Families, mental illnesses and body shaming

Content Note: conflictual families; body shaming; mental health; eating disorder; trauma; abuse

With the Easter holiday looming around the corner, a lot of us may deal with anxiety at the idea of spending time with our so-called loved ones.

Today, I am addressing the specific intersection of mental illness and body issues. You may relate to some of it, or even none of it. We all have our own ways of dealing with our bodies and mental health. Be mindful that every family has their own dynamic and that I can’t humanly address all of them.

For some, families can be very triggering for those struggling with their own unruly bodies and/or mental health through comments, remarks, unsollicitated advices or an underlying discourse/tension, only to name a few.

Intergenerational traumas and social expectations can lead to a prominent diet culture and talk. It can also lead to shaming of different, disabled or larger bodies.

It can be triggering to stand around family meals; which is the main event for most families. Being faced with buffets; a wide variety of food; sugary and salty treats can be confronting/anxiety inducing for people dealing eating disorders, body dysphoria or any other traumas surrounding food.

Paired with less than pleasant family discussion around your different life choices; it can potentially be very distressful.

So, now what?

Well; I compiled a list of tips to survive the holidays almost unscathed. Let’s be realistic there.

**While this was written for the Easter Weekend, I believe it can be applicable to any other holidays.

1. Wear comfortable clothes. Family reunions can be lenghty and tiresome. Wearing comfortable clothes might allow you to feel more at ease with your body and feel yourself. Dressing for the part you are expected to play may only further trauma and confusion. It may also cause you to be very self conscious of your body and weakening your emotional barrier from the start.
2. Take your meds, hydrate well, have a good sleep before if possible. You want to be your most well enough self.
3. Eat the fuck you want. Fuck ‘em. Eat that dessert. Eat that comforting food. Fuel your body. Don’t feel guilty. You didn’t kill someone. 
4. If you don’t feel like eating and it feels too hard, don’t. Respect your body. Privilege nutritive foods if you do eat. Food is fuel. Let them talk. Tune out if needed.
5. There is no good or bad food. Food morality is a constructed concept. Because your family bought into it, doesn’t mean you have too.
6. If you feel triggered or attacked by your some family members comments, first take a few moments to understand what they told you. What was their intent? What is the best strategy for you to let it go?Escalating the conflict never ends well. If some family members pass remarks on your weight and/or mental health status; let them know you are doing well and do not wish to talk more on the subject at the moment. You could let them know that your weight is not your focus at the moment. That you are listening to what your body needs. That you are doing intuitive eating. That you are the experts of your own body. You can simply thank them for their concerns and move to another topic.
7. You don’t have the burden to educate them. Especially if you already did in the past.
8. You are not too young for that.
9. Sick leaves are not vacations.
10. Part time work and social welfare are valid.
11. You can leave if you need too or retreat to a safe space. If this is not an immediate possibility because of lack of transportation or else; it may be useful to have an emergency plan in case you need to leave.
12. A plan for panic attacks, high anxiety or any other mental health manifestation can also be helpful.
13. If possible, carry some self-care tools with you; for example your knitting projects, some hand cream, contact numbers; a change of clothes, socks, underwear, snacks, pain pills, extra MI meds.
14. Establish your boundaries and maintain them. State them in a clear and gentle manner. Remind them if needed. If they persist on overstepping your boundaries; it is okay to leave.
15. Pick safe topics you feel comfortable speaking about and stick with them. If a family member picks an unsafe topic, change topic or address your discomfort.
16. The most important thing is to be and stay safe.
17. Your sexuality and gender identity is your business only.
18. If you can and want, bring someone safe with you. Hangout with the safer members of your family.
19. Don’t spend time with people who hurt you. While your grandmother may be well intentioned, if she hurts you or has hurt you in the past, you don’t have to spend more time with her than greetings.
20. Plan something nice afterwards, a treat, a nap, a movie, a book, a chat with a friend. Whatever feels good.
21. Feel free to say no if you don’t want to go. No one can force you to go. If someone does; it may be time to reassess that relationship. Seek help.
22. Gentle tip: while screaming, yelling and standing your ground agressively may feel good while doing it, it never ends well. Before you get to that point, try to take some space, leave or if you have the energy, explain what is going on.
23. While it may hurts, the weight and power your family holds over you is only as much as what you give them. It’s much more liberating to let go and find a family with whom you are comfortable with.
24. Blood isn’t always has thicker than water. Find people who love and respect you for who you are. If your family can’t give you that; they are the one missing out.

While I tried to cover the most my mental abilities allow me to right now, this list is and always will be incomplete. I believe you can take whatever is useful from this list and make your own. Add your own tips to the specificity of your family or reality. Feel free to share them with me if you feel comfortable too.

Remember, you are not less or not enough if you don’t go or if you leave. You don’t have to take abuse in the name of blood ties. If your family is not respectful, you can always choose to severe contacts.

If you find yourself in emotional distress due to the holiday period, call a friend, a mental health professional, a helpline.

You may feel lonely, but you are not alone.

I am always available if needed.

Until next time; take care.

Catherine aka the Cynical Mermaid


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