Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

advice from other readers???

from again by Queen666

So I received this question on my Questions and Topics page, and man is it a tough one, and I’ve struggled with this myself:


There is a girl who volunteers where I work part-time. I see her about once a week. I don’t know her and do not really interact with her, but I’ve noticed a dramatic weight loss in the last year. She is starting to appear sick, in my opinion. I find myself watching her from afar and I feel upset. I think this is because I had anorexia for some time in my late teens, and although I don’t KNOW this girl I am worried. I wonder if I should say something…to her or to her supervisor who I’m sure must also be aware of the drastic weight loss. What would you do?

Also, do you find that most people who have had anorexia relapse in the future? With myself, I had some behaviors around age 29 and dropped weight. The eating disorder coincided with trying competitive running again and dealing with marriage problems. I lost weight–not nearly as bad as when I was younger–but I tried to maintain an underweight body for about 2 years. I wasn’t as thin as I was as a teen with anorexia, but I knew I was underweight and it was purposeful.

After this time period of 2 years, my behavior normalized and of course I gained back what I lost. I am now 35. I find I have no desire to be a competitive runner because unfortunately for me it seems to stir up body image issues, perhaps due to my first episode of anorexia as a teen. I am at a healthy weight now and do not restrict. I also am not exercising that much. One thing I notice is that seeing a very thin girl upsets me. I guess this girl at work strikes a nerve because I don’t want too see others go through this.

I’ve been in this situation–either at work or in a class with someone and I don’t *know* them but I’ve watched them deteriorate before my eyes.  And I never know what to do.  I know from my experience when I was sick, if someone approached me, I would have denied it to his or her face and probably lied through my teeth about having some illness or something.

But at the same time, people did approach me and multiple things always went through my mind:

A) “YES. Someone noticed.  I’m succeeding.”  (succeeding as in terms of the eating disorder.)

B) “SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT. Someone noticed.  What the hell am I supposed to do now?  I’ve better hide this better.”

C) “Someone finally noticed.  They seemed concerned.  Maybe I could talk to them?”

That last one was always that voice of health in my head–that voice was always there, sometimes a lot weaker than the ED voice, but it was always present to a certain degree.  At the very same time that I wanted people to notice because it meant I was doing “good” with the ED, I wanted to not be noticed AND I wanted someone to notice and take me by the hand and help me.  Am I alone in experiencing this conflict?

It took multiple people to voice their concerns before I reached out my hand and took the thread of hope they were offering me.  And I’m thankful for all those people who offered, even if I refused, because eventually, hearing it enough gave me enough hope/courage/desperation to accept someone’s help.

My suggestion: Find a time where you bump into her casually alone.  Even if you have to set up this ‘casual chance encounter’ by the water fountain or whatever is the equivalent in your office.  And say something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed very happy lately, and I’m concerned.  I went through a rough time of my own before and sometimes it helped having someone I could just talk to.  If you ever need to talk, or want to email me, I’m here.”  I wouldn’t mention the weight loss or any signs of physical illness. I think that would set off too many alarms in her head.  But maybe if you focus on you noticing her emotions (even if she hasn’t seemed sadder than normal, I bet she is.  This disease is hell.  And if she really does have a physical illness that is the cause of the weight loss, that’s hell too, and she may be glad that you reached out.) will tell her that you noticed her as a person first and not as a person of a certain size or shape, if that makes sense.

I honestly don’t know about approaching the supervisor.  If the supervisor is trustworthy and sensitive and wouldn’t confront the girl in an accusative manner, it might be good?  or it could backfire.

I’d honestly like to know what people think of this.  (Again, please comment on the blog itself since not everyone accesses this through Facebook)

As for the question about relapsing.  I’ve known people who recovered and never relapsed.  I’d say most people do slip up again at some point.  Be it through a full blown relapse or through a return to slightly more disordered behaviors or through a return to the thought processes involved in the eating disorder.  I honestly never ever thought I’d ever have urges again, and then I was diagnosed with the heart condition and got severely depressed and had to withdraw from school and my world was so unstable and I found those urges coming back, which scared me shitless, as I stated in my last post.  So now I say that I am fully recovered, but I am aware that during times of really big upheaval and turmoil, I may have to fight those urges again.  But I don’t think that makes me less recovered.  Because I know more than anything else I can’t relapse, and I am loving life to much to even want to relapse.  But I think there are times when life is all chaos and I still want comfort and this winter, i couldn’t find that comfort anywhere else so I thought of the eating disorder.  Now I know that I need to make sure I take better care of my emotional needs.

