When I was in elementary school in the early 90’s, we often had Mcgruff the Crime Dog come to our classroom, in puppet form no less, to speak to us about the ills of strangers, kidnappers, drug use, matches, guns and other assorted evils. We were told never to approach a stranger’s cargo van even if he offered candy or asked for help locating his lost puppy, who also happens to be his best friend. We were also told, on no uncertain terms, that strangers equal danger. Apparently rhyming made the lesson more memorable for us as over fifteen years later I still remember the rhyming, trench coated puppet’s warning. Which brings me to the purpose of this entry: how do I learn to trust? If Mcgruff was correct, and strangers do, indeed, equal danger…then how do I know who to trust; especially with information about my ED?
I recently had an experience with one of my students (who, in the reality of working with college students, is really only four years younger than me) and a co-worker at a lecture at the college that led me to challenge my perceptions on trust. The lecture presenter, although not my favorite, was valuable in that he was able to prompt the exchange I had with these three wonderful ladies. The presenter challenged us to turn to a neighbor and discuss one influential person in our lives. I hate sharing feelings with people I’m not close with, but I used this lecture as a way to get out of my comfort zone. The student went first, and then it was my turn. I decided to answer honestly; to give trust a chance. I said one influential person is my former professor who helped me when I couldn’t help myself and made me realize that I was worth it. My co-worker then gave her answer. Whew. I shared an authentic answer and nothing happened. Maybe there isn’t anything to this trust thing after all? The next question he posed to us was “What is one cause about which you are very passionate?” Again, my perceptions on trust were challenged. My co-worker went first. I thought, what am I really passionate about that I feel comfortable saying to these girls? That’s when I knew what I had to do. I told them that my passion was creating awareness of eating disorders and reducing the stereotypes associated with them. The student then asked me to repeat myself. I panicked because I thought she was going to judge me, but I repeated myself anyway. She then said the most wonderful thing I could ever have imagined, “That’s really amazing. I am also passionate about reducing the stigma of mental illnesses because I was anorexic in high school and know about that pain.” I couldn’t believe it. This student that I have known and respected for over two years is carrying the same burden as me. I couldn’t really tell you what else the lecturer said that night because all I was thinking about was how my trust in my co-worker and the student lead to a deeper understanding of what we are all going through. My co-worker even thanked the student and me for being so brave and sharing our stories. I felt really wonderful about my ability to trust after that encounter.
On the flip side, however, I realize the need to be cautious about who I trust. While there were two professors on my campus that I had to tell about my eating disorder (as there were certain events happening that prevented me from fully completing my assignments) who completely understood me, pushed me to get help, respected my wishes to keep what I told them in strict confidence, encouraged me to believe in myself and who I consider great friends today…there was another who abused my trust. This abuse of trust came in the form of mocking my illness, telling others about it and generally treating me as a lesser human being. I still carry the scars from this lack of trust. BUT, I also know that I cannot close myself off to trusting people solely because one woman chose to be malicious. The student I talked to Monday night is proof that there are people in the world that I can still trust; that I don’t have to be afraid of who I am. I wonder if Mcgruff has a skit in which he opens up to strangers and gains support, mutual understanding and friends.