Lucy Paige-Hamilton: Mini Muffins, Massive Struggles

Lucy Paige-Hamilton writes about the challenges of meeting eating etiquette as part of our series 'everyday stories'.

We gather in an unimposing meeting room, all smiles and polite chatter, propagating openness and trying not flinch at words like ‘recovery’ and ‘depression’. Because that’s the kind of stigma we’re working together to change.

We know from past meetings that if anyone, at any point, feels uncomfortable, for any reason, we’re more than welcome to speak up or take some time out. We’re learning from each other how to accommodate and be sensitive to mental health issues; issues that we are ‘living with’, not necessarily ‘suffering from’. And so we use positive phrases, are receptive, inclusive, we keep an open mind always… and share mini muffins.

Or at least we pretend to. Whilst for others, the meeting room snacks are an ice-breaker, an incentive, a mid-morning refresher, for me, they’re the elephant in the room. Though reluctant to say it, I am getting better; I can snack, eat, indulge, so ‘no’ when I’m full, or ‘yes’, but even then, my eating disorder never really goes away, I’ve just learned to communicate with it.

As I stare at the unopened container of muffins, several ideas distract me from the minutes I’m supposed to be taking; they’re there to be eaten – but no one else is yet. I can have one, I’m better now – but would this be binging? Will a snack mean I’ve crossed a line? I glance at my thighs, my wrists, I’m still skinny – maybe I need one. But the Lebanese wrap I’ve planned to make for lunch has carbs – is this substitution worth it? You’re an idiot. It’s a muffin. Just take one. But I don’t.

And even stranger – it doesn’t seem to be just me having issues. By the end of the meeting only two muffins have been taken, politely, with a chuckle, (aren’t we naughty?) by the meeting coordinator and the colleague who brought them to share. Another day I might have joined them, but today I didn’t quite manage it. Instead we discussed how to plan themed events that reach out to and accommodate for a wider community of those living with mental health difficulties – addressing topics like ‘Living with Psychosis’, ‘Everyday struggles’, ‘Friends and Connections’.

By no means am I advocating that we do-away-with mini muffins at meetings, and I’m certainly not suggesting a healthier alternative be provided (the bunch of grapes, too, remained distinctly un-ravished). I simply want to illustrate the point, with this rather ridiculous anecdote, that though attitudes towards mental health do seem to be changing there are still some practicalities that never really find a voice. On some days they shout, and I’m now able to shout back, but the days when they annoyingly whisper and niggle, days like today, are exhausting.

Mental health issues can make even the simplest tasks a challenge. Next time the girl in the meeting declines as the snacks are passed round, it’s important to remember that she isn’t being stuck-up and she doesn’t think you’re fat, in fact, she’s more than likely jealous that you’re able to enjoy a muffin and not spend the next week stressing about it. Just open the packet, and leave it alone, or, better still, take another yourself – because it’s okay to do so, and next time she might.

3 Comments

  • Becky Farrell

    I have sometimes wondered how much of my unease in all manner of social situations is no more and no less than about the presence of food and the complex, shifting and never resolved rules and etiquette around eating; both mine and those of society at large. I suspect that the food forms a bigger slice of the unease than I like to think. I imagine that people who have easier relationships with food don’t notice just how many of our social interactions have food as either a central basis or an add-on.

    I read somewhere that the number of food-related decisions that most people in our society make in a day runs into the hundreds. When making choices about food becomes stressful for us, all manner of everyday things keep that stress on the boil. Food isn’t a “stressful event” we can viably avoid for long. What, when, how much, with whom, where – these are questions that must be answered over and over again, more than daily.

    Thank you for writing about the complexity of making choices about mini muffins in a meeting. You so clearly illustrate how awkward and just plain time consuming these things can become. And, it so often seems, no sooner than one food choice is resolved, the next one is waiting in the wings.

    • Lucy Hamilton

      Thanks Becky, really great to hear that it isn’t just me!
      It really is impossible to avoid these tricky situations, and exhausting trying. I think also we’d both be surprised just how many people, who might not necessarily have issues with food, also get stressed or annoyed by society’s obsession with involving snacks at every possible social gathering! Silly muffins.

      Keep happy 🙂

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