And while that may seem like the most snobbish comment you may have read today, I’ll bet there will be quite a number of you reading this who share or did share a similar view. This is exactly why mental health is a topic that is so difficult to bring to the surface. It is actually quite sad when you really think about it, you sprain or damage any other bone or muscle in your body and no one blinks an eyelid yet, when something begins to hurt in your mind, the most powerful muscle and whoooahh nope, no go zone!
I, like many people, stereotyped mental illness to a type of person (no idea which type, just not me) or as a reaction to an extremely significant and devastating event in a person’s life. Mind you, before my own experience I had never actually known someone (I probably did, but was never made aware of their condition) who had a mental illness and only had the good old dramatized tv shows to shape my view. It was this which allowed me to unconsciously give myself some form of immunity to ever having to deal with any form of mental illness and that is perhaps why I, along with my family were so shocked and confused when the reality of the situation set in.
In my defence however, I feel as though I had reasonable grounds to make this assumption. I couldn’t fault anything in my life, to me it was perfect. I was the first-born child for my parents and from the minute I entered the world they have always been the best parents I could ask for. Being so young and in such a loving relationship the pair of them passed all on their energy, young spirit and love to me. Never have I ever felt the grass would be greener on the other side, I wouldn’t change my parents for the world. We lived on our family farm just outside of a small country town. Wide open spaces, fresh country air, it is heaven. Then came my younger siblings, a sister followed by a brother, once again I won the lottery in that department. Living on a farm we didn’t really see friends on weekends or after school so we were each other’s play mates and that created quite a special bond. To this day I consider my brother and sister to be friends as equally as they are my siblings. As far as health is concerned, my family has never had too many hiccups that I can recall, once again…extremely lucky. Being a country person, sport was a pastime that was thoroughly enjoyed, I was and still am a very active person. In terms of food, I loved it! Definitely wasn’t the healthiest eater going around…actually quite fussy, but my appetite for the things I did enjoy was one to be reckoned with. So, to sum that all up I was surrounded by love, fun, security, trust, fitness and had a great appetite, have I painted the picture well enough for you? Moral of the story, I was a happy little girl in my happy little world, nowhere near being at risk of being the ‘type’ so I thought.
Well, knowing what I know now…I was about as picture perfect as the ‘type at risk’ of an eating disorder gets, and you’ll be surprised to know a lot of people you know are as well. Common (not all) characteristics of people at risk (and I must emphasize the ‘at risk’ part, just like a sporty person would be more ‘at risk’ of rolling their ankle than someone who plays videogames all day long) are people who are:
· Eager to please
· Good students
· People pleasers who seek approval and avoid conflict
· Tend to take care of other people
· Less tolerant of change
If you knew me growing up I don’t need to tell you that I ticked every single box. I find this almost calming to reflect on because it reminds me that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me. These ‘at risk’ characteristics are so extremely common and respected and unfortunately it just took the right trigger to set things off. Many people will have these characteristics and the trigger will not present itself to them, they will be fine. But for those where it does, there was nothing you or your family for that matter could have done to predict or in many cases prevent your reaction from happening.
So, how did it happen? Well unfortunately for you …. it’s not very dramatic! All it can be pinpointed back to was when I moved to boarding school. Yep, that’s it, simply moving from home. That’s perhaps the scariest thing about mental disorders, no matter how common the supposed trigger is, we all react differently to situations and it is respecting that which is above all else what we all must learn and appreciate.
Boarding school is a very common option for people who live in the country. Some country towns have quite small schools so the move to a city school provides students with more subject options. Others parents tend to use boarding school as a way of allowing their children to experience a different way of life. The boarding school option was more the latter for us. Mum and Dad placed our names on a waiting list for a school in Adelaide whilst we were still in primary school and made it known that the option was there should we ever wish to go. The choice was completely ours.
Being the eldest I was obviously making that choice first. My parents were probably a little shocked that I actually did go through with it, tapping into the low tolerance for change characteristic that I had. I’ve always been a homebody, I love the farm; I love being home and just thrive on country air. My friendship group was incredibly fun and academic, I thoroughly enjoyed playing sport for the local club, why would I want to leave? But the low tolerance I had for change wasn’t really a factor in this decision, I carefully weighed up my options and just kept seeing this opportunity as one that I really wanted to take.
Nothing weird, crazy, extreme at all, just an ordinary girl in an ordinary life with an ordinary trigger and that is exactly my point, it happens and can happen to anyone and everyone. Some people are more at risk, some triggers are more extreme, but the end result is the same and it is that end result of the eating disorder which needs to be the focus. Not the stereotyping, not the fear of feeling its associated with weakness or deficiency but the fact that just like a bruised rib or broken ankle, you or your loved one just have a part of themselves that needs a little bit of extra attention and support.
Have a lovely day x