The answer is simple: you can’t.
Eating disorders cannot be defined precisely; everyone’s illness is different and it would be impossible for anyone to understand every symptom and every struggle. Having recovered from Anorexia Nervosa, even I cannot understand what I was going through, why I carried out certain behaviours. If even the sufferers find their illness incomprehensible, then how in the world is anyone on the outside meant to know what to do, how to make everything ‘right’ again, sympathise with their loved one?
My family found it incredibly hard to come to terms with my diagnosis. Not only was it a long struggle for me, but for people close to me too. Everyone wanted to help, to understand, to make it better for me – they wanted me to be Rhiannon again. Yet I look back now and realise that all attempts to do these things only pushed me further down the slippery slope. ‘Eat this’, ‘We are going to your favourite restaurant today’, ‘Let me help you’ only fed the voice – it argued against them. Our whole lives revolved around food; we talked about and discussed the ‘problem’ nonstop, yet this did nothing to help me recover; my life was food and my eating disorder, and it shouldn’t have been this way. So many times did we look back to the past and analyse every potential trigger, was someone to blame, if the way I was brought up had something to do with it. Maybe it did. But what good did all of this do? Not one bit.
Being unable to control emotions and random outbursts became impossible, pushing away loved ones – deep down not wanting this at all. The mind is a powerful thing, I realised. Holding onto, believing this voice in my head telling me that being perfect was all that mattered. But how can anyone even be close to perfect when dead? So many anorexia sufferers die prematurely – so why do those with the illness find it hard to get better? Because the voice is never satisfied. The worst part of the illness is that it doesn’t want you to recover.
To those who have loved ones who are suffering, do not blame yourselves, do not look back; the only way is forward. We just need you to support us, show us what recovery could mean. It takes time. It’s not easy. One thing that must also be remembered is that no one has to be alone in their struggles.
What helped me to recover the most was allowing myself to see how great life could be without the illness. I could go to college, see my friends without worrying about what they would make me for lunch, travel around the world knowing that I would not have to go back home to be welcomed by the dreaded CAMHS appointment. True recovery can only come from the person suffering; no one else can do it for you.