First of all I apologise for using a Jessie J lyric to title my blog post. Second of all I am writing this as much for my own accountability as for all of you. Despite knowing that talking and opening up when you’re struggling is one of the most crucial components of recovery, this is still the thing I find incredibly hard to do. I have come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, from being the most private person in the world and keeping my eating disorder a secret that only I knew about to telling first my mum and then pretty much the whole of Lancashire. I know I have come a long way. I thought a lot about admitting I had an eating disorder, and a whole lot of thought processes ran round and round my head. Would my mum think it was her fault? (She did) Would my family feel guilty they’d missed the signs? (They were) Would my friends just think I was looking for attention? (I hope not …). So I first began my self-disclosure journey on social media. I would talk about it anonymously with other people who were going through it, and then after making my own account I would talk about it on there. I can’t even begin to explain how much this helped. It was so difficult to talk to the people around me about it yet by putting it in my own words and thinking about what I was writing, it was so much easier to talk about, and it actually helped me figure out a lot of things that were going on inside my head too. And the minute I started admitting it to other people, I accepted it for myself too, and realised it wasn’t something to be ashamed of; it is a part of my past and part of who I am, and it has shaped me into the person I am today.
But it still isn’t enough. Just because I am technically “recovered” doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle, because everybody does. So why don’t we talk about it? Why do we only show ourselves when we are happy rather than bawling our eyes out at 10pm on a Friday evening? I understand social media is not the place to rant about how your boyfriend broke up with you, but there seems to be a stigma attached to sadness. Imagine how uncomfortable someone would be if instead of answering the all too familiar “I’m fine” to the everyday question of “How are you?” we said how we were really feeling, and admitted we were actually really having a shit day.
As a culture we are obsessed with happiness, hence the thousands of self help books, podcasts, magazine articles all trying to teach us the art of happiness. However, constantly striving for happiness could actually be hindering us more than helping us, and could be having the complete opposite effect. A statement that really stuck with me from a social researcher called Hugh Mckay is that instead of striving for happiness, we should strive for wholeness – “part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much …” And it’s true. We learn from our struggles, our mistakes and our failures. And we should embrace these things just as much as our successes. Without getting caught up in semantics, I also think “content” and “joy” are other helpful words to live by, as unlike happiness which fluctuates due to external factors, if we are content with life and experience a sense of inner joy, then for me this constitutes a good life.
In my opinion, the guilt from feeling the feeling we are not supposed to be feeling is what keeps the feeling there (phewwwww – you get me?). So for example, in the past when I was recovering I have felt extreme guilt and an almost overwhelming sadness over eating certain things or overeating. This initiated the thought process of “I shouldn’t be feeling this guilt” which escalated into a bigger sense of guilt, which fuelled the negative thought processes even more. Now, if I feel guilty about something I name it, accept it and let it go. Sometimes it lingers but often it doesn’t. And this is the same with all emotions: if you feel sadness, anger, shame etc. – name the feeling, accept it, embrace it and often you can then let it go so much easier than if you try to avoid it, dodge it, pretend it doesn’t exist: in the end it all catches up to you and you can’t outsmart your own brain. This is so much easier to do when you can talk to people around you, people who won’t be uncomfortable with your sadness or negative feelings. I am lucky to have people like this around me, but I, like the majority of people, just need to utilise this support more.
So it’s okay to cry and be sad and be hurt and it’s okay to not quite know why you’re feeling this way. It’s okay to not want to face life every so often and hide under the covers for the whole day. It’s okay to admit you’re overwhelmed with everything, because if we think about it, this world and our lives are pretty overwhelming places to be 24/7. It’s okay to admit you need a break. And most importantly it’s okay not to be okay, and the sooner we admit this and talk about it with the people around us, the sooner we can get rid of the stigma attached to be anything but happy.