Eating disorder recovery isn’t so much a journey as it is repeatedly slamming your head against a brick wall. I’ve been out of inpatient therapy for an eating disorder for almost a year. During that time, I have had roughly three conversations with my parents.
'I’ve put on so much weight! I feel really fat/bloated/etc'
'You are not really fat/bloated/etc. You are fine.'
'I really can’t eat this. I am fat/bloated/etc enough as it is'
'You are not fat/bloated/etc. You are fine. Please try to eat this.'
'I feel a lot better now in myself. I have a lot more energy. You are overreacting.'
'OH MY GOD HOW MUCH WEIGHT HAVE YOU LOST YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.'
And the cycle repeats. I gain the weight and I am upset about it, so I lose the weight and they are upset about it. In fairness to my mum and dad, they probably don’t want to go through the trauma of watching me slowly fade away again. I just can’t see what the fuss is about. Which I suppose is pretty sad, but also an indication of just how difficult it is to provide a support network to someone with an eating disorder.
It doesn’t matter if the patient is male or female. As far as they concerned, they are right and everyone else is wrong or jealous or both. They are the lone voice of reason in a world filled with people who cannot see their own hypocrisy. They can skip meals or go for the smaller portion, but we have to stuff our faces until we burst? How is that fair?
The biggest challenge faced by a support network is not fear. It’s resentment. It’s the urge to rebel against a regime that just cannot grasp how truly disgusting we are and how much better things were before it stuck its nose in. The more they try to help, the more we dig in our heels.
It goes without saying that this stubborn belief that we could always lose a bit more weight has a pretty big impact on the people who care about us. I’ve seen people in my own support network close to tears and close to punching my lights out. They are expected to keep me alive and 'healthy' even though I would much rather they leave me alone and stop nagging me about how much exercise I might be doing, all without the benefit of medical training. They know they are expected to remain calm and compassionate in the face of sheer-pigheadedness, something that is pretty much impossible when someone they care about appears to want nothing more than to go for as long as possible without eating.
Most counsellors, I assume, have the same problem. At least parents or carers only have to deal with one problem child - try having to explain to 9 or 10 people a day that being able to count your ribs probably isn’t the healthiest thing in the world. It’s even worse when you think of how in God’s name they are supposed to talk to males with eating disorders when most medical research is still overwhelmingly female-centric. I can’t speak for others in my position, but for me, having a period would just present a whole new raft of things to worry about.
I’m no expert, but surely the best way to support someone with an eating disorder is to do so as a united front? Instead of parents and carers struggling along without any medical input or counsellors having to hope that their work won’t be immediately disregarded the moment their patient steps out the door, more should be done to ensure that the two sides work together at every stage of recovery. Maybe if such provisions had been in place, I and so many others would be stronger in the face of possible relapse. And maybe our friends and families would still want to know us at the end of the road.
Adam Langley is a blogger at Adam Ranting