Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What it’s like to have an eating disorder and how to help someone who has one

My eating disorder thoughts destroy every positive thing that happens in my life.  Everything.  If something good happens, I can only fake that I am happy because, deep down inside, I’m upset that I weigh too much.  During my college graduation, I could not rejoice in my accomplishments because my mind was consumed with “fat thoughts”.  Another time, when I was promoted in my job, I wasn’t excited or proud.  Instead, I just felt more eyes on me and more of a reason to lose weight.

On the other hand, my only source of joy comes from giving in to the eating disorder.  Yes, the only happiness I’ve ever experienced is from achieving those twisted eating disorder goals.  Looking back, it is difficult for me to know if I was genuinely happy at certain times or if I was just happy because I was thin.

I figured out this unfortunate truth and started manipulating my experiences by giving into the demands of my eating disorder.  If there was a situation or event where I wanted to be happy, I‘d let my E.D. take more control so my mood would be fittingly similar.

For example, after I was engaged to be married and we started planning the big day, I got so afraid that my eating disorder would ruin it for me.  I wanted that day to the happiest day of my life.  So in the months preceding the wedding, I let the E.D. have complete and totally control over me.

Some days, I felt like I had special graces that allowed me to escape the illness for a while.  However, I am not so sure I would have felt the same had I been even one pound over my goal.  I was very happy at certain times, and I do believe there were moments that I was given some special graces from God.  But on those days, I also didn’t eat much either.

If you want to better understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder, think of it like being in an abusive relationship: I feel like the E.D. is my only true friend, my constant companion.  The E.D. is always there for me, that persistent voice in my head, always comforting me in my sorrow by telling me that if I lose weight I’ll be happy.  Its voice is gentle and soothing when I’m upset, and it helps me to stop crying when I’m sad.  Its voice is encouraging when I feel like I’ve lost all hope.  Its voice is motivating when I am very depressed.  The voice of the E.D. is there for me in my loneliness.

Yet, every step of the way is painful.  Its demands are torturous and inhuman.  I feel like I deserve it, so I don’t even try to escape it.  I actually embrace the pain.  I pursue the hurt.

In a very backwards way, the E.D. has even kept me alive when I’ve been suicidal.  I didn’t want someone to have to pick up my fat dead body and think about how heavy I was.

In my head, I know it’s wrong.  But, I can’t get rid of the eating disorder because it’s the only life I know.  It’s the only thing that makes me feel safe.  I am terrified of living without it.

When I’m practicing the E.D. behaviors, I disappoint my loved ones.  Even though they are disappointed with what I am doing, I feel as though they are disappointed with me, as a person.  So, I feel even more alone and then rely more and more on the only thing that makes me feel safe and comforted.

If I’m not practicing the E.D. behaviors, the thoughts are still there – the illness is still there.  If I am doing “better”, no one acknowledges the problem because no one can see it anymore (not that they could see it in the first place).  No one worries anymore because “the illness is gone”.  Yet all the while it’s just growing and growing inside until it reaches full strength again.  During this time, I feel the most alone – I have to pretend I am better because, I too, am tricked into thinking that “this” is better.

How I actually feel is constantly conflicting with how I’m “supposed” to feel.

The E.D. is there for me and makes me feel better regardless of anything else that goes on.  If I’m giving in, the E.D. is happy and so am I – but other’s are not.  If I’m not giving in, the E.D. is upset, I’m upset – but other’s are happy.  It’s very difficult to life this life.  Because of this constant discord, I feel like the only thing that makes sense is the eating disorder.  So choosing it feels logical, even if I know in my head it is not.

If your loved one struggles with an eating disorder and you want them to trust you and learn to give up the E.D., you need to be strong, if not stronger, than IT is.  Don’t show your fear, anger, impatience, frustration, or cluelessness, because E.D.’s don’t.  They are constantly lurking in the shadow waiting for your moment of weakness to show in order to strike back.

When someone with an eating disorder is trying to get over it, they will have never felt more alone in their life.  That is why it is so important to replace the E.D. with your support.  Don’t give up, because IT won’t.

You have to be a better listener, more understanding, more patience, more loving, more compassionate, more sympathetic, more soothing, more constant, more available, and more supportive than the eating disorder.  Because remember, the E.D. is waiting, ever waiting, to jump in when you fail, to prove you wrong, to come right back in like it never left.

People with eating disorders hate to eat.  They truly hate it.  They try to like it by attaching themselves inordinately to “favorite” foods or by searching for things that taste extremely good.  But, when it comes down to it, nothing they eat makes them feel as good as not eating.  So, drawing attention to eating, congratulating, or rejoicing in it will not help the situation.  When someone with an E.D. eats, they are discouraged, miserable, and very unhappy, and the E.D. is angry too.  If you are happy about it, you will only cause tension and distrust in your relationship.  It is better to show that you are there for them in their sorrow and pain, not to say anything but to shower them with support, love, and affection.  Most of all, let them talk to you about it when they are ready to talk.

On the flip side, if you are unhappy when they are not eating and losing weight, do not show your disapproval.  And definitely do not punish them.  People with eating disorders are happy when they are not eating and achieving their goals.  The E.D. is happy too and praising them for all they’ve done.  So if you are unhappy, likewise, you will only cause them to withdraw from you.  They are getting all the love and affirmation they need from the E.D, “who needs them anyway?” it will say.  Punishing them will only cause more distrust and more friction in your relationship.  It would be more beneficial for their recovery if you were constant and loyal no matter what the circumstance.

Your crucial moment comes when the E.D. fails.  The eating disorder will fail when it keeps its victims from doing the things they want to do: going to parties, shopping, being with people, keeping a job, doing certain hobbies, etc.  It is during those times that a loved one’s support is the most influential, the most critical.  By comforting and supporting them, you will show your loved one that you love them more than the eating disorder loves them.  By being there for them, you can make them realize that the E.D. is not their friend – It’s all lies.  The voice of eating disorders has been lying all along.  An E.D. is a tiring and lonely road and not the way to happiness.  But the road that you two can walk together, you and your loved one, will sometimes be hard, but it is the only way to true happiness and peace.

It’s incredibly difficult to help someone overcome an eating disorder.  It takes extreme, superhuman patience and sympathy.  People with eating disorders cannot save themselves – they need the help of their loved ones or they definitely won’t get better.

This is the only way to help someone get over an eating disorder.  Logical facts, debating, nutritional information, doctors, counselors, forcing food, punishment for not eating, treatment centers, threats…none of those things will work.  Nothing is as important as the support from a loved one.

The world of eating disorders is twisted and strange; it is the exact opposite of what you’d think in your sound, healthy mind.  However, the better you understand that world the greater your chances are to defeat it, whether you yourself are struggling or your loved one is struggling with the illness.

No comments:

Post a Comment