My boy, Chris, has just started school. I queue up with all the other parents in the afternoon, eager to see their little faces emerge, all excited from the days events (although when asked, they say they did nothing). The parents are also eager to talk to one another. My boy has made best friends with a little boy called Albie. I talk with his mother, who is new to the area and doesn’t really know anybody. She seems like a lovely lady which shows through her little boy. I asked if I could take her boy out to the Zoo one day with my Chris for his birthday. She was happy to accept.
This lady is trusting her precious boy with a stranger. I know that I would take very good care of Albie and I’m sure that he and Chris will have a fantastic day out. Although part of me is slightly flattered that this lady is so quick to trust me, another part of me finds it slightly unsettling and I couldn’t figure out why until this week.
While in work yesterday I started to experience chest pains. I was sick, I was cold and sweaty, my heart rate was irregular and pounding. I was taken off in an Ambulance to hospital where I spent the rest of the day. I was told it was not heart related and that I probably had too much coffee. I had half a cup that morning and nothing since and I was still in pain this morning. So I went to see my GP. “It could be gastric” she said. I agreed, I had a problem with reflux a few years ago. I said that over the past couple of months I had been a little off my food and feeling sick.
“Yes, I see that you’ve had a problem with eating before.”
For a few seconds I didn’t know what she meant. And then it dawned on me. She was talking about my binge eating. I suddenly felt ashamed. Somehow everything that happened in the last 24 hours was my fault, I was wasting people’s time, I had wasted an emergency ambulance that somebody else more deserving could have used, I shouldn’t even be sitting here in this surgery.
“Yes, I have. But I’ve doing really well this year, I’ve had counselling, I’ve only binged a handful of times”. I spluttered, trying to justify myself.
“That’s great” she beamed. “Glad to hear it, although I don’t think that’s related to what’s happened yesterday”.
I was almost disappointed and I can’t put my finger on why my Binge Eating was not related. Maybe I wanted more penance. But more disturbing was that she was asking me all sorts of questions about what happened yesterday, like a stranger and then all of a sudden she reveals part of me that I share with so few people. She could probably see all sorts of things about me on that computer screen: my previous anxiety disorder, my depression, my reports of other pain. I suddenly felt so naked and exposed. I realised that even long after I recover from my eating disorder (which will happen) my mental health label will always be stuck to me with super sticky glue.
I think back to the playground and the parents all eagerly waiting for their children. Maybe all the other parents feel the same as me – inadequate, not as good as all the other parents. Maybe that is the reason why Albie’s mother was so happy for me to trust her with her child. How would she feel if she knew I had a history of anxiety or eating disorders? Or that sometimes I forget to pull the washing out of my machine and have to run it a second time so they don’t smell? Or that my kitchen floor could really do with a good mop. Or that I failed my first year in uni because I was too busy getting drunk and had to resit it.
Our life events help to mould our character, but they do not define it. Don’t worry about the super sticky labels in your file, they only serve as a reminder for what we have achieved, not what we are now. And if you’re not perfect now? So what? Who is?