Hey, Friend: Don't Topple Your Blocks

BlogHer Original Post

We're all walking around with a stack of potential problems. The key is to keep the tower from toppling.


I was talking to some friends recently about my post for BlogHer, "Can You Prevent Your Child's Eating Disorder?". While researching that topic, I interviewed Dr. Ovidio Bermudez from the Eating Recovery Center. He told me mental illness is not as cut-and-dry as one might think. He said:

And, since the disease is biopsychosocial -- our culture and the way we live play a role. None of those components are determinants -- it's not like 100% of the time you're going to have it, like Down's Syndrome. If you have the genetic code for Down's Syndrome, you have it. Eating disorders are not like that. We inherit vulnerabilities and protective factors.

Ever since that conversation with Dr. Bermudez, I've been thinking about the idea of latent mental illness. One of the reasons I put parental cancer into my young adult novel about anorexia (The Obvious Game) is that people seem to need there to be a specific external trigger for an eating disorder. Much like people want there to be a specific cause for depression or loneliness -- it's scary to think these things could just be in us like a tower of blocks waiting for a push.

I have mental illness blocks that I carry around. There's the eating disorder block, the anxiety disorder block, the existential depression block, the intrusive thoughts block, the perfectionist block, the loneliness block. Those blocks are just there, they are in me, whether they were inherited or environmentally generated -- who knows? Who cares? They are there, and it's my job to -- as much as is humanly possible -- prevent them from toppling.

stack of blocks

Credit Image: stevendepolo on Flickr

I think of them in a stack, brightly colored. Over the years, the block on top has rotated. It used to be perfectionism and eating disorders on top. When my daughter was born, intrusive thoughts and loneliness topped the stack. After Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill and Newtown, it was existential depression about the state of humanity. Right now, it's the anxiety disorder block. The one that's on top is the one that falls first and hits me and everyone around me as it clatters to the forefront of my daily life.

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