I 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.
To the siblings
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.
Speaking 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.
To the parents/guardians
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.
To 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.
To those who have an eating disorder
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.