Sharing my lowest weight is something I have been thinking about for quite some time.
This is the stigma surrounding mental health.
Sometimes someone writes something in a newspaper; says something in an interview or posts something on Facebook which isn’t true.
As much as it saddens and angers me, I am sure that there are reasons for it and I am sure that the people who do it are not being intentionally malicious or deceitful.
Especially where numbers are involved, people seem to exaggerate wildly. The number of calories they consume in a day is diminished beyond what is necessary to sustain life; the weight lost and gained is increased to amounts which are preposterous, ridiculous and – quite frankly – impossible (photos do not lie); hospital admissions, suicide attempts and the number of tablets overdosed on are doubled, tripled and cubed, and dress sizes are shrunken to numbers even a rogue tumble drier could not achieve.
The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, those of us also living with mental illnesses – and this is difficult to describe – feel betrayed. Given the stigma and lack of understanding we face, when members of our own, unfortunately gathered, community sell-out for sympathy, or fame, or just because they want to be ‘the sickest’, it is another hurdle that we must jump over in order to be able to have a normal conversation about the parts of our lives which are, for the moment at least, the cause of embarrassed silences and quick changes of topic. For every person who wants to claim that prize, there are hundreds of others who simply want to rid themselves of their monstrous thoughts.
Secondly, this is so, so, so damaging to the hard work that some wonderful people are tirelessly doing to raise awareness and lessen stigma surrounding and permeating mental illness. If you embellish your story, that softens the sounds of the true stories, the real experiences and the honest accounts. If you post numbers, this serves only to trigger and belittle others, whilst gaining attention for yourself.
The sad thing is this: if we all told the truth, there would be no need for anybody to feel the need to outdo anybody else. If there were no glory in sickness, there would be no need for anybody to feel the need to glorify. If there were no response to an article, a film or a post which mentioned numbers which are so obviously not true as to be embarrassing, then there would be no incentive to share them in the first place.
The place where I often falter and fall in these posts is that I have no advice to offer to counter the problems I feel the need to highlight. So what do I suggest?
Stop. Stop mentioning numbers. There is absolutely and completely no need to do this. Ever. There are two unspoken rules in the eating disorder inpatient community: (1) Do not share numbers (2) If you are eating with another patient, you must eat what is expected. These are both protective and conducive to recovery.
If you have shared numbers, embellished, inflated in the past, put on your big girl pants, apologise and tell the truth. Refilm that YouTube video, rewrite that newspaper article, blog post or status update.
Ending stigma is about getting the truth out there. By sharing the truth, you are validating your story and fulfilling your responsibility. If nobody exaggerates, then nobody need exaggerate.
End the stigma.
(Yeah, I lied about sharing my lowest weight. What would it achieve?)