What a tricky situation to be in. Life would be far too easy if we could just understand each other completely and genuinely empathize with any situation anybody is going through. I think we’ve all had at least one awkward moment trying to console a troubled friend, but feeling helpless to their particular situation, so all you can do is pat their back and hope things get better.
If comparing this feeling is like getting left out on an inside joke, this particular situation is a very sick joke.
It’s common for those who have or currently have an eating disorder to not talk about it. That’s usually the last instinct. Besides the fact it’s hard to even describe into words, but it really is one of those things that you have to deal with yourself before you can even imagine what it feels like. The closest I might say to compare the thoughts and behaviors to is any other addiction, drugs or alcohol or self-harm. That you know it’s wrong to give in to those temptations, that you would feel much better without them, but in the immediate moment, it feels like the only option.
I say all of this because I had a day last week I just did not feel good. Simply put, I felt like I gained weight. And I didn’t like that. That thought is undoubtedly the one that has triggered virtually all of my relapses into restriction. I’m unsatisfied with how I look, leading me to believe I’m a failure and have lost control, and of course, I know exactly how to “cure” it.
But I don’t tell other people if I ever come across these triggering moments. Probably only somebody I know I can talk about that with because they have had similar experiences in the past. Otherwise, it’s just really hard to understand. I have some amazing people in my life, but if they know I’m feeling down and explicitly ask me what they can do to help, I’m at a loss.
Ultimately, these thoughts are, indeed, thoughts. Nothing else. I probably hadn’t magically gained ten pounds that day. My brain just told me I did, and the brain is ridiculously powerful in how it perceives the world and ourselves. The only way I could stop myself from feeling so triggered was to wait it out. That’s it. Take care of myself and hope for a better tomorrow. People can say nice things to me, but that really doesn’t do much. I am the only one capable of coping with my disordered mind.
That doesn’t mean I am blown away by the people even willing to try, or at least listen to how I might describe myself in that moment. They might not understand, but they’re there. They want the best for me. Just having the reminder that I am not alone, that I am loved by many people, can do wonders. Because I really do need reminders sometimes. Something to pull myself out of the recesses of my mind and back into reality. A reality where people don’t care what I look like on the exterior, but how my interior shines through. A reality where the only person seeing and judging how big my thighs or love handles look on any given day is me.
I’ve recovered and relapsed several times, so I know the feelings of changing my ways but one off moment triggering the downward spiral all over again. For something that makes you feel like you are in complete control, what a grand illusion it plays. Might as well call it David Copperfield. I’m in such an amazing place right now and haven’t even had thoughts like that for many months. It was almost a cringe-worthy reminder that hey, that voice may have been quiet for awhile, but it’s not going away any time soon. Probably never, which I’ve come to accept. Not that it makes it any easier.
So for those in my situation, don’t automatically go silent when the moment arises. You’ll never know how your loved ones will help and support you, even if none of them have had an eating disorder. Their presence and existence alone is a blessing. Whether they are a nice distraction or a shoulder to lean on, let them. Don’t push them away. They can be the ones to help you find that inner strength you need to save yourself.
And for those in the opposite situation, don’t expect to be able to directly fix the problem. It’s not that easy and it’s not your job. Just be a steady support system, tell the person you’re always there, to provide that stagnant and steady control that they feel is slipping away. Let them cope how they do best, but simply keep them afloat. Don’t force them to things you think would help, just make them feel secure and comfortable. It really can be that simple.
You don’t have to understand. You just have to care.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie