Oct. 15, 2015, 6:22 p.m.
I don’t think that one can ever be fully prepared for working in the field of eating disorder awareness and support. Having a strong background in mental health, addictions and crisis work, I thought that working as a placement student at NEDIC would be similar. However, nothing could have prepared me for the learning that was ahead. In particular, an invaluable lesson that I learned during my time with NEDIC is the importance of practicing self-care.
One Tuesday afternoon, I received a call on the Helpline from a young woman preoccupied with losing weight. She described some of her unhealthy behaviours. She also told me that she doesn’t like the way clothes fit her frame and how flowing tops and low-cut necklines make her feel insecure . She wished that she looked more like her smaller friends; more like a fashion model.
I went home that Tuesday night and I looked in the mirror. I thought of the girl I talked to on the phone that day and I remembered a time when I knew very little about body acceptance, Health At Every Size, or the concept of self-care. I remember the person I was at her age, and the negative perceptions I had of myself when I looked in the mirror.
That girl on the helpline could have easily been me.
Concerns that are shared through the helpline vary from caller-to-caller and surprisingly, they are not always about weight or body image. However, they are almost always a request for help. There is still much to be learned about food-related mental health concerns, why or how people recover, and how to effectively provide support to individuals who are suffering. However, one of the greatest learning points I experienced this year was that everyone’s experience is unique and equally valid. Living in a culture that cultivates impossible standards of beauty almost guarantees some form of body image disturbance. This work can undoubtedly be triggering for anyone who has ever struggled with their own body image. The staff, students and volunteers at NEDIC are no stranger to this.
Looking in the mirror I see many imperfections. I see imperfect legs that run, hike, dance and bring me so much joy. I see imperfect arms that lovingly embrace my friends and family. I see imperfect lips that kiss my partner and sing my favourite songs. I see strength and resilience. I see how far I have come. Self-care looks different for everyone. For me, staying centred while doing this work requires significant time for thoughtful reflection. It also requires that I take time to move, to cook, to read, to be outdoors, and to laugh with others.
A common thread that runs though everyone involved with NEDIC is a passion for this work and a commitment to the people who use our services. Another aspect of self-care is utilizing the supports available to you. Luckily for me, the staff, students and volunteers at NEDIC are a highly supportive team, which helped me reach my learning goals and protected me from emotional harm. Thank you NEDIC!
Jenn recently completed a Social Work practicum at NEDIC, where she was involved in both Direct Client Support and Outreach and Education. Jenn remains passionate about holistic approaches to Health and Every Size and body positivism. She is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Social Work at the University of British Columbia.