*Trigger Warning-This post discusses Eating Disorders and mental health.
This week all across college campuses, social media pages and other places, people are spreading information on Eating Disorders, warning signs, mental health, body image and so on for National Eating Disorders Awareness Month. On our campus many organizations are tabling on the issue, passing out pamphlets, and asking students to describe their best non-physical feature. There is even a life-size Barbie designed to show how disproportionate and unrealistic the body types of Barbie dolls really are. This education and awareness is an important, relevant conversation that needs to be had.
But I waited until Wednesday to finally put this post online. I waited until halfway through the week to finally join in the conversation. That’s because this conversation is so important but so difficult for me to be a part of because this topic is really close to home.
When I was in high school, someone I was very close to was hospitalized and diagnosed with anorexia. So talking about Eating Disorders, even good topics like prevention and awareness, unlocks a lot of painful memories for me. As an activist, I feel like I should be more a part of this movement than I have been. But sometimes I have to step back because doing things like passing out pamphlets that list potential warning signs is nothing compared to actually witnessing someone have an Eating Disorder. Sometimes there honestly is no way to tell that someone is sick.
So this whole week I have been struggling with whether not to really get involved. But I decided that I have to. I’ve been fighting the part of me that wants to stick my fingers in my ears and not hear any of it. But I know more than anyone that if we want to change anything, the first step into make others aware that there is a problem.
The reality is, 24 million people suffer from an Eating Disorder in the United States. I know I am not the only one here who has been close with someone with some sort of Eating Disorder. When dealing with complicated issues like this, it is important to recognize that you are not alone.
But that made me wonder, how do we jump in on conversations like this when the topics are close to home? How do we work to create change when the subject has brought us a lot of pain? How do we do this while taking care of ourselves in the process?
Here are my thoughts:
- Don’t overload yourself and recognize your closeness to the issue
Realize your connection to the issue at hand and consider what you’re sensitive to. Don’t be afraid to just listen in a conversation or step out of the room when you need to. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you need to take a break.
- Practice self-care and do what you need
There are lots of ways to practice self-care but find out what works for you. Make sure you’re doing what you need to in order to de-stress and give yourself some time to reflect on the way you’re feeling without dwelling on your emotions too much. Be aware of when you may need to take a break and separate yourself from the movement.
- Find a safe-space and a support system
Support is key here. Letting your emotions fester beneath the surface is no good. Make sure you can find a space where you can comfortably divulge your experiences and the way you’re feeling without judgment. Spend some time calling up a close friend or make an appointment with a nearby counseling center.
- Recognize the value of what others are doing
When considering a movement like National Eating Disorders Awareness week, be sure to recognize the importance of what others are doing, even if you are not emotionally ready to fully participate yourself. Be aware of the fact that others are working really hard to change the reality that you’ve had to deal with and are helping to make the world better for others. You always have the option to join in when you’re ready and up to it.
- Realize that your own personal story and connection to the issue can actually help others
One of the most valuable lessons that I learned from my past experiences is that it made me be able to help others. When I feel strong and up to it, I’m able to talk with others about the importance of mental health and seeking help. I’m now more conscious of the things I say and make sure that I’m not openly obsessing over calories or the way I look as to not perpetuate unhealthy behaviors in front of others. I recognize the value of talking about these tough topics because it’s the only way that we are going to fix anything. Do this only when you feel ready and comfortable though.
I want to end this post with a disclaimer. These are simply my own personal opinions and suggestions on how to handle talking about tough subjects in activist movements when they have impacted you personally. I am also not suggesting that you should get involved in anything that it is too triggering and is potentially a threat to your overall mental health. At the end of the day, please figure out what works best for you. If anyone needs support please contact the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at (800) 931-2237.
With lots of love and support,