Raising awareness is a double-edged sword.
I do it because I lived with flesh-scraping anxiety for too long before I realised it were an actual, diagnosable illness, and much longer than that before anyone gave me any help.
On the other hand, I am highly aware that, the more I post about living with, through and beyond mental illness, people wonder when I’m going to get better; move on and stop writing about the inner torment of my poor, tortured soul.
I am not surprised, to be fair, by the boredom that I am sure some people feel when they see another mental health post, or story. There is a somewhat frustrating homogeneity to a lot of, for example, eating disorder-related posts.
As well as the usual raft of newspaper stories which rely on heights, weights and pictures to shock readers, I have seen so many people claiming that they ‘almost died’ from anorexia, or that they couldn’t will themselves to eat more than five lychees over a three day period. Yes, everyone with an eating disorder is dying by default, because they’re certainly not living, but I know people who’ve actually died and almost died from eating disorders, and for anyone else to make that claim seems utterly disrespectful. Who are you trying to show off to? People you care about? Other people with eating disorders? Yourself? The same goes for flaunting how little you ate. What is this supposed to achieve? Please explain to me if you are better informed because I can only think that it serves to trigger others into eating less; underestimating the seriousness of their own illness and giving a false impression to the rest of the world about anorexia being an illness of fragility and perfect self-control.
Anyone who has experienced an eating disorder – or any other mental illness – will know that it’s a multi-faceted experience, characterised by boredom and frustration more than melodrama.
Please, please share your story to raise awareness. But please, please be honest. It is important for people to understand mental or physical illness, as much as it is important for people to share anything that is important to them. Be as open as you can be, because that’s the only way mental illness is ever going to become unstigmatised, but – for goodness sake – don’t tell a story of clichés because you think it sounds more dramatic. You are only belittling your own story.
And that’s why I keep writing. Because I didn’t know anxiety was an illness because no-one ever let me know that it wasn’t all phobias and panic attacks. Mental illness is like bad porridge – boring, grey, tasteless, lumpy and cold – and somebody needs to cut through all the tales of dramatic, near-death experiences and woe to acknowledge that.
In conclusion, thus and therefore, I think that that you should only ever share details of your eating disorder on the internet if you’re also prepared to answer questions about the state of your bowels at your sickest. Raising awareness has to be about honesty or it serves no purpose (except, of course, one of self aggrandisement and vaguely pro-ana outcomes).