The ‘How Do I Help’ Question

I keep being asked what friends and family can do to make it better.

Coming from the other side, I’m only just beginning to realise the wide net that an eating disorder can cast.

There’s a horrible urgency and a desperation in the ‘how to help’ discussion that I seem to have been completely oblivious to–

People are not as judgemental as my eating disorder had had me believe: they want to help.

It’s easy to negate the confusion and pain and despair that others are feeling when you’re caught up in an eating disorder; but, now that I’m hearing it, I’ve been trying to pinpoint the things that people did – and said – that made the difference.

I’ve been trying to identify what really helped, so that I can offer a little reassurance; can provide the magic answer the next time that I’m asked the crucial questions–

Until I realised that I was looking for an impossible solution.

And that the silver bullet is a myth.

So, my message is now different – and, the hope is in my story, and not in my answer: there is no single word or life-changing action or bribe or bargain or secret or remedy to make someone else better – so please don’t take this responsibility; because you’re chasing an illusion and you might also lose yourself along the way.

Unfortunately, you can’t fight an eating disorder on behalf of someone else.

But you can help.

Friends and family and other people were – both consciously and subconsciously – critical to my recovery. Their support meant the world to me – but only when I was able to take it; and, most importantly, when it wasn’t given at a cost to themselves –

Like when they reminded me that I was special – without an eating disorder –

Or when they listened when I was feeling scared and overwhelmed about changing my behaviour – without making me feel judged -

And when they reassured me when I was having doubts that recovery was a good thing – or that I would make it –

And made me feel better by giving me a ring and making me smile –and helped me to feel included when I felt that I was on the edge -

And were there, waiting for me, when I was ready to join the world again and looking for some friendly faces on the other side –

Because they hadn’t got consumed by the illness – and we hadn’t got entangled in the battles that an eating disorder so often causes along the way.

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2 Responses to “The ‘How Do I Help’ Question”

  1. Becky Henry says:

    Melissa, this is one of the best lists I’ve ever seen to spell it out for families on how to effectively support your loved one with an eating disorder. Such concrete things to do:
    1. Remind you that you are special
    2. Listen when you are scared
    3. Reassure you when you have doubts
    4. Call you on the phone and help you smile
    5. Be there waiting for when you are ready to join the world again

    All good things for families to remember. Thank you for digging deep to really put words to what helped you in your recovery. Families feel so helpless and often hopeless. I will share your blog with others.
    Thank you!
    Becky Henry

  2. melissa says:

    Thanks Becky! I was oblivious to my family and friends a bit in my illness, so it’s really important for me to acknowledge the experience I put them through – and the stuff they did that pulled me out. I have some really amazing people in my life and part of my recovery has been about being able to start balancing out the relationship we have and giving back a little….