HerCanberra catches up with Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson MLA to chat legalisation and whether we’ll…
Thirteen is an auspicious number.
Those afflicted with superstitious tendencies, such as myself, are led to believe that thirteen is synonymous with bad luck.
At some point in my adolescence, probably on a gloomy Friday the 13th in which I was plagued by thoughts of “I know it’s not real, but…”, I decided to reclaim the number thirteen. Rather than being an ominous symbol, I consciously chose thirteen as my good luck number.
Now, like I said, I know it’s not real. I also know, I’m not just lucky (thanks Jamila Rizvi). But…
In February 2018, I wrote about the 7364 reasons we need a specialised eating disorder inpatient treatment in Canberra.
Thirteen months later, on Friday 29 March, the Federal Government announced that $13.5 million will be put towards the development of an in-patient specialist centre for people with eating disorders in Canberra. (Pause for a happy dance!).
The response to my article and the accompanying campaign was outstanding. Not only from the Government, which I will get to later, but from the Canberra community. People across all areas of my life came forward with stories about their own experiences of eating disorders, either personally or regarding their loved ones. I was struck time and time again by the awe-inspiring ability of vulnerability to connect people who otherwise might exist alongside each other at a distance.
In the months following the article’s publication, I had the humbling privilege of meeting other individuals living with eating disorders and of discussing the impacts of these illnesses with them, their family members and friends. People from within Canberra and regional New South Wales contacted me offering their support to the campaign. Others emphasised the power of community, noting the impact of hearing my story; a story of someone who had lived through an eating disorder and come out the other side.
I am confident in saying that Friday’s announcement is a huge moment for Canberrans living with eating disorders, and an equally huge moment for their friends and families.
The prospect that people won’t have to travel interstate, away from their support networks, to get life-saving treatment is a humbling thought. Thinking of all the friends and families, like my own, who won’t have to spend their weekends in strange rooms, in strange cities, to see their children, mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers, brings happy tears to my eyes.
Together, Australians’ equipped the ACT and Australian Governments with knowledge of the need for improved treatment centres in Canberra, and the result was extraordinary. The power of our collective voice is self-evident.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called for bi-partisan cooperation in the creation of a National Plan on Eating Disorders, Minister for Health Greg Hunt has delivered in the budget and ACT Minister for Mental Health Shane Rattenbury brought about ACT’s Eating Disorders Strategy Paper.
Specialised hospital care was just one site of intervention identified in the ACT Plan and, to me, it’s deliverance is a beacon of hope.
It is a beacon of hope because I believe that there is a growing endemic of low self-esteem in our society. Men, women, boys and girls are increasingly connecting their sense of self with their bodies. Outside of diagnostically recognised eating disorders, we are all inundated with alarming information regarding the increasing prevalence of body image issues, anxiety disorders and mood disorders.
Yet, in today’s climate, we are talking about mental health more than ever, and our understanding of the sites for intervention is only expanding. The Government’s response to eating disorders evidences this.
At times, the prevalence of mental health issues in Australia may seem overwhelming, but knowledge is a tool that equips us with power to overcome.
It allows us to work towards reducing suffering and to support each other and ourselves in overcoming the tumultuous experience that is an eating disorder.
And it allows us to go even further.
Together, we need to revolutionise the way we relate to our bodies. For women especially, although increasingly men, our bodies are constructed as a major part of our identity. While not all of us will develop eating disorders, most of us will have body image issues.
Within this context, I am both a survivor and an activist, a perpetrator and a victim. I have experienced suffering and am embedded in the culture which created it. And I am inviting you to identify as both, with me.
This identity is not about having a greater understanding of what an eating disorder is, it is not even about having a greater understanding of mental health. It’s that as a society, we need to be examining the values that we are communicating to ourselves and to each other, through our bodies.
I believe there is power in telling our truths; in using individual’s stories, such as my own, to prompt policy development and reform. Yet, I believe there is greater power in our collective voice.
We are all involved in the perpetuation of this culture in which body image issues are rising and self esteem in diminishing. We are all impacted by these questions of whether we are ‘enough’.
We can all, in our own ways, think about the actions which cause the consequences we feel.
We can, and should, try to heal, cure and care for those who suffer.
We must also try to think about the harm that lead to this suffering in the first place.
I truly believe that the answer, in part, lies in the power of language. I think that within the words we use, we can unlock the power to create justice and healing.
Fatphobic language; privileging of stereotypically attractive bodies; verbal and physical violence; these things and more can result in an array of psychic scars visible throughout our society.
Yet we can use this trauma to mobilise ourselves. We can use this suffering to reflect on how we, as a society, can do and be better.
The budget commitment to the specialist inpatient unit is an exciting development and an amazing example of how we can care for those who suffer around us. I have so much gratitude for the people across disciplines, geography and time, who have brought this initiative into being.
Now, I’m asking for one more thing. I want every single person to be able to reach a point where their belief in their self-worth is so profound that it transcends any connection to their body’s appearance, weight, shape or size.
I think this is so important because studies have found that ‘poor body image is linked with …low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and, in adolescents, suicidal ideation. For girls, studies have found consistently high levels of body dissatisfaction in adolescence.’
For me, reaching the point where I believed that I was good enough, irrespective of my physical appearance, was the ultimate freedom from body image issues and my eating disorder.
That our worth can transcend our bodies is a radical idea, but I think it’s time.