I’ve always felt different from the rest of my family – the so-called “black sheep” – not just because of my mental illness but also my intense personality. I’m passionate and ambitious – obsessive even. I’ve always stuck out and I’m hard to relate to.
While I long for acceptance, it would also kill me to be considered “normal”.
The things that make me crazy also make me a writer.
I’ve been feeling really misunderstood lately. I recently realized that after two decades of recovery, two rounds at treatment centers, and hundreds of conversations around the kitchen table, my family actually knows very little about eating disorders.
I’m hurt – and confused. How is this even possible?
I’ve always been an open book. I have freely shared my story with all of my loved ones, but now I don’t feel as comfortable.
On the one hand, do I continue to share hoping one day they will understand, or on the other hand, do I keep quiet to spare myself heartache and judgment? Which has my recovery’s best interest in mind?
I should add, that my husband is the exception. He always knows what to say and do, and I really don’t know how he does it. He is the one keeping me grounded while still allowing me to live my dreams. I would be very lost and very lonely without him.
This latest round of treatment was very intense – maybe even a little traumatic – and since discharge, my emotions have been an absolute rollercoaster ride.
If you have advice, I’m open to it, but really putting my words out into the universe is therapeutic in itself.
I’m different, and most of the time I’m okay with that, but who doesn’t want acceptance from their loved ones?
John Morales says
Acceptance and understanding are different things; it is possible to accept without understanding and to understand without accepting. And yes, I know acceptance is positively correlated with understanding; as the proverb has it, “To know all is to forgive all”. Not literally true, but a slogan for a good heuristic.
You write about not being understood, about your circumstances not being understood by your family, but not about not being accepted.
I find it a bit confusing when you conflate those two things.
Thank you for your comment. You are very right and in my life, I feel I accept things without understanding them all the time.
I am definitely in search of both. As the black sheep, I want acceptance and as a person in recovery, I want understanding. I feel it’s the lack of understanding that has prevented my family from accepting me.
You may have given me an idea…maybe I need to elaborate on acceptance in another post.
It’s gut-wrenching to feel like the people you know best–the ones you’ve been around your whole life–don’t “get” you–even though you’ve told them. I had that relationship with my mother (who is gone now) and yeah, not gonna lie, it sucks. At one point, my mother said to me, “You always say X” and later my husband whispered in my ear, “You have never in your life said X”. It’s like they don’t care enough to actually know who you are.
This is THEIR loss. You have a wonderful husband and a child who loves you. Focus on them.
Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry you had trouble with your mother.
You are very right about my husband and daughter. I am so lucky to have them.
I’m also the black sheep of my family. I’m third of four with three sisters, I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and I don’t think my parents knew what to make or do with me. My family is very religious, but I’ve always been into science and sometimes even philosophy (gasp!), but they never challenged anything I told them I read, like evolution. They rarely talked about any specific beliefs they have with me, even though I know they have them. Whenever we went to a smallish new church, my parents would have the pastor over to discuss what the church believed. After sending us kids away. I figured this was just how they decided to parent, but I found out later they were talking to my sisters about some of these things, so, I don’t know what to make of it. Was I just a lost cause to them?
I’m not the only one to deal with mental issues among my siblings. My fellow middle sibling has depression and anxiety, and she was actually the first one to seek treatment. My family, disappointingly but not surprisingly, weren’t super supportive (“How can she be depressed, she has Jesus,” said the youngest ignorantly), but she has persevered and is doing better. I’ve finally been doing therapy for my anxiety (which has gone quite well, thankfully) and I have tried to be very vocal and open about it. My family has started to realize the importance of mental health, probably since my mom’s mom died and they’ve had to deal with bad things happening to good people for the first time. So they have been supportive of me, as much as they ever have been at least, but… I have noticed there is worry and fear when I talk about my anxiety. I think they are afraid that things they did growing up is why me and my sister are the way we are. So that’s been a bit strange to navigate, but I’m not all that interested in digging up the past (I’ve lived there for too long already), so I talk about what I’m doing to deal with my issues.
I guess I don’t have any great advice. I’d say if you want to keep sharing with your family, do it. Some things might start to actually stick on their brains, even if it isn’t obvious. Or, if something happens, they might be primed to react better than they otherwise would (if that makes any sense). You aren’t alone in feeling this way about your family. My wife has been dealing with eating and weight issues for as long as I’ve known her, which has been since we were teens. Your blog has been helpful, especially as of lately, to me. Sometimes I feel useless and hopeless because I don’t know what to do to help, and reading your perspective has let me see the other side better.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can definitely relate to some of the things you wrote and connecting with others in that way is powerful.
I am so happy that you’ve found my blog helpful. That really means the world to me. Thank you for reading.
I don’t understand eating disorders. Maybe I never will. Similarly, I don’t understand trans people. How can someone be so uncomfortable in their own skin that they feel compelled to go to such trouble to change themselves? I used to feel a real sense of revulsion whenever I saw trans women in particular. But gradually, I learned to turn the question around. Trans people DO go through a lot. They have to buy a second wardrobe, which is expensive. Many of them go through all kinds of medical procedures which are expensive, time-consuming and often painful. And they put their very lives at risk every time they go out in public. There must be a very compelling reason they do these things. I will never understand that reason viscerally myself, and even intellectually I have only a vague and amorphous concept of what drives them, but I do see that it must be a really big deal to them.
As far as your own situation with your family, maybe rather than get them to try to accept your eating disorder you could get them to accept that eating disorders are real things out there in the world, and that they are a really big deal to the people who have them. Maybe I am being Captain Obvious here, and you went through all this a million times already with them, but if not, then maybe getting your family able to decouple the concept of eating disorders from your particular situation might let them approach it with less emotion and more calm contemplation. If they could start out by just reading a magazine article or a short scientifically oriented piece on the internet, then maybe later they could tackle a whole book or two on the subject, and later still they could start to integrate that knowlege with some of your personal experience.
I think that’s a really good idea. They are always hearing about eating disorders from me but maybe they need to hear it from someone else. I actually have a book I want to recommend to them.
Thank you for your comment!