To Tell or Not to Tell

In two days, L’s school term starts. But she will not be there. Normally we are rushing around, getting uniform, renewing bus passes and buying new pens. It is Year 11, her last year at the school. It is unlikely she will set foot in the place until October.

Last term, rumours about L were rife. While no one spoke to her directly, her friends were constantly asked why she was so thin and why she never smiled any more. Her absence from school will increase the chatter tenfold. It is an all girls school. Anorexia is a Heat magazine illness. It is an unpleasant truth that there will be some at her school who think it is glamorous, on a par with drug and alcohol addiction.

L’s medical treatment should be kept confidential. The teachers need to deal with gossip and rumours. And yet, I wonder if a blanket of secrecy will help? At work I have an absolute rule that if a member of staff is off, the reasons for that are confidential. For long term absences it can be tricky, and usually the person asks that colleagues be told. Especially when it is cancer or a heart attack. You know, a proper illness. Not one where people look to blame others for causing it. Or think that the person is just seeking attention and should just pull themselves together. If L had leukaemia, she would tell people. Cards would be sent, prayers offered and her recovery celebrated. Anorexia has similar mortality rates. Yet there are some who think it is an affectation. L’s grandmother said only yesterday that she had always thought it was a fake illness in silly girls who just wouldn’t eat. Until her granddaughter got it, of course.

I need to discuss with L whether she wants people at school to be told. The school nurse, who has been so helpful, offered to speak to her tutor group about it. I have offered too. What do others think? Should L tell others of her illness, outside her close circle of friends? Perhaps it could be an opportunity to educate young women (it is a girls school) about this? I don’t know and on this L has the final say. It is her illness, not mine. But if she asks me for advice what should I say? Have readers of this blog been through this? If so, what helped?

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6 responses to “To Tell or Not to Tell

  1. I’ve got ME, a condition many don’t believe in, I just disappeared from school (not by choice) and rumours went round, a few months later it was ME awareness week and I shared my story with the local paper. It acted as ‘coming out’ and people heard my side of the story rather than the rumour mill, I was also in year 11.
    The school nurse doing a talk sounds good, the true realities of anorexia can be shared and may even help someone else.
    By the talk being done it will also mean L being asked far less questions when she returns

  2. Im 17 and was half way though my first year of sixth form (a levels) when i was first diagnosed, although i think alot of my friends suspected something wasn’t right for quite some time. I decided after spending a week hidden away depressed that i needed people around me and my friends and decided to ‘out’ my anorexia so to speak. I know the situation for L is different i’m 17 and in a high class sixth form full of ‘intelligent young adults’ most of whom are potential doctors. There have been some pros and cons of this, not least have i found out who my real friends are but ive also found that most people asked me questions about my illness rather than speculate and dramatise/glamorise it. I have also found people pretend to be my best friend to get their share of the drama and create lies about me. – Not fun. I have found that i have managed to change alot of people’s perceptions of anorexia but ive also had a lot of the ‘you’re anorexic? but you’re not that thin.’ You really need to decide with L whether she is ready for people to comment on how she is and how she is looking as that was the only thing that was ultimately detrimental and one of the things that has severely hindered my recovery. But on the other hand i wouldn’t still be alive without my friends. It really is up to you. Good luck. Best wishes.

  3. I have been thinking about this all day – its a tricky one. I was very open about my illness and felt it was nothing to be ashamed of – none of us choose to have anorexia in the same way that you wouldn’t choose to have cancer or break your arm. However, I was slightly older than L when I came out of hospital (my friends were slightly more mature (19) – year 11/ age 15 is a tricky one) and I decided to email my year group at school to fill them in on my “gap year” – most of which had been spent in psychiatric hospital – and not travelling around India, Thailand and Australia like they all had been. I was very surprised at the positive response I had – and not only that – many friends of mine have approached me in the last two/three years since “my recovery” to admit that they have also had problems too – and I am so delighted to be of help to them, whilst also being sad that they are not well and need help. I do think it would help for you to encourage L to tell her friends via you / school nurse – otherwise rumours will certainly fly round and get out of control. Emphasis needs to be put on the fact that this illness is nobody’s fault and she WILL get better/return to school soon. I do worry that October is quite early to be returning to school despite the fact that she wants to plough on with GCSEs. I can’t quite remember what else I was going to say – if I think of anything else – will let you know. Love and hugs to you xxx

  4. atI’ve been thinking whether I had any advice to give and though my experiences are pretty different maybe something in the story might help. I was 15 when I started seeing a counsellor after my year head got to know I was self harming and severely depressed. I had to leave lesons and had “mental health days” when I would too unwell to deal with school. Rumours spread that I was skipping school, had an older boyfriend I was sneaking off to see, that I was taking drugs or just lazy. I didn’t know what to tell people so I let the rumours be, too unwell to really care anyway. The time came when I had to tell some of my close friends after a hospital admission because I’d taken an overdose and was away for a few weeks.Still I didn’t tell the rumour mill and so they just escalated. now years later I meet up with old classmates and they ask what really happened, they are always shocked to learn the truth but most of the time say they wish they had known at the time. That knowing might have helped them have less stigma of mental health problems, knowing that someone just like them had struggled. Now in hindsight I can wish that I had said something at the time but I also know that I wouldn’t have been able to, It’s only now, that I am learning how to express what happened from year 11 up till now. I know depression is not the same but maybe knowing a little of the truth might help the other girls understand more now and have a greater awareness for the future. Tough decisions only L can make with your/the schools advice. Take care lovely, thinking of you all. xxx

    • Thank you to all of you for replying. My instincts were that her schoolmates should know but that it should be a teacher or the school nurse who tells them, not L’s close friends who know. L and I discussed this last night and we agreed this is what should happen. Hopefully it will stop the rumours. We will also ask the school to say that what L needs is support when she returns. Not drama or over anxiety. Let’s hope it works, perhaps some of the chatter will have died down by the time she goes back – which will be more like November, on a phased basis

  5. My close friends knew along with my form teacher and some of my other teachers who were concerned about me. When people bugged my friends, they told them that I was in hospital with a kidney problem. This was not untrue, since anorexia had brought me close to kidney failure. I think everyone knew, anyway. Depending on the degree of illness it becomes glaringly obvious.

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