IF YOU THINK YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN NEED OF HELP, TREATMENT AND SUPPORT PLEASE CLICK THE ‘ABOUT ME’ SECTION THEN CLICK THE ‘EATING DISORDER SUPPORT’ TAB. THERE YOU WILL FIND MANY LINKS TO SUPPORT SERVICES WORLDWIDE.
(*This blog may be triggering for some readers please proceed with caution, yet I hope this is something those suffering may be able to show those who love them to help them understand eating disorders and how to help).
Having an eating disorder is one of the scariest situations to be in. Eating Disorders are complex, dangerous, terrifying, complicated and usually develop and can continue for years.
Being a sufferer is a lonely, dark, isolating and confronting place. Often the people around us want to help but have no idea where to start. It is very difficult suffering from the life sucking mental illness succubus of an eating disorder but it can be equally as challenging being a carer or loved one of someone struggling.
Careers and loved ones may be confused, hurt, upset and concerned. They might react in fear or anger. They might of never had experience with someone around them suffering from an eating disorder. It is a tough, all consuming and difficult time for all people affected.
I have written three things below which I wished some of my loved ones had known while I was suffering from my eating disorder. Perhaps they might help you a loved one understand or perhaps it could be a helpful list if you’re suffering from an eating disorder to show those who love you.
Remember these are my experiences and it may differ or be different for you.
1. We do not want to hurt you.
Our eating disorder is ours, in our mind, in our soul and our body. We wish that we could go through it and cause no harm but the truth is our disorder hurts everything around us including you. This is not our goal, we wish we could put you in a bubble avoiding the explosions and casualties our eating disorder takes – but we can’t. More often than not when we are truly ready to recover and seek help you are the first people we want to do it for. We love you. We want to protect you. Yet we can’t and in itself is a horrible reality that our suffering can break your heart and our eating disorder hurts you too. Please stick by us. This reality is harsh but it’s the truth, our eating disorder has nothing to do with you except for the fact that you are in our life and unfortunately we are going to have to walk this scary path together. Definitely make sure that you voice your concerns of how it has affected you and makes you feel because sufferers need to know that their eating disorder hurts you too – but in no way make their mental illness an attack on you, it isn’t. You just care, always remind them that. As someone who is now in recovery the greatest thing you can do is not take on the blame for someone else’s eating disorder because it isn’t your fault, trust me!
This brings me to what you can do…
2. Please Try to Learn Our Triggers.
Sometimes people ask me ‘What can I do to help my *person that I love in whatever form boyfriend, friend, cousin whatever* they have an eating disorder and I don’t know what to do?’ The greatest asset to helping someone who is suffering from an eating disorder that you can do is learn what triggers their behaviours. Does the words “Your looking so healthy” while they are in recovery make them feel like “I look fat” (Also there is nothing wrong with being fat, but does that make them feel unworthy, disgusting, ugly?). Do certain social outings such as clothes shopping trigger their body dysmorphia? Does their low self-confidence days cause them to overeat or binge eat? Can they just not handle having to eat Spaghetti right now but might be able to handle fruit? Do Family Fights or Stress cause them to want to purge? Try to get to know their triggers so that you can fight them with them not against them. Remember the more you know about a persons eating disorder the more well equipped you are to try to ease their anxiety or help them out of a situation.
I always looked at my eating disorder as a type of dictator who was choosing my life – I was not in control during most of it. So trying to learn what the bitch, bastard or monster in their head is saying rather than associating it with the beautiful person you love can help. Remember you’re trying to help the person you love and kill off the eating disorder. The eating disorder is like a virus that’s within them, you can help be the penicillin. You are on their side. Even if some days it feels like the sufferer is siding with their eating disorder. Having you automatically understand why a trigger might set them off can help you both to ease the anxiety, trigger and panic. It can also help you avoid triggering them or have your loved one be put in a situation which will not help. It can also maybe shed some light on their suffering if you just don’t understand. Knowledge is power so ask them questions and just let them know you’re trying to understand. If you accidentally say something that their mind twists or turns negative remember to always remind them you are trying to understand and of course apologise. You’re learning too, so being ernest and honest. You won’t always get it right and that is okay!
3. Some Days, Maybe Most Days, For Now They Might Not Want Recovery.
This will drive you crazy! This will be the reason you scream ‘WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!’. This will haunt you, infuriate and frustrate you. Yet it will also drive the sufferer crazy… remember an eating disorder isn’t a choice, it’s an illness. Yet the feeling of beating your head against a brick wall might come to mind when you think about how awful it is to try to help someone who seemingly doesn’t want help. Here is the problem with eating disorders they latch on to you and are very addictive. Everything is involved in it, your physical, emotional and of course mental health. Many sufferers won’t see your point of view, because eating disorders are deceptive, mind twisting little suckers who make sufferers believe that their eating disorder is a good thing. It lies like it is something that will help them, that it will bring them to a better place, it will numb them and take away their pain. Yet eating disorders don’t, they twist and twist and lie and lie until the truth is very hard for the sufferer to see.
So when you think ‘Why won’t they just stop’, ‘Why won’t they try’, ‘What am I not doing right?’ Remember your dealing with a bastard that for the sufferer can seem like it is giving them life but in reality causes death. The biggest way to help someone to recover is be there for them, because ultimately it is their battle, their will and their fight. You can be there to wipe away their tears, help to understand, suggest therapy, hold their hands through it all. Yet their choice and THEIR CHOICE ONLY will determine when and if they want to try to recover. It also doesn’t end there on average eating disorders can take up to 7 years to recover from. That’s a long time and there will be ups and downs, hardships and triumphs but standing by them through it all even if you want to leave or scream or cry means something. The person you love needs you just as much as you need them. So be on their side and try your best on the days they don’t want to fight, to fight for them.
All of these things do not mean you have to accept and enable an eating disorder sufferer, fight for them and with them. Suggesting therapy options, making yourself knowledgeable about treatment and even sending them this blog post may help. You do not have to accept their behaviour as normal, okay or nothing to be really concerned about. No matter how small the warning signs the earlier sufferers receive help and treatment the better off they will be. Seeing the warning signs of an eating disorder is very important, as sufferers (myself included) tend to play things down A L O T. Remember Eating Disorders are sneaky little buggers.
Also know you need breaks, help and support too. As a loved one or carer your mental health and self matters too. Do not be afraid to ask for help from others or figure out ways to self care and prioritise yourself. You are a champion for helping your loved one.
To anyone struggling to know how to help, or struggling to get through it – you’re amazing and so very strong. I’m sending you and the person who is suffering so much love and strength.
If you or someone you know is suffering and you would like more support, understanding or knowledge about eating disorders I have provided links within this site. See the menu click ‘About Me’ and then click ‘Eating Disorder Support’. They are listed in order of country (A-Z) I tried to find as many as I could. If you do not find your location listed, scroll to the bottom there are some international and web based support groups & associations.