Personal story of an ED at work
When I was a teenager and working flat out to hide my eating disorder at school, it never occurred to me that one day I’d be skulking around in the workplace doing exactly the same thing, because I had fully intended to be magically recovered by then; recovered without actually doing anything to make it happen, obviously.
Not so much.
Across pretty much every job I’ve ever had, I’ve had to find a way to accommodate my gloriously dysfunctional relationship with food, and while this all sounds brilliantly light hearted, like something I simply had to fit into my diary, it’s actually been pretty horrific at times – and not without its awkward moments.
A week away on a residents holiday one year with the care home I was working in at the time ended up with being ‘found out’ by my then manager and having to answer some pretty tough questions once we got back. I did the classic collapsing-into-a-heap-of-snot-and-tears, profusely apologizing and trying to answer questions that were actually making me feel slightly uncomfortable. It was only later on I realised my eating disorder hadn’t actually made any difference to my performance at work that week… and so why was I apologising? And why did I feel I had to answer questions that felt intrusive and irrelevant? Other staff had used their breaks to smoke; I’d used mine to scavenge for food – and Butlins had been an utterly brilliant place for me in that regard. It was a problem for everyone except me, and although I can now acknowledge how ‘unwell’ I was, I still can’t quite grasp what the big deal was at the time. Had I neglected my duties to the residents in our care, or been physically incapable then it would’ve been easier to accept – but I didn’t and I wasn’t.
As I write this, I’m trying to figure out where the metaphorical line should be drawn between people having choice and a right to privacy, and employers being at liberty to ask questions or have grounds to monitor what’s going on, and I’m genuinely not sure what that should look like. If I employed someone, would I want to know? Probably, but that’s partly because of the line of work I’m in – some of the things I see and hear can be pretty challenging for the most robust of us at the best of times. Would I want that person to be seeking help and support? Of course, because I’m all about people finding freedom, but would I make it compulsory? No, because I know that’s usually pretty pointless, but I’d like to think we could operate on mutual trust and openness until the time for recovery feels right for them. But ask me these questions again tomorrow and I’ll probably have completely different answers, and I think that’s the point – this area is so big and grey that we don’t have any absolutes, and every situation has its own variables.
My hope for Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016 is that some of these issues will be given the attention they need, and the workplace needn’t be an enemy for those with an eating disorder. Now wouldn’t that be good?
@RachelWelch | @FreedomFromHarm