Open letter: eating disorders in work
It’s not easy to keep your eating disorder out of the workplace, is it? You start with the best intentions – planning lunch carefully, being meticulous about coping when someone has a birthday and you’re suddenly surrounded by cake; having a cast iron strategy for dealing with post-work drinks and meals, and navigating leaving parties like a pro… but slowly the small cracks appear.
At first it’s easy to patch up the slips; everyone has a careless day and it’s hardly like anyone would notice. But cracks have a habit of growing, and before you know it your eating disorder is as hard to cope with at work as an untrained puppy would be – and suddenly no part of your life is unaffected by it. The difference, of course, is that an untrained puppy is still quite cute, even when it’s being naughty, but an eating disorder…. who’s going to find that cute?
Must try harder.
The resolve you make to fix it all collapses as quickly as you come up with it, because once you’ve allowed the eating disorder to infiltrate an area of your life it takes root, like a stubborn tenant refusing to be evicted, and everything else has to fit in around IT. The covering up begins, the stealth, the little tricks that others can’t see behind, and before you know it, your eating disorder is as part of your working day as anything listed on your job description has ever been.
Because if the people you work with find out that’s all they’ll see, right? Not how great you are at your job or what you bring to your role, but your relationship with food. And they’ll want you to recover, and they’ll ask questions and make comments and worst of all: they might watch you when you eat. The risk is too great.
And that’s what breaks my heart.
I’m not going to pretend that every organisation, every employer and every line manager is going to know how to support you, and many will get it SPECTACULARLY wrong, but this stalemate can’t continue. Unless we can find ways of communicating the needs of those struggling with an eating disorder at work, and talk about what could help make the workplace an environment that encourages recovery, they’ll never have reason to improve how they look after their staff or understand how to help. This isn’t about taking your problems to work – this is about recognising that if your eating disorder is impacting every area of your life, then every area of your life needs to be able to start working together – any chinks in that armour and the whole thing’s at risk of collapse, because one chink is all it takes to shatter even the biggest dam.
At the end of this Eating Disorder Awareness Week I want to encourage you to consider what you could do to help your place of work become an environment that understands the needs of employees with eating disorders. How do we make it ok to be human, and real about the things we face – but not be defined by one aspect of who we really are? How do we make it possible to go to work – and perform well – because we belong to an organisation that genuinely cares for its staff? This can’t be a conversation that comes to an end just because this campaign is drawing to a close.
Let’s keep talking.
@FreedomFromHarm | @RachelWelch