Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

How to . . .

This is a question that many, if not all, parents and spouses and loved ones ask if they have someone struggling with an eating disorder.  My family therapist at Sheppard Pratt recommended Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends and my parents actually read it and found it helpful.

But I think there needs to be a “How To” for those of us who have an eating disorder.  How to tell someone we have an eating disorder.  How to say we need help or more help.  Explaining what an eating disorder is.  Here’s the conversation I had with my mother (years before the above book was recommended to my parents) before I was admitted to the hospital for the eating disorder the first time.  This is after several hospitalizations for self harm and depression, including a three month IP-followed by a three month PHP program for self-harm.

ME: My therapist said if I don’t show up at the hospital tomorrow they will 2PC me (mandatory commitment.)

MOM:  For what?

ME: For anorexia.

MOM: But why do you have to go to the hospital?

ME: For anorexia.

Mom: Oh.

There has to have been a better way to have that conversation with my parents.  I know there was a better way to explain why I didn’t want to eat to them than how I attempted to.  How do you tell someone you don’t want to eat, even though you really do know you need to eat to live, and that it’s not about how you look?  And how do you explain that when you look in the mirror you see something vastly different than what they see?

While I was at American University, working on my Master’s, I was also going through the last and most dramatic relapse I had gone through.  I really, honestly, thought I was hiding it.  But it turns out that my two literature professors had noticed me “literally fading away” (in one of their words) during the semester and had talked about it together and had consulted a mutual friend who had experience with eating disorders.  So when I went to them with the stuttering, “Um, I, sort of, well, have this problem, and I think, well, I may be going to the hospital  . . . ” talk, they were already in the problem solving mode of “how can we help you get better?” and “how can we help you finish this semester?” (Notice the priority of those two questions.)

Right now, I will talk about my experiences with the eating disorder openly.  I’ve written my memoir and am finishing up the last chapter and revisions and am getting ready to send it out.  I welcome questions from friends or professors who don’t understand eating disorders.  I’d rather people ask than go about assuming what may be erroneous information.  But I do remember the period of “I can’t tell anyone” and then the period of “I want to tell someone but how?”  Usually my “telling” was solved by me being in the hospital and word getting out.

There’s so much shame and embarrassment and guilt tied up with having any mental illness, but I think there is more when it comes to an eating disorder because eating disorders are so misunderstood.  How much is caused by a brain disorder and how much is a choice?  And do people just want to be thin?  And Why can’t you just eat, for Christ’s sake??? (That’s been thrown at me in the past.  Many times.)

I do know I chose whom I told very carefully at first.  I chose my closest, most supportive and understanding friends.  If they could stand by me through the self-harm treatment, I figured they could handle hearing I had anorexia.  Then I gradually expanded the people who knew.

Suggestions?  Do people have success stories?  Do people know of a good book for those struggling?  Anything else to add?


April 3, 2010 - Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I do not Lexie – but perhaps you could work on writing one? You have an excellent way with words.

    Comment by Kelly | April 3, 2010 | Reply

  2. I’ve found the book “Regaining Yourself” to be very helpful. Also, despite the fact that I despise when people refer to their eating disorders as “Ed” or any other name, I really got a lot from the book “Good-Bye Ed, Hello Me”

    Comment by Katie D | April 3, 2010 | Reply

  3. I’ve found it helpful to explain it like it’s another language. You won’t understand it word for word.

    But just like traveling in another country and trying to get around, the international language of gesture works every time. We’re speaking with actions, not words.

    Comment by jessa | April 3, 2010 | Reply

  4. I honestly have no idea how to better communicate what an eating disorder is. My only thought is that someone outside of the situation can often do a better job, like a therapist. After having an eating disorder for about 6 years, finally in treatment and family therapy, my father for the first time even ASKED why I was doing this to myself. He finally admitted to me he thought the things I did to myself were “disgusting”. It took an outside person, a therapist/educator to explain to him that it was more than just “disgusting”. It was like something clicked for him then. It took someone else to help him understand. Similar to him, doing therapy with my friends and family while in treatment was what really made all the difference-and I initially refused to even think about doing family therapy when I checked in. Having a mediator was totally necessary who could assure my parents/friends it wasn’t there fault while also keeping ME safe was so important.

    Shoot,I’m always such a rambler.

    Comment by Mindy | April 3, 2010 | Reply

  5. It’s a really hard topic to talk about, even just to bring up. Even though everyone knows the general info of what I’ve been through, people will probably find out a lot when they read my book. I’ve never wanted anyone to come back with, “But you don’t look anorexic!” I think it’s super hard for anyone who hasn’t been through it (or taught about it extensively) to understand. Maybe it’s why the bond between those with ED’s is strong, because we don’t need to try to explain things; it’s just understood.

    When I had to explain the scale obsession to my parents, I compared it to sitting drugs in front of a drug addict who’s trying not to use. It seemed to help a bit.

    Comment by Jen | April 3, 2010 | Reply

  6. There are a number of different treatment programs and approaches to support people suffering from eating disorders who decide to get help. I’ve found that Silver Hill Hospital has a number of treatment options, including adolescent residential programs, that encourage family involvement in the recovery process.

    Comment by Bridgette Torre | April 4, 2010 | Reply

    • I realize that there are lots of programs out there for people who suffer from an eating disorder. This post was mainly about how to initially bring up the subject with someone.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | April 5, 2010 | Reply

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