Monday, August 17, 2009

What I Wish I Said

Hi friends.

I haven't blogged in a while, but it's not because I don't love you. It's because I've been reunion-ing. (Hi family!)

Family reunions are like petri dishes for awkward conversations (and pink eye) but I mostly managed to avoid those this time around--pink eye and embarrassment. There was one conversation, though, that I've been replaying in my mind. It keeps popping up at odd moments and I think that's because I didn't say what I wished I'd said. So, you know, now I HAVE to blog about it.

Said conversation took place over a nice picnic lunch consisting of seventeen kinds of leftovers from other meals, random snacks, and delicious Bear Lake raspberries. It was sunny, all the little cousins (of which mine are the oldest; that's a lot of preschoolers!) were running around and someone asked me about my way-super-amazing-and-glamorous TV appearance of 2008.

You remember it, right? The one where I was in make-up for 20 minutes and on TV for five minutes in which I said 10 words that no one even really heard because I was one of six guests for a ten minute (including commercials) segment? What? You didn't TiVo that amazing moment in television history?

That's okay. Neither did I.

Anyway, I was on the Mike and Juliet show with my older sister, Charlotte, of the Great Fitness Experiment (she actually makes money off her blog), to talk about eating disorders. There was some newly-published study that proved eating disorders are passed around in groups--media-types were saying they were "contagious!!!"-- and Charlotte blogged about how I "caught" (I prefer inherited; my grandma started it!) my former eating disorder from her. (Former eating disorder. It's been four years since my last purge. Not that I don't fantasize/self-flagellate about it sometimes. . .) The producers booked us and flew us out to New York and I got my fifteen minutes of fame.

So, back to the family reunion: as I was explaining the contagious aspect of eating disorders and listing examples like sororities and gymnastics teams, one of my wittier (and not Mormon) family members piped up, "Or large Mormon families!" firmly derailing any train of thought I was jumping.

Now, it WAS a funny comment. I'll give her that. And I'm not holding it against her. Said family member is very smart, talented, sassy, and I wish I knew her better. But her comment rankled me a little. Probably because 1) I like being the center of attention and she upstaged me and 2)(this is the biggest reason) I punted. She threw a stereotype about Mormons and mental illness in my face and I backed down. I was basically speechless and mumbled something about how my family wasn't big, at least not by Mormon standards.

Maybe that was the right thing to do in the moment, but in the future I hope I have the guts and presence of mind to say a few things:

1. There is NO evidence that mental illness is more prevalent in Mormon families than in other groups. Those antidepressant surveys don't account for any number of variables. They don't look at patients' religious backgrounds. They don't look at patients at all. The only thing those surveys measure is how many prescriptions were written.

2. Even if there was some kind of evidence, that prevalence could be explained by any number of things--genetics being a very big one with eating disorders. As my psychiatrist said, "Your family history is basically a loaded gun." Genes are powerful and traits pop up in many unexpected ways. Also, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION! (I should make that my email tagline. Maybe if we all start saying it a lot people will start to remember it.)

3. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they are stereotypes all the same. Proceed with caution. It's one thing if some other Mormon chick threw out some blatantly offensive thing--I'd know she was joking because we were both implicated in the joke--but coming from someone who I know doesn't agree with my lifestyle. . . it floored me.

I wonder what would've happened had I called her on it. I doubt any good would have come of it. Except that maybe I would have felt like I stood up for myself.

Oh well. There's always next year's reunion!

p.s. Now that I've blogged about it. I'll let it go. Really.


Kaylanamars said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts...mental illness is definitely genetic. I would've been floored as well if someone had said that to me, especially someone who's supposed to be family! Isn't that how it always seems to go? We know what to say only after the fact! Good luck for next year's reunion!

queensister said...

I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who sometimes obsesses about conversations in social situations. I can really lose my peace of mind after hanging out with friends or family--"Why did(n't) I say that?" Sometimes it easier to just listen.

Jo said...

I've had so many of these moments. It's a hard thing. I think letting it go was probably the best thing though. I have been on the other side. I've said things that I just didn't think through before I said them and then I go home worrying that I've offended someone. I'm grateful that my family and my in-laws are so gracious and patient with me.