Oops sorry, I posted this last night but must have done something weird when I edited it because it had disappeared by this morning! Hopefully it will stay here this time 😛 I shouldn’t blog when I’m tired, heh.
So, EDA week is now over and I can breathe a minor sigh of relief. Only minor, because recently I have begun to get more involved with online discussions, education and outreach work alongside UK members of an international organisation for carers of people with EDs, and I also have another school talk and other ideas lined up with the ED charity I volunteer for.
I’ve noticed before that people in recovery tend to fall into two camps – those who want to get as far away as possible from any continued link to eating disorders and those who want to help other people recover through volunteering or training as a nutritionist or therapist. I’ve read some snarky comments and genuine concerns about the pros and cons of these two different approaches, and before I went away to Manchester I was thinking quite a bit about this.
There are two main reasons why I’ve gone down this route rather than cutting all ties. First of all, this might be arrogant of me, but I like to think that I can be helpful. I’ve certainly been told that input from recovered people is very useful from the ED charity management committee, the people who have organised the talks I’ve done and the members of Feast that I’ve spoken to. I also hope that I might be giving a bit of hope to people who are ill. I don’t think I can save the world and I don’t think eating disorders are entirely preventable – I think they would continue to exist even if our culture was entirely different and everyone had a good understanding of the signs, symptoms, causes and recovery. But I also think that myths contribute to stigma which can stop people from getting the help and support they need, and that can lead to them staying ill. So whilst I don’t think that the tragic-life-story-esque nature of some articles which tend to appear during EDA week is helpful at all, I do think that awareness and education can make a difference. And I very much WANT to make a difference if I possibly can, because eating disorders keep fucking up and occasionally killing people I care about.
The other reason is rather less noble and more of a grey area. After being crazy in various ways for so freaking long I have a ridiculous amount of knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. It is something that sets me apart from other people, something I’m good at, and something which makes me potentially valuable to society, and I can’t say that of anything else. I am also fairly good at drawing, poi and making cakes (!), but I don’t have the motivation, confidence or passion to make a career out of any of those things – I want to help people more. I feel like it would be a huge waste to never use the things I’ve learned over the years. I just want to put all those rather hellish years to good use, make something positive out of them. I’ve been trying to rebuild my life from scratch – relationships, career path, social life, all of it – and so anything helpful to those ends that I can salvage from the rubble is a big benefit. My knowledge and experience of mental health issues are examples of that.
This is where the accusations come in – that maybe people who go into ED activism or continue to blog and talk about their experiences are just doing it so they can hang on to the eating disorder, refuse to move on with their lives or revel in their past “sick” status/identity. Maybe that is the motivation for some people. I’m not in their heads, so I’m not about to go on the offensive and say that people who believe this are totally wrong. But if anyone who reads my blog thinks those things about me I am not interested in changing their minds, since they clearly can’t think a lot of me. I don’t want to hang on to my eating disorder – behaviourally it is not present in my life, and I am doing everything I can to move on from being ill for so long. I was never proud of being sick either, I was deeply ashamed of it for years, to the extent that it has only been in the last two years that I’ve been able to talk about my eating disorder to my family and friends. And I’m not someone who feels comfortable being at the centre of attention – anyone who has seen me shaking like a leaf before I get up and talk to people can testify to that. I hate confrontation and I hate disagreeing with people, it terrifies me. Most of my voluntary work so far has involved acting completely contrary to my personality. But my desire to help is stronger than my anxiety.
I believe in what I’m trying to do, and I think it’s right for me. That’s not to say that it would be right for everyone, but I’m confident that I’m making the right decisions.