Sometimes — okay, most days — okay, always — I have a sense of embarrassment and even guilt over my eating disorder. I can sit in therapy and discover so many things that combined, grew, multiplied until I found myself eye-deep in my mental illness. But really, nothing has been so bad, so hard about my life.
Oh sure, my parents divorced. Just like 80% of the people around me.
Okay, a loved one experienced a traumatic illness when I was a kid — tough on us, but so, so (unimaginably so) much more difficult on him, yeah?
True, I’ve been teased by other girls — and guys — in elementary and high school. But compared to the girl or boy who was mercilessly bullied? Or essentially friendless? My “experience” seems hardly worth mentioning. I had intimate friendships for the majority of my childhood but as a sensitive kid, even the slightest cloaked insult was emotionally crippling.
I had the World’s Best and Most Loving Mom. Two great older siblings to teach me how to fight but also how to love. A Dad who maybe wasn’t quite so present when I was young but who went all in with parenting once my he and my Mom split up (Think: hours of playing double-dutch with my sister and I, 1:1 father-daughter camping trips (a tradition we’ve continued to this year, ages 25 and 59), ball tossing, lunch packing)…
As a family, we weren’t well off — but we had everything we needed. I spent my teen years on life-changing wilderness trips that forged incredible friendships. I played summer sports and later, club volleyball — not something which every family could afford. I had boyfriends who told me that they loved me. I had top grades and my pick of University programs.
I was hired to work for the organization that had changed my life and spent 6 years working at my dream summer job. At school, I got into the Major of my choice and graduated from my University with honours and distinction. Again, I had my choice of Master degree programs, each with enticing funding offers.
But somewhere, somehow, I developed an eating disorder. I spiralled — hard — and I nearly killed myself through abuse and neglect. I experienced a big, dramatic illness (both mentally and physically)…because, of what? My loving parents weren’t quite loving enough? Because away at school I discovered that I wasn’t “the smartest,” but closer to average afterall?
And so, I judge myself. What was so damn hard in my life, that I would react in this way? And I feel embarrassed. Whiny. Who am I to sit in therapy, or use up mental health resources when all I have ever known is privilege? Recently, I asked this of my dad — what is so difficult about my life that I should complain of being so depressed and mentally unwell? And he told me: you had an eating disorder. That is so huge. That was — is — so incredibly hard and destructive.
Okay, sure. But what the fuck gave me the right to have that disorder in the first place?
…I am tempted to end this post here. Those feelings of embarrassment and guilt are still strong. I still judge myself as weak, selfish, ridiculous…dramatic? But I am attempting to change that story (one of many). And for those of you who, perhaps, relate to this, I am going to offer up what my Dad said next:
Mental illness knows no privilege.
For my own benefit, I am going to write that again:
Mental illness knows no privilege.
…And so maybe someone else has experienced more obstacles than I. Experienced war, famine, prejudice, hate, loss, such that I can hardly imagine. And maybe that someone else still finds it easier to put one foot in front of the other each day. Maybe, that makes me weaker than them. But if there is one thing I am learning (over and over and over again until one day it will stick), it is not to compare. There is nothing constructive for me in comparison.
And so, I am ready to “own” my story. This has been my experience — unique to me. It is what it is. And I am who I am. My illness does nothing to detract from another’s experience. It is not a commentary on another’s suffering — and neither does anyone else’s say anything about mine. I am done invalidating my own story. It is what it is. I am who I am.
And mental illness knows no privilege.