August 12, 2008

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.

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