Last week, Elyse Pitock, BC’15, had a piece published in the New York Times Anxiety Column. This week, she has this interview published in Bwog. (Of which do you think she is prouder?) Here, she continues her important discussion on food anxiety.
Bwog: How did you get your writing featured in the Times? What is your piece about? Is it fiction as the NYT labeled it?
Elyse: The anxiety column welcomes open submissions. I sent mine in late October and heard back a couple weeks later. It’s about anxiety and how the rest of the world keeps going even if you’re not ready for it. There are fictional and non-fictional elements.
B: How did you decide on using the end-of-the-world metaphor?
E: I wrote it during Sandy so I guess after standing in line for gallons of water and hearing updates about damage I had disaster on the brain. It felt like an appropriate comparison because I think that many people with anxiety often experience everyday things in a very amplified and exaggerated way. To me, it expresses immediacy and hopelessness at the same time.
B: Why did you decide to write about your personal struggle with food anxiety?
E: Last year I made myself quite physically ill in response to what was happening inside my head. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me because the signs of mental illness aren’t as obvious as we are led to believe by books and movies. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and we need to talk about these things in a straightforward, non-romanticized way.
A lot of people who have not been exposed to anxiety on a meaningful level cannot comprehend what it means to be distressed in that way. It’s understandable, because how can you be remotely empathetic toward someone with Asperger’s who has a debilitating phobia of, say, fish, or someone with bulimia who feels compelled to make him or herself throw up? You can’t. These things don’t make a lot of sense. But people’s brains will do funny things, and these thoughts and feelings are real. I really want people with impairments—not only to be taken seriously—but also to be able to take themselves seriously. People tend to dismiss their struggles with depression/anxiety/etc because it’s a very intangible problem, one that they won’t necessarily recognize for what it is. People will tell you to stop thinking about it or to adjust your attitude and sometimes that is simply not possible.
Making services accessible to people with mental illness is something I feel very strongly about. The earlier things are identified the better, and so I think it’s something that needs to be spoken about.
B: In the piece, you compare your (irrational) dietary restrictions to Jewish dietary restrictions. Can you elaborate on what role your faith played in the anxiety you wrote about?
E: For me personally, Judaism didn’t play a role, but I often read passages of the Torah that remind me of certain obsessions and compulsions. I will not bore you with details but I will point anyone who’s interested to Leviticus 11 for further reading. This isn’t to say that people who follow these rules have OCD, just that as someone with OCD, the resemblance is quite strong.
B: How do you feel Columbia and Barnard deal with students’ anxiety about food and mental health more generally? In your opinion, what should they do to better address students’ anxieties?
E: I am not familiar with Columbia’s resources, but I think Barnard has pretty standard resources. It’s not enough, but that’s not the school’s fault—it’s just that it’s only 2012 and there’s so much more to learn.
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