National Eating Disorders Association
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Diagnosis in Defense: Why a Doctor's Opinion is Not Always a Final Destination

Melissa Kaufman

Her eyes flickered as they made contact with mine. Finally, she exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anything like it; your dexa-scan is like that of an 80-year-old, or even older! As her words sunk in, I looked down at my hands, ashamed at the state of my 29-year-old body. “So, then what happens as I grow older?” I nervously questioned, unsure if I really wanted an answer. 

“Well,” she started, “most who are 80 or older don’t live much longer to find out. They usually die of something like cancer, heart failure, something like that.” Without pausing for my reaction, she continued, “Honestly, your best bet is an infusion for osteoporosis.” Upon hearing her recommendation, I stiffened. Instantly, I started to replay the commercials for these medications in my mind, stating the warnings and precautions, most specifically, the warning stating, “Not intended for pre-menopausal women.” Nervously, I presented her with this concern only for her to respond: “Well, you haven’t menstruated since you were 16, so you pretty much are menopausal; your ovaries aren’t working.” 

Her words stung and opened a wound I believed deep down someday could be remedied. To her, my lack of menstruation and ultimately, my proposed infertility was a permanent state. However, in the back of my mind, there was always a glimmer of hope that someday it would return or that the possibility of birthing my own children could still be a viable possibility, if I chose to explore it. Instead of leaving the rheumatology office feeling hopeful and determined, I left with my dreams deflated and my drive to heal my body practically non-existent. 

At the same time, as I continued to reflect on my doctor’s words and temperament towards me, anger began to surface, not only for myself, but for the countless others, who like me, fight for healing and second chances every day from the mental and physical hell that is anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. Instead of standing my ground and advocating for myself, I regrettably allowed a doctor to once again contaminate my aspirations of achieving mental and physical health. 

It is an occurrence all too familiar to me and quite possibly countless others. There should be no need to fight for the chance at life and recovery in communicating with doctors. The role of a doctor, especially regarding eating disorders, in my mind, is to provide an honest truth, a means for open communication, and a realization, that no matter how challenging recovery may be, it is always possible. 

This occurrence with the rheumatologist is only one of many occasions I’ve encountered in my 19-year battle (the majority of my life, as a woman who is weeks away from her 30th birthday) with anorexia. However, it was only as an adult well into my 20s when I started to realize a doctor’s perspective regarding my ability to recover is only their opinion. No medical degree or medical knowledge can solely predict someone’s ability to recover or change their lives. The change, as I’ve discovered through much personal reflection, insight and conversation, must come from me and is within my hands

Determination, strength and a desire to achieve can change a life in a matter of minutes, hours, days, weeks and beyond, as I’ve experienced firsthand. This appointment with the rheumatologist, as I forge into my 30s, is a turning point: I’ve remained silent for too long, allowing some medical providers to overshadow my dreams, allowing their words to control my actions, suffering in silence, as I believe many others do each day. 

Several months ago, I encountered a quote that reads, “Never be afraid to share your story – it may inspire others.” In reading this, I realized that there is nothing to be gained or won by remaining silent in my private battles and struggles and no need to be ashamed of my past; my past does not dictate my future and it doesn’t have to dictate others’. No matter what doctors, friends, family, or the self-defeating thoughts in one’s mind might say, we are always one decision away from a different life and as long as we are breathing, the chance for change is always possible.

Editor’s note: Professional mental health treatment, including treatment for eating disorders, is an important part of the recovery process for many people. This post reflects the author’s unique experience with medical professionals. 

With her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, Melissa Kaufman has worked for various social service agencies throughout Bucks County, Pennsylvania and is the writer behind the blog, Melissa's Morning Musings. She dedicates much of her time towards advocating and supporting others in need, frequently volunteers in her community and hopes to someday further her education in the social work and/or journalism fields. In her spare time, she can be found with her family and dog, Daisy, writing, reading or traveling.