Thursday, 24 January 2013

"How do you feel about using your real name, Ben?"

This is what I asked him yesterday. For the past... ages... he's been involved in a project run by Oxford University - an online project aimed at helping young people deal with and understand more about a wide range of teenage illnesses and conditions, one of which is teenage eating disorders, in boys as well as girls. I can't remember when Ben first met their researcher for an interview, but it was ages ago. Now, to coincide with Eating Disorders Awareness Week (11 - 17 Feb), the website is finally going live.

"How do you feel about them using your real name, Ben?" I asked, aware that on this blog and in my (soon to be published) book "Please eat... a mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia" I refer to him as "Ben".

This question also came about because one of my eating disorder friends asked me how Ben felt about my book and website? How did he feel being out there in the public eye? How did he feel about the possibility that, in the future, if potential employers, for instance, traced him by his real name that his former battle with anorexia might come back to haunt him?

Well, in the case of my blog, book and websites, I use the name "Ben". I also use my maiden name, so it's relatively anonymous.

But the Oxford University project isn't. Neither was our TV interview with Lorraine Kelly nearly a year ago.

"I don't care," he said.

And the concern that, in the future, it might come back to haunt him?

"It's classed as discrimination," he said, "Just like a physical disability. Googling around and discovering that a potential or existing employee had a mental illness in the dim and distance past and therefore not hiring - or firing - them. Well, it's discrimination. It's illegal."

But that doesn't stop the stigma attached to mental illness, unfortunately.

However Ben is adamant that he is completely happy to go under his real name for the University project. He is also thrilled about my books, this blog and my websites and my new website. Indeed he's always nagging at me to do more to raise awareness of eating disorders in boys.

"And in any case, mum," he said. "There are plenty of other former eating disorder sufferers who go under their own name. The Young Ambassadors at BEAT, for instance. And the guy who runs the charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too [or at least we assume it's his real name]. Plus a load of other people."

Me, well, it doesn't bother me if it doesn't bother him. And I don't want to labour the point. He is so enthusiastic about raising awareness of eating disorders and using his own experience of anorexia to do this, that it really is his decision. (And I loved it when he corrected himself: he used the present tense, then promptly changed it to the past tense i.e. "I used to have anorexia...")

As to the question I put to him this morning: "Should I promote my book 'Please eat...' on my main Facebook page as well as my Batty Matty page?"

"I don't see why not," he said. "Most of your FB friends know about the eating disorder anyway. And even if they don't, then they may know of someone who is suffering - or exhibiting worrying signs. You might just help someone."

True. I'll have to think about it.


  1. Over the last few years I've discovered that the best way of tackling stigma is to act as if there's nothing to be ashamed about, even if you're secretly terrified of the potential reactions. I'm as 'out' about my mental health history as I am about my relationship with Audrey. Just last week we had a lecture on self harm at uni, and at the end I said I knew everyone (our class has about 20 students, everyone knows everyone elses business!) knew about my rather severe scarring, and was fine if anyone wanted to ask me questions. They did, too! And I've stood up in front of other crowds of various sizes and spoken about the eating disorder, self harm, rape, time in psychiatric wards - it's intimidating and I do often feel like I should be keeping all this quiet and secret, but those feelings are just a byproduct of the stigma against such things in our society, and the more I act as if I have nothing to be ashamed of, the more people treat me as if I'm brave and more than my problems, rather than whispering and misunderstanding.

    Still scary though!

    1. Great to hear from you, GiantFA. I think Ben's attitude is the same as yours. You are very brave, and it's fantastic that people do get out there and raise awareness of EDs, although I totally understand why some may prefer not to do this, I really do.

      With me, I have had to treat all of this sensitively because, after all, I've been talking about someone else (i.e. my son)and not me, personally, (although, obviously, I feature in the story!!)

      From the start I have ensured that he is happy for me to do whatever I am doing.

      Lots of love, Batty xx

  2. Well, I was the person who 'warned' Batty about the potential risks of 'outing' oneself with a mental health problem. I did this not because of 'simple stigma' in the sense of 'what people think of me', but rather, the fact that 'coming out' about my mental health problems contributed to me losing my job.

    To prevent people from getting jobs etc. IS classed as discrimination, but employers find ways around this. For example, they argue that a candidate without mental illness better fulfilled the job criteria.

    I think that what you, Batty, and your son are doing is great. I applaud you both. I just don't want to see Ben losing out in the future.

    1. Hi Cathy, It is so sad that it contributed to you losing your job. Yes, I can see why employers might find ways around this. Thank you for raising this issue, I really appreciate it. Love Batty xx

    2. Thanks Batty :)

      I wish I could feel as comfortable talking about MH issues as do Ben and GFA (above), but I'm 'one-bitten-twice-shy'.

      I wish you all the best with your books, and Ben with his awareness work :)


    3. This is a tricky one and I sort of know how Cathy feels...After being hospitalized for AN and telling my uni the truth about it (which was unfortunately extremely obvious anyway, given my appearance), I was barred from resuming my doctorate. I was two years through it and had won a scholarship, after spending four years obsessively working to get a first class honours degree so that I could get into the doctorate course in the first place. And this course was necessary for my particular chosen career, which I can no longer pursue.

      Of course this wasn't 'legal' for them to do, but like Cathy's employers, they found 'ways' around it. My parents wanted me to pursue a lawsuit, but that would have made my anorexia public and opened me up for more discrimination, and even if I'd won I wouldn't have felt able to return to the course under those conditions.

      Having said that, I think what you and Ben are doing is great and more awareness and understanding of anorexia is exactly what's needed to counter prejudice like this. Not to mention Ben's uni have been very supportive, so hopefully I just had bad luck with mine. And I also believe that if Ben fully recovers and can confidently say anorexia is behind him, he'll be a lot less open to any sort of discrimination - in fact people will probably respect him more for having been through something and being able to be so articulate and strong about it :)

      Oops, as usual this has turned into an essay. Just wanted to say I think what you're both doing is brave & admirable (but also that I understand where Cathy's hesitation comes from...and am really sorry to hear others have experienced discrimination too).

    4. I am so sorry you were barred from resuming your doctorate, especially when you were obviously so very keen to complete it. I can kind of see why having an ED might "get in the way" of studies, though, with some people and, if so, I can kind of see why the uni might ask them to perhaps take a leave of absence until they were more able to focus / attend lectures or whatever the ED was preventing them to do adequately. But to be barred... well... that's terrible...

    5. Thank you :) I just re-read my comment and it sounds rather 'woe is me' which is not how I meant it! I was just describing. Yep, I did voluntarily take a leave of absence but that wasn't enough for them. At the time I felt like my life was ruined and I still sort of do occasionally, but the way I see it now (usually) is that these things happen sometimes, and it's up to me now to put in the effort to fully recover so that I can give myself the best chance of doing whatever it is I decide to do next :) Fingers crossed that Ben will do the same!

    6. I didn't think you sounded 'woe is me' - I would feel the same if it happened to me! You sound very positive, determined to do whatever it takes to achieve what you want. It's great to hear from you. B x