep trying. We are human (and not celestial or giraffe) and so yes, we slip up at times and shouldn’t beat ourselves up. 🙂 Oh and yes, the giraffe murder is simply beyond words.

  11. It seems to me that it would have been far more helpful for your GP to refer you to a specialist, rather than just saying you need to lose some weight to benefit your physical health. The ideal specialist would be a therapist/dietician combination.

    I’m willing to bet that there aren’t many such specialists around, regardless of where we’re based in the world, and that a lot of GPs are feeling the pressure because of the constant news stuff about this supposed obesity epidemic…

    • Actually Faith, that is exactly what I was thinking. Whether I can find one is another matter, as you say. While I’m not making excuses for my GP, I think you’re right about then being under so much pressure with obesity. I think they’re just not able to give the individual care that they should.

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