You Would Never Guess
When I was younger, especially in middle school and high school, I struggled with anorexia. I was very thin and very sick. I didn’t know how to help myself let alone did I necessarily want the help in the first place. I felt lost and confused. I didn’t know why I was so weird and why I could not get a grip on my disorder. For years, I hid it very well. In fact, so well that I tricked myself into believing I didn’t have an eating disorder. I got so good at denying it and hiding it and feeling ashamed of it that I was capable of brainwashing myself into believing that I was totally fine, but I was not totally fine. I was not even sort of fine. I was miserable. But, I was incredible at one thing. Hiding it.
I remember when I started really accepting who I was and what I was struggling with during my years of college. I would talk about it openly and honestly. My hope was always that it would help others recover or feel less alone in their own battles and struggles. However, I found that it was actually more therapeutic to myself and my own situation. I refused to run away or to shun my thoughts and feelings into a corner anymore. It hadn’t gotten me far up until that point, so I assumed that continuing to ignore my problems would continue to get me not much further. I was happier. I felt like I was being my authentic self and there is nothing that people love more than authenticity because it makes you seem normal. We all have these masks that no one struggles and everything is crystal clear perfection, blah, blah, blah, but in reality, we all have flaws, imperfections, and problems and ignoring them only makes them stronger.
I have written and spoken a great deal on eating disorders both here on my blog and in my real life, however, one lesson that I think is subject to all walks of life, people of all ages and nationalities, and is a key contributor to a happier and healthier world is this…. People never would have guessed it.
I remember the first time someone said that to me. I was a sophomore in college and that summer was my first summer being a Student Aide for my University. At Bradley, Student Aides are Orientation leaders for the entire summer. We help acclimate the incoming freshmen class into the University. We are their mentors for a few short days over their summer breaks. We also help to support them. That was my favorite part of the job. As Student Aides, we were more like older brothers and sisters. I remember the first night we shared our ‘stories’ with the session one group. ‘Sharing our stories’ meant that all of the Student Aides became very vulnerable and honest for a short hour session. We each shared something personal about ourselves whether it be an insecurity we hid, an elating story, a loss in our family, or a mental health issue, we became ‘not perfect’ to the freshmen class and it helped them see us for what we really were… normal people.
It was my turn to share my story that night. I felt my palms sweating, my heart racing, and my breath becoming shorter and shorter with each passing second. I was excited to share my struggles, but also ungodly nervous. Here we go. I stood up and in front of about 100 freshmen eyes, I shared a short snippet of the person I was and will always be: someone who really struggles with her relationship to food. I shared where I had come from and how I was now. I shared how it had all began and my hope for what they could take away from it. And then I sat down. I had done my job, never had a second thought about it, until the session ended.
We all filed out of the auditorium-sized room and continued with the night’s planned agenda. The other Student Aides had heard my story many times before, so I was not unsettled by sharing it with them. I felt a little shaky walking around the freshmen more so for their own comfortability level rather than my own. I didn’t want them to think they had to be careful around me or that I was ‘hurting.’ Speaking out about my ‘hurting’ was the most healing thing I ever did.
I remember some of my students coming up to me throughout that evening and saying things like, “I never would have guessed,” or “I cannot believe you went through all of that,” or my personal favorite, “You just seem so happy.” Now, all of these things were said in 100% of kindness and compassion. They were expressing their disbelief that someone who ‘seemed so happy’ could be so unhappy on the inside.
That’s my point baby.
We have no idea what is going on in someone else’s head. We don’t know their struggles, fears, insecurities, or flaws. We have no idea the weights they bare or the stresses that keep them up at night. We don’t know anything. Therefore, we should treat other people like we cannot see everything.
“I never would have guessed it.”
People never would have guessed I had an eating disorder. People never would have guessed I was struggling on the inside while smiling on the outside. People never would have guessed, but I always wondered… would they have treated me or others differently had they known?
Now, I am VERY blessed to say I have never in my life been bullied. I have never been treated poorly by any of my friends or family. However, there were times when I was not doing my best and people, who ‘never would have guessed it,’ treated me with not as much understanding as I deserved or needed.
For example, I remember being in high school on multiple occasions, my friends would ask me to go out to dinner. Sometimes I would go. Sometimes I would eat, but sometimes I would cancel. My anxiety was too high or I felt too lost or I just could not stomach the thought of going out to eat. I know all of this sounds sad, but I am not telling you these stories to make you feel sad, I am telling them to make us all more aware.
Whenever I would cancel on dinner plans, I would sometimes be ridiculed for ‘never hanging out’ or for ‘always being flaky.’ Did my friends mean harm? Absolutely not! But, did it cause me some harm? Yes.
You never know what other people are going through.
We only know how we can react to others and how we can and will treat them regardless of having every page to the book.
People never would have guessed I had an eating disorder. I would have never guessed the barista at my favorite coffee place has depression. I would never have thought that my friend's friend had come from a broken home.
I never would have guessed, so I should treat everyone like I know nothing. Because I do. Because they could really be hurting. They could really be stressing. They could really just need an understanding soul who knows nothing but still treats them with the highest level of compassion, love, empathy, and support as if they knew everything.