9 lessons I’ve learnt while supporting an adult with an eating disorder

Posted 30/04/2018

  1. A lot of the information out there is about caring for a child with an eating disorder, rather than an adult. Yet it’s so difficult when they’re an adult as you’re unable to intervene – you have to let them make their own mistakes and there’s nothing you can do about it. This has been the hardest thing to do.
  2. There is an awful lot of internal conflict surrounding how to deal with the eating disorder; you want to be supportive but not to reinforce their behaviour. You want to do the right thing for them and sometimes you just don’t know which way to turn – should you give in to this desire or want from your loved one, or is that feeding their neurosis, their manipulation, their eating disorder? It can be a very lonely, isolating situation sometimes, but hearing what other people go through can help you feel less alone.
  3. This conflict comes out in other ways too: at what point do you withdraw financial support when it is helping to sustain the illness? When do you advise them as a carer what is the wrong or right road regarding treatment? What do you do when family and friends are saying they need to be sectioned, but your loved one has said this won’t work? All these questions can make you feel guilty, but you don’t need to be – you are doing your best to support them.
  4. The best way to help your loved one is to help yourself. Don’t be afraid of telling your loved one that you can’t cope with it at the moment. It is important that you have your own batteries as charged as they can be – you need your own resilience.
  5. Stop looking at the eating disorder and try to see your loved one instead. As carers, we can get bogged down in the eating disorder and you forget to see the person; remember to nurture their achievements too.
  6. As a mother, I get the rubbish sent to me every day. Every morning I get a message saying “I can’t do this” and every day I say “You can. I have faith in you, you just have to find that”. I’ll get metaphorically slapped in these messages, but then later I get one saying it’s a compliment, as I’m the only person they can speak to. This is hard for us as carers, but it’s not personal, it’s them lashing out at the world.
  7. Recovery can often feel like a distant thing, so you don’t always want to hear about other people’s recovery as it can be too painful thinking “if only”. Other times you need to hear about the recovery stories to keep that feeling of yes, this is all worthwhile, I’m doing the right thing. 
  8. Try to keep seeing the fun in life! As a carer learn to pigeon hole your emotions; have little boxes that you can put your emotions in, lock the key and put it away for a while, whilst you get on with your own life.
  9. Recovery is like Pandora’s box – when you empty Pandora’s box what is left is hope. When there is life, there is hope, even on the very worst days. 
Contributed by Lucy, the mother of a 30-something-year-old daughter