am 16 years old and eating disorders have dictated my life from a young age,
but not in the way many assume. My brother has suffered from anorexia for as
long as I remember. I have spent the best part of my existence trying to
understand it, I’ve researched online, I’ve looked in books, and even undergone
rigorous therapy of my own to come to grips with the mental illness, and there I
was, still confused by the illness. To some extent even to this day I am still
baffled. However I’ve realised that’s normal – how could books and websites
give me answers to questions regarding my brother’s illness, when every case is
complex and different to the next?
As a younger sister to a brother who
battles anorexia every day, many, including myself at times, believe I am in a
unique situation. However, I tend to disagree. I disagree because there are so
many boys and men out there who suppress their mental health and don’t speak
out; therefore on behalf of them I want to. My brother is a brave and unique
individual. Having anorexia doesn’t make him weaker or less of a man. Instead,
in my eyes, it makes him stronger and an inspiration. I urge everyone, young or
old, male or female, to speak out and get the help you deserve.
Siblings are the forgotten
collateral damage of eating disorders. After much research, I have found that
there is lots of information for the individuals battling the disorder and the
parents and guardians who care for them, rightly so. However, siblings are all
too often overlooked. People forget they too live in the same house that the
mental illness manifests itself in; they too sit at the dinner table or sofa
while the eating disorder screams with every ounce and fibre of its being –
that’s the problem with eating disorders. They demand to heard, but people
forget it’s not just those they inhabit that can hear them.
from experience (and lots of therapy!) I want to let you know you’re not alone.
While every case is different, there are lots of people out there who resonate
with something you feel, no matter how big or small. Please don’t feel guilty
for feeling the way you do – it doesn’t make you love them any less; it’s just
a complicated time for everyone and some days will be good and others will be
bad, but it won’t be like this forever. And finally, I urge you to seek help if
you need to. You don’t always have to be the strong one.
While I can’t speak from a parent’s
perspective, I can speak from a child’s heart. I watched my parents give
everything they had to help my brother fight, day in day out, eventually taking
its toll on their marriage. Please take time for yourself. I know this is
easier said than done in a household tainted by a child’s suffering, but please
make just five minutes a day for yourself. You will be no use to your children
exhausted and unhappy.
those with other children, I urge you to zoom out every now and then. Eating
disorders don’t just affect those they inhabit; they can have knock-on effects
too. I wish just once I had been asked how I was finding everything and how I
felt – it doesn’t sound like a lot, but as the ‘other child’, I know it could
mean the world. At times the siblings may not understand how their sibling
feels. This in particular led me to feel confused and conflicted by the
negative emotions I felt, but that’s normal – we don’t all have to be 100% all
the time to fight eating disorders. I understand all of this is easier said than
done while juggling parenting, work and essentially being a full-time carer as
well, but this might be the difference between a child feeling in the dark or
in contrast valued.
We don’t blame you. We love you and
battling mental illness doesn’t make us love you any less. Stay strong.
Brighter days lie ahead.
You just have to remember to be there for them when they need you and gently nudge them in the right direction.
I feel very lucky to have found a support group – but it would have been wonderful if this had been available more locally.
The right support and information helps family and loved ones understand, so they can provide the love and care needed for everyone.