but I think you’re experience is quite normal.  And it seems like you managed to get things back in line and learned what triggers you most of all.  I know for me that competitive sports is a trigger–and like you, it would be running.  I think I could join a volleyball league and be fine.  But there is so much back history tied to running with me.  It’s why when I recovered, I didn’t run at gyms or even with other people.  i didn’t want to compare myself to anyone, because that’s a dangerous thing for me and running.

So.  Feedback?  What would you do if you noticed someone suffering, but didn’t know them well as you would a friend?  How do you approach it?  And do you find yourself comparing yourself with that person?  Do you find yourself not wanting them to go through what you did?  Perhaps both at the same time?


July 22, 2010 - Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This is a really complicated issue for me to tackle, but I can tell you that the way that I was approached about my eating disorder only made me resentful towards other’s involved. Several girls who I was friends with on my college rowing team told the coach, who told the head of athletics, who talked to me and sent me to the counseling center. Not once did my friends or coach approach me out of concern, or talk to me about it afterward, which I found really hurtful. I agree with Alexis about casually approaching the person you are concerned about before going to the supervisor. Just speaking from my experience, I would have MUCH rather had my teamates approach me first, even though I may have been defensive about things. I felt betrayed by a lot of people because I was basically left out of the whole process. To me, talking to the supervisor may be crossing the line, unless this person is putting other people’s safety in jeopardy. I feel like its similar to the situation that I went through with my friends/teamates going to my coach and not speaking with me at all prior to it.

    Comment by Katie D. | July 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. Being confronted about the eating disorder is so complicated. Like you said, part of you is almost “pleased” that you are “succeeding”, while another part may be relieved that someone finally noticed.
    I remember a whole lot of emotions, anger, embarassment, an extent of relief, etc. i think more than anything, though–even if at the time i was resentful or angry, I would eventually calm down enough to be thankful that someone did at least care, and there WAS an outlet/someone to talk to if I chose to.
    And I’d agree with Katie- that going to a supervisor would be a step that doesn’t have to happen right now. And I’d also agree with Alexis, that talking to her WITHOUT mentioning her weight would also be helpful. No matter how you say it, the eating disorder will distort whatever you say about weight in particular.

    Comment by Mindy | July 22, 2010 | Reply

  3. I have seen this, and even when I was actively dealing with my own ED, I never could approach another person to offer support or sympathy. I considered it, but was always afraid of a bad reaction.

    And re: the question about relapse. I’m suprized (and rather disbelieving when I hear of someone with a significant ED who says they have *never* relapsed (maybe just not yet?).

    Relapses happen; some big, some small. That’s why recovery is a process and isn’t really ‘finished.’ I think of it as being ‘in remission.’ One always has to keep guard against the return of the ED (often as a coping mechanism in response to stress.)

    Comment by C | July 22, 2010 | Reply

    • C- I have met people who really did recover fully and never relapsed and it’s been a matter of them being in full recovery for about ten years now. It really and truly does happen. Yes, it is rare, but it is possible.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 22, 2010 | Reply

  4. I think you’ve found a good solution.
    I hope it helps.

    My advice: you’re worried about her. You see yourself in her. You want to help.

    Be careful. For myself, I have a history of reaching out to hurting, damaged people and trying to ‘be there’ and ‘help.’ It always ends up hurting me. Either it triggers my eating disorder or it becomes a drain on me or the constant stress drives me mad.

    That isn’t to say you shouldn’t reach out to her and hope she reaches out. It just means to think carefully about it and how much you can handle. How long ago was this relapse? Do you feel strong enough to handle that kind of stress?

    Be careful how much of yourself you give away.

    Comment by Sarah | July 22, 2010 | Reply

    • Good point Sarah–about making sure that you have the emotional energy/strength/resilience to reach out before taking that step. Even though you hate seeing someone else suffer, your own wellbeing needs to come first.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 22, 2010 | Reply

  5. I might write more later, but I have to say I agree with Mindy 100%.

    Comment by Jessica | July 22, 2010 | Reply

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