It’s been a few months now since Paper Thin was released on Amazon. So far I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and heard some incredible accounts of people’s own recovery stories. However, by far the most common response I’ve heard from family and friends is this—“I didn’t know.” I saw you at school, at church, at family get-togethers, but I had no idea the battle you were going through.
I don’t think this is anyone’s fault. Eating disorders, or really mental illnesses in general, are strange and often misunderstood. For this reason I don’t think that my parents ever felt very comfortable talking about it to people outside of our immediate family. We were still able to fight through it though because I had them and they had each other. Even when I denied there was a problem my mom and dad stood together as partners to fight for me.
The unfortunate truth is that not everyone has the support system that I did. And in these cases, “not knowing” can be the difference between someone having the support they need to walk the difficult path of recovery or feeling isolated and embarrassed about what they are going through. It can be the difference between acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place or denying it even exists.
Like I said, I’m not trying to place blame on anyone. I think that we live in a culture where most people are uncomfortable talking about mental illness. But I also think that needs to change, and the only way to change a culture is to start with the individuals in it. Let’s begin with ourselves. If you knew someone whose child had a medical condition would you be hesitant to ask them about it? Probably not. So let’s start treating mental illness like any other illness.
If you know someone struggling with mental illness or someone walking with a loved one through that struggle, don’t be afraid to ask them how they are doing or if there is anything you can do to support them. If it’s something you don’t know much about, you don’t need to offer advice. Just listen. Be there for them. And if you yourself are struggling with mental illness, don’t be afraid to reach out for the support you need. Be honest about what you are going through. And if you have walked or are currently walking the path of recovery, don’t be afraid to share your story. You never know who might be impacted by it.