My friend has suffered from an eating disorder since she was ten years old. No one really knows why it started but some events clearly led up to it. She was never overweight; in fact she has always been thin. But not in her eyes.
I am her best friend and I love her. I care for her, but I can't help her.
It took me a long time to realise that I can't cure her. No matter how many times I stay up late talking to her, no matter how much I reassure her, I can't cure her. Not even a professional can help her until she allows herself to be helped. One day she will be faced with the decision to either accept help or hit rock bottom. Yet sometimes it takes someone hitting rock bottom to accept help.
I can't cure her. All I can do – all anyone can do – is listen, include her, and love her no matter what.
But equally, you need boundaries. You have to protect yourself. Yes, it may not be you with the eating disorder, but caring for someone with anorexia can cause stress. I felt responsible for my friend for so long, would check what she was eating, monitor her actions, analyse everything she said. It drained me. I couldn't cope. I put a burden upon myself that wasn't mine to carry. Yes, do everything you can, but when you feel yourself breaking, stop. You can't help your friend if you aren't well yourself. It's okay to be mad at them, it's okay to cry, it's okay to be confused. It's normal. No one can cope.
So if it's not your burden to carry, whose is it? Their parents, teachers, medical professionals. I remember the guilt I felt after telling my friend’s mum about her eating disorder. But that was what led her to recovery. She hated me for it at the time, but forgave me in the end. For me it got to a point where it was a case of tell someone and have her hate you but begin the road to recovery, or hide it away and she likes you but spirals ever downwards.
What can you do then?
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.