Although eating disorders are increasingly being talked about, they still remain a topic to be subdued into our private lives. It is still the predominant view that mental illnesses remain hidden out of view, to avoid making others feeling uncomfortable, or to avoid being judged.
It’s still not ‘acceptable’ to say the real reason why you weren’t in yesterday’s lecture. The fact that you were anxious and had to stayin bed writing up lecture slides is not ‘acceptable’ to admit. Instead we have to say: “Oh it was nothing,” or “I just had a headache”. It’s somehow better to tell a white lie, or pretend that you had a migraine, rather than simply telling the truth.
Eating disorders are not a subject to discuss with family. Sure the parents and siblings need to, but the rest are kept in the dark out of fear of rejection. They simply “wouldn’t get it,” or “they’re a different generation” and “don’t know about that stuff”. During family dinners and gatherings you are expected to behave ‘normally’, acting like everyone else, and pretending that there is nothing wrong.
The only reason teachers or tutors could know about your illness would be in mitigating circumstances. But if you were too shy or worried to speak formally to someone about such things, as many people are, then no one at school or university would be any the wiser. Your pile of reading would remain unrealistically heavy upon your fragile shoulders.
In my opinion, it’s wrong that must we cut our support networks so harshly. Why can’t that friend from your Thursday lecture know that you’ve been feeling low recently? If I had a fever then that would be fine. If I had a massive hangover, that would be perfectly acceptable to admit. If I had broken a bone or injured myself, that would be a cause for sympathy.
So why do we have to hide mental illness in shame?
Of course I’m not suggesting that we should all throw open our front doors and shout our illnesses to the world. It’s certainly not fair to dump the weight of your entire medical history upon your friend-from-a-lecture’s shoulders.
But what I am suggesting is that we shouldn’t be afraid to say when we’re feeling down. Often close friends and family will be glad that you have spoken up, rather than remaining isolated with your thoughts. It’s important to realise that people won’t always know when you’re feeling most sensitive, or when to help you out, if you always keep your struggles hidden away.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week was a good opportunity to start breaking free from the taboo surrounding mental illness. Having an eating disorder is mentally and physically exhausting, often spiralling into depressive and anxiety-driven patterns, whichcan make everyday life extremely difficult.
Ultimately, talking more about eating disorders will help people to recognise the signs, and most importantly the general public will gain abetter understanding of how to support others. We do not need society to silence our voice; we need to tell the world how it really is.