You Matter Too: Overcoming Problem Shaming

destructive_thoughts_by_coweetie-d5qffeg

“Destructive Thoughts” by coweetie

For me, and for all other Americans, this has been a pretty rough week. Start with the bombing of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, speed through a wave of xenophobic finger-pointing and misinformation about potential suspects, add a catastrophic explosion killing at least fourteen in West, Texas, and then culminate in Friday’s shootout-slash-car-chase-slash-manhunt-slash-media-circus around the apprehension of the bombing suspect, and it’s no wonder that suddenly I’m lost in a glass case of confusing emotions right now.

And as if this all wasn’t enough, exams and final papers are coming up for me right now, my weight still refuses to stabilize, and I have an appointment with a nutritionist in four days.

If those two paragraphs sounded like problems that really shouldn’t be mentioned in the same blog post, then welcome to the conflicted world of what I like to call Problem Shaming.

I don’t know if there’s a technical name for Problem Shaming, but here’s the basic three-step overview:

  • Something bad happens to you.
  • Your problem is thrust into comparison with another problem on a more widespread scale.
  • You feel selfish, petty, and terrible about yourself.

you-are-bad-and-you-should-feel-bad2Yes, friends, Problem Shaming is essentially a glorified way of describing feeling bad about yourself for feeling bad about yourself. If there’s a less productive cycle in the world, I’ve yet to find it.

In my case, I’ve had nothing but horrific experiences with nutritionists in the past. I wasn’t particularly keen on going back for another go-round in the Nutritionist Torment Spin Cycle, but both my parents and my GP were behind me on this one, she came highly recommended, and she was very kind to me when I expressed my concerns over email. So although I’m still asking myself at least once a day what on Earth I’ve gotten myself into, there’s still a glimmer of hope there.

And then this week happened, and I’m left feeling scared, threatened, disgusted, unnerved, and, above all, ridiculous.

What am I doing wasting valuable energy worrying about my weight when people across the country are losing their lives or gravely injured?

How selfish can I possibly be?

Don’t you realize that no one cares about your petty self-centered little problems?

Why don’t you just get over yourself and accept that no one gives a damn how fat you’ve gotten, because there are more important things in the world than your feelings?

bad_thoughts_by_nekolizI put these thoughts in italics because this isn’t me thinking. This is my eating disorder talking.

This is the same voice that tells me that I don’t deserve to eat, and I don’t deserve to relax and take a day off of exercise.

This is the same voice that reminds me constantly that I am worthless and that no one is interested in my problems.

This voice is wrong.

Whether in this specific instance or in any issues that arise in your daily lives, we are entitled to our feelings. We are allowed to feel sad, scared, and frustrated when things beyond our control happen in our daily lives, regardless of how small or insignificant they may seem to others. In fact, it would be a more serious problem if we refused to register any emotions about our lives. What kind of existence lives on emotional level zero every second of every day? Our ability to feel makes us human, whether those emotions are positive or negative.

Problem Shaming crops up an unsettling amount of the time around eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are written off as “First World Problems,” a pseudo-disease given to rich young suburban white girls with nothing better to do than look at themselves in the mirror and complain about “oh my God I’m soooo fat right now.” A legitimate mental illness is treated as a personality flaw and a selfish problem constructed for attention, and those dealing with this problem aren’t able to get the help they need.

But eating disorders are serious problems, just as any other problem going on in the world right now, on any level, is serious. Anorexia nervosa has a 20% fatality rate, the highest of any mental illness. I dare you to tell me that’s not serious.

Sometimes I don’t want to be in touch with my emotions. Last night, watching the news and texting a friend, I sent the following message:

I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. I just want to escape to a magical world without any other people, only cats wearing amusing hats.

No seriously, please?

No seriously, please?

And while I think this would give me a lot less emotional torment in the long run, we can’t hide from our emotions or our reactions, either to things in the outside world or in our own personal lives. And neither set of emotions is more valuable than the other.

You are worth taking care of, and your problems are worth thinking about. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t ever forget that you matter.

6 comments

  1. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this additionally taking time and actual effort to make a very good article but what can I say I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to get something done.

  2. I hear you about comparing our seemingly less significant problems to bigger scale ones. I’ve had the same kind of week. Hoping your nutritionist appt goes well, and things settle down for you.

  3. A close friend of mine went through horrible experiences in her teen years. Abuse from her family, which resulted in pregnancy and then miscarriage, her mother’s mental illness which led to suicide, and a lot more… So we used to feel really crappy complaining about our normal teenage angst! But she always said that it didn’t matter what the problem was, it’s how it makes you feel. If the feelings are strong then the damage is the same, no matter what the catalyst was to start off with.

    I often feel that I’ve no right to complain, and I like to keep an Appreciation Journal for times when I need reminding how blessed I am and to re-focus on the positive.But I try to remember that my feelings are still important and need looking after, because they can build to be powerful and destructive to me and everyone around me.

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