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Just Being There - Janine's story

As distant as I was with my friends and how difficult I made it for them to actually meet up with me, they never gave up on me. They never stopped texting me, inviting me out, checking things were ok. When I asked to meet up, they were there. When I cancelled repeatedly, they rearranged. When I spent hours repeating the same worries and fears over and over, they never lost patience. Knowing that I had people who cared and who weren’t going anywhere really did make a difference, to an extent that isn’t quantifiable.

The knowledge that people saw me as an interesting person worthy of spending time with gave me evidence to try and battle my feelings of being boring, useless and a drain on people’s time. Having people to share my feelings with and knowing they wouldn’t judge me enabled me to feel safe opening up; and also made me feel a little less weird and pathetic. My friends have always had an incredible ability to relate to me first and foremost as Janine, as opposed to an “anorexic,” even when I’ve been scarily unwell. They don’t tend to bring the subject up at all (but obviously they’re happy to discuss it if I mention it first). Meeting up with them is just as it has always been. We talk about normal things and laugh about ridiculous memories. They gave me a bit of time to escape from anorexia and to remember that I’m more than just my illness.

You don’t have to do anything ground-breaking, other than hang in there. Chances are they will push you away; say things that don’t correspond with their behaviour; talk about the same things over and over. And yes this will become frustrating and will at times feel futile. But it isn’t. By simply being there you’re giving the message that you think they’re worthy of your time and attention; you recognise they’re doing their best; and that you’ll be there for them no matter what. This last point is especially important when they are trying to recover. Making changes is absolutely terrifying and anorexia tries to convince you that it’s too big a risk to take because there’s no guarantee that you can cope without it, and you can never really count of other people to support you. Every time you’re there when they need you to be, you give them a bit more ammunition to use as they try to turn things around.

Knowing that I had friends was also a huge source of reassurance and motivation when I was in hospital for so many months. The time after discharge loomed ahead as an immense blank space, day after day with no idea of how I’d fill all that time. As the months in hospital dragged on I felt increasingly aware of how removed from the world I was becoming and how difficult it was going to be to slot back in. “Picking up where you left off” isn’t all that easy when you left off almost a year ago. People move on. The fact that when I was discharged my friends were still there, still the same people and still expecting me to meet up as before, was such a relief. It was one of the few familiar routines that helped create some sense of structure and normalcy as I tried to rebuild my life again.

So, if your friend/relative is in hospital, the most important thing you can do to support them is to just be there.

Keep in contact in whatever way you can (or whatever way they’ll engage with). I often didn’t want to see anyone, but I always appreciated texts or good old fashioned letters. It reminded me that people hadn’t forgotten about me; kept me in touch with the outside world; and responding to them gave me a welcome distraction and a way to pass the long hours.

This doesn’t end when they’re discharged – if anything your support is even more crucial then. In hospital they’ve had constant support, not just with their eating, but also with people they could talk to. The weeks and months after discharge are kind of a make or break time. Maintaining the routine and progress created in hospital is extremely difficult.

Text them; call them; arrange to meet up with them (ideally not for anything food related unless that explicitly say this would be helpful).

Listen to their worries; help them problem solve difficult situations; show them you believe they can do it; invite them along to things that might help them remember that life is actually worth fighting for.

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.

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