August 17, 2008

Supporting vs. Enabling

Now here's an interesting conundrum.

When M isn't doing well, and is acting on her eating disorder, it's often difficult to know if I'm being a helper or an enabler. (Difficult for me at least.)

One example - she sometimes asks me if this eating disorder is her fault. No, it's not, I tell her, and that's perfectly true. She didn't ask to have this. It's just the result of a weird mix of bad experiences earlier in her life and genetics, and probably other factors as well. But at the same time, she is responsible for her reaction to this disease. She can choose how to respond when stress and anxiety begin to overwhelm her. She can choose whether to talk to me about it or shut down. But, I have to tread carefully here. I don't want to make her feel even more guilty than she already does. And I haven't yet figured out how to help her take on a healthy dose of responsibility without taking on a burden she can't (or shouldn't have to) handle.

Another example - we'll pass someone in a public place who's too skinny, at least to M's eyes. And M will ask me, "wait a minute, why isn't SHE in a treatment center?" If there's a more frustrating question than this, I can't think of it. How the hell should I know if this other girl is being treated for an eating disorder? How do I even know she needs any treatment? And most importantly, what does she have to do with you? I'm pretty sure the safest way to answer this question is to not answer it, but that kind of silence can make for a... curious conversation pattern.

So what do you do?

August 12, 2008

About #8...

I posted recently about The Top 10 Lessons I've Learned In Anorexic Hell. Number 8 was:

Tell people who can help you deal with what you're going through. Don't tell people who can't.

Here's what I mean.

There are two types of people. Some people are hard-wired to be a friend when you need them most - to listen without an agenda, to keep your deepest fears and emotions confidential, to make you laugh when you're not sure you know how anymore, to truly care about what you're facing through thick and thin. Others are hard-wired to be judgmental pricks, or too scared or small to deal with your most raw feelings. Over the past year, I've been truly surprised by which people in my life fell into each of those two buckets. I guess you learn a lot about people when your chips are down.

To my friends in the former group, words can't express my gratitude (or M's), but I hope you at least know that you will have my eternal support for any troubles you encounter.

And to the people in the latter group, screw you and grow up.

The Top 10 Lessons I've Learned In Anorexic Hell

This isn't a complete list, and I have by no means followed all of these at all times, but it's some of what (I think) I know at this point.

  1. Get your suffering loved one to attend a support group. Go with her if she's OK with that. If she's not, that's perfectly fine, she can go by herself. But just get her to be in that building. Even if she's not ready to give up her eating disorder, being there will help her realize that her illness is real but also that she's not alone. Not by a long shot. You can find a national list of support groups here.
  2. Find a support group for yourself. I often go to M's support group to show my, um, support for her and her recovery. But I also go to a monthly group that's just for friends and family of people with eating disorders. That group - my group - has been such a blessing. It's not always easy for me to put myself in that emotional environment, but every time I go I'm thankful I did.
  3. Be honest with your loved one. Don't dance around the fact that you're concerned, or that you're noticing she's not doing well. She needs to hear that. Don't be mean or judgmental about it. Simply tell her that you're noticing that she's struggling, and ask her if she wants to talk about it or tell you more. I can't tell you how many times over the past year I've held my tongue - and later wished I hadn't.
  4. Don't be the food referee. Want to listen to what your loved one ate and then provide your expert opinion on the quantity or quality of said nourishment? Tough. NOT YOUR ROLE. That's what nutritionists, therapists, and other professionals are there for. You're there to listen, to love, and to help her find the resources she needs to recover.
  5. Look into treatment programs - and keep looking. M and I were fortunate enough to be able to afford to send her to a treatment center, and to have a decent insurance plan. I know a lot of people can't afford treatment centers. This sucks something awful, and I wish I had a solution for this. Unfortunately, the best I can say is to keep trying to find out about as many different centers as possible, and what your insurance might be able to do for your family. Ask a ton of questions, and build up a network of people who you can talk to (see Lesson 2) to learn what worked or didn't work for them. Someday, one of those people might be able to shed a bit of light just when you need it the most.
  6. Visit this site and this one too and oh yeah, this one.
  7. Take care of yourself. Yes, this sounds like the kind of new-age psychobabble that I would love to make fun of. The thing is, it's 100% true. Running is my salvation. I can't imagine how I would have survived the past year without it. If skating is your thing, or drawing, or watching classic movies or volunteering at church or lip-synching to this guy, find time to do it. If it was important to you before your loved one got sick, it's going to be essential now.
  8. Tell people who can help you deal with what you're going through. Don't tell people who can't. More about this here.
  9. Stay positive. Someone has to.
  10. Stay realistic. This is the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life, and it's not even close. And it's not close to over. My love for M will keep me chugging along, and I will keep fighting for her with every bit of energy in me, but sometimes it's good to also acknowledge just how much this sucks.

What M ate last week

In four days, M ingested:

  • A couple of handfuls of cereal (Corn Flakes, mostly)
  • An apple
  • About 2 cups of yogurt
  • Some other stuff that's so insignificant I'm not even going to try to remember it

The thing is, I'm not mad at her. I know this is a disease, it takes forever to overcome it, it's not just about the food, blah blah blah. I'm just... flailing. Flailing and trying desperately to understand how my wife - who loves food with a passion, who cooks and bakes like Aunt Jemima's sister in heaven, who throughout our life together has drawn so much joy from simple perfect food - how that person could eat an apple the size of a tennis ball and call it a day.

Who's M?

M is my wife of several years. Just over a year ago, she told me that she had been suffering from anorexia for over 6 months. I was completely blindsided. I knew she had lost a lot of weight, but whenever I asked her about it, she said she just didn't have any appetite because of medication she was taking. Stupid me, I believed her little tale. This was, to my knowledge, the first thing she's ever hidden from me during our time together. (I've since learned that a newfound expertise in deception is a common side effect of any eating disorder.)

For the past twelve months, I've been trying to help my beautiful M recover from this disease. I'm writing this blog to try to explain, in my own confused roller-coaster state, what's it's like to love someone who's suffering from an eating disorder. I'm doing this because:

* blogs are cheaper than therapy, and
* I suspect there are a lot of people out there dealing with the same shit I am.

Thanks for visiting.