I have a very, very wise friend. He is so wise, in fact, that sometimes I wonder if he is actually an 80 year old man inhabiting the body of an 18-year-old. But don’t let your imagination get the better of you! He’s not some sort of weird man-child, ok? He looks quite like any other 18 year old and has absolutely no grey hairs, as far as I’m aware…
Now that we’ve established that I do actually have quite normal friends (surprising, I know), I’d like to share some of his most insightful gems; some of the things that have helped me greatly in my struggles. I’m constantly amazed by how understanding and positive he can be, despite having little experience with the sort of things I struggle with. He’s the type of person that makes you feel like you might actually be worth a buck or two (or maybe three!), no matter who you are. So, without further ado, I present the wisdom of one of my closest friends. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.
1. People have trouble acknowledging and accepting mental disorders because, often, they cannot “see” them.
Think about a person with a broken leg. You don’t doubt that their leg is actually broken – or at least hurt in some way – because you can physically see that something is wrong. Crutches, bandages, a wonky limp? They’re all signs that, yes, that person did fall off a motor bike/tumble down the stairs/stack it on the foot path and yes, bones were broken. So why do some people have so much trouble understanding, acknowledging, accepting and compensating for those with a mental illness? Well, it’s often because they can’t see that anything is actually wrong; they can’t see the problem right there in front of them. In terms of eating disorders, I know that this is particularly hard, for people at both ends of the spectrum. Imagine for a minute that you are faced with a meal that causes you such extreme discomfort that you’re very being seems overcome with anxiety. You can’t rationalise why this is the case (or maybe you can and that’s the problem), but something inside of you tells you that the meal is inherently bad and should be avoided at all costs. Let the inner turmoil begin! Despite your panic, perhaps you hide your fear quite well, particularly if you’re surrounded by people who are oblivious to your struggles. For the people that do know, however, trying to fathom what’s going would surely be an incredible challenge. As a result, they may wonder if anything is really going on at all. The common response to my own fears was “You just have to eat it. It’s easy”. But would you tell a person with a broken leg to “just walk” because “it’s easy”? I’ve never had broken a leg, but I expect that any kind of leg-related movement would be relatively hard considering the fact that your bone/s are quite mangled. Just like a broken leg, mental illness impacts your quality of life. Just like a broken leg, mental illness is painful and draining, and quite frankly, a pain in the butt. I thought this was an amazing way of understanding the way that people struggle to acknowledge and understand mental illness. And just as importantly, it helps people with mental illnesses to be more understanding towards those who don’t understand!
“Just eat it” becomes “What scares you about this meal/food and how can I help you to overcome it?”
“Stop being so anxious over nothing” becomes “There is obviously some underlying cause for your anxiety. Let’s talk it out.”
“You don’t believe that I struggle with depression/an eating disorder/anxiety!” becomes “I know it must be hard for you to understand what’s going on in my mind, but I’m grateful that you’re trying. It might be more helpful for you to read about it (give them some good resources!)”
2. Trying to achieve your ideal body is like pouring water into a broken jar and expecting it to fill up.
Are you happy with your body now? Were you happy with it when you started to eat differently? Have you ever been completely satisfied and content in your body? If you answered yes, then that’s great, truly it is! But if your answer was no, which I assume is the truth for the majority of us, then this one is for you. I’ve never been content with my body. There have been moments (even days!) of glorious indifference. There have been times when I’ve looked back at a photo and thought “Why on earth was I so self-conscious? Why did I put myself down so much?” and there have been times when similar photos have only confirmed my dissatisfaction. I used to think to myself that if I could just have the body of Miranda Kerr then I would be happy. Life would probably be pretty good, right? I may never have achieved that exact look, but I certainly lost a lot of weight, all in the name of becoming healthy. Was I content with my body then? No, and not only that, but my healthy relationship with food went out the window too. Ultimately, the unattainable standards that we set for ourselves – that “ideal” body that we have in mind – will never be enough. We will always desire something “better”. So the idea that we’ll be happy when we reach a certain weight/dress size/appearance is flawed. It’s like filling up a broken jar with water – it doesn’t matter what height you get to, the water will always trickle away, and what’s left after all that effort? An empty jar. So where does that leave us? Personally, I know that I need to start looking for something real, something substantial to fill me up. For me, that’s God – and He truly satisfies! He tells me that I have been fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). He tells me not to worry about my body, or what I will eat or wear (Matthew 6: 25). He loves me with a love that I cannot possibly comprehend, regardless of my appearance. My God looks at the heart! (1 Samuel 16:7)
Well, that post turned out ten times longer than expected! I hope it’s been helpful to you, but I can’t lay claim to the wisdom that comes out of these words. So a heartfelt thank you goes to my dear friend – I hope you know that your words have brought comfort beyond measure. And thanks for always asking: “Are you ok?